North East Lincolnshire

Is councillor abuse ‘damaging democracy’?

The leader of North East Lincolnshire Council has said abuse he received from the public played a major part in his decision.

Following the authority’s announcement yesterday that he was stepping down due to ill health, a full statement from Labour-leader Ray Oxby added that he faced additional challenges.

The leader is also understood to have recently been involved in a car crash near to his home, subject to a police investigation.

In his statement he blamed verbal abuse which went “beyond fair political comment”, vandalism of his car and unpleasant contents [understood to be dog poo] pushed through his letterbox.

“Much of this has been linked to the decision on Toll Bar roundabout [due to be ripped up and replaced with traffic lights] and has gone beyond what any reasonable person should endure,” he wrote.

In response, the leader of the Liberal Democrats in North East Lincolnshire Councillor Ian Barfield hit out at those that go to extremes to abuse councillors “on a daily basis” calling it “bad for the future of democracy”.

Leader of North East Lincolnshire Council, Councillor Ray Oxby stepped down yesterday.

He said it was “a tragedy for Ray” who put “an awful lot of time and effort” into the council.

“All councillors will tell you the amount of abuse we get on social media is sometimes overwhelming,” he said. “It includes a fair amount of accusations which are completely unsubstantiated.”

He said a number of councillors, including himself, had considered whether standing for re-election was “worth the aggravation,” adding many parties were now struggling to recruit candidates.

“I read things that say all councillors are on the take, all councillors have their noses in the trough, all councillors should be hung from the town hall. It gets to us all.

Grimsby Town Hall. Photo: David Wright

“It suggests that by standing for council you are some sort of deviant and only looking to further your own standing.

“It puts off people, especially people who don’t necessarily have the constitution to deal with it, and that is bad for democracy in the future.”

The Lib Dems are in a leadership agreement with the Labour Party, and both will retain control of the council despite the Conservatives now having the greater numbers.

Councillor Philip Jackson said he was “shocked” by the news and said that since he first met Councillor Oxby in 2003 he had “always got on well on a professional and friendly level.”

Philip Jackson, leader of the NEL Conservatives and opposition on the council. Picture: Calvin Robinson.

He said he did not use social media so had not witnessed abuse to the extent reported, but added that in politics “you have to have a thick skin”.

He believed the difficulty in recruitment came more from people campaigning on single issues, rather than choosing a party to support.

Roger Breed, who leads a group of campaigners against changes to Toll Bar Roundabout denied any of his group had resorted to the level of abuse claimed.

He condemned “certain things that have happened to Mr Oxby” but said he “had only brought the abuse and unpleasantness on himself.

Toll Bar Campaigners Anne and Peter Herring, Michael O’bee, David Cowell and campaign lead Roger Breed. Photo: Daniel Jaines

“Has he not realised that the Toll bar decision will affect thousands of people, hitting motorists and shop owners with financial hardship.”

He accused Mr Oxby of treating residents with contempt and called on others to follow in his footsteps over the issue.

He warned: “If Toll Bar traffic lights go ahead,  the abuse and unpleasantness will get worse as people are beginning to wake up to the nightmare which is about to happen”.