Fenland people accused by Labour’s former police and crime commissioner candidate of ‘extremely racist’ comments

Wisbech comments, Left: Roderick Cantrill, John Hipkin, Samanther Hoy, Peter Roberts, Steve Count, D

Wisbech comments, Left: Roderick Cantrill, John Hipkin, Samanther Hoy, Peter Roberts, Steve Count, Dave Baigent. - Credit: Archant

Labour’s unsuccessful candidate for Cambridgeshire police and crime commissioner has described comments made to him by people in Fenland over Europe as “not at all pleasant and a lot of it extremely racist”.

Dave Baigent, a former fire fighter and city councillor for Cambridge, was speaking during a debate on the EU referendum.

Cllr Baigent said: “We live in this bubble in Cambridge – this privileged bubble.

“I recognise that 75 per cent voted to leave the EU.

“The most important thing people wanted to talk to me about in Fenland was whether I was going to stay in or not.

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“In Cambridge, if people don’t want to talk to you they’ll be very polite. But in Fenland they have a completely different response – not at all pleasant and a lot of it was extremely racist.

He added: “So we do need to recognise that we’re very, very privileged.”

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Independent Councillor John Hipkin defended Fenland.

He said: “75 per cent of the people of Fenland voted leave. Is that because they’re stupid? Is that because they don’t understand the issues?

“No. The reason that the people of Fenland have voted to leave is because they see no benefit at all in belonging to Europe.”

Another Labour city councillor Peter Roberts, who camed third in the 2010 General Election NE Cambs, recalled some of those times during the debate.

“It was a horrific experience,” he said. “We weren’t exactly very popular.”

But Cllr Roberts said one thing that strike him most about migration areas like Fenland and Wisbech, especially, which has a very high level of migration, was that many of the issues for local people - “when I say local I mean English-born people” were their concerns for over issues such as gang masters and housing.

He said: “The big failure in national legislation is to mitigate the offence on a country which is deeply divided and stratified by a failure of social mobility over a number of years.

Cllr Roberts added: “I was also the governor on local schools there and it was quite telling.

“When we actually set out to find out why people weren’t turning up for primary school, the response was, very simply, there is no prospect for those individuals so why bother sending them to school from that age.”

Lib Dem Rod Cantrill said: “I think there are a lot of people in Cambridge who did vote remain and are feeling saddened by what happened and there also a lot of people who voted leave who are feeling sad, in Cambridge.

“I think we’re very fortunate in this city that we are a socially inclusive city in general and the diversity of people who live in this city is one of the reasons why we have such a richness of culture.

“It was a protest vote against the political class, of which we all are part.

“Four million people voted for UKIP last year and they got one MP. That is an indication of that political remoteness that people felt and that was reflected in the referendum.

“I was campaigning outside of the city and it’s amazing that as soon as you get to Histon and Impington, there is a different feel.

“It was striking how they do have different views there, even before you get to Wisbech – in relation to the success of the city and if they’re really benefitting from it.

“We have a challenge as members to actually try and change it in some shape or form.”

City councillor Anna Smith thought it “appalling” some migrants are now frightened to walk down their own street.

“These citizens deserve to stay here,” she said.

Councillor Lucy Nethsingha said this country’s health and care sector was particularly dependent on those who come to this country to work. She felt we should “go forward in a supportive way and help each other”.

Extracts of the meeting were put on YouTube and Wisbech county councillor Sam Hoy raised the comments at a full council meeting on Tuesday.

“This smug superiority does not help work towards a cohesive county and we must not take these remarks,” she said.

“We must distance ourselves from them.”

Council leader Steve Count said: “This is an abhorrent thing and people really need to understand what goes on in our communities a lot better than they are, just jumping to conclusions.

“I know a lot of people that have a lot of things to say about the residents of Cambridge but I’m not going to repeat whether they’re elitist or superior or very smug.

“Because whatever words they use, we’re all people just rubbing along together, we’re just people.

“We’re not here, there, everywhere; we’re just people and that’s the best way we can treat each other.”

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