'You silly girl': Conservative who made unmuted remark to Labour opponent during online East Herts Council meeting remains mute as apology is issued on his behalf
An apology has been issued after a Conservative councillor called a Labour opponent a "silly girl" during an online meeting of East Herts Council.
But ironically, veteran Tory Cllr Michael McMullen, who was unaware he had not muted his computer when he made the “patronising and misogynistic" remark, was himself mute when the apology was made.
It was issued on his behalf by the Conservative chairman of the council Cllr Jonathan Kaye – who twice interrupted the female leader of the council's Liberal Democrat group when she asked why Cllr McMullen had not said sorry himself.
The remark came during an online meeting of the council on March 2 when councillors were being asked individually how they were voting on the Tory administration's council tax rise from April.
When it came to Cllr Mary Brady, Labour member for Hertford Sele, she said "Abstain", at which point a male voice was heardto say: "You silly girl."
The offending councillor was not identified during the meeting, but it was Cllr McMullen, the long-serving member for Hertford Rural North ward since 1999.
Cllr McMullen was unaware he had not muted himself on his computer and can be seen in the webcast on the council's website and in the video on its YouTube channel muting himself after the comment.
He is a member of the council's human resources committee, whose terms of reference include "overseeing the implementation and co-ordination of the member training programme".
When the vote had finished, Cllr Joe Dumont (Lib Dem, Stanstead Abbotts) said that whoever made the "very inappropriate" comment should withdraw it and apologise. Cllr Brady herself brushed it off, saying: "It would be lovely to be called a girl." Cllr McMullen remained silent.
The Labour party demanded an apology and said: “It is wholly unacceptable behaviour from one elected representative to another. We have raised this with democratic services and hope East Herts will investigate this patronising and misogynistic comment, and that Cllr Brady will receive a full apology."
Labour's stance was echoed by the council's Lib Dem group. Their leader, Cllr Mione Goldspink, who represents Bishop's Stortford Meads ward, emailed James Ellis, the council's head of democratic services, and spoke of her party's "shock and disappointment" at the "derogatory remark".
At the March 18 online extraordinary meeting of the council to discuss the Bishop's Stortford Old River Lane scheme, an apology was issued on Cllr McMullen's behalf by Cllr Kaye in his role as chair of the meeting.
He referred to the fact that the remark was "inadvertently broadcast to the wider meeting" and "whilst not intended to be heard, was nevertheless inappropriate".
Cllr Kaye said: "Cllr McMullen accepts that he shouldn't have made the comment, irrespective of the circumstances or intention, and wishes to offer an unreserved apology to Cllr Brady and to any others who were offended by the remark.
"Some equalities training is being arranged for the end of the month, which Cllr McMullen will attend."
Cllr Goldspink asked: "Would it not be correct for him to make the apology himself?"
Cllr Kaye, who had started to interrupt her but allowed her to finish, replied: "No, I think the arrangement has been made between the two councillors involved and the head of democratic and legal services, so... I don't want to add to it and I don't want to take away from it. So I think it's appropriate, they've had the conversation and that should be left where it is."
Cllr Goldspink responded: "I do regret that, because his comment was made in public and I feel that if he's willing he should... " at which point Cllr Kaye interrupted her again to say the apology had been made in public.
The Lib Dem leader said: "I did not hear him say it, I just heard you say it on his behalf."
The chairman had the final word: "I'm sure you trust the words of the head of democratic and legal services."