Former East Herts Council chair Martin Butcher quits Green group as party leaders unite to condemn Hamas violence
The former East Herts Council chairman condemned for his “deplorable” social media comments on Israel has left the Green Party group.
Cllr Martin Butcher, who is being investigated by the authority's monitoring officer, now holds the Ware St Mary’s seat as an independent.
His conduct is being probed after Hertford and Stortford’s Conservative MP Julie Marson made a formal complaint about his comments on X (formerly Twitter) in the wake of Hamas’ terrorist attack on Israeli citizens on Saturday October 7.
The council’s Labour group ramped up the pressure by highlighting earlier anti-Israel comments he made online, and last Friday (October 13) Cllr Butcher resigned as EHC chair but resisted pressure to step down as an elected representative.
On Wednesday (October 18), at a meeting of the full council, he was replaced as the district’s civic figurehead by his deputy, Bishop’s Stortford Parsonage Liberal Democrat Cllr Calvin Horner. Hertford Kingsmead’s Cllr Maura Connolly, a Green Party councillor, was elected as the new vice-chair.
Cllr Butcher, who is an Oxfam policy advisor on conflict, international humanitarian law and arms, had told the Indie he was stepping down as chair to concentrate on his work on the “appalling tragedy unfolding in Gaza”.
He did not attend Wednesday’s meeting, and Cllr Ben Crystall, the leader of the authority and the 18-strong Green Party group, told members: “Cllr Martin Butcher made a serious mistake posting inflammatory comments on social media while chair of East Herts Council.
“He has stepped down from his position and made a full apology for any offence that he's caused. The Green leadership team here has discussed suspension and investigation, but by mutual agreement, Martin will be leaving the Green group. I want to thank Martin for his hard work as chair and as part of our team.”
Cllr Crystall condemned the Hamas attack on Israeli citizens, called for the immediate release of hostages held by the terrorist group and deplored the escalating violence on both sides killing innocent civilians.
He said: “We need a meaningful political negotiation to bring peace. Like all of us, I'm also deeply concerned that the escalating situation could impact community relationships in East Herts.
“Our communities are strong, but as local leaders we must do everything we can to reduce tension and division and avoid actions that could inflame the situation, and encourage our communities to be united, whatever their cultures and faiths.”
Cllr Crystall said that there had already been a rise in prejudice in the UK since the conflict in the Middle East escalated.
He warned: “We must stand together and encourage unity, not division.”
He was backed by the new chair, Cllr Horner, who said: “I take on this role at a time of great upheaval in the world and especially in the Middle East. And while this may be a long way from East Herts, the violence that has erupted in Israel and Gaza over recent weeks has deeply affected many residents in our towns and villages, especially those who have close friends and families living in that region.
“As community leaders, we need to recognise the impact that these terrible events have had and the very real threat that they could lead to division and conflict here in our own community.
“So it is therefore incumbent upon us to do our part to ease these tensions by acknowledging the suffering of all communities in Israel and in Gaza and by standing alongside those who work for peace through dialogue and mutual understanding.”
That sentiment was echoed by Hertford Rural’s Cllr Bob Deering, who heads the 16-strong Conservative group.
He said: “It's extremely important that as leaders we show leadership.
“There is no place for anti-semitism. There is no place for anti-Palestinianism. We have to find a way to live together and be good neighbours to each other.”
Bishop’s Stortford North’s Cllr Mione Goldspink, deputy leader of the council and leader of its 10-strong Liberal Democrat group, said: “We are appalled by the attacks on innocent civilians and by the atrocities which have been committed and by the taking of hostages.
“We unequivocally condemn all attacks on innocent civilians, whoever it is who's perpetrating these attacks. As bystanders here in the UK, our hearts go out to all the people who have been caught up in and are affected by this tragedy.”
Bishop’s Stortford Central’s Cllr David Jacobs, who leads EHC’s five Labour members, said: “There are not really words to describe the horror of what happened in Israel last week, what's happening right now in Gaza and, God forbid, what might happen across the Middle East if this situation continues to deteriorate.”
But he offered some hope for the future “even at the darkest hour”.
“In my lifetime, I've seen the end of apartheid in South Africa… I've seen the Berlin Wall come down…And I've seen peace come to Northern Ireland… We must not give up on the Middle East and we must resolve that bullets and bombs will never bring peace," he said.
“The bravest people in this situation are those who realise that, and they will come to pursue an end to this conflict with words and actions, not violence.”
All councillors stood to observe a minute's silence for victims of the Israel-Gaza war.