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Sawbridgeworth mayor Reece Smith shies away from race controversy after Southend Tory General Election candidate’s ‘coconut’ comment on X





Sawbridgeworth mayor Reece Smith found himself embroiled in a race controversy on social media after commenting on a photo of a Conservative General Election candidate at a church fete.

On Saturday evening (June 8), Southend East and Rochford candidate Gavin Haran took to X – formerly Twitter – to post a photo of himself having a go on the coconut shy at St Nicholas Church Summer Fete in Great Wakering.

Town mayor Cllr Smith, who was elected to the role in May, commented, asking: “Did you knock the coconut off?!”

Tory Gavin Haran's response to Sawbridgeworth mayor Reece Smith's question prompted a backlash on X
Tory Gavin Haran's response to Sawbridgeworth mayor Reece Smith's question prompted a backlash on X

Mr Haran replied: “I’m afraid to say all coconuts remained intact. But I have a plan to ensure that at least one coconut is removed from its perch this year.”

The term ‘coconut’ has been used to accuse someone of betraying their race or culture by implying that, like the large tropical palm fruit, they are brown on the outside but white on the inside; in 2010, Shirley Brown, a black councillor on Bristol City Council, was found guilty of causing racial harassment after describing an Asian political opponent as “a coconut” during a heated debate. Mr Haran’s Labour opponent in the General Election is Bayo Alaba, a black man.

Following a backlash to his reply to Cllr Smith, Mr Haran deleted his comment and issued the following statement on Sunday (June 9): “The photo and my response was referring to the game I was playing at the fayre I was at and any I would be playing in the future. I was in no way referring to an individual.

Tory Southend West and Rochford election candidate Gavin Haran on the coconut shy at the village church fete
Tory Southend West and Rochford election candidate Gavin Haran on the coconut shy at the village church fete

“I would never say anything like this and I am very sorry that my words have been misconstrued. When it was brought to my attention that it had been misinterpreted I immediately deleted it.

“Racism in all its forms is unacceptable and as someone of Tamil heritage who has been a victim of racism in the past, I would never want do (sic) do anything that could even be perceived in that way.”

But the statement provoked yet more criticism of Mr Haran and suggested the motivation behind his “plan to ensure that at least one coconut is removed from its perch” had little to do with participation in future coconut shies.

Among the 300-plus comments, Elisabeth G said: “No one has misconstrued what you meant. This is a racist comment and you know it.” Someone called Sian added: “This doesn’t wash either. You knew exactly what you were doing and saying. Nothing is misconstrued or you wouldn’t have deleted it like the coward you are!” And Sticky commented: “There was zero to be ‘misconstrued’ about that tweet. It was a nudge-nudge, wink-wink, all-lads-together, in-joke reply to the Tory mayor of Sawbridgeworth Reece Smith.”

Sawbridgeworth town mayor Reece Smith
Sawbridgeworth town mayor Reece Smith

In the wake of the backlash, Cllr Smith deleted his original account on X and set up a new one, with all posts protected and visible only to approved followers.

On Monday morning, the Indie tried to contact to Cllr Smith and left a message on his answerphone. We wanted to know if his question to Mr Haran was innocent or provocative and why he felt the need to alter his X account and its privacy status.

Initially he responded through Sawbridgeworth town clerk Chris Hunt saying he did not wish to comment as “there was nothing to comment on”.

Mr Hunt then contacted the Indie to say that Cllr Smith had “innocently commented on a country fair game and so he doesn’t feel there is anything else to say”.



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