Tory mayoral candidate forced to leave hustings event by back door after Israel-Gaza comments

The Conservative candidate for the North East mayoral race was forced to leave a hustings event via the back door after branding questions on the Israel-Gaza conflict as “sixth form politics”.

Guy Renner-Thompson said he did not feel the question, asked by a student at Northumbria University students union, was appropriate for the forum. However, his comments provoked an angry reaction from some of the audience and he was forced to leave by the back door of the venue.

Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, the Northumberland county councillor said candidates should be able to voice their opinions without being threatened. While some of Coun Renner-Thompson’s opponents backed this stance, others called on him to apologise for his comments.

Speaking after the event, Coun Renner-Thompson said: “We were there to discuss student issues on housing, transport and cost of living. But someone in the audience read out a long, pre-prepared question about ‘genocide’ in Gaza.

“I responded that I probably had very different views on Israel to her, however we were there to discuss the North East, not the Middle East, and I wasn’t getting dragged into a sixth form politics session. The post-hustings photo was disrupted by the audience member shouting, which was ignored but then afterwards they were hanging around with a larger group of strangers by the main door waiting for me to come out.

“I snuck out the back door to avoid them but they’d sussed that so I drove past them shouting and videoing me. It might sound like nothing, but after the murders of Jo Cox MP and Sir David Amess, and constant death threats MPs in the region get, we are sadly taught to always be on our guard.

“People must be allowed to speak freely, harassing politicians and those who put themselves up for election is bad for democracy and never acceptable. And it’s not a clever way to try and make friends and influence people. Politics should be like a game of rugby. You can knock seven bells out of each other on the pitch, but still be able to shake hands in the clubhouse afterwards.”

Labour’s Kim McGuinness defended her Conservative opponent and called on other candidates to do so.

She said: “No matter our political differences, I’ve always found Guy to be a decent person who cares about his community. This kind of behaviour is unacceptable in any political debate, nobody deserves to be harassed.

“I hope all my fellow candidates will back him on this too.”

Liberal Democrat candidate Aidan King also raised concerns about the personal safety of politicians on the campaign trail.

He said: “It has been great to attend so many hustings across the North East and hear questions from a wide array of voters.

“Hustings are a vital part of our democratic process. They’re residents’ chance to directly grill us candidates before they go and vote.

“They should always be challenging for candidates but they should never be unsafe. Politicians of all parties should be able to debate and discuss the big issues impacting our region without having to worry about their personal safety.

“I’ve been pleased that hustings across our region have been well run, polite and, of course, challenging. It would be a shame if debate were to be stifled because a small minority wished to make candidates feel unsafe.”

Reform UK candidate Paul Donaghy also backed Coun Renner-Thompson and called the situation a “disgrace”.

He said: “‘It is sad, but a sign of the times that on University campuses, the idea of the free exchange of ideas is being threatened by a minority. University authorities have to step up to defend freedom of speech.

“It is a disgrace that my Conservative opponent was forced to flee from the event due to the behaviour by a minority of students.”

In contrast, Green Party candidate Andrew Gray called on Coun Renner-Thompson to apologise.

He said: “As a candidate for Mayor, we have a responsibility to address concerns about international events impacting our communities with sensitivity. We should not dismiss concerns about the conduct of the attacks on Gaza or the suffering of Palestinians, any more than we should downplay the terror caused by Hamas on 7th October or the impact of continuing to hold Israeli citizens as hostages.

“Guy had a right not to engage with the question asked of him, and to disagree openly with the student asking it. He should not have been made to feel fearful or unsafe when leaving the hall.

“He did not have a right to denigrate the concern or to label it as ‘sixth form politics,’ and for that he should apologise. Use of such demeaning language increases community tensions and the risks of hate crimes, at a time when we should be working to decrease them.

“If he apologises for use of this phrase publicly, I would be happy to mediate between him and the student concerned, should both she and he wish it.”

When asked by the LDRS, Con Renner-Thompson refused to apologise.

Independent candidate Jamie Driscoll disputed the idea that the hustings was disrupted.

He said: “At every hustings we get asked about matters beyond the powers of the Mayor, and all candidates have been happy to answer. We don’t get to choose what people care about.

“A young woman asked a question about UK arms sales being used in Gaza, and listened respectfully to the answers. No-one heckled or disrupted the meeting.

“It’s clear to me international law is being breached in Gaza, and the UK Government and official opposition have been too weak in standing up for human rights and calling for a ceasefire. A humanitarian tragedy is unfolding.”

In January, a hearing at the International Court of Justice found that at least some acts alleged to be taking place in Gaza appeared to fall under the provisions of the Genocide Convention. Israel described the charges, brought by South Africa, as “baseless” and that it was conducting a war of “self defence”.

More than 30,000 Palestinians are reported to have died in the war, including a large proportion of children. On October 7, 1,143 people were killed by Hamas in attacks on Israel, with 247 civilians and soldiers taken captive.

View news Source: https://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/news/north-east-news/north-east-mayoral-hustings-gaza-29068530

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