The Conservative candidate in the Waverley Borough Council by-election for Chiddingfold and Dunsfold, Ian Mitchell, has been suspended by the party on the eve of tomorrow’s (Thursday’s) vote.
According to the South West Surrey Conservative Association (SWSCA), Mr Mitchell, a school coach driver, was suspended after the association was “made aware of a social-media post made by Ian Mitchell that could be considered to be an inappropriate use of social media”.
Mr Mitchell confirmed in a conversation with the Herald that his suspension relates to a post he made on Facebook in late October, in which he shared a photo of a golliwog doll with the caption “Golly gosh, it’s a Golly, calling it a Golly is not racist”.
The offending Facebook post was seen by the Herald, but has since been deleted.
The SWSCA statement in full reads: “We have been made aware of a social-media post made by Ian Mitchell that could be considered to be an inappropriate use of social media. Given this, we have suspended Mr Mitchell from the Conservative Association pending an investigation into his conduct that may potentially lead to disciplinary proceedings being taken.
“In light of this suspension, we will not campaign further in the by-election to be held on December 1 and in the event that Mr Mitchell wins the by-election, he will not be eligible to join the Conservative Group until such time as his suspension has been lifted.”
Owning or selling golliwogs is not illegal in the UK. But the once-popular dolls – introduced in 1895 by children’s cartoon series The Adventures Of Two Dutch Dolls And A Golliwog – are often seen as a symbol of black oppression during the slave era.
The golliwog image was later splashed across Robertson’s jam and Trebor Black Jack aniseed chews, which was used on packaging until 2002.
But the character is now widely considered to be a degrading image associated with blackface, and people have since been threatened with prosecution for harassment for showing the dolls in public.
Mr Mitchell – who was pictured on the campaign trail with Conservative Party activists last Thursday and has been endorsed by the chancellor and South West Surrey MP Jeremy Hunt – has apologised “to anyone who feels upset about my post”, which he added he “forgot was on there”.
He will now stand as an independent candidate in the by-election.
Mr Mitchell said he shared the post because a golliwog doll was one of his favourite toys growing up, and added “I am not a racist, I have friends of many races and many colours of skin”.
He also called on the government “to make a total ban of anything that could be offensive to anyone.”.
A passionate Brexiteer, Mr Mitchell stood against the Conservatives for UKIP in the 2015 Chiddingfold and Dunsfold borough election – and prior to his selection in October claimed Tory MP Jeremy Hunt “used to go along to the UKIP open meetings at Farnham”.
He also said Mr Hunt was a “fence-sitter” on the EU, called the new prime minister Rishi Sunak a “tax-dodging billionaire”, and has called the UK’s foreign aid budget, immigration issues and benefits system “a drain on society”.
In a November 2019 post on Facebook, he added “I am not a Tory, will hopefully never be a Tory” – but just three years later, in early November, was selected as the Conservative candidate for Chiddingfold and Dunsfold.
The by-election was called following the death of long-standing Conservative councillor John Gray, and the Tories still retain one of Chiddingfold and Dunsfold’s two seats, after Cllr Anna James’ retained her seat in the 2019 local elections.
But Mr Mitchell’s suspension means the Conservative Party will not return a borough councillor in the Chiddingfold and Dunsfold ward for the first time since it came into being at the 2003 election.
His Lib Dem rival Dave Busby is now the favourite to take the seat ahead of Labour’s Rebecca Aitken.
Mr Busby said: “It is deeply disappointing that the Conservatives felt it appropriate to select a candidate to represent local residents that they themselves are now unable to support.
“With many residents having already voted by post, and with Mr Mitchell still appearing as the Conservative Party candidate on ballot papers, the situation is a complete farce.
“The local Conservatives need to come clean with residents about what they knew about Mr Mitchell’s conduct, and when.”
Polling stations will open for voters in Chiddingfold and Dunsfold ward on Thursday, December 1 between 7am and 10pm.
The victor will be installed as Cllr Gray’s successor for just six months, with voters returning to polling stations next May to elect their borough representatives for the next four years.
But the result could give a strong indication of how national – as well as local – politics may affect the 2023 borough-wide poll.