Express & Star

Apology after slur over MP's Black Country flag tweet

Labour officials in Sussex have apologised to four of the party’s Black Country MPs after making false allegations over a picture which showed them holding the Black Country flag.

Black Country Labour MPs Ian Austin, Tom Watson, Pat McFadden, and Adrian Bailey with the Black Country flag at parliament and, inset, the tweet by Bexhill and Battle Constituency Labour Party

Dudley North MP Ian Austin, Wolverhampton South East MP Pat McFadden, West Bromwich West MP Adrian Bailey, and West Bromwich East MP Tom Watson this week posed outside the Palace of Westminster with the iconic flag to mark the Black Country Festival.

Mr Austin posted a link to the photograph and an accompanying Express & Star article on Twitter, which was then seized upon by the Bexhill & Battle Constituency Labour Party (CLP).

In response to the picture, the Sussex-based group’s official Twitter account tweeted: “Nothing celebrates the Black Country more than four white men who forgot to invite Wolverhampton’s first female black MP.”

Tweet by Bexhill and Battle Constituency Labour Party

The tweet was a reference to the absence of new Wolverhampton South West MP Eleanor Smith – the first black MP in the West Midlands who was elected last month, replacing Rob Marris who retired.

Mr Austin tweeted back: “What are you suggesting and why would an official Labour CLP account attack four Labour MPs, including the deputy leader?”

He later added: “I see you’re online. Can you explain this unpleasant tweet & offensive suggestion? This is, after all, an official CLP account?”

The Bexhill & Battle account later deleted the tweet and issued an apology online, saying: “The issue is being dealt with internally and the personal (sic) has apologised verbally. CLP Chair and Secretary will be in contact.

“We are looking in to restricting Twitter timeline access and focus on our scheduled marketing instead.

“Finally, the offending tweet has been removed and we apologise if you were offended.”

The incident came just a day after MPs – including shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott – revealed the full extent of the horrific abuse they receive from the public. Mr Austin, who organised the photograph in Parliament, told the Express & Star all Labour MPs from the region had been invited and he now wanted to get on with celebrating Black Country Day, which is taking place across the region today, with the festival ongoing over the weekend.

He said: “I invited all my Labour Black Country colleagues and not all of them could make it. The CLP has withdrawn the statement and apologised. I want to wish everyone a bostin’ Black Country Day and I will be around enjoying the festival with many fantastic events taking place over the weekend.”

Mr Watson said: “MPs are very busy a lot of the time so to get them all in one place can be very difficult. Nothing will ever stop us from celebrating the heritage and the culture of the Black Country. I have not seen the tweet in question, but it seems pretty unhelpful when we are trying to work together as a united party.”

Mr McFadden said there was ‘no basis’ for the Bexhill and Battle CLP to surmise who had and hadn’t been invited to pose for the picture.

Wolverhampton South West MP Eleanor Smith

Ms Smith was unavailable for comment.

Two years ago a race row erupted after equality campaigner Patrick Vernon said the chains on the Black Country flag were offensive because of their use in the transatlantic slave trade.