The Conservative Party is investigating an ex-North Somerset Council deputy leader’s tweet that slaves “had a better life then staying in Africa”.
Elfan Ap Rees, who lost his Hutton and Locking seat in last May’s elections, has caused anger with a comment he posted on Wednesday (May 27).
The 78-year-old was replying to the Bristol Festival of Ideas initiative’s tweet about historian David Olusoga’s new programme A House Through Time, which explores Bristol’s slave-holding past.
Mr Ap Rees tweeted: “Bristol needs to get over it…its history and most slaves were sold by their fellow African tribes to visiting ships and had a better life than staying in Africa.
“Some cruelty yes but there was worse among the White poor living in slum conditions of the time,and p [sic].”
The comment sparked a social media backlash, as dozens of people criticised the former Tory councillor’s tweet, one branding it “shamefully ignorant”.
Mr Olusoga tweeted: “What a cliched, unoriginal, unlettered and ill informed response.”
He later told Bristol Live: “What he said was such a cliche that there’s nothing there to engage with. If he had said anything even vaguely original I would’ve engaged with him.”
Asked if Mr Ap Rees would be allowed to remain in the party, a Weston-super-Mare Conservative Association spokeswoman said: “We are investigating this matter.”
One of those to attack the post was the Tories’ Bristol mayoral candidate Samuel Williams.
Mr Williams tweeted: “I’ve tried not to say anything but I can’t keep quiet. I’m horrified and absolutely furious, there is no place for views like this in @Conservatives, politics or society @elfanaprees apologize!”
He shared a quote from a historical account of slaves’ suffering: “He whupped dem all de time. I’ve seen their clothes sticking to their backs, from blood and scabs, being cut up with de cowhide.”
‘Certainly the worst response’
(Image: Michael Lloyd)
Festival of Ideas, which interviewed Mr Olusoga on Wednesday about his hit BBC Two series, also spoke out against Mr Ap Rees’ comment.
Its director Andrew Kelly told Bristol Live: “This was certainly the worst response we have seen to A House Through Time and our interview with David Olusoga, though I’d question whether Mr Ap Rees has seen either of these.
“It’s appalling that such views are still held and shows the importance of education on this subject.
“We’re happy to suggest some material for Mr Ap Rees to read and watch as well as places to visit.
“But, most of all, he should watch A House Through Time as the first episode showed public history at its best, led by a brilliant writer and presenter, and from which we all learned much.”
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Much of Bristol’s 18th century wealth stemmed from slave traders such as Edward Colston.
Many slaves died on overcrowded Bristol slave ships across the Atlantic, while others endured lives of hard labour and brutal conditions.
One Twitter user told Mr Ap Rees: “Displaying white privilege like this illustrates why the public in North Somerset were completely right to boot you and your views out of office.”
Another commented: “Has he not seen the evidence of the records and accounts of the enslaved and their masters.
“True, conditions were horrendous for the poor in this country but at least they could count themselves as being free men and women.”
It is not the first time Mr Ap Rees, who was involved in local politics for more than 40 years, has caused controversy with social media comments.
In the wake of 2016’s Orlando shootings, he sparked uproar after tweeting his views about more than 1,500 people attending a Bristol memorial to honour the 49 victims.
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Mr Ap Rees posted: “Hmmmm I’ll get into trouble for this but I don’t recall the Americans organising vigils when the IRA was bombing us!”
A House Through Time looks at Bristol’s history by tracing the past of 10 Guinea Street in Redcliffe, from the early 18th century to the present day.
Mr Olusoga said: “Three million people tuned in to watch A House Through Time, one of the biggest audiences of the year on BBC Two.
“I’m really proud that we were able to bring the series to Bristol and that we didn’t duck the truth, that slavery and the slave trade are part of the city’s history.”
Mr Ap Rees was approached for comment.