Labour councillor who said he had “worst tan for a Black man” cleared of wrongdoing

Exclusive: Labour councillor Darren Rodwell sparked outrage with his comments at Black History Month event and had been subject of an investigation

Nadine White
Race Correspondent
Friday 21 October 2022 19:07 BST
White Labour councillor Darren Rodwell jokes he has the 'worst tan possible for a black man'

A Labour councillor who said he had “the worst tan possible for a Black man” has been cleared of wrongdoing, The Independent can reveal.

Darren Rodwell, leader of Barking and Dagenham council and MP hopeful, was investigated on Monday after footage emerged of his comments at a Black History Month event.

Mr Rodwell, who is white, said he had “the passion for the rhythm of the African and the Caribbean” while wearing a kufi, a traditional hat in parts of Africa.

Footage of the incident at the Black History Month event emerged this week
Footage of the incident at the Black History Month event emerged this week (Screenshot)

The party has now concluded its probe into racism complaints after a one-hour interview in front of the National Executive Committee, Mr Rodwell said at his Parliamentary campaign launch in Tower Hamlets on Friday.

He remains on the shortlist to replace Margaret Hodge as the MP for Barking, after the veteran politician announced she would not be standing at the next general election.

A complaint about Mr Rodwell’s comments at the event, submitted to the Labour party on October 7 said: “It is like watching a racist comedy show in the mid-1970s, such as the ‘Black and White Minstrel Show’.”

Speaking to The Independent, Mr Rodwell apologised for any offence caused by his comments and said the “tan” remark was one made at his own expense three years ago, which did not spark complaints at the time.

Darren Rodwell speaking at the launch of his campaign to represent Barking as an MP
Darren Rodwell speaking at the launch of his campaign to represent Barking as an MP (Nadine White/The Independent)

”I never wanted to offend anyone,” he said. “I stand beside and fight for people’s rights to be heard. I don’t want anyone being discriminated against just because they’re different and that’s why I’m horrified.

“The joke itself was derogatory to me because of the fact that people had already talked about the fact that I was a white man in African attire and they really appreciated that.

“It was in a jovial way and was never meant to insult or alarm anyone. That’s why I gave an apology.”

“The world will say what they say. My family, friends and community know who I am. I am not someone who believes in racist doctrine in any way, shape or form.”

The councillor was wearing a Kufi hat with some of his colleagues’ blessing, he says, having just participated in an event celebrating Nigerian Independence Day (1 October). He then proceeded onstage for a Black History Month function, Mr Rodwell explained.

The councillor is hoping to replace Labour veteran Margaret Hodge
The councillor is hoping to replace Labour veteran Margaret Hodge (Getty Images)

The councillor has also faced criticism for repeating the “false” claim that “Barking and Dagenham stopped slavery” across various promotional videos and events.

“He ignores 400 years of slavery across the Caribbean, the Americas and beyond to make deeply offensive statements that slavery was somehow abolished by people in Barking,” another complaint seen by The Independent reads.

When challenged about this, the MP-hopeful said the remark was a “tongue in cheek” soundbite, adding that there “is depth to it” because of some abolitionists’ connection to the Barking area.

Labour has been accused of “turning a blind eye to racism”, following the investigation’s conclusion. The probe comes after a damning report in July said there was a “hierarchy of racism” and “toxic right-wing culture” within the party.

"By letting Rodwell through despite his offensive comments, the Labour Party has made a mockery of its anti-racist commitments,” a spokesperson for left-wing campaign group Momentum said.

“Just days after blocking a prominent anti-racist activist, a Black man and a socialist, from standing as an MP, Labour is waving through a white man... despite complaints he engaged in behaviour "akin to blackface".

“Shamefully, the Party first ignored the complaints, only conducting a toothless investigation when pushed by the press."

A Labour Party spokesperson said: “The Labour Party takes all complaints extremely seriously and they are fully investigated in line with our rules and procedures, and any appropriate disciplinary action is taken.”

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