Derbyshire Tory chief defends persecution claims

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A Tory leader has vowed to fight a policy dictating that councillors must declare Freemasons membership – claiming it is persecution likened to the Apartheid in South Africa.

A motion, put forward by Matlock councillor Andy Botham, was passed at a meeting of Derbyshire County Council, meaning councillors must declare membership of pressure groups and organisations, including Freemasons.

While debating the motion, the newly–appointed leader of the Derbyshire Conservative group Barry Lewis described it as persecution.

Speaking from a pre–prepared speech in the meeting, he said: “Not so many decades ago on the Continent some political groups said certain groups of people were ‘secretive’ ‘had lots of money’ ‘did deals behind closed doors’ replace the word “Freemason” and it’s the same sort of persecution, and suddenly this paper and Cllr Botham’s motion is a much more sinister thing.

“This is in many ways similar to being ANC member under apartheid in South Africa. Perhaps worse, because Cllr Botham and the Labour group have singled out a group of people with no political affiliations – if the shoe were on the other foot Labour would be howling ‘persecution!’”

Commenting after the meeting, Cllr Botham said he was shocked at the connotation that the Freemasons were like the Jewish race at the time of the Second World War.

He added: “It’s absolutely disgraceful to compare my motion to such tragic events of people who really were persecuted. I’m still amazed that he actually said it.”

Cllr Lewis said: “Freemasons were counted alongside the Jews as fair game for the Nazis.”

“How did it start back in the 1930s and 40s?” he added.

“It started out with the singling out of a single group of people and it grew from that.”

Cllr Lewis said he was not a Freemason himself, but commented that many Conservative members who were members of the organisation were already happy to declare their membership of it, however objected to the principal of having to declare it.

Cllr Botham said he was pleased with the outcome of the meeting and that common sense had prevailed.

“The strange thing is I have had nobody comment that they are not happy with what I have done,” Cllr Botham added.

Cllr Lewis said: “We will refuse to comply with the new local code created by the council. Will we however, continue to comply with with the existing Code of Conduct as we are required to by national legislation.”