Labour candidate claimed racist comment row was ‘smear campaign’

A white Labour candidate who publicly apologised after making a racist joke privately described criticism of the incident as a “smear campaign” against him, The Independent can reveal.

Darren Rodwell, whose rant was compared to a racist comedy show in the mid-1970s, said at the time his remarks were “extremely stupid and embarrassing”.

“I deeply apologise to anyone that I have offended,” he said after a clip of the 2019 remarks surfaced in October 2022.

But, just days later, an email seen by The Independent reveals he told a potential constituent that he was in fact being smeared.

Darren Rodwell, who is white, said he has ‘the worst tan possible for a Black man’ (Screenshot)
Darren Rodwell, who is white, said he has ‘the worst tan possible for a Black man’ (Screenshot)

After being contacted by a man who wanted to support him to succeed Margaret Hodge as the Labour candidate for Barking, Mr Rodwell said: “I will give you a call today and explain the whole situation.

“What I can tell you is it was part of a smear campaign against me.” Labour said Mr Rodwell had addressed his comments at the time and no further action would be taken.

At a 2019 Black History Month event, Mr Rodwell, leader of Barking and Dagenham council, said “you might have noticed that I’ve got the worst tan possible for a Black man”.

The councillor, dressed in an African headpiece and footwear, went on to say he has “passion and the rhythm of the African and Caribbean” - pronouncing African as ‘Afrikaan’, which is thought to be a tone-deaf imitation of Black people’s speech pattern.

He then claimed he used to do “swing dance” and “jiggling about”.

A complaint to the Labour Party about Mr Rodwell’s comments, revealed at the time by The Independent, said: “It is like watching a racist comedy show in the mid-1970s, such as the ‘Black and White Minstrel Show’.”

But, after a party investigation, he was cleared of wrongdoing and apologised, saying the joke was made “in a jovial way and was never meant to insult or alarm anyone”.

Darren Rodwell is the Labour candidate for Barking (Nadine White/The Independent)
Darren Rodwell is the Labour candidate for Barking (Nadine White/The Independent)

Mr Rodwell also sparked fury last October when he used historic gravestones to hang up a political campaign banner.

He was pictured tying his Labour Party poster to two tombstones, leading to calls for him to be suspended from the party.

A spokesman for left-wing campaign group Momentum said: “Darren Rodwell made deeply offensive comments and yet was somehow allowed to remain a Labour candidate. The reason why, we were told, was that he apologised - a privilege not extended to the likes of Diane Abbott. Now that this apology has been shown to be hollow, and following more scandals around Rodwell, he must be removed as the Labour candidate.

“Anything less would only confirm the hollowness of Keir Starmer’s commitment to tackling anti-Black racism, and ensuring ‘high quality’ Labour candidates.”

Meanwhile Sam Holland, the Conservative candidate in neighbouring Dagenham and Rainham, said he has complained to Sir Keir Starmer in the past about Mr Rodwell’s conduct.

The Conservatives have not yet picked a candidate for the Barking seat. But Mr Holland told The Independent: “It is shocking but sadly unsurprising that Cllr Rodwell was insincere in his previous apology for the racially insensitive language he used at a black history month event. To call criticism of his own inappropriate language a ‘smear campaign’ clearly shows his standards of conduct are beneath that expected of a Council Leader and would-be Member or Parliament.

“I’m of the firm view Cllr Rodwell should have resigned long ago for his prior conduct. I hope he now finds it within himself to do the decent thing and go, or, the Labour Party suspend him immediately.”

A Labour spokesperson said: “Darren Rodwell offered an unreserved apology for these remarks when the video was first circulated in 2022.

“The Labour Party dealt with this matter at the time in line with its rules and procedures.

“The Labour Party takes all complaints seriously and they are fully investigated in line with our rules and procedures, and any appropriate disciplinary action is taken."