Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Tuesday 12 January 2010

Has Greg Stone paid too high a price?

Greg Stone has resigned as Lib Dem PPC for Newcastle East as a result of the fallout following some lewd comments he made during one of Guido's PMQs live chats a year or so ago. Amongst other comments were a reference to whether Hazel Blears was on Botox and asking whether she had had a stroke and describing a Labour MP as a "sour-faced bitch"

There was various coverage of the comments last month in the press (for example here) and there had been calls for Mr Stone to stand down.

So on the surface, a PPC makes some ill-advised comments in public that have offended people and as a result has stood down. Fair enough eh?

Except, except I feel a bit uneasy about this. I will try and articulate it here. Apologies if it seems a bit disjointed.

Before I start I should mention that I did meet Greg during Lib Dem conference last year and had a drink with him. I thought he came across as a nice bloke and he was good company for the hour or so I spent sitting at the same table as him.

As far as I know, Mr Stone has not made comments like this in his capacity as a councillor or as a candidate. He has apologised on numerous occasions and I suspect he will be much more careful in future.

Now I have been following politics long enough to understand that Greg's position had pretty much become untenable. His political opponents in Newcastle East had started to put out leaflets drawing attention to the comments. It was going to be very difficult for him to continue his campaign in that context and it is therefore not surprising that he has gone. I also am sure that members of the Lib Dems would have done the same had it been an opponent that had made these comments.

I want there to be a wide range of people in parliament. Indeed if you speak to people about the sort of MPs they want to see they will often say they want people who are ordinary. Like it or not, there are lots of people who enjoy engaging in lewd banter when they are amongst friends. I expect if you went into many of the pubs in the Newcastle East constituency you would hear the sort of things described above.

I suppose what I am saying is that I wish our politics was mature enough for people to be able to have the odd lapse like this showing that they are human like the rest of us and not be punished by effectively having their political career destroyed. Sadly that is not the case but we reap what we sow with our politics.

I know some people will think I am just saying this because he is a Lib Dem but I really am not and am on record as having defended members of other parties when they have made mistakes too (e.g. here).


Psi said...

Hear Hear

Bernard Salmon said...

You're right - Greg is a very good bloke and would have made an excellent MP. I think it is unfortunate that MPs and aspiring politicians often have to have their sense of humour surgically removed before they make it into parliament, although I accept that some of Greg's comments were a bit beyond the pale. However, this should be another reminder that privacy and anonymity don't really exist on the internet, so people should think very carefully before making any comments which could come back to haunt them at a later date.

Duncan Borrowman said...

I totally agree. And the processes of the parties just encourage bland clones. The web is making it worse, as you can't sneeze without the whole world jumping on it.

Cardinal Richelieu's mole said...

No, this is not true - "if you speak to people about the sort of MPs they want to see they will often say they want people who are ordinary" - in the sense that people do not really mean that.

As is seen in this example to which you refer, when confronted by a facet of what may well pass, as you claim, for ordinariness that is unappealing, particularly when removed from its context, there is a revulsion (or at least expectations of it being widespread enough to matter). There may be instructive parallels with the Ross/Brand behaviour against Sachs. Recall also how shocked people were by the “expletives” on the Nixon tapes - the fact they occurred at all, rather than the specific examples.

As for whether this Stone person has paid too high a price, as he was not going to get elected, has he paid much of a price at all? Better to find out now he is repugnant to the public than afterwards anyway. Should he be repugnant? - well you have a point but there are plenty of candidates, even Newcastle voters have a right to be represented by someone whose “ordinariness” is rather more politely cast, despite having chosen Nick Brown hitherto.

Faceless Bureaucrat said...

I suspect the real irony here is that a descent bloke like Greg Stone gets caught making a few 'blokeish' remarks and steps down because of it, whilst in the past his Labour opponent is caught abusing vulnerable young males and yet achieves high office in a Labour Government.

Interestingly, this episode has dragged Nick Brown's past actions back into the spotlight just as a General Election looms.

As such, will Nick Brown live to bitterly regret his suspected involvement in discreditting Stone, or is young Greg in fact playing a clever 'long game' here and taking one for the team in the short term?...

Mark Thompson said...

CRM - What Greg said was nowhere near as offensive as what Ross and Brand said and the public revulsion at what R&B did was at the very least encouraged by (some may argue largely orchestrated by) the press, the Mail in particular. There are lots of people out there who like ribald and edgy humour.

It would appear however that these sort of people are often filtered out before they ever get anywhere near being an MP.

Cardinal Richelieu's mole said...

MR - Yes - what I had in mind was that the defence for the Ross/Brand behaviour was that it arose at all only in the very particular, if rarefied, environment of making comedy. “Making” does not equate to “fit for public broadcast” and this lesson was not remembered. Remove Stone’s remarks from the context of Guido’s blog and read then as literature and they maybe look far worse than was intended/expected.

Cardinal Richelieu's mole said...

I also meant to say “ribald and edgy humour” is fine if you want it but I would not want it, for example, from my physician in the course of being treated and I can easily see that people would not want it from their elected representative in the course of him commenting on political activity.

Mark Thompson said...

CRM - very carefully worded there when you say "I can easily see that people would not want it (ribald and edgy humour) from their elected representative in the course of him commenting on political activity."

He made those comments in a blokeish live chat comment forum where his comments were probably quite tame compared to a lot of what gets said and the attendees expect (nay actively want) that sort of thing. He was doing it psuedynonomously and not in his capacity as a councillor or PPC. He wasn't putting it in his leaflets or saying it on the doorstep. His opponents have taken those comments though and done precisely that on his behalf.

Ethan said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mark Thompson said...

Ethan - sorry about this but although most of your comment was fine, there was a small bit in parenthesis that I felt just went a bit too far which is why I have removed it. Please feel free to submit another comment but it was just that allegation that I could not leave in as a comment on my blog.

Cardinal Richelieu's mole said...

MR - all my posts to this blog are “very carefully worded” in case I ever stand for elected office ;-)

I know how Stone’s remakes came about. Had they been made about the scum that inhabit the Big Brother House or some other context removed from politics, he may well still be a PPC. But they were made about his chosen trade, the one in respect of which he is asking people to give him their trust etc..

FX 初心者 said...

Yes, I think you're right, so I agree with your opinion.

Thanks for the sharing.

Martin S said...

The people who wrote the leaflets and their chosen candidate are going to have to be so very, very careful about what they do and say now, aren't they? I think they have caught a tiger by the tail. And serves them right.