Here’s a story that shows politics in both its best and worst lights — the facts, as far as I’ve gleaned them from the local paper, the Thame Gazette, are as follows…
Four Conservative councillors on Aylesbury Vale district council coined a nickname for the openly gay leader of the Lib Dem group, Stephen Lambert — they called him ‘Lily’ on at least four documented occasions, at the election count last May and at a number of group meetings. The homophobic slur came to light ‘when a member of the Conservative group approached [Cllr Lambert] with notes of the comments’.
Here’s what Stephen had to say about it all two weeks ago:
“It’s about equality, but I’m clearly seen as different, and people feel it’s acceptable to use nicknames. I’ve been out for nearly 20 years, this is me and it’s something I can’t change. It’s something that should be out of bounds. … I was told I had a nickname some time before, but I dismissed it at the time. In October I had a conversation with someone who brought this to my attention in detail.”
Stephen said that if the allegations were proved, he would demand a full, public apology. An apology certainly didn’t seem to be on the mind of the local Tory leader, John Cartwright, who brushed the allegations aside:
“All of us have over the years have attracted derogatory remarks and nicknames, that’s par for the course in politics. You don’t tend to get uptight and upset. I’m aware of some talk about a nickname in times gone by, but most certainly not recently.”
But the story did not stop there, with Stephen’s colleagues — not just in the Lib Dems, but also among Labour and Ukip councillors — outraged on his behalf:
Last week all Liberal Democrat members at Aylesbury Vale District Council, as well as their Labour and UKIP counterparts, sported pink anti-homophobia badges at a crunch budget meeting. The badges, declaring Homophobia Is Gay, were worn to a full council meeting on Wednesday.
And Tory leader John Cartwright’s response to the continuing row? Well, he issued one of those conditional, half-apologies so beloved of politicians hoping to shrug off anything awkward: “May I apologise for any such remarks which may have been made by any member of the Conservative group.”
Stephen Lambert is unimpressed:
“What I’ve got isn’t an apology, it’s insulting. I’m so angry, and my group is livid.” He said he had contacted the Local Government Association, calling for Mr Cartwright and AVDC chief executive Andrew Grant to be removed.
Here in microcosm is politics at its worst (casual bullying being ignored) and at its best (colleagues from all shades of opinion rallying round to support the person being bullied). Best of Luck to Stephen Lambert as he confronts those who seek to make light of homophobia.
* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.