Four Tory councillors in storm over homophobic nickname targeting Lib Dem leader

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.

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7 Comments

  • Jayne Mansfield 12th Feb '12 - 4:35pm

    Keep calm and carry on Cllr Lambert.

    It sounds as though these name callers have just pulled themselves from the primordial swamp.

  • Ah, the million pink badges find another use again! A confused and long-dead Liberal Youth campaign, but we did make a lot of badges.

  • Layla Moran 12th Feb '12 - 6:03pm

    Stephen has dealt with this issue for a long time with both grace and political nouse. This shows us what we already know, while the Tory front bench don’t want to be the nasty party, many of them in the grassroots still are. I’m sure the electorate are more sophisticated than they are. Let’s hope there’s a by-election there soon so we can rub their homophobic noses in it in the only way they understand-loss of power. I’m sure loads of us will come and help!

  • I know this is incredibly picky and I don’t want to detract from the seriousness of the issue, but the Thame Gazette isn’t Aylesbury’s local paper, Thame being in Oxfordshire and Aylesbury in Bucks. The Bucks Herald and Advertiser are Aylesbury’s local rags. As it is, the Thame Gazette and Bucks Advertiser carry exactly the same story so I’m not sure why this bothered me so much! It may be due to a combination of being an Aylesbury girl, a Lib Dem (localism and that) and a pedant!

  • Stuart Mitchell 13th Feb '12 - 6:49pm

    Sorry, but somebody has to ask this question…

    If it is unacceptably homophobic to refer to a male homosexual by a mocking feminine nickname, then how come it is perfectly OK for numerous LDV writers over the years – including one Stephen Tall – to use the nickname “Mandy” when talking about a well-known homosexual Labour politician?

    http://www.libdemvoice.org/ldvideo-mandy-clegg-and-coulson-16972.html

    What, exactly, is the difference?

    Are some homosexuals more deserving of protection from “homophobic slurs” than others?

  • Stuart Mitchell 13th Feb '12 - 9:08pm

    @ Stephen – I guess that one difference is that I have no doubt whatsoever that you had not one scintilla of homophobic intent when you allowed a reference to “Mandy” to be published. By that point the “Mandy” name was so well established that most people who used it probably never gave it a moment’s thought.

    Before I posted I looked in to the origins of the nickname, and without wishing to go into it too much, it seems quite clear that the journo who coined it is pretty unsavoury and was openly hostile to Mandelson at the time, and that Mandelson was clear that he regarded it as deeply hurtful. Hence I felt it was fair to draw a parallel with this case.

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