Stephen Williams on Quentin Letts: “I’m gay, Welsh, bald, slightly disabled – he’s been a s**t, a b*****d”

Stephen Williams MPIt’s safe to say Quentin Letts is not on Bristol West MP Stephen Williams’ Christmas card list. Speaking to Total Politics, he talks candidly about his experiences on the campaign trail and the hurt of being ridiculed by the Daily Mail’s Quentin Letts about the effects of his neurological disability.

Here’s an excerpt – and below you can see Stephen debate on last night’s Channel 4 News how far journalists should go in mocking politicians…

Sitting in the sun with a coffee, we talk about Williams’s election in 2005, when he made history on two counts by becoming Bristol West’s first ever Liberal MP and his party’s first openly gay MP. Does he think Britain is now ready for a gay prime minister?

“Yes, I think possibly so. But whether they are ready for a gay, Welsh, slightly disabled prime minister or party leader I’m not sure,” he says with a big laugh.

Who does he mean?

“Me!”

Seeing the surprise on my face – it is not common knowledge that Williams suffers from a disability – he says: “I have a neurological illness called dystonia which means my muscle control on my left side isn’t that good.”

He goes on to explain that his condition, for which he has to have injections four times a year, is in the same family as MS and Parkinson’s, although it is not degenerative.

“With the help of the drugs that I have, it’s stable, although I have good days and bad days. It wasn’t properly diagnosed until 2007, when I had quite a few bad attacks – if you don’t have the injections it gives you more spasms. I thought I had MS at first, but the consultant who finally diagnosed it said ‘if you’re going to have a neurological illness, it’s the one to have’. So it’s not life threatening.”

It is painful sometimes, however, and also means Williams has to think about movement more on his left side.

“Keeping still for cameras can be a nightmare, particularly in a TV studio. If you’re staring straight into a camera, which is just a green light shining straight into your face, it’s quite difficult to keep still. I’m alright when I’m talking, though.

“So, gay, Welsh – I should probably add bald to my list – and with a slight disability. Just think what Quentin Letts would do with that,” Williams laughs.

But his tone changes as he adds that the Daily Mail’s sketchwriter has “been a shit” to him. “He’s poked fun at my sexuality before, and referred to me twice as the stiff-necked Mr Williams, because that’s what it does, it causes stiffness here,” Williams says, gesturing to his neck. “He’s a bastard.”

Does Letts know about his disability?

“Well, he should check. Quite a lot of the press gallery do know, and most broadcast journalists know, and work with me to make TV interviews as easy as possible.”

Returning to the subject of his sexuality, Williams says that one of most the pleasing things about his time as an MP is how much attitudes have changed. “The first time I fought Bristol West in 2001 was quite a miserable experience. I had lots of hate mail. It was pretty bad back then, even in a ‘small l’ liberal seat.”

When asked if the fact that he is gay ever comes up these days Williams says: “Not really no.” After a pause, however, he adds: “There’s a possible concern that some of my opponents tried to stir things up against me amongst my Muslim electorate, but other than that, no, not really.”

Are Tory activists doing that, or Labour ones?

“Labour,” he replies in hushed tones. “Don’t go assuming the Labour Party are nice people.”

Nevertheless, Williams is keen to emphasise how “great it has been to have gone from being in quite a hostile environment as an openly gay candidate, to being able to play a part in achieving equal marriage in this parliament.”

“When people write up the history of this government, I think it will actually be portrayed as a great, reforming government, even if it is only for five years. And one of the longest lasting social changes is that the Equal Marriage Act will be learnt about by Year 3 kids in St Bonaventure’s school – will be learnt about in schools for a hundred years to come,” Williams says.

Stephen Williams MP on Channel 4 News: “Political sketch-writers sometimes cross the line”

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15 Comments

  • Tony Dawson 5th Jul '14 - 2:53pm

    So Guido thinks that mocking because of disability is OK?

    Mr Letts has a slightly disabled son. I wonder if he, or Guido would wish this child to be mocked for this disability, whether now or when he grows up?

  • Isn’t this the second piece on LDV where a Lib Dem uses insults and foul language about those he doesn’t like or feels done down by ?

    Yet posters on the site get modded for far less. If I were to call a Lib Dem a s***, a b****** would that be allowed…no.

  • Eddie Sammon 5th Jul '14 - 2:58pm

    Yeah, but Guido, The Daily Mail doesn’t treat everyone with equal contempt – they go after certain groups in society.

    Regards

  • Jayne Mansfield 5th Jul '14 - 3:39pm

    There is a line to be drawn and the mocking of a person’s disability crosses it. However, it seems from the clip that Quentin Letts was unaware of the disability and has had the good grace to write a letter of apology.

    I believe that Quentin Letts has a child with a disability.

  • Sadie Smith 5th Jul '14 - 4:23pm

    Depressing to hear that the Labour Party still does that. I suppose I am only surprised that the passage of time has not changed some of their attitudes. Thirty odd years ago, friends had that sort of experience.

  • Malcolm Todd 5th Jul '14 - 11:05pm

    Well said, Eddie.

  • If Mr Williams has proof that Labour activists are guilty of stirring up trouble by dint of his being gay between him & the Muslims in his constituency, as he alleges, he should provide it. Failure to do so may suggest he was trying to make an unsubstantiated smear.

  • I’ve canvassed several people in my area who’ve been told by Labour councillors and activists that our candidates were gay, in derogatory terms, so Stephen’s experience doesn’t surprise me. The most notorious incident was the Miranda Grell case, that went to court, but Labour playing dirty like this is not uncommon.

  • Dave G Fawcett 6th Jul '14 - 12:49pm

    Gay! Bald! Disabled – Oh and Liberal Democrat. Should I count myself lucky that I’m not Welsh?

  • Nick Tregoning 6th Jul '14 - 3:20pm

    Ah yes. The ‘in the wrong business’ argument. Perhaps if political journalists don’t like others of their ilk being criticized for what they say then they are ‘in the wrong business ‘ too?

  • From when I first became interested in politics in the 1960’s in North London the Labour Party has been like this. I came from a working class ‘Labour’ background … BUT what I saw of how Labour behaved just turned me away. My natural liberal instincts shone thru :)))) Labour still in essence a conservative minded party, a very disappointing party that peddles class conflict and plums the depths of campaigning. There we are, got that off my chest, feel better now!!

  • John Broggio 7th Jul '14 - 11:33am

    @Dominic

    Before throwing stones, check you’re not sitting in a glass house.

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