The Tory councillors who labelled their Lib Dem opponents “morons” refuse to apologise

Moron: it’s not exactly a nice word. Definitions include “a person of subnormal intelligence” and the more psychologically precise “a person having an intelligence quotient of between 50 and 70”. Many of us might have used the term, but it’s one generally best kept out of civilised political discourse.

Tory councillors in the Cotswolds take a different view, as the BBC reports:

Councillors dubbed “morons” by rivals via social networking site Facebook say they may report the insult to the local government watchdog. Cotswold District Council leader Lynden Stowe and fellow Tory Chris Roberts said Lib Dem rivals “have a reputation… for being morons”. …

In the online exchange on 14 October, Mr Roberts and Mr Stowe wrote open messages which referred to Lib Dems as “morons”.

The Lib Dem group is now considering whether to complain under the Code of Conduct, which is overseen by Standards for England, the government’s local authority regulatory body. [Lib Dem group leader] Mr Hodgkinson added: “I’m a bit confused as to how someone could do this in public. The term is not nice.”

I hope the Lib Dem group decides not to take this to the Standards Board – Lib Dems have widely criticised having a quango stand in judgement on councillors: that’s the job of the voters. (For an example of LDV sticking up for a Tory in these circumstances click here).

But I hope the voters in the Cotswolds will also consider the kind of politicians they want to represent them – and whether they really want councillors who not only openly abuse their opponents, but then refuse to apologise with a lack of grace bordering on the hilarious:

Mr Stowe and Mrs Roberts have issued a joint statement which reads: “These were private comments which were available only to our authorised ‘friends’ on Facebook.

“It’s clear one of our ‘friends’ is not a friend but a Lib Dem sympathiser who has abused the system and infiltrated private pages not available in the wider public domain.

“To us, it reinforces just how low Liberal Democrats will stoop.”

Yes, that’s right: it was the Lib Dems’ fault all along: of course. I love, by the way, Mr Stowe’s and Mrs Roberts’ use of the term “infiltrate” – as any Facebook user will know, friend requests have to be approved by the user, so if a Lib Dem did “infiltrate”, it was with Cllrs Stowe and Roberts’ explicit permission.

Is this a major story? No, it’s not. The reason I’ve given it this space is that it’s the second occasion this week when Tory representatives have made abusive allegations against the Lib Dems, and – when they’ve been found out – refused to apologise. To the names of Lynden Stowe and Chris Roberts, can also be added Tory candidate for St Austell & Newquay Caroline Righton, who has gone to ground rather than issue a simple apology for smearing her Lib Dem opponent Stephen Gilbert.

The rule is a simple one: if you make a mistake, own up and apologise. People understand and respect that. What looks bad – what smacks of being a “typical politician” – is burying your head in the sand (Ms Righton) or lashing out at your opponents (Mr Stowe and Mrs Roberts).

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  • Calling someone a moron isn’t an “abusive allegation”. It’s just an insult.

    They need to man the hell up, politics is a rough sport. Getting melodramatic about it makes everyone involved look like, well, morons.

  • I agree. Everybody needs to stop getting offended so easily, and just grow up. What sort of a ‘liberal’ gets so offended at this mild insult on somebody else’s Facebook page that they report it to the BBC and make a story out of it? Whatever happened to liberal ideas (freedom of speech anyone?) in the LibDems? Its all getting completely ridiculous. Every time I think of supporting the LIbDems, something like this makes me wonder why I should bother.

  • Tories are cretins – oops is this abusive? Nah, just the troof

  • Pathetic. I’ve often called NuLabGreenTories fucking morons, because they are. Nothing wrong with abuse & causing offence to the enemy.

  • Antony Hook Antony Hook 30th Oct '09 - 1:57pm

    A few years ago a Tory Councillor in Dover called local young people “brain dead”.

    He eventually made a public apology but he tried the incredible “remarks made on the internet are private” defence first.

    We took his seat at the next local elections and held it four years after that.

  • Erlend Watson 30th Oct '09 - 2:08pm

    I think that even if people are more in favour of Standards Board/Panel use than I am they should consider acting as they would with libel law.

    I was taught that vulgar abuse is not libel. So if I say “Cllr Blogs is dishonest” I can be sued but if I call him a moron I cannot.


  • Hey don’t we run a “moron watch”?

  • This case is pretty minor actually. Where people abuse (and this can be classified as abuse) members of the non-political public, Ithink there should be sanction. This puts the political process (not to say your own party) into lower public esteem.

    Just a comment on the “no discipline other than the ballot box” movement – all too common in political circles. We all know that a) the electorate are fickle b) people cannot be expected to know the fine detail of infringements, some of which are not minor. There should continue to be an immediate way of calling those who clearly breach the rules to book.

  • Herbert Brown 31st Oct '09 - 8:07am

    “This case is pretty minor actually. Where people abuse (and this can be classified as abuse) members of the non-political public, Ithink there should be sanction.”

    I think the rule of law is a pretty good principle to follow.

    It’s high time we got back to that, rather than having myriads of extra-judicial bodies with powers to impose penalties for perceived “offences” that aren’t even against the law. Least of all should any “board” have the power to ban anyone from standing for election to public office.

  • Martin Land 31st Oct '09 - 9:16am

    I think someone at Cowley Street should just maintain a dossier of all the filthy dirty Tory tricks and ‘sledging’ in a book and if there is a Hung Parliament, send it round to David Cameron when he asks to meet with us.

  • If moron is unacceptable then shouldn’t idiot be in the same category?

    That means I can’t say what I would think of Liberal Democrats who would refer this incident to the SBE.

  • Councillors have to abide by a Code of Conduct which is totally different from how the ordinary bloke or woman in the street can act…so calling someone a ‘moron’ is abuse which you or I could get away with, but councillors – and in this case – the Leader of a Council – can’t go round saying this kind of stuff. Tories exposed for what they are – vile and no apology either!

  • Herbert Brown 31st Oct '09 - 12:25pm

    “Tories exposed for what they are – vile …”

    Now, now! That’s not nice.

  • Matthew Huntbach 31st Oct '09 - 12:27pm

    Well, having just used the word in a semi-humorous way elsewhere on this site, I suppose I should now be waiting for the political correctness police to come and smash down my door and drag me away.

    It is surely a long time since this word was used as a medical term, if it still were in widespread use as such, I could see the point here. Also had it been used in some distributed literature rather than a site which is meant to be informal communication on a friend-to-friend level. OK, we are still getting used to this public display of informal language, but I think to go all po-faced and complain about a term most people use in quite a light-hearted way is just way over the top.

    In short, the Liberal Democrats complaining here seem to me to be over-reacting in a way that is damaging to our party. I think the Tories in question have the right to react as they have.



  • Ralph Perry 13th Nov '09 - 4:49pm

    Crispin Mount , josh etc are right. The “morons” issue is just the tip of the iceberg.

  • Anna Robbins 17th Nov '09 - 5:25pm

    Christine Roberts MBE ’s resolve? Nothing moronic about that! A month on and not a hint of apology or regret, and a lovely day at Windsor to collect her gong!
    ‘Not a bad idea were the LibDems to check under the carpet at the Cotswold District Council periodically.
    Her Twitter comments are available from the CDC.

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