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

by Stephen Tall on October 30, 2009

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 Mr 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, Messrs Stowe and 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 Messrs 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 Mr Roberts).