* Warning: this story contains feigned outrage

by Stephen Tall on January 14, 2012

One of the more absurd stories I’ve seen this week is from Aintree in Liverpool. It’s a bite-size exemplum of local politicians slavish desire of media attention — and of the news media’s slack-jawed credulity when presented with a too-easy headline. Especially one that allows them to print the word ‘NUTTERS’.

You can read the Liverpool Echo’s story here: Aintree woman’s fury over Liberal Democrat nutters leaflet ‘slur’.

Sounds quite bad, doesn’t it? And then you read on, and discover the facts are:

  • The Lib Dem leaflet delivery team in Aintree is called ‘Nutters’, has been for years. Those who know our party and its occasional resemblance to a leaflet-delivery cult will recognise the aptness of the collective noun.
  • Said noun is used on the delivery notes handed to volunteers to let them know which houses are on their round, and those they shouldn’t deliver to for any reason.
  • Cue a case of mistaken identity, with the term ‘Nutters’ assumed to refer to those individuals named as folk the Lib Dem should not deliver to.

In the circs, and if you look at the photo in the article, it’s understandable how it could be taken that the Lib Dems had labelled a handful of folk ‘nutters’. Which makes for a decent local paper-style story, I guess.

Except for two things.

First, the Echo asked Sefton’s Lib Dem leader Cllr Tony Robertson about it, and he set out the facts I summarised above:

“The term nutters is not in any way intended to refer to the people to whom the leaflet is not delivered. Nutters is a reference to ourselves because we go out in all conditions to deliver these leaflets. It is a nickname which must go back 15 or 20 years – it is the name of our pub quiz team.

“That term refers to the person of our team who delivered the leaflet, not anybody else. There was certainly no offence intended. The leaflets are simply not delivered to those people because they were already identified as opposition voters, or requested to not have them delivered.”

All pretty straightforward. But not what the paper or its churnalist John Siddle wanted to hear. So they amped-it up, found an ‘Aintree woman’ who could be outraged by the Lib Dems use of the word ‘nutters’. And who was this ordinary Aintree resident? A Labour councillor. Her names’s Claire Traynor and she had this to say:

“I am really upset because it is a term I find really offensive. I know people with serious mental health problems, which makes this so much worse. It was more upsetting than anything else. Why say that? It is like they made a judgement about me when they do not know me. All they know is I am a Labour supporter. I have never written to the Lib-Dems or complained about them, yet they are branding me a nutter. It is quite distressing.”

Still, ‘distressed’ Claire wasn’t the only one to forget she was an elected Labour councillor — Political Scrapbook didn’t notice either before copy ‘n’ pasting the Echo’s report.