CentreForum Liberal Hero of the Week #51: Gloria De Piero

by Stephen Tall on October 20, 2013

Liberal Hero of the Week (and occasional Villains) is chosen by Stephen Tall, Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and Research Associate at CentreForum

cf hero - gloria de piero

Gloria De Piero

Labour MP for Ashfield
Reason: for asking to be judged on what she does now, not on what she did when she was 15

When she was 15 Gloria De Piero posed topless to earn some money. Twenty-one years later she was elected an MP, and three years after that was appointed to Labour’s shadow cabinet.

Those two sentences should have no relationship to each other – plenty of people do things in life they regret – yet a news agency is apparently in the market to buy those pictures to cause Ms De Piero embarrassment. Pre-emptively she went public in a blog-post to ask that the pictures not be bought or published:

I have talked about why I posed for these pictures in interviews before. I thought at the time it was a way of improving my circumstances. This is part of my story and part of who I am. I can’t change it now but this happened over twenty years ago.

It is now time to call off the hunt for these pictures and let me get on with the job I was elected to do, representing the people of Ashfield and serving in the shadow cabinet.

I don’t think anyone wants politics to be open only to those people who were planning their political careers in their teens. I would like to see a politics that represents our country, including many more women from all walks of life, and that is something I am passionately committed to help bring about.

No one should have to worry that something they did when they were young might prevent them from serving their community or getting involved in politics at a local or national level.

Gloria De Piero is not the first politician whose pre-political life has come back to haunt them. David Cameron sought to draw a line under his alleged use of Class A drugs in 2007 with the statement: “Like many people I did things when I was young that I should not have done, and that I regret. But I do believe that politicians are entitled to a past that is private, and that remains private.”

They’re both right. Our parliament is already criticised for drawing its members from too narrow a circle – university graduates who’ve hacked and interned their way into safe-seat sinecures. Exclude those who’ve ever transgressed and your pool of talent will be even shallower.

The thing that matters to the public, rightly, is hypocrisy: politicians who say and do one thing but behave as though those rules don’t apply to them. What most will shrug at is youthful misdemeanours.

But Ms De Piero’s statement highlights another couple of lessons, too. First, if what those who become MPs do when young is irrelevant, how much more so is their background, over which they have no control? (Dan Hodges is very good on the double-standards often applied by politicians here – though the same double standards are also regularly exhibited by the media and the public, too.) Secondly, her statement shows how much more effective it is for politicians to take on the media in the court of public opinion – which paper would now dare publish those pictures? – than in the court of law. Those MPs thinking Leveson is the way to tame the press should think again.

* The ‘Liberal Heroes of the Week’ (and occasional ‘Liberal Villains’) series showcases those who promote any of the four liberal tenets identified in The Orange Book — economic, personal, political and social liberalism — regardless of party affiliation and from beyond Westminster. If they stick up for liberalism in some way then they’re in contention. If they confound liberalism they may be named Villains. You can view our complete list of heroes and villains here. Nominations are welcome via email or Twitter.