I’ve worked with a number of clients who are suspicious of the media. They are concerned that their words will be twisted. Deliberately misrepresented. That they will be made to look silly; heartless or incompetent. It is a natural concern, especially for those who are about to face a hostile broadcast interview. I have prepared many senior folk for a rumble with John Humphrys and have seen their fear and felt their pain. It is real and I don’t down play it. But in these situations I always offer the same advice; nobody can make you say things you don’t want to say – be clear about what you want to say and say it.
Where does that take me? To the Member of Parliament for Newton Abbot, Anne-Marie Morris, who was elected as a Conservative in 2010, again in 2015 and again earlier this year. In a recent discussion about Brexit she used a racist analogy, including using one of the most offensive, sickening, disgusting words in the English language. I will not be using it here. It is often known as ‘the n word’. I actually feel sick thinking about typing it let alone typing it – and yet she said it, out loud. Yuk.
She has had the Conservative whip removed, which means she has been suspended from the party and was defended today by one of her local party colleagues on radio, who said; “I believe she was really looking for a metaphor to illustrate a point about Brexit – and like sometimes, when you’re standing on your feet and you’re speaking without a script, things come out that shouldn’t come out, and Anne Marie is mortified, I would think, that people should consider that she might be a racist. She’s not. I have known her for many years and she hasn’t got a racist thought in her head.”
It is hard it know who offends me more; the racist or the racist’s apologist. I make no apology for calling these words racists, because they are. Anyone – anyone, especially anyone who is in public life and has been a Member of Parliament for seven years, should know that word is so wrong and so disgusting. If they don’t there is no place for them in the job. I would actually argue that’s there is no place for them in a civilised society.
I believe she should resign and force a by-election. The party should move her suspension to an expulsion and she should find another job, perhaps one she is better suited to – perhaps one in the 19th century. Politicians of all parties talk about taking a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to racism. If this is not a platitude then action needs to follow. Not temporary suspension but a clear message that using this language disqualifies you from this type of work. Forever.
Going back to clients who face a potentially hostile media or are just generally nervous about public speaking or media performances, it is right for them to be careful with their words, it’s right to have a plan for how to manage the media, but I say again nobody can make you do or say something you don’t want to say or do. You are in control. You are responsible for your own words and actions. You are in charge. Just because you are put on the spot doesn’t mean you should say something you don’t believe or want to say. It certainly doesn’t mean you should use racist language, unless that’s the sort of language you usually use. If it is, you have bigger problems than dealing with the media or speaking in public.
Using the n word is not a slip of the tongue; it’s not a mistake; it’s not an accident; it’s a disgrace. It’s sickening. It’s repugnant. It’s risible. It’s racism.
Picture taken from BBC website – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-40572300