Last week saw the politically awkward demise of Anne Marie Morris, the Conservative MP for Newton Abbot. Morris saw the party whip withdrawn when recordings were released of her using a racial slur at a Brexit event in Central London. Discussing the possibility of the UK leaving the EU, Morris labelled it “the real n**ger in the woodpile.” The phrase was immediately, and given the language, rightly, lambasted in the press. Calls for the MP to be sacked were loud and widespread, and the Prime Minister acted swiftly in withdrawing Morris’ membership of the Conservative whip.
This suspension means that Morris is still a sitting MP, though must now sit in the chamber as an independent. Some saw this move by Theresa May as not far enough, such as Lib Dem Leader Tim Farron, who called for May to sack Morris, and Labour MP Chuka Umuna who labelled both the language used and Tory response “utterly appalling.” Whilst these figures are of course influenced by political motives in decrying this MP, such language does beg the question of the standards expected of sitting MPs. This phrase has no place in the public forum, and a prominent figure in a position of authority should not under any circumstances think it is acceptable to use such words.
Although the phrase Morris used was commonplace in the 19th and 20th centuries, it cannot be defended now, but perhaps the one who used it can be. Let us not tarnish the entire character of this MP purely because of one wrongful act. It is disappointing to see a politician speak in this way, but by all accounts Morris has been a good MP for the seven years she has been in office. In the most recent General Election she increased her majority to more than 17 000 votes, indicating her constituents perceived her performance in Parliament as incredibly positive, working well for them. She has been a loyal member of the party, rebelling on very few occasions, and seemingly when driven by conscience and constituents (such as the 2013 Syria vote). Likewise at the time of writing she has spoken some 651 times publically in the chamber, suggesting an engaged and active member of the House. By all accounts then, a positive constituency MP and party backbencer.
Newton Abbot in Devon – the constituency of Anne Marie Morris MP
Such evidence is backed up by the manner in which her local Conservative Association defended her. Sylvia Russell, the president of the Newton Abbot Conservative Association, defended Morris’ character, calling for an appropriate punishment. Likewise the so-called Black Farmer, Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones, defended Morris, saying those so viciously attacking her ought to look at their own public records on diversity and helping minorities.
What Morris said was wrong, such language may once have been socially acceptable, but now certainly is not. Rightly so, a prominent public figure ought to be punished for such speech, and apologies ought to be given. But one has to wonder if it is necessary to destroy an entire career over one mistake. For a society that cries out against such language because of a love of tolerance, where is the tolerance of a woman who admits she has done wrong, and has apologised. Her language ought not to be defended, but perhaps her character ought to be. She has done wrong and should be punished, and she has been. If she is the racist villain the press have at times purported her to be, base that on more than one foolish comment. If a study of her work with constituents and votes on equality issues shows her not to be such an unpleasant character, then maybe now it’s time to draw a line under the mistake and move on.