I WAS going to write a whimsical sketch about Monday’s full council meeting. So close to the election now, councillors from all sides were indiscriminately trading pot-shots rather than truly debating council policy. All knockabout stuff: one of the best lines was from Conservative leader Andrew Marshall who said Lib Dem Arthur Graves would be treating the local elections like the football ‘transfer window’, a nod towards Art’s long-expected move to Islington Council in May. If the councillors’ words, flung mischievously across all corners of the chamber, had been custard pies, it would have been like the finale of Bugsy Malone. Everybody splattered in one great big foamy mess, a splurge-gun free-for-all in which nothing really stuck.
But then Nick Russell clicked on his microphone and fired something much worse than a custard pie.
By now, most people who are interested in the way things pan out at the Town Hall will know that for some unknown reason, the Lib Dem councillor stood up, turned to Conservative Chris Philp, who doubles up as a Gospel Oak councillor as well as the Conservative parliamentary candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn, and said: “Chris Philp always reminds me of a Nazi stormtrooper from Schindler’s List”. Cue two seconds of stunned silence before at least a minute of screaming. The blood rushed from Cllr Russell’s face and he quickly apologised. We never got told where he was going with that analogy and his Lib Dem colleagues must have been relieved he was stopped before we were.
In the knockabout waffle that councillors love to trade in the King’s Cross council chamber, they are more commonly quote a spot of Dickens, maybe even Shakespeare. Tell the cabinet members that their departments are run by Uriah Heep, that sort of thing.The unwritten rule is you don’t bring Hitler and the Nazis into it. There is nothing funny in stormtrooper jokes.
Philp accepted the apology. Russell apologised some more in a statement to the press the next day. Philp said the apology should be extended to Camden’s Jewish community. Nothing more from Russell, for the moment. I think most Lib Dems will privately tell you: He’s said sorry, let’s not dwell on this nastiness, let’s move on.
So, what will Philp do next? He is, of course, absolutely right when he says that the comment was “crass” and “nasty”. But would he be wise to pursue the matter further?
After all, if he was to start saying that telling people they look like a Nazi is beyond the pale, then he might need to begin his ticking off at his own constituency office. Rummage back into the archives and you will find that five years ago, more or less the same line was used by Camden’s Conservatives to discount a man who wanted to run for them, as Philp is doing now, against Glenda Jackson.
Jeremy Moodey was told that despite his excellent credentials, his thin rimmed spectacles made him look “too much like an officer in the Waffren SS”. Nobody knows who within the Tories actually made this comparison – nor whether they are still around now – but Andrew Mennear, who was at the selection discussion, confirmed later: “Someone said he looked like an SS officer – it was straightforward feedback. I thought telling him our thoughts might help him get a job elsewhere… It was an insensitive thing to say, but it was said with a bit of a smile. And we thought: do we want someone who looks like that in a picture to represent us?””
Monday’s full council meeting was proof that these things can’t be said with ‘a bit of a smile’. The councillors should stick to Dickens.
By the way.. here’s the text of the story: SS jibe angers Tory rejected by Hampstead, taken from an issue of the Camden New Journal in December 2004:
A would-be Tory MP who applied to fight Glenda Jackson’s Hampstead and Highgate constituency has claimed he was not selected for the seat because he looked like an officer from Hitler’s SS.
Jeremy Moodey, a banker who lives in Finchley, has been looking to find a seat as a Conservative candidate for the past year and approached the Hampstead Conservative Party in January. But Mr Moodey claimed he was told that although his credentials were excellent, he would not be shortlisted because he looked like he was a member of the SS – Hitler’s feared elite Nazi troops. Andrew Mennear, a Conservative councillor in Camden, who has bagged the Finchley candidacy for the next election, admitted he told Mr Moodey his looks were one of the reasons he was not chosen. But he said it was not his decision and has refused to reveal which member of the selection committee made the comments. Mr Moodey, 42, said: “I was told they were impressed with my CV but didn’t like my photo: my thin rimmed spectacles make me look too much like an officer in the Waffen SS, apparently.” Mr Moodey, a father of three, told the New Journal he was hurt by the comments and disillusioned with the selection process. Cllr Mennear, who originally backed Mr Moodey’s bid, has refused to reveal which one of his colleagues made the comments. He said: “I did not go to the final committee meeting that made the choice, but I spoke to people who did and that’s what they said to me, so I passed the comment on to Mr Moodey – but it would be quite unfair of me to say who said it. “Someone said he looked like an SS officer – it was straightforward feedback. I thought telling him our thoughts might help him get a job elsewhere.” Hampstead Conservative group chairman Janice Lavery has vowed to look into who made the remarks. She said: “I’m astonished. I shall be asking around. I can’t remember a colleague saying that, and we do not choose someone on the basis of their looks.” She also claimed that Mr Moodey’s inability to find a seat could have meant he was making mischief. She added: “If he’s been looking for a seat for nearly a year, perhaps he’s disillusioned.” Mr Moodey said although he was upset, he would still vote for Cllr Meannear – his local candidate. Cllr Mennear has admitted calling a prospective candidate a member of Hitler’s hated murder squad was offensive. He said: “It was an insensitive thing to say, but it was said with a bit of a smile. And we thought: do we want someone who looks like that in a picture to represent us?”