IF you are a Liberal Democrat and want Luisa Porritt, the Belsize councillor, to be the party’s mayoral candidate in London, then I suppose it’s good news: her only opponent on the shortlist has been suspended.
Geeta Sidhu-Robb had already triggered raised eyebrows among anybody with access to Google when up popped her appearance in Rich House Poor House, a Channel 5 reality show in which the millionaire described living in council housing as “hell on earth” in a house swap experiment and later labelled the whole experience as “edgy”. Let’s be honest, that’s not really the best brochure for a candidate looking to be in charge of solving London’s housing crisis.
But much worse came this weekend when old and pretty shocking footage of her time as a Conservative parliamentary candidate emerged in which she was shown telling people not to vote for a Labour Jewish candidate.
“I am deeply ashamed of the ignorant and abusive language I used on one occasion in the 1997 General Election campaign. As shown in the footage, I instantly regretted my appalling behaviour, which I continue to do,” she said this evening.
“Those words are entirely inconsistent with my views and values, and though there are no excuses for my actions, there is some context; that is, that I was under a great deal of strain and retaliated to the racial abuse I was receiving in Blackburn ‘like for like’. Two wrongs never make a right. I made a mistake and I take responsibility for my abhorrent actions twenty three years ago, they were never repeated. I urge you to judge me on who I am today, a campaigner committed to eradicating inequality and discrimination in all its forms.”
She also tweeted: “I particularly wish to acknowledge the hurt that these comments and actions would have inflicted on members of the Jewish community and of a Jewish heritage. Please know that my regret is sincere. And my apologies for the delay in replying and reaching out, like many people I’ve been working with kids and homework, and an elderly parent this Sunday.”
The Lib Dems, however, can’t accuse Labour of being soft on anti-semitism and not take strong action against somebody filmed telling people not to vote for a Jew. And so, as predicted through most of Sunday and just four days after the final mayoral shortlist was announced, along came a new statement from the party:
‘Geeta Sidhu-Robb has been suspended from the Liberal Democrats and will not be on the ballot paper to the Liberal Democrat candidate for Mayor of London. There is an investigation underway in accordance with due process.’
This sets Cllr Porritt up to be the candidate, but even those many Lib Dems who are delighted that she must now be the one to take on Sadiq Khan next year must be gulping at the whole process. How has the party found itself with only two candidates to run for mayor? And how can checks on the process miss such easily-findable information on one of the applicants?
This mess hasn’t been uncovered by some deep-diving undercover investigation. Anybody can just put a name into the search bar.