Philippa Stroud: where is the media outrage?

The Observer reported on Sunday that a Tory PPC ran a church that tried to “cure” homosexuals. Why h

On Sunday, the Observer carried this report on a high-flying Conservative candidate, Philippa Stroud, who is standing in the seat of Sutton and Cheam, in Surrey.

It's entirely possible that you missed the story, as it doesn't appear to have been picked up by any other mainstream news outlets.

If you did, the main charge levelled against Stroud is that she founded a church and night shelter in Bedford, the King's Arms Project, which tried to "cure" homosexuals by driving out their demons through prayer.

One girl described her experience to the Observer:

Abi, a teenage girl with transsexual issues, was sent to the church by her parents, who were evangelical Christians. "Convinced I was demonically possessed, my parents made the decision to move to Bedford, because of this woman [Stroud] who had come back from Hong Kong and had the power to set me free."

The Pink News followed up, obtaining a statement from the candidate:

Today, Mrs Stroud issued a statement saying: "I make no apology for being a committed Christian. However it is categorically untrue that I believe homosexuality to be an illness and I am deeply offended that the Observer has suggested otherwise."

When PinkNews.co.uk pointed out to her spokesman that the Observer's prime claim was not that she believed homosexuality to be an illness, rather that she appeared to believe it could be overcome through prayer and removing "demons", he said: "We will not be adding to or subtracting to the statement." [Sic]

It's difficult to see why this story hasn't created a huge storm in the mainstream media, particularly because the Conservatives' questionable position on gay rights has been a talking point of this election.

It seems even stranger, given that the comments of Manish Sood -- a Labour candidate much less influential in his party than Stroud is in hers -- about Gordon Brown's premiership have, within hours, made it into almost all the mainstream media outlets.

A campaign to bring the story to wider media attention has had #PhilippaStroud trending on Twitter. Last night, a Guardian blog reported that the story had been linked to on Facebook more than 5,000 times and tweeted more than 7,000 times.

As one tweet sums it up:

Gordon Brown calls ONE voter a bigot. Press goes MENTAL. #PhilippaStroud calls MILLIONS of voters demons. Silence. Why?

If the allegations are true -- and at the moment there is no reason to doubt it, as they have not been denied -- it is a very serious matter indeed that Stroud could hold public office in just two days' time.

Will the main broadcasters and newspapers pick up on the story? Where's the media outrage when you need it?

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Has Brexit, like indyref, changed the political axis to Leave vs Remain?

In Scotland, a referendum changed the debate. 

Not that long ago, politics in Scotland seemed to follow a familiar left-right divide. It was a Labour stronghold, and the fact there was only one Tory MP left seemed only to burnish its left-wing credentials. In the Scottish Parliament, too, the Labour narrative dominated.

Even when the Scottish National Party captured Holyrood, this left-right split was still taken for granted (the SNP were still, at that point, doing a good impression of becoming a centrist replacement for the Tories). 

But then came the Scottish referendum, and a Yes campaign that captured the imagination of not only SNP members, but Labour voters, and Greens. Meanwhile, sceptical No voters on both left and right found themselves in an uneasy coalition.

Labour backed the winning side, but ended up the biggest losers. While Ruth Davidson rebranded the Scottish Conservatives as the pro-union party, and Nicola Sturgeon put the SNP in touch with the wider left-wing Yes movement, Kezia Dugdale has been caught in the middle. The party lost all but one MPs in 2015. 

“That is the axis – independence,” Daniel Johnson, a Labour MSP who bucked the trend and won Edinburgh Southern in the 2016 Scottish parliamentary elections, told me in August. “We have to move it on from there. But, by default, that is what it will be.” I heard similar sentiments from Labour campaigners, exhausted after months and years of campaigning with little to show for it. 

Now, after another referendum, are we seeing a similar axis emerge in the UK between Remain and Leave? Just over a year ago, Lib Dem MPs were booted out of constituencies across the land. Now, a Lib Dem, Sarah Olney, has defeated the Brexiteer incumbent, Zac Goldsmith. The result is already being cheered as a victory for the coalition against hard Brexit.

Certainly, her support cut across party lines. She received the support of the Greens, which didn’t stand a candidate and, more crucially, many Labour and Tory voters.

There are important differences. The SNP, on the losing side of the Scottish referendum, nevertheless had a disciplined party, a high profile leader and a track record of centre-left government. Indeed, New Labour supporters often mutter darkly that it has "stolen our clothes". The national party with the clearest message on Remain, the Lib Dems, is by contrast, a diminished outfit after their own devastating defeats in 2015. 

Scotland’s parties also look more politically homogeneous, with Labour, the Lib Dems and the Scottish National Party all offering versions of the centre left. Under Davidson, the Conservatives have targeted the “tenement Tories” with a focus on social mobility and blue-collar traditions. It is unsurprising, then, that for many voters the overwhelming distinction is Yes to independence, or No.

In the UK as a whole, by contrast, the Remain vote is split between  the devolved nations, the metropolitan elites – Exhibit A, Richmond – and young people who may or may not be able to influence the constituency vote. 

If any party can stitch these groups together, it should be Labour. But the party is now locked in internal agonising over Brexit, and the direction of its leadership. Embracing a new axis could open the door to a soft Brexit progressive alliance, but might also mean abandoning Scotland to the SNP, and the North to Leave.

For now, it is ploughing on. Unlike the Greens, it stood a candidate in Richmond. Despite being a well-respected transport expert, he lost with just 3.7 per cent of the vote. Some things, at least, are like Scotland.    

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.