If being stupid were a criminal offence, we would all be criminals

I was at a party on Monday evening when an MP told me that Anne Marie Morris had used the expression, “n***** in a woodpile”. I was surprised that she had been so stupid. The expression she used was used by millions of people every day when I was growing up. It was used by teachers in the classroom. But that was then, the expression is no longer (rightly in my opinion) deemed acceptable, and you would expect an MP not to make the mistake she made.

If being stupid were a criminal offence, we would all be criminals, and it was stupid of her to express herself in such a way. But she didn't use the expression to convey racist thoughts and beliefs. She used it in the traditional way, referring to something important that wasn’t being discussed. The intent wasn't there. If there is any justice in this so-called liberal democracy, you have to judge someone by the intent behind their actions or words. To describe her as a racist is simply unfair and untrue. I have not come across anything that she has said in the past that has been remotely racist. Any fair minded person should realise that and look at her overall character.

But that isn’t good enough for the perpetually outraged - the holier than thou brigade who would have us believe that they never make a mistake. As Sir Bill Cash and John Redwood were speaking at the same event where Morris used the expression, Owen Jones asked on Twitter, “what action is being taken against Bill Cash and John Redwood for not speaking out against a colleague using disgusting racist language?” Apparently, if you hear something that is not deemed acceptable, you should report it to the police, otherwise you should be prosecuted, too.

Tim Farron, the outgoing Liberal Democrat Leader, said, “Even if she misspoke this is the nastiest thing I’ve heard an MP utter since Lord Dixon Smith uttered the same awful phrase a few years ago.” That is just hyperbole. He knows full well that Morris wasn’t attempting to be nasty.

Emily Thornberry, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, likened Morris to Nick Griffin, the former BNP leader. Heidi Allen, a Conservative MP, said that, “I'm afraid an apology is not good enough - we must show zero tolerance for racism. MPs must lead by example.” I agree entirely with her that we all should show zero tolerance when it comes to racism, but is Allen seriously saying that Morris is a racist? Probably, but Allen, like Farron and Thornberry, is prone to the odd bout of hyperbole.

Morris has already apologised, and I think she should make an apology in the House of Commons. She should make it clear that she regrets using the expression; that it just stupidly slipped out of her mouth, and then she should be judged by her actions.

There are some nasty, violent racists in this country. They are the people against whom we should all unite. To try and destroy Morris for misspeaking; to attach the same label to her as you would attach to someone who makes death threats to black people because they are black, is as stupid as Morris was when speaking at the East India Club.