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What happened to Nick Conrad shows the problem with this election

PUBLISHED: 11:03 03 December 2019 | UPDATED: 08:39 04 December 2019

Nick Conrad quit BBC Radio Norfolk in the hope of becoming a Conservative MP - but resigned his candidacy after just 24 hours. Photo: Steve Adams

Nick Conrad quit BBC Radio Norfolk in the hope of becoming a Conservative MP - but resigned his candidacy after just 24 hours. Photo: Steve Adams

Copyright Archant Norfolk 2016

Liz Nice says the role of social media in the choice of who will govern us has never been stronger, and is worried that it could, ultimately, have dangerous consequences, after a number of MPs complained of intimidation and abuse

Steffan Aquarone is the Liberal Democrats' prospective parliamentary candidate for Mid Norfolk. Picture: Alex BroadwaySteffan Aquarone is the Liberal Democrats' prospective parliamentary candidate for Mid Norfolk. Picture: Alex Broadway

I'm not entirely sure what this election is really about any more.

I've not been hearing much about policies, that's for sure.

Take our former columnist, Nick Conrad, for example - in my limited experience of him, a perfectly nice and decent man.

Nick was elected by the Broadland Conservative Association early last month, only to have to stand down 24 hours later because of comments he made about the Ched Evans case on the radio in 2014.

What Nick said was the usual stuff of radio phone-ins and yes, as a feminist, I'm not entirely fond of men making comments around rape cases suggesting that 'women should keep their knickers on'. It doesn't help women much to say anything that could potentially imply that rape is the woman's fault.

However, there is a discussion to be had about women taking action on nights out drinking to ensure their own safety and what happened to Nick means that a conversation of that nature in the public sphere becomes almost impossible, which helps no one.

Nick apologised, but still had to stand down as a candidate, for comments he had made five years earlier in a forum where it was his job to stir things up and promote robust debate and, quite frankly, I thought that was a counter-productive shame.

It had nothing to do with his capacity as a potential MP, nothing to do with his policies, and, I suspect, very little to do with his views on women. It was just a stupid remark, analysed ad nauseum on social media for many more hours than Nick would have given to making it - and it makes you wonder who can be an MP these days, since if there is anyone in the whole of East Anglia who hasn't made a stupid remark in their lifetime that probably wouldn't withstand the scrutiny of social media, I'd like to hear from them now.

It is only by throwing our opinions out there, that we have a chance to refine them, and learn when our more extreme ideas need the corners knocking off a bit as I'm sure Nick has done now; but these days, if you are in the public eye and say one wrong thing, you're not allowed to learn from it; you have to pay penance to the end of days, and where does that leave us?

It seems to me that trial by social media is running the country these days which means our political candidates get condensed down to caricatures, debates are nothing more than platitudes or rabble rousing and no one really cares about doing or saying anything much, as long as the tide of public opinion is currently on their side.

Quite frankly, this is dangerous because if an MP isn't seen as a real person, but a social media caricature, then people will respond to them accordingly.

Last week a number of Norfolk election candidates spoke about the 'aggression and abuse' they face on the campaign trail.

Lib Dem candidate in Mid Norfolk Steffan Aquarone said he met a man who told him he would shoot him if he was successfully elected.

Apparently, after they had talked, the man apologised - which goes to show that if you actually meet a person face to face, even if you wholeheartedly disagree with their politics, it doesn't mean you have to hate their guts.

But mostly MPs don't have the opportunity to meet their abusers - because they are hidden online. And the more angry people get at their computer screens, not talking to real people, the more likely they are to strike out when they venture into the actual world.

Norwich North MP Chloe Smith has been chased through an underground car park. Labour candidate in Broadland Jess Barnard spoke of 'verbal abuse on the doorstep' which she found 'worrying'. South Norfolk Green Party candidate Ben Price talked of 'real aggression and abuse.'

Price puts it down to people feeling let down by national politicians, and that may be the case but so much of what we learn about politics these days comes from social media, and with its ubiquity and rapidity, it must play a significant part.

The whole Nick Conrad incident set the tone for this election pretty well, I think.

Candidates will live and die by their soundbites, rather than by what they actually intend to do for us.

This means that, without doubt, Boris Johnson will win, not because of what he stands for or believes (we all know that changes with the wind), but because everyone calls him Boris, as though he is a mate of theirs, thinks of him as a good laugh and finds him entertaining. And because, on social media, he makes for great memes.

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