This evening's news that David Ruffley, my local Conservative MP, has announced that he will not be contesting next year's General Election is, I have to say, very good news for anyone who, like me, believes that there must be some standards for those in public life.
When the news broke, courtesy of Guido Fawkes, that the police had been called and that a caution for common assault had been accepted, I was surprised that the story appeared not to attract very much interest. After all, given the acres of press coverage given over to accusations of sexual misconduct in other cases, the acknowledgement of guilt on a charge of domestic violence might perhaps lead to open season on the guilty party by the press.
|The outgoing MP for Bury St Edmunds|
And yet, the story seemed to be going nowhere, with even the local newspaper, the Bury Free Press, very slow to pick up on the matter, and as for the national media - the Daily Mail being an unusually honourable exception - well, you might almost have thought that a conspiracy of silence applied. It was alleged that Mr Ruffley's public silence was being combined with a private campaign to 'sweet-talk' the media but, as long as the story didn't snowball, it looked as though he would get away with it.
I admit that my working assumption had been that his local Conservative Association would have a quiet word, and he would announce his retirement - his political career wasn't really going anywhere following the unfortunate incident not long after the General Election. And, perhaps, a bright young thing, or a prominent local member, might suit local circumstances nicely. However, the public support of the Association's Chair appears to have given him the belief that he might get away with it.
There is always a danger that a partisan campaign to drive someone out of office backfires, so when the Labour PPC for South Suffolk, Jane Basham, started to publicly call for his to go, I half expected local Conservative activists to rally round, but the blunt statement from the Conservative Police and Crime Commissioner, Tim Passmore;
Those of us in a leadership role in society must do our level best at all times and try to set a good example to others in what we do and how we behave – that includes all politicians regardless of any party affiliation.
In my opinion there cannot and must not be any hiding place for the perpetrators of such crimes.
and an equally unequivocal statement from the Conservative county councillor and Chair of the Suffolk Domestic Abuse Partnership, Jenny Antill;
I cannot condone any incident of domestic abuse, regardless of the identity of the perpetrator or his or her position in society or political persuasion.rather put the pressure back on the Association.
It took nearly four weeks for even a grudging public apology for his actions to emerge, an apology which seemed to have been crafted so as to accept a minimum of blame - as if the fact that his victim had accepted his apology somehow mitigated his behaviour.
But his apology evidently didn't satisfy, and when a letter from the Dean of St Edmundsbury Cathedral emerged, calling on senior local Conservatives to act, combined with forty thousand signatures on a petition calling for him to go, it seems that his position had become untenable.
David Ruffley is alleged to have some serious anger management problems. I have never had the misfortune to experience his anger at close range, but the rumours of his poor treatment of his staff, his unnecessarily rude and aggressive treatment of witnesses at Treasury Select Committee, combined with this final incident, does appear to suggest that Parliament is a slightly better place without him in it.
Naturally, he leaves an extraordinarily attractive opportunity for an ambitious Conservative - a majority of over 12,000, no obvious opponent for anti-Conservative voters to rally to - and given the hordes that applied for the South Suffolk seat torn out of Tim Yeo's hands not so long ago, I can expect a lot of people in smart suits, male and female, to be buzzing around Bury St Edmunds, Stowmarket and the villages over the coming weeks. It's probably a job for life, but then that's almost certainly what David Ruffley thought...