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Is this why “being local” is so important in Norwich?

July 17th, 2009


BBC News August 2006

Has an MP ever insulted his constituents so much?

After a week’s by election campaigning when “which candidate is the most local” seems to have been the dominant issue I’m reminded of my favourite moment during the career of the outgoing MP, Ian Gibson.

For the curtain should not be allowed to close on his political career without reference to what to my mind is one of the best political insults ever – the day that he talked about “inbreeding” amongst his constitiuents.

This is how the Telegraph reported it in August 2006:

“For years, country folk in Norfolk have been the butt of jokes suggesting that incest is rampant in the county. Now, one of its MPs has caused uproar by stating publicly that people in Norfolk are inbred…

Dr Ian Gibson, the Norwich North MP and former chairman of the Commons science and technology committee, proposed inbreeding as a reason for the high incidence of diabetes among children in the area.

“I would imagine it is linked to the fact that people in Norfolk are quite inbred, with many not leaving the county,” he told the Eastern Daily Press this week. “It is something that needs to be looked at as a priority, especially as many cases are linked to obesity, too.”

Dr Gibson knew at the time that he was playing with fire. When asked if he thought people would be offended by his comments, he replied: “Probably, but they are inbred. If you look at the names in Norfolk, there’s a lot that are the same.”

Gibson’s position was not helped by the fact that before entering the commons he was an eminent scientist – he was Dean of Biology at UEA – so his observatrions perhaps carried further weight.

Whether this will come up in the closing week of the by election campaign I don’t know – but the incident did give a great deal of pleasure to those of us who follow politics and are not from Norfolk.

Mike Smithson