Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Steve Rotheram MP responds to our complaint re: Twitter comments

Office of Steve Rotheram MP
                                                                                                                                House of Commons
                                                                                                                                SW1A 0AA

Dear Zita
I am responding to your email of 5th March 2012 regarding your letter of formal complaint to Right Honourable Ed Miliband MP.
Can I first of all say that I am proud that one of the first groups I joined when entering Parliament was Show Racism the Red Card. In fact I specifically asked Ed as the newly elected Leader of the Labour Party for a picture to launch my new website over 12 months ago holding my SRtRC pack (see below). I have taken part in SRtRC events both in Parliament and at a fundraising football match at Stamford Bridge last year.
The Luis Suarez/Patrice Evra incidents have caused great distress to many people on both sides of the argument which unfortunately descended into football tribalism. Even John Barnes, a pioneer against racism in football, has been criticised by some for supporting Liverpool FCs stance on the issue. Before the two most recent games against Manchester United, Derek Twigg MP and I met with Club officials to highlight our apprehension that the toxicity of events could spiral out of control and endanger the safety of supporters from both Clubs. We also explained our concerns at the way in which the Club had handled matters.
I believe that some of the comments on social networking sites and other fora from a minority of supposed supporters based on race hate, have been disgraceful and should lead to those responsible being prosecuted. The press (other than locally) have been scathing of LFC/Suarez and their handling of the whole affair.
However, both Clubs agreed to draw a line under the matter, but there are some who would like to perpetuate the myth that Liverpool is a racist City and that LFC is a racist club for totally nefarious motives. This has been damaging to our reputation.
I have therefore been cautious about reigniting something that appeared to have been diffused (and I’m talking about the LFC/MUFC aspect here). I am not saying that there aren’t racists in Liverpool. I fought the BNP in the Fazakerley Ward who tried to stir up racial hatred, citing jobs at Aintree Hospital Trust being given to ‘immigrants’, which resulted, when I confronted a gang of them, in my own house and two young daughters being targeted by a group of BNP sympathisers with loud hailers.
I am also certain that despite improvements over the last 20-odd-years, racism in football still exists and despite a reduction in overtly racist behaviour (such as racist chants) I am in no doubt that racism persists in the mind, both within football clubs and on the terraces. Just because someone no longer says/shouts it, doesn’t mean they are not still thinking it.
Last week I responded to tweets I received complaining about an on-line petition allegedly tarnishing Liverpool and LFC. I certainly should have been more circumspect, although in my overly simplistic response to concerns raised, I did not refer to either; any particular petition, or to any specific group. I did admittedly generalise about peopleintent on causing trouble’ with regard to the Suarez/Evra situation. I did not suggest that racism itself should be ignored (obviously) and can’t believe that anyone who knows me, follows me on Twitter or has paid attention to the work I have done as an MP around sport and the governance/behaviour of clubs and fans, would interpret my comments thus.
However, people had voiced their concern that the terms of an on-line petition were perpetuating the misperception of the Club and our City as being racist. It was this particular aspect that I (clumsily) suggested should be ignored.  For any offence that I have caused, I unreservedly apologise.
There are several e-petitions that I have been asked to sign, for example requesting the FA to reopen the case against Luis Suarez given new evidence by linguistic specialists and sports lawyers, or ones that are critical of Patrice Evra’s behaviour, that I have (rightly) ignored, but there are some people that take every opportunity to have a go at scousers and knock our city, and I should have been more careful to check whether your on-line petition was similar to others posted. For misinterpreting your aims, once again I apologise.
As you will know, you only get 140 characters to put into context your thoughts on Twitter and I agree that my tweet (in hindsight) is, at best, awkward. Perhaps I would have been better emailing my wider beliefs on Racism in Football with a link to my website, which I regret not doing. In no way was what I tweeted meant to be insulting. I apologise.
In fact, so concerned was I about the whole issue of racism in football following the two high profile cases (Suarez/Evra and Terry/Ferdinand), that I secured a session for the DCMS Select Committee to look into the issue so that we could scrutinise the wider concerns; ensure that progress on tackling racism be continued and guarantee vigilance against complacency. It was due to take place today, but was unfortunately postponed due to the requirement for the Select Committee to complete the phone hacking report. I have been liaising directly with SRtRC to ensure that their evidence is heard.
Let me be absolutely clear; I have supported the two largest anti-racism campaigns, Kick It Out and Show Racism the Red Card, in my role as a Liverpool City Councillor, Lord Mayor of Liverpool, Member of Parliament for Liverpool Walton and as a football fan. I am a former PCS rep and my commitment to helping, wherever possible, to the eradication of racism in football, sport and society in general is real and I wouldn’t knowingly cause offence on such an important issue. If I did, then quite simply I AM SORRY.
Yours sincerely
Steve Rotheram