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Last Updated: Friday, 15 October, 2004, 18:00 GMT 19:00 UK
Howard slams MP's Bigley article
Boris Johnson
The column has been labelled 'Tory propaganda'
Tory leader Michael Howard has denounced as nonsense a magazine article claiming Liverpudlians "wallow" in "victim status".

An editorial in The Spectator, edited by Tory MP Boris Johnson, said the city's outpouring of grief for Ken Bigley was "disproportionate".

The article aroused instant fury in Liverpool.

Mr Johnson has told the BBC he now thinks the article was "too trenchantly expressed".

I feel it's a kick in the pants for me from Michael Howard
Boris Johnson
Mr Howard said: "I totally disagree with the comment in The Spectator about Liverpool. I have nothing but the greatest admiration and affection for Liverpool and its people.

"I think what was said in the Spectator was nonsense from beginning to end."

The leader's comments forced Mr Johnson to step back from some aspects of the article.

"I think the article was too trenchantly expressed but we were trying to make a point about sentimentality," he told the BBC.

"I feel it's a kick in the pants for me from Michael Howard."

Despite the controversy, a Tory spokesman said Mr Johnson's job as shadow minister for culture, media and sport was not under threat.

'Tribal grievance'

The article, in the issue dated 16 October, says people in Liverpool "cannot accept that they might have made any contribution to their misfortunes, but seek rather to blame someone else for it, thereby deepening their sense of shared tribal grievance about the rest of society".

It says Liverpudlians "wallow" in their "victim status", adding it is part of the "deeply unattractive psyche" of many in the city.

The article goes on to say Ken Bigley's brother Paul was wrong to say the Prime Minister has "blood on his hands".

We're a friendly city and we stand by each other
Phil Hammond, Hillsborough Family Support Group

It says Mr Bigley took a risk by working in Iraq against the advice of the Foreign Office, and that "his motives and misjudgements... should, without lessening sympathy for him and his family, temper the outpouring of sentimentality in which many have engaged for him".

It also says the city made a scapegoat of police in the wake of the Hillsborough disaster, refusing to acknowledge the part played "by drunken fans at the back of the crowd who mindlessly tried to fight their way into the ground".

The incident claimed the lives of 96 Liverpool football supporters.

The Hillsborough Family Support Group described the article as "typical Tory propaganda".

Phil Hammond, vice chairman of the group said: "Boris Johnson, he knows nothing about this.

"He doesn't even know how many people died at Hillsborough. They wrote that it was 'more than 50'.

"I doubt whether he has ever been to Liverpool.

"We don't see ourselves as victims. We're a friendly city and we stand by each other when one of us gets hurt or killed."

This discussion is now closed. Here are a selection of comments we received

I am Welsh and have lived happily on Merseyside since 1989. I watched the Sun and A.A. Gill vilify Scousers and I thought Boris Johnson was of a slightly more humane stand point. Obviously not. This is no self pity city, but one on the up and with a smile on its face which it retained through the grim years as well. Iain Logan, Liverpool

I do feel sorry for the family, but he did go there to make money ignoring the fact that people have been kidnapped and killed. He took the risk and it did not pay off for him. I wonder if he would have been there if the pay was £7:50 an hour? I doubt it. Another case of greed before safety. John, Newcastle

I am 19 years old and I am totally and utterly disgusted in the comments made by Mr Johnson. Although I myself am not from Liverpool, I was very proud to see that the city supported the Bigley family in their many weeks of anguish. The moments of silence that occurred out of respect for Ken after his inhumane killing was unbelievable and could have only been done with such sincerity in the town I would be honoured to call home. As to bringing Hillsborough into the question the man should take a long hard look at himself. We should count our blessings Mr Johnson is not from Liverpool as if he were he would have been brought up to be a decent human being. Sarah Dobie, Runcorn, Cheshire

Boris Johnson is about spot on this time. Liverpudlians also seem to think they are funny as well! Melvyn Packham, Sittingbourne

Some people have a depressing need to demonise others to bolster their own pathetic self-image
Ian Barry, Niagra Falls, Canada
Yet again the Tories prove just how out of touch they are with the British public. I expect the same will happen to The Spectator as it did to The Sun after their Hillsborough coverage, Liverpudlians boycotting the title. Rightly so. Adam Barber, Islington, London

Usual Tory contempt for the city of Liverpool and the people. Phil Woodward, Liverpool

Some people have a depressing need to demonise others to bolster their own pathetic self-image. Overt racism is no longer acceptable so people like Johnson must seek other ways to express their bitterness and hatred engendered by their own inadequacies. His use of the word "tribal" implies a sense of belonging that those who live in the commuter towns of the south-east can never experience. Very few Londoners are from London and can never truly feel at home there. I feel sorry for him. Ian Barry, Niagra Falls, Canada

Having read Boris's editorial I largely agree. After all, what was it that Ken Bigley was reported to have said before his abduction? "I'm not afraid, you only die once." Equally, I am tempted to regard Paul Bigley's criticism's that Tony Blair "has blood on his hands" in a less than charitable light by the revelation that it was he who encouraged his brother to seek work in Iraq. Paul Bambury, Liverpool

I agree completely with the comments made in the editorial, and think it's about time the people of Liverpool opened up to other views. Drew, Newcastle

Boris Johnson should be totally ashamed of himself and the Tory party should consider booting him and the likes of him out permanently
Lorraine, Cheshire

I've always liked Boris Johnson, and this is one of his best 'contentious' comments yet. I've lived in Liverpool for four years now, and there is sadly more than an element of truth in what he says. Which is why I've sold up and I'm leaving Merseyside at the end of the month. For good. Chris Young, Liverpool

These comments are typical of the type of out of touch cretins who have never suffered any hardship or loss and who have no grasp of reality or working class people that are the face of the dying Tory party today. If Liverpudlians wallow in their victim status then they have every right to do so in my opinion when you consider the horrendous torture and murder suffered so needlessly by one of their own. Lorraine, Cheshire

Having watched 'Have I Got News For You' often, I have always thought Boris a comedic fool. Unfortunately I must now revise that opinion. He is 100% right in his article about the subject of Ken Bigley and Diana, Princess of Wales. Ken Bigley is being held up for sainthood by many, but he was not in Iraq for purely humanitarian reasons, like many of the other, less well known hostages from Aid agencies. He was being paid (well!) to be there, and was old enough and experienced enough to know the risks. Personally I would like to see a moment's silence accorded to ever single soldier, man, woman and child killed in Iraq, whether by military force or lack of sufficient humanitarian aid. Iain Hicken, Swindon, UK

There's a lot of truth in what The Spectator has published on this. My grandfather built a regional supermarket chain in the north west of England, but he refused ever to source anything from Liverpool, despite it being the primary distribution point for the region. The reason? Liverpool workers spent more time striking than working - he would not have been able to run his business. So no matter how charming Liverpudlians can be, the city does seem - still - to suffer a kind of collective neurosis and persecution complex. If they worked a little more and striked a little less, perhaps people wouldn't write stuff like this about them!
James, London, Uk

Liverpudlians find it too easy to bear a grudge which is really sad
Vanessa, Liverpool
I have to agree to a point, I work in Liverpool and they really do tend to wallow in any form or grief they can get their hands on, even if it isn't theirs, they borrow it, act as if they aren't part of England but just their own country. The Hillsborough comments are totally out of order though.
Anon, Manchester UK

I'm absolutely flabbergasted such arrogance and bigotry still exists. Courage and dignity is also displayed in my home city and such insults are not thrown from behind a veil. We are strong people emotionally, physically and personally. Your comments will never be forgiven. How dare you patronise all you obviously do not understand nor can begin to comprehend. We are a community. Always have been and always will be.
Kerrie, Jersey, C.I. (ex-pat)

As a resident of Liverpool for the past six-and-a-half years I would have to say that Boris Johnson is entirely correct in his view of Scousers. I've noticed it many times - most importantly as regards the Hillsborough disaster. Liverpudlians still despise the Sun newspaper for its reporting of the event, despite retractions and apologies. The furore when Rooney did an article with them was massive. Phil Hammond is correct in saying that Liverpudlians are friendly and happy people - this is very true, I love the local people and like them, I'm really excited about the city's future. However, their friendliness does not detract from the fact that Liverpudlians find it too easy to bear a grudge which is really sad.
Vanessa, Liverpool

Rather than wallowing in their victim status - the public grief shown by the people of the city is typical of northern cities where a sense of community still exists, and where people are not afraid to interact.
Carl, UK

The outpouring of grief and sympathy shows how compassionate people are, not that they are revelling in despair
Julie, Edinburgh
Johnson is both right and wrong. He is utterly wrong in his profile of the Scousers and their solidarity. His remarks are highly insensitive and offensive. His one valid point is that Mr Bigley's brother's "blood on his hands" comment concerning Tony Blair was unfair. I can not see how giving in to kidnapper's demands can ever be justified, no matter how much we sympathise with the victim & their family
Neil Johnson (no relation), Luxembourg

I echo the view that the article is more Tory propaganda. Indeed, not only the Tories, but certain sections of southern Britain seem to take great delight in having a pop at Scousers at every opportunity. Whether it's jealousy, lack of comprehension or a feeling of alienation when confronted with a genuine warm, witty and caring people, I just don't know. But it is very sad nonetheless. Pathetic and callous.
Andrew Kennedy, Cambridge, England

I usually admire Boris Johnson but the comments made in The Spectator about Ken Bigley's death and the people of Liverpool are disgusting. What is he thinking of? An innocent man was held captive for three weeks, subjected to Lord knows and then barbarically murdered. The outpouring of grief and sympathy shows how compassionate people are, not that they are revelling in despair. I think the people of Liverpool are to be admired, not mocked.
Julie , Edinburgh

I have lived in Liverpool for two years and found the Scousers a close-knit community always ready to stand by and help each other when the going gets tough. They are genuinely friendly and caring - needless to say I can think of a few UK cities that could do with taking a leaf out of Liverpool's book...
Simon, Montréal, Quebec, Canada

Anyone who reads this article (and I can tell that most of the people commenting here have not), will notice that it is not as pejorative as is being made out. It is extremely well written and in my view persuasive. Not having been to Liverpool I cannot say whether it is accurate about Liverpudlians, but the fundamental point is that poor Ken Bigley took a risk and lost, exactly as many of our soldiers have done. I don't agree with the war in Iraq. But I cannot accept that Ken Bigley deserves more sympathy than our soldiers who have died there. It's so self indulgent. We all followed his harrowing last days with dread and disgust.
Toby Aldriich, London UK

The truth always hurts
James Faulkner, Northampton
In many ways this criticism of a town sticking together in the face of adversity stinks of jealousy. The friendly people of Liverpool do stick together exactly like a modern community should, but this is not possible in places like London were the city is so divided into different ethnic districts that it simply isn't possible. The Spectator proves yet again that it is out of touch with reality and sadly has to criticise instead of support a proud group of people...
Michael Williams, London, U.K.

Only a simple statement can respond to this article.... the truth always hurts!
James Faulkner, Northampton

I think Boris has missed the point regarding Ken Bigley. Surely the grief of Liverpudlians and everyone else comes from the fact that we watched day after day as this man stewed in an Iraqi hidey-hole and nothing was done to help him. It put the futility of the Iraq war into stark focus. I certainly don't think anyone is wallowing in anything, they are having a compassionate reaction to a horrible event.
Clare McKenna, Nottingham, UK

This man clearly has no morals or has no clue about the people of Liverpool. We do not wallow we care and support our fellow Scousers and we as a city were not the only ones to mourn the death of poor Ken Bigley. Half of the world sent emails to support his family. I suggest he makes a public apology
Julie, Liverpool

Not happy with plunging the knife after the death of a local man this article then twists the knife in the wounds of the families and friends of the 96 (not 50) innocent football fans that died at Hillsborough. I cannot understand such cruelty in an article, I cannot understand why anyone feels these comments have to be made or the logic behind them. I know that the city will react to them and very harshly in the next election and we'll see just who is the victim then.
David Stanley, Merseyside

Just because you don't agree with his views doesn't mean he should resign. What ever happened to freedom of speech?
K. Georges, Liverpool
Great Boris, another superb, accurate and contentious observation. Boris for PM!!
Patricia, Henley

It is not just Boris Johnson what about Billy Connolly's remarks, perhaps he should be ignored and his shows cancelled
Jan Mashlan, Cheshire, UK

Why can't people take an opinion anymore? These attacks on Boris Johnson are absolutely ridiculous. Surely Liverpool are proving his point.
Victoria Scott, Congleton, Cheshire

I think the people of Liverpool need to get off their high horse. He is entitled to his own opinion and is perfectly within his rights to express his views. Just because you don't agree with his views doesn't mean he should resign. What ever happened to freedom of speech?
K. Georges, Liverpool

I am disgusted at the article written by Boris Johnson he shouldn't be made to resign he should be SACKED through his ignorance and arrogance
Ronnie McGreal, Liverpool

I have read the article and largely agree with it. Ken Bigley chose to stay in Iraq, earning a huge salary. Where are the 2 minute silences and black armbands for British soldiers killed, who are there serving their country?
Gary, Manchester, UK

Liverpudlians have proved the article right by complaining about it, thereby being victims again
Andrew Brown, Liverpool
We in Liverpool have long memories, ask the Sun who have never recovered their circulation after their comments about the Hillsborough disaster. Have they learnt nothing???????? MP's think the public are stupid. I wonder.
Carol Daniels, Liverpool

If Liverpool was a marginal, Johnson would have kept his mouth shut
Brian, Liverpool

The Spectator has got Liverpudlians 'spot on'. We DO wallow in the status of victims, but don't agree that we always blame someone else. Liverpudlians have proved the article right by complaining about it, thereby being victims again. You are NOT allowed to have a go at this city, even though it's littered with anti-socials, dog mess and broken glass !
Andrew Brown, Liverpool, England

Why have a go at Boris Johnson, he didn't write the article he only approved it. Why don't people have a go at the writer of the article.
Paul, Blackburn

Always thought Boris Johnson was an example of upper class fool, who because of daddies inheritance, didn't need to concentrate on getting an education. Well reading his comments, I rest my case. Stick to the arts.
Steven Patterson, Cleveleys , Lancashire

We hear a lot from Liverpudlians about tragedies like Hillsborough. Rather less about tragedies like Heysel.
Simon Porter, Wirral

I have lived in Liverpool for over 20 years up to 2001. The article in the spectator hit the nail on the head. Liverpudlians all believe that they have the monopoly on grief. Good Lord, how many of them who say they have been traumatised by Ken Bigley's murder even knew him. Mr Bigley may have come from Liverpool but he spent little time there. Even his son doesn't live in Liverpool. As for city of culture, they are having a laugh.
Jeff Martin, Bolton

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