Kathy Sheridan: Jibes about appearance will deprive us of good people in public roles

The public will be the losers when it comes to personal abuse targeting politicians

 Mo Mowlam  was forced to reveal that she had a brain tumour following media commentary. File photograph: Toby Melville/Pool/Corbis/Reuters

Mo Mowlam was forced to reveal that she had a brain tumour following media commentary. File photograph: Toby Melville/Pool/Corbis/Reuters

April 1997 and Tony Blair’s New Labour was launching its manifesto for a May general election. The scandal-ridden Tories were on the run so there was a keener than usual interest in the opposition’s manifesto. But it took an intrepid male and female reporting duo from the Daily Express to spot “the biggest surprise”: “Besides a new bob haircut, Mo [Mowlam] was also sporting a new shape. Her weight has soared from 11 to 13 stone . . .”

The paper devoted a full page to the then shadow Northern Ireland secretary’s shape, two-thirds of it dominated by close-ups from “then” and “now” of the woman who would shortly become a key player in the peace process. For readers who still didn’t get it, the huge caption explained: “She’s the Labour frontbencher who put on 2 stone in just 3 months – and doesn’t it show.” Framing the story as a health issue, they decided for themselves that it had all gone downhill when she gave up smoking, so thoughtfully added a panel: “Top tips to beat the flab and the weed.”

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