There is no reason why a man who assaults his girlfriend should not be an MP.
That's according to Bernard Sergeant, a senior member of the Bury St Edmunds Conservative Association, who said he could not see any issue with local MP David Ruffley keeping his job. Ruffley accepted a police caution for common assault last March after admitting attacking his ex-partner.
"How can you have as a candidate a man who beats up his girlfriend?" Jeremy Vine, the Radio 2 phone-in presenter asked Sergeant.
"Well why not?" said Sergeant.
"They shouldn't vilify the man," he added, to stunned silence. "If he is de-frocked, for want of a better word, his career will be over. Why should they have the right to do that?"
"All these things happen behind closed doors," Sergent said earlier when probed about why the local brand had not acted. "The police were called, and he was given a caution. Neither the police, nor the offended party, actually called for charges. Subsequently, as far as I was concerned, the matter was closed.
"It was a private matter, and as in most domestic issues, I suggest it was six of one and half-a-dozen of the other. Nobody really knows what went on."
Sergeant received a barrage of criticism on social media:
supporter of tory mp david ruffley, who accepted caution for assaulting partner, refers to @fawcettsociety as 'odd female organisation'— Robin Brant (@robindbrant) July 28, 2014
Man on Radio 2 saying it is wrong to put David Ruffley out of a job just because he assaulted his ex. I can't even listen.— Tom Williams (@tomwilliamsisme) July 28, 2014
The pressure on Ruffley over the March incident was ratcheted up last week after it was revealed in the East Anglian Daily Times that the Very Rev Frances Ward, the Dean of St Edmundsbury Cathedral and a friend of Ruffley's ex partner, had written to the MP as well as several other senior Tories, arguing his position was “untenable” and calling on him to resign.
More than 33,500 people have now signed a Change.org petition calling on Ruffley to resign. The local Conservative party are set to meet this week to discuss Ruffley's position.
Sergeant said the Dean had been "judgmental" in her letter to Ruffley.
"We do have do have these odd female organisations that look for equality and I think they’ve got it these days," he said, cryptically, in response to comments from another guest from the local branch of the Fawcett Society who said Ruffley should stand down.
"David Ruffley has been our MP for 17 years, he's done an excellent job. He's obviously well liked, he had a majority of 368 at the time he was originally appointed. In 2010, his majority was 12,380."
"Boundary changes involved in that?" Vine asked. Yes, there had been, Sergeant admitted.
Last week Ruffley said his partner had accepted his apology for the March incident and stressed that he did not condone domestic violence "under any circumstances".
In a statement issued through his lawyers Kingsley Napley, Ruffley said: "In March this year, an incident occurred between me and my former partner, resulting in inappropriate action on my part, which I deeply regret, in respect of which I accepted a police caution for common assault."
"Some time later, I telephoned my former partner to apologise. I am pleased to be able to say that she has accepted my apology. I have refrained from making any public statement on this matter as it is a deeply personal matter.
"It is my understanding that my former partner wishes the incident to remain private. I wish to stress that I would never condone domestic violence under any circumstances. The incident was dealt with by the police and I accepted responsibility for my actions at the time.
"I regret this matter in its entirety and the position in which I put my former partner and I now ask that her privacy be respected."
It was Ward's letter that appeared to prompt the apology by Ruffley. She said she had "received sufficient comment and concern from a wide circle of people, both within the Cathedral and through the town and county, to have arrived at the opinion that your position is untenable.
"I think I need to question your version of events," she added. "You tried to convince me that in the ‘incident’ back in March there was blame on both sides. I cannot let you try to tell me that it was only a ‘little local incident’ or that [she] was at fault. I must remind you of the seriousness of the assault and that you were arrested, not her.
"It is my opinion that you need help to come to terms with your behaviour, and I suggest that you seek professional guidance about your health and wellbeing. It is my belief that you have lost the confidence of a significant proportion of your former supporters and should consider your position."