The Curse of Forest: Stephen Williams
Sunday, May 7, 2017 at 14:15
Simon Clark

The Curse of Gnome is a long-running gag in Private Eye that records the subsequent misfortunes of anyone who has taken legal action against the magazine.

For years I considered something very similar – a series of posts chronicling the demise or bad luck of anyone Forest had done battle with.

In a nod to Private Eye I intended to call it The Curse of Forest.

There were no shortage of subjects but the idea remained in my head because I thought that revelling in others' misfortune might be in bad taste.

There comes a point however when the temptation to mock our opponents becomes too great, and I reached that point this week.

Stephen Williams is a name that will be familiar to many readers. He was the Lib Dem MP for Bristol West from 2005-2015 but it wasn't until 2010 that he came to our attention when he was nominated (by ASH) to take part in a video Rod Liddle was filming for the Sunday Times.

Prompted by Brian Binley's EDM that was designed to gauge support for a review of the smoking ban, Rod wanted to interview Brian, me and someone from ASH.

In the event, as I wrote at the time, "and after a lot of waiting", a spokesman from ASH failed to turn up.

Instead they put forward Stephen Williams, a youthful-looking Lib Dem MP, who declared that the reason he couldn't support the use of extraction fans (and therefore an amendment to the smoking ban) is because - wait for it - they are too noisy and drown out conversation!!!

Well, that's what Rod said he said so it must be true. I was out of earshot.

Williams was nominated by ASH because he was chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health, a faux parliamentary body run and adminstered by, you guessed, ASH.

A few months later Williams came to our attention again when he voted against David Nuttall's ten-minute motion that sought to amend the smoking ban to allow separate smoking rooms.

But it was his prominent role in the launch of Plain Packs Protect, a taxpayer-funded campaign that supported plain packaging, that finally brought us into direct contact.

I won't bore you with every detail because I wrote about them at length at the time and the relevant posts are featured in Hands Off Our Packs: Diary of a Political Campaign, which you can download for free.

These headlines however give a flavour of our relationship with this "dull but worthy" man:

The hypocrisy of ASH, Stephen Williams and Peter Hain (January 6, 2012)
Only one word to describe Stephen Williams – pathetic (January 18, 2012)
Stephen Williams, "the forces of darkness" and Chris Snowdon's vagina (May 12, 2012)
Medal for Stephen WHO? (May 5, 2013)
Stephen Williams wants to be public health minister (June 14, 2013)
Stephen Williams: ASH to the rescue! (September 11, 2013)

Finally, in a series of posts written shortly before the 2015 Election, I wrote:

Former chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health (run by ASH), Lib Dem candidate Stephen Williams is one of Britain's most committed anti-smoking politicians. On a personal level I quite like him. Against that he's a strong advocate of plain packaging and helped launch the Plain Packs Protect campaign in 2012. In 2013 his enthusiastic support for smoking bans and other tobacco control policies was recognised by the World Health Organisation which presented him with a special award, at which point he declared he'd like to be public health minister! Stranger things have happened.

2010 majority: 11,366 (20.5%)
Estimated number of smokers in Bristol West: 16,500
Closest opponent: Labour
Friend or foe: Foe
Target rating: Not impregnable but should hold on

As it turned out, I was wrong about that.

Appointed a junior minister in the Coalition Government, Williams' Westminster career came to a juddering halt when he lost his seat to Thangam Debbonaire (Conservative).

Worse, he came third behind the Green candidate. From 26,593 votes (48 per cent of the votes) in 2010, his support fell by more than half to 12,103 votes (18.8 per cent), a staggering defeat.

Determined to bounce back, however, Williams set his sights on becoming the West of England's first metro mayor.

In February, following his nomination, the Lib Dems declared him to be the favourite to win the mayoral race.

In April Williams himself was a little more cautious, suggesting he was neck and neck with the Tory candidate but well ahead of Labour.

So, how did it go?

The result, announced on Friday, saw Williams come third (again!), behind the Conservative candidate, who won, and Labour, who came second.

The full result was:

Tim Bowles, Conservative – 53,796
Lesley Mansell, Labour – 43,627
Stephen Williams, Liberal Democrat – 39,794
John Savage, independent – 29,500
Darren Hall, Green Party – 22,054
Aaron Foot, UKIP – 8,182

Where this latest rejection leaves Williams, I've no idea. His blog has gone strangely quiet, although he's been active on Twitter, retweeting comments about his "fantastic", "spirited" campaign.

Have we heard the last of him? Probably not. After all, anyone who still includes the letters 'mp' in his Twitter handle (@swilliamsmp), two years after losing his seat in Parliament, is either in denial or deluded.

Curiously however I can't find the name of the 2017 Lib Dem candidate for Bristol West anywhere so it's not impossible that it's still to be announced and Williams could yet rise, phoenix-like, from the ashes of a once-promising political career.

Or perhaps he could get a job with ASH. They owe him one.

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