As civilized human beings (which I can tell from my statistics) you may be getting a little annoyed by my frequent posts about fingers in the news. One might say: “Why trumpet the trivial?”. Well, I promise to keep the vulgarity down. But it is hard to ignore gestures hitting the headlines, as public insults caught on camera always do. And often interpreting the events is interesting as well. Reporters will exaggerate the story to make news; the offender defends himself against wrong interpretations and control the damage to his image; political (or other) rivals try to take advantage.

The chairman commands ‘order’, in response (?) Mr Bates jokingly gives a quick finger (source).

The same scramble for news the truth now occurs in the case of Mick Bates who raised his finger in the Welsh Assembly. It happened on Tuesday. A helpful soul put a clip on YouTube Wednesday, and it quickly featured on Guy News. The BCC reported Bates’ apology and defense that same day. And today (Thursday) I am blogging my bit about it. Ah, the wonders of the internet.

Mr Bates stated: “My gesture was not directed at the Presiding Officer, for whom I have enormous respect and affection. […] I was showing Rhodri Glyn Thomas which finger he should use to operate the assembly’s modern push button voting system [..] If anyone has taken offence, then of course I apologise for that.” 

Of course, these words sparked more comments and again different interpretations (was he saying this in earnest or in jest?). Let us assume for a while he said it in a real attempt to defend himself. Bates’ choice of defence is interesting. He challenges two things at once: the perception that the gesture was addressed to Lord Elis-Thomas and that it was in response to the call for order. As far as I can tell he did look at the chairman (though I do not know where Glyn Thomas sits) while making the gesture in precisely the way one does to address it. And the timing is certainly within limits that people may see the gesture as a response to the call for action. It is however unclear which other events are taking place to which it could be connected. I perceive the event as a man wanting to show his disrespect for the chairman, but only to his colleagues. He appears afraid for repercussions so he does it quickly and glances away almost immediately. He continues laughing to camouflage the message of the gesture. His defense is as ambivalent as the gesture. It can be taken as a joke (in which case the insult stands even more strongly) or it can be taken seriously (in which case one would have to have been there to tell if it is plausible). The apology for any offense caused seems a plea of guilt, or rather a failed attempt to allow Elis-Thomas to ignore the gesture without losing face. What is Elis-Thomas to do? He can ignore it and accept the loss of face. Or he can rely on the way it seems to be to himself and his advisors and demand a direct apology that acknowledges the disrespect shown to him. If he was a Prince in Italy I could predict his response. But who knows the ways of the Welsh? Perhaps they are able to see politics as a joke?