Friday, April 22, 2005

Some of my best friends are Conservatives, but...

Today is the 37th anniversary of Enoch Powell's rivers of blood speech, nobody else seems to have noticed.

This week, I have become angry. Very angry.

The newspaper each day seems to have carried new escalations of the Tories' campaign to use race as an issue in this election. There is, obviously, a place for a discussion of immigration and the practical ways to enforce it. If we lived in a situation where there was any political difference between the parties on controlled vs. uncontrolled immigration, then there may be some justification. But the Tory campaign is clearly manufactured to whip up fear, hatred and play on people's prejudices or concerns.

Last weekend, one caller ina talkshow Howard was doing argued that racially-motivated abuse increased, for him, whenever politicains starting discussing immigration in the way the Tories have being doing. Today's Independent features five quotes from Tory candidates, all of which Michael Howard has refused to censure. Earliest in the week, Bob Spink, candidate for Castle Point asked 'Which part of "send them back" don't you understand, Mr. Blair?' Since then, Nick De Bois (in Enfield North) has promised to campaign against the problems in local schools, all caused by 'bogus asylum seekers' in the constituency, apparently. Anne Main in St. Albans referred to 'five illegal immigrants' arrested but not charged by police in her constituency. The comments, 'Nodbody knows if these people were criminals, carrying diseases, or even where they went.'

Taken in isolation, some of these could be unfortunate statements of immigration issues. But together, they present an irrefutable pattern of deliberate racist fear-mongering, desperate to scare voters and create resentment of immigrants in Britain. This seems to be the second wave of the attack begun with the "It's not racist to impose limits on immigration. Are you thinking what we're thinking?" posters. The first half is bland- although misleading, as economic migration is already limited, when the Tories presumably refer to quotas on asylum, which is a completely different issue -but the second part solicits the reader to pick up a nod and a wink that the Tories are thinking something, secretly, that they can't publicly express on the issue. A dog whistle, indeed, to latent racism or prejudices.

The great irony is of course Michael Howard's own background. He seems to take pride in his "kick-the-ladder-down-behind-me" situation. He should be even more ashamed of himself, and stop hiding behind his grandmother's fate in the Nazi death camps to as a means by which to avoid standing up to his own responsibility for his gutless course of action.

I think there is an amazing rose-tint to the glasses of many Tory supporters who enthuse about this election campaign, as if it were any other. I can understand and admire Conservatives who argue for low taxation, public service retrenchment and other key Conservative values, even if I do not agree with them. Such discussions do not have any bearing on my perception of them as friends, and I respect their honestly-held opinions.

But there are lines that cannot be crossed. In a recent post on the AUT's misguided attempts to ban Israeli acadmeics from intellectual communion, I commented that I could count many pro-Sharon Jews amongst my friends, because I could see that the complex web of rivalries and bitterness that has produced a bi-polar Middle East conflict. In contrast, I could never feel the same way about, picking an idle example, a racist.

The point is fast approaching when natural Conservatives, who do not themselves back the use of racial hatred as an electoral weapon, need to decide exactly where they stand: whether they will array themselves with the forces of cheap bigotry or stand for something bigger than mere tribalist loyalty, and shun Michael Howard.

Robert Kilroy-Silk wanted to "kill" the Tories. I wanty this election to, in psephological terms, "kill" the Tories, UKIP and the BNP. Forget Tony Blair-- he's a busted flush and whilst my personal preference is to turf out Labour candidates in favour of LibDems where you can safely do so (for example, Oxford East!), I'd encourage anyone in a Lab-Tory or Lib-Tory marginal to vote for the party with a realistic chance of defeating the candidate standing on the Conservative platform. tactical voting worked in 1997 to unseat some tired and uninspiring Tories; in 2005, it is far more important to punish the Conservative party for this course of action. Anybody who stands as a candidate for the party, holds membership of it or votes for it, stands, with Michael Howard, shoulder-to-shoulder with Bob "Send Them Home" Spink. The guilt of such appalling racism, deliberately recalling the 1960s dialogue on forced repatriation, stains anybody who supports the Tory party, even if they would like to pretend they're supporting it for other reasons and would just like to ignore that part of the Conservative platform.

I am shamed to live in a country where an election campaign has ended up descending to this level of gutter terrorisation. If there is one immigrant to send back where he came from, it's Lynton Crosby. I have no doubt he will find that his cheap Australian fear-mongering will not work in Britain, but I sinscerely hope the failure will be compounded, to destroy Crosby's reputation along with Howard's.

Already, I have been told that this stance is "mildly offensive" by one Tory. Tough. Your candidates are more than "mildly offensive" and there are some issues where I'm not going to nod and say "well, you're entitled to your opinion," without going on to object. These tactics are outside the spectrum of reasonable political debate, and have utterly shattered the bounds of decency I can accept.

I intended to sit out this campaign as a partial and interested commentator. Thanks to Michael Howard, I intend to spend the rest of it as an anti-Tory crusader. I know he, nor anyone else, will care that I'm so cross, but if I can convince one Tory voter to withold their ballot, it'll be worth it.