Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Why Howard Is Wrong (I know I've said it before, but apparently I need to explain it all again)

In the discussions that arose over Blimpish's dubious election posters, one regular foil of moderate militancy wrote:

I suspect we agree on the substance here. Where I disagree with you is that these simple, and carefully worded, comments permit a man being called a racist, whatever the rights and wrongs of the policy. He was not ranting and raving that having foreigners in the country would cause fighting and rivers of blood. Nevertheless, instead of explaining how he was wrong (which I haven't even heard attempted once) Howard was demonised as invoking Enoch Powell.

As I say, this is my dilemma. The Tories have a policy I wouldn't have adopted. Yes, valid and constructive criticisms of the actions of some in the party (as well as, I think & as you know, the overall strategy) can be made. However, it is my view that others in the political spectrum have been just as guilty of opportunistically leaping on the subject to overreact to opportunistic Tories and in the process rendered genuine and sensible debate even more difficult.

I will now oblige to show how Howard was wrong, and for the umpteenth time explain why I consider this to be an issue where tolerance of a policy in the interests of party loyalty is absolutely reprehensible.

On the first count, the objection to Michael Howard's campaigning has no great connection with the policies he is advocating (with the possible exception of the quotas on political refugees-- and the fact he lumps asylum policy with immigration is an irresponsible act in itself). I have full confidence that the policies Howard proposes on immigration would have absolutely no effect on immigration anyway (as he is increasing security at a few dozen ports only and making some minor tweaks to the proportions of economic migrants). What I take issue with is the language and style in which he has presented those ideas, and more particularly with the ugly tone of his grassroots campaigners and his refusal to repudiate the disgraceful behaviour of Bob Spink, Nic De Boise, Greg Hands and their ilk. as you love telling us, it's not racist to talk about immigration (although it's bloody suspisious to preface every sentence with that sentence!) and indeed, some of my best friends are people who talk about immigration. ;-)

But the clear difference is between discussing immigration policy and villainising immigrants and asylum seekers. This brings up my second point, and the reason I have refused to settle for the genteel "well, we'll agree to disagree line" we might otherwise find on issues where we differ politically. This is an issue of such fundamental importance and basic decency that it cutas across everything else for me. I'm furious about Tony Blair's lack of judgement and straight-forwardness on Iraq, but I'll vote for him any day over racist agitators. You can vote for and campaign for a party without agreeing with every last part of its platform- that's my situation with the LibDems -but the race issue is one that looms for me, and I would hope for anyone -above the notty-gritty of political opinion. And you cannot just dismiss the "send them home" and anti-African candidates as a few odd nutters-- their stances have never, ever been criticised byu Michael Howard, and he indeed valiantly defends Bob Spink at every opportunity. Anyone who votes Conservative at this election is throwing in their lot with racists. You can justify your decision however you like, but no matter what you say, the guilt of association with this nasty interlude in British politics will rest on the shoulders of anyone who pinches their nose to vote Tory on Thursday.