Sunday, December 27, 2009


Are You Thinking What I’m Thinking?

…How does Michael Howard have the bloody nerve to pose as the only person who’s ever opposed the BNP, when he ran the most anti-immigration General Election campaign by any major party for half a century? He’s even more responsible for legitimising the BNP by cashing in on their scapegoating bigotry than Labour’s disgusting race-baiting rhetoric and legislation. Who can forget Rory Bremner summarising the whole 2005 Tory banner under Mr Howard and his slyly deniable racism-pandering posters:
“Are you thinking what we’re thinking?”

“People have said my message is ‘Less tax, less blacks’. That’s quite wrong. It’s ‘Fewer blacks’.”
Michael Howard Is A Shameful Lying Hypocrite

Having a jolly Radio Four day of Doctor Who, even the lovely Shaun Ley (back with more Doctor Who of his own tomorrow afternoon) wasn’t able to stop today’s The World This Weekend leaving a bad taste in the mouth as he and the headlines uncritically picked up and swallowed Michael Howard’s odious self-serving hypocritical cant of an interview. He criticised every other party leader because, he said, only he had ever gone to Burnley and made a speech saying how nasty the BNP were. Big woop.

Michael Howard went to Burnley once, made a speech very few people heard, and in doing so gave himself the cloak of respectability for the racist campaign he ran every single day. Because of one day and one flying visit where he said, ‘They’re worse than me, so I must be nice’. What a shit. You do not defeat the BNP by saying how beastly they are one day a year, and agreeing with them in a slightly more polite way for the other 364 in order to hoover up racist votes.

It seems an appropriate time of year to remember that not being a bigot is not just for Christmas.

Not only was Mr Howard’s speech eye-wateringly cynical, but it didn’t cost him a thing. In Burnley, the Conservatives are the fourth party and had nothing to lose – whatever an hour or so’s faked-up moral platitudes, he was never going to go back there and do the hard slog of actually campaigning against the BNP. He was never going to really take them on so it would actually make a difference. That was left to the Liberal Democrats, who – instead of doing the political equivalent of ringing a bell and running away – knocked on doors week in, week out all year round until they defeated BNP councillors by persuading real people in Burnley, not a flown-in gaggle of Tory cheerleaders.

Some speeches are brave. Some make a difference. But very few – sadly, because I like making speeches, too – have the impact that the long hard slog of actual work on the ground does.

A Speech That Took A Real Risk – Because It Was Right

I can, though, remember one speech that was brave, and daring, and took on the sort of immigrant-bashing rhetoric on which the BNP thrives. Back in April 2000, during a hard-fought by-election campaign where the Liberal Democrats were striving to take Romsey, one of the safest Conservative seats in the country. The Liberal Democrat campaign could have played down our Liberalism, played it safe, stuck to ‘popular’ issues and only challenged the Tories where they were perceived as electorally ‘weak’. Instead, Charles Kennedy took the huge risk of facing down the Conservatives’ asylum policy, in a speech in Romsey, where conventional wisdom was that saying the right thing would lose us the seat. I’ve not found the speech itself online (how things change in a decade), but here’s what Charles wrote a few days later:
“The voters of Romsey were not beguiled by William Hague’s personal brand of politics – those based on fear and division. His is the Britain of the twitching curtain and the locked door, where every refugee is an economic migrant, every gay man a pervert waiting to prey on your children and every creak in the floorboards an intruder in your home. By concentrating on the negative, and pandering to the small-minded, he insulted the electorate.”
Like all those wards in Burnley which now elect Liberal Democrat councillors instead of BNP ones, Romsey still has a Liberal Democrat MP in place of a Conservative one to this day.

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