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Sunday, August 22, 2004

The racist agenda

Nick Cohen has a very cogent article in today's Observer about racist rhetoric in modern British political campaigning. I was only vaguely aware of the fact that in 1964 the Tories secured a shock victory in Birmingham Smethwick with the catchy slogan of 'If you want a nigger for a neighbour vote Labour' but it is useful to be reminded of it if only to be aware of the slippery slope we are already on.

Mr Cohen misses the most obvious example of Labour racism in Leicester South, when that Party put out a blue ink letter referring to their candidate as the 'only truly local candidate' even though Parmjit Gill was born and raised in Leicester and went to school in the constituency. It is also worth noting the following passage for the benefit of those Labour apologists who have sought to defend their party's tactics:

'Liam Byrne, the Labour candidate, told the voters, 'I know that people here are worried about fraudulent asylum claims and illegal immigration. Yet the Lib Dems ignore what people say. They ignore what local people really want. The Lib Dems want to keep giving welfare benefits to failed asylum seekers. They voted for this in Parliament on 1 March 2004. They want your money -and mine - to go to failed asylum seekers.'

Labour didn't mention that the disputed measure was a plan to take the children of asylum seekers from their parents and put them into care, which Michael Howard had denounced as 'despicable'.

I would not dispute that the Liberal Democrat leaflet with contrasting photographs referred to in the article was an unfortunate and unnecessary example of pandering to different audiences. It is though, the only slip that our opponents can point to and, without defending it in anyway whatsoever, is not even close to the depths to which the Labour campaigns sank. I think that all three of the main parties need to get together and agree a code of conduct in these matters before it really is too late.

I think you protest excessively in your party's cause (and we've had this dispute before about Liberal by-election tactics), but I share your general sentiment.

Re: the Smethwick case. The winner of that by-election, Peter Griffiths, went on to be Tory MP for Portsmouth North till his defeat in the 1997 election. He ought to have been thrown off the candidates' list decades ago.

Oliver Kamm 22 August 2004
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