Sunday, August 22, 2004

Those naughty LibDems

Nick Cohen, a left of centre columnist for the Observer, has an interesting column in today's Observer about the use of racist tactics in by-elections. In July I sparked off an interesting debate with a regular reader of this Blog about a LibDem leaflet in Leicester South which in Asian areas called the candidate Parmjit Singh Gill and in predominantly white areas left out the Singh. I described this as overtly racist and was amused to see the tortuous defence mounted on behalf this LibDem tactic. Nick Cohen goes one step further. Here's a quote from his article...

The Liberal Democrats often provoke their opponents into going over the top. They pose as saints while fighting campaigns which are as dirty as anything Labour or the Tories can manage - often dirtier. They shift their shape depending on which constituency they're contesting. Are they right or left? Pro-privatisation or anti? For the overthrow of Saddam Hussein if the weapons inspectors had been given more time, or against? Answers to these questions have more to do with geography than ideology. For the duration of a campaign, the Liberal Democrats are whatever a contested constituency wants them to be. Thus in Hodge Hill, a Lib Dem leaflet sent to predominantly Muslim wards featured a picture of Charles Kennedy surrounded by Asians. The same leaflet was pushed through the doors of predominantly white wards, but only after a quick bout of ethnic cleansing at the printers had removed all trace of the brown faces.

For more LibDem campaign tactics visit LibDemWatch.


Liam said...

I am glad you were amused, because my recollection was that you became somewhat overheated at the time ;-)

I too read Nick Cohen's interesting column, Iain, and in the interests of fairness he also said:

"In 1964 the Tories secured a shock victory in Birmingham Smethwick with the slogan 'If you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Labour'. In his 1967 speech, Enoch Powell attempted to turn the white working class Labour by telling them that 'in 10 to 15 years time the black man would have the upper hand over the white man'. It worked. Not only did he incite the mass beatings of blacks and Asians, but Powell's racism also helped the Tories win West Midlands marginals... Before the 1997 General Election, Andrew Lansley, a Tory Minister [still shadow cabinet, I believe, but am not sure] declared that immigration had hurt Labour in the past and has 'more potential to hurt' in the future. Nicholas Budgen, a wizened Powellite, took him at his word and tried to stop Labour from taking Powell's old seat of Wolverhampton South West by running on an anti-wog ticket."

Let's be entirely balanced here - An accurate summary of Nick Cohen's article is that the Tories have always played the race card, Labour have done it more recently, and the Lib Dems (quote) "often provoke their opponents into going over the top". Most Tories no doubt disagree with the first stem of his argument, Labour the second, Lib Dems the last. However, selective quoting is very naughty on your part isn't it?

Anonymous said...

As I have a degree in politics, I monitor who says what very closely. I'm 28, voted in four elections and I've been a life-long Liberal Democrat voter. Until now, that is. What's put me off of them? Well, where do I start? People of my age group vote LibDem because they're "not the other two" and give the impression of being saint-like. Nick Cohen's Observer article was spot on. The Lib Dems are the real nasty party. They con people into think the opposite is true. I'll be voting either for the Conservatives or Greens next time round - and, yes, I do live in NN! Not giving my details - don't want parties knowing my voting intentions.

Liam said...

Gosh, Anonymous, were we separated at birth?! Your profile is very similar to mine but I have come to different conclusions.

First, I am not sure we were reading the same Nick Cohen article. Cohen's most recent article is fairly summarised as a "plague on all your houses" and spreads the criticism around liberally (excuse the pun!) Were you reading some earlier article? Not sure I saw it if so.

Secondly, as a fellow former politics student, you will know that successful political parties are not religious sects. If they aspire to a position of influence they must appeal to a broad cross section of public opinion, young and old, rich and poor, public sector and private sector and so on. Successful politicians are inevitably compromisers and balancers. I actually think that this is a good thing, even if it means they never stoke the fires as we would all, in a way, prefer. I quite like a position where I can favour one party or another but whoever has power they will make some modest effort to appeal to (and compromise with) my particular concerns. I prefer it to having a "James Party" which is wholly in line with my views but which lines up against other parties who have no interest in keeping me on board.

Nick Griffin, George Galloway, Enoch Powell, Robert Kilroy-Silk and Ralph Nader (to take a varied assortment to say the least!) can carve out niches with "ideologically consistent" postures and can draw the crowds in a way conventional politicians cannot. I for one hope and believe that they will never get close to the levers of power (obviously it's a bit late for Enoch now but you take my point!).

I have to say, Anonymous, that your choice to go "Conservative or Green" sparked my interest. Ostensibly they are opposites but there is an intriguing similarity. They both strike me increasingly as parties who have stopped bothering reaching out to all groups in society. The Greens have nothing to say, for example, to people who have respectable jobs working for the demonised "global capitalists", to people who earn good money, to people who drive, or to people who wish our armed forces overseas the best regardless of whether they oppose the decision to go to war. Conservatives, meanwhile, have nothing much to say to the economically disadvantaged, to minority religious or ethnic groups, to moderate pro-Europeans or to people living in urban areas. This sort of withdrawal makes it easier to put together an ideologically pure message (and I genuinely hope you feel comfortable in one or other group, Anonymous!) but it will come at the price of a stay in the wilderness into the foreseeable future. And a good thing too, in my view.

To give an example of good old pragmatism (and one mentioned by Nick Cohen as a criticism), the Lib Dems drew criticism from both extremes when they voted against war but backed the soldiers when they went into Iraq and said they would not withdraw the Southern Iraqi force because it would create instability. The pacifists don't like it because it isn't ideologically pure while the warmongers thought it was having one's cake and eating it. I maintain it was solid, middle-ground pragmatism. Everything we now know confirms the war was a mistake but it is the last refuge of the extremes to cry "we wouldn't start from here". Britain is, in fact, now holding the line between order and chaos in Southern Iraq and it is only sensible to back our soldiers against extremist insurgent forces and to commit them to finish the job.

Nobody ever goes to the baricades in defence of pragmatism, Anonymous, but I have to say I rather like it.

Anonymous said...

Ah, yes, but to be a true pragmatist you must realise that there has to be a play-off between pragmatism itself and idealism. How else can the public know what values inform which side of the balancing act you'll come down on? The truth is all the parties see the need for pragmatism, but how and in what way they strike the balance is what matters. It is here that the LibDems are at their most vacuous.


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