Friday, March 09, 2007

Dishonourable discharge

Tory frontbencher (and former army officer) Patrick Mercer has lost his job for Saying Bad Things, such as:

“If someone is slow on the assault course, you'd get people shouting: 'Come on you fat bastard, come on you ginger bastard, come on you black bastard.' … I came across a lot of ethnic minority soldiers who were idle and useless, but who used racism as cover for their misdemeanours.”

So he’s been forced to resign. Not for being a racist, not for condoning racism, and not apparently even for downplaying the seriousness of racism – but for appearing to downplay the seriousness of racism. More PR than PC, methinks.

But what is it with the Conservatives and race?

Desmond Swayne MP, who as David Cameron’s hand-picked Parliamentary Private Secretary should surely be the pinnacle of new Tory right-on-ness, was challenged on Newsnight yesterday to name a single black Tory frontbencher. He breezily shot back: “Shailesh Vara.”

Shailesh Vara is Asian, not black. Now I’m not suggesting that Swayne has succumbed to a ‘they all look the same’ attitude to people of darker skin, but such a basic distinction between ethnic groups is surely not hard to get the hang of if you’re serious about anti-racism, is it?

More importantly, if the Tory shadow cabinet is no place for people with dodgy prejudices, what is Liam ‘three dogs and a black bird’ Fox still doing there?

They’ve still a way to go. Come on, you Tory bastards!


Liam Murray said...

I'm sure you've done your research Tom but if my memory serves Kirsty Wark asked Swayne to name a 'singe Tory ethnic minority frontbencher' no?

Tom Freeman said...

Hmm. I did sit bolt upright when I heard his answer and thought 'hang on a sec'. Conceivably I misheard the question - I can't look at the Newsnight site at present, but I'll check later on.

Tom Freeman said...

OK, I’ve checked. About 10 mins 30secs in:

Kirsty Wark: Would it not show that the Conservative Party was serious about ethnic minorities in the Party and encouraging equality for all if there was a single black person on your front bench?

Desmond Swayne: Well, there is. There’s Shailesh Vara.

KW: And who else?

DS: Shailesh Vara.

KW: And that’s enough?

DS: You asked for a single one. Well [laughs] they’re in short supply. The reality is that we are making every effort to increase the number of ethnic candidates in winnable seats in the Conservative Party.

So she did mention “ethnic minorities” generally but was very audibly specific about “black”.

Also, I’d missed that he’d said “ethnic candidates” at the end there rather than “ethnic minority candidates”. We’re all ethnic…

Actually, I do have to apologise for one mistake: the post title initially had the US spelling of ‘honorable’. I blame Microsoft Word and my own tiredness.

(Also, the crack about “you Tory bastards” was meant in a jocular, affectionate mocking sense and was not intended to cause any offence. Many of my best friends are Tories!)

Liam Murray said...

I stand corrected Tom.

I was a little frustrated watching Newsnight because as a moderate Tory who thought Cameron was right to force Mercer out, I then had to watch the BBC adopt a contrary position and run a 'did Cameron panic and act too soon?' story.

I'm reasonably confident that if by 2100/2130 last night Patrick Mercer had still been in his job and the Newsnight editorial team were finalising the running order we'd have seen a 'why won't Cameron act' type story instead.

I know he's had a reasonably good press all round but on some issues he's damned if he does...

Tom Freeman said...

You're right - if Cameron hadn't forced him out, there would have been shrieking hell to pay. But there's a hefty chunk of the news media that seems to view reporting as a tedious chore that's a necessary preface to launching into an attack...