Monday, November 05, 2007

Toxic Argument

Nigel Hastilow, who I suspect will now return to the obscurity from which he had threatened briefly to emerge, has learned a lesson the painful way. His crime, which has brought down opprobrium from all sides, was to say the following:
"When you ask most people in the Black Country what the single biggest problem facing the country is, most say immigration. Many insist: 'Enoch Powell was right'. Enoch, once MP for Wolverhampton South-West, was sacked from the Conservative front bench and marginalised politically for his 1968 'rivers of blood' speech, warning that uncontrolled immigration would change our country irrevocably. He was right. It has changed dramatically."
There are two problems with this. The first is that saying 'Enoch was right' is tailor made to re-ignite the charge that for Tories to discuss immigration at all is racist. There are those who will say that Powell didn't have a racist bone in his body - that his speech, heavy with Virgilian allusion, was an academic exercise in premonition. I never saw Powell speak, though my father who did is certain that Powell was certainly a racist. In honesty, that doesn't really matter. 'Enoch was right' is about the most pointlessly damaging thing a Conservative can say. It allows people like Peter Hain to claim that the 'racist underbelly' of the Conservative Party has been exposed, and it allows people to continue looking at immigration through the prism of racism and bigotry - just at a time when David Cameron has succeeded in shifting the analysis.
So it's politically stupid - though it ought to be remembered that Hastilow has form on this. It was he who said during the 2001 General Election, when a candidate for Birmingham Edgbaston, that the Conservatives were "a lost cause". The miracle here is that he got a chance to stuff it up all over again. But, and here I disagree with Iain Dale, it was also important that Hastilow should go. Because the last thing that the Tories need is a candidate with either desperately poor judgement or sub-Powellite views on race. Candidates who say 'Enoch was right' and 'we should stop rolling out the red carpet for immigrants' are either terminally politically stupid, or worse.

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