Wednesday, 14 May 2008
Labour plays the race card
I'm too young to remember the 1964 election in which local Conservatives are said to have used a notoriously nasty slogan to win Smethwick. Patrick Gordon-Walker, the defeated Labour man, may also have pandered to racism on occasion.
At least the Tory slogan in Smethwick was unofficial. In the Crewe by-election, called in indecent haste before the previous MP's funeral, the Labour Party is putting out an official leaflet which carries a picture of the Conservative candidate and the question, "Do you oppose making foreign nationals carry an ID card?"
Maybe the Conservative party policy isn't clear on the issue. But Labour (government) policy isn't just about foreign (non-EEC, by the way) nationals. Soon we shall all have to carry ID cards. The government is preparing to collect our biometric details so that it can store them on a database. The ID scheme targeting foreign nationals is simply starting with a soft target - people who don't have votes.
The Labour leaflet in Crewe hasn't been published to open up a debate on ID cards. The government has made it very clear that the introduction of ID cards is not open to debate. This leaflet is about race. It's about fuelling fear and race hatred to hold a vulnerable seat in a parliamentary by-election. The implication of the leaflet is that foreigners are dangerous and only the Labour Party will keep them under surveillance.
Spreading suspicion is dangerous. Mistrust is often a two-way process. And for many the word "foreigners" doesn't just mean citizens of other countries. It means immigrants and the descendants of immigrants. It includes people whose families have been British citizens for generations but who happen to be a different colour or follow a different religion.
The Tory slogan at Smethwick wasn't on leaflets. It was part of an unofficial whispering campaign. I don't know whether it was approved by the local Conservative Party or their winning candidate. But in Crewe the slogan is on official leaflets, produced by the Labour Party and endorsed by the Labour Party candidate. (Of course, she says it's just about policy.)