Well, well. Just as David Cameron is getting along well, portraying the Tories as the new nice party, kind to all, jettisoning its bigoted past, along comes a front bench spokesman to throw it all away with a few ill judged comments.
Patrick Mercer spoke for the Tories on homeland security, and seemed to have a good career ahead of him. Then, he gave an interview in which he spoke of his experiences as an army officer who came across racism in the forces. The full story from the 'Times', to whom he gave the interview, is here. Among the points he was making was to describe the need for an anti-racism union of servicemen from former colonial countries as 'utter rot', and to claim that many ethnic servicemen used racism as a useful way to excuse 'idleness'.
Read the interview in full, and you find a fascinating glimpse into the psychology of the modern army, and the atmosphere that, it seems, allows an incipient racism to permeate much thinking. There is, of course, a danger of rushing to judgement to condemn Mercer's comments without considering some of the serious, and widely held, points that he makes. And it is important to note that he is not condoning racism in any of what he says. But the nature of his comments, and that he made them at all, speaks volumes for his political judgement in the media age of short soundbites that carry all before them.
Cameron has acted fast. Mercer has been forced to resign pretty well instantly, and the Tory leader can now concentrate on dealing with the damage which, he can reasonably hope, will be short term. His action here is in stark contrast to the racism row that dogged William Hague as leader, when he failed to deal with a backbench Tory MP who made far more overtly racist comments than the ones uttered by Mercer, and which blossomed into a full blown row over racism in the Tory Party (excuse the indulgent link!). What Cameron must hope he has ensured is that the errant comments of a single MP cannot be taken to represent the views of a whole party, and that his sharp reaction has nipped this potential row in the bud. Nick Assinder's article on BBC online makes a useful analysis of Cameron's reaction here.