As a former journalist, and editor, indeed, of a prominent regional paper, the Birmingham Post, Nigel Hastilow should be more aware than most of the way in which the media selects, zooms and distorts any dialogue or action. This is bad enough in relatively uncontentious areas, but when it comes to an issue as explosive and open to misinterpretation as immigration, only the very astute, or the very foolish, should tread there.
David Cameron has been amongst the former. He has been outlining a Tory policy that has trodden with impeccable care around the minefield of race. Nigel Hastilow, until today the Tory candidate for Halesowen, seems to be amongst the latter.
Hastilow's comments are unremarkable in themselves. He seems to be suggesting that many of his hitherto potential constituents think that immigration is a big issue of great concern. He says that many of them think that 'Enoch was right'. He further adds that, in suggesting immigration would get out of control, Enoch probably was right. And he talks about 'rolling out the red-carpet' for foreigners, while deserving British citizens remain without appropriate housing. All of these comments are capable of debate. Some will applaud them, others will be enraged by them. The conclusion that immigration should be controlled is one that the Conservatives and Labour reached some time ago, although they differ on precisely how this 'control' might in fact be imposed, or when.
Mr. Hastilow has tried a little ill-considered populism on this issue, and has run head first into the brick wall of metropolitan, liberal media conviction. Andrew Marr could barely wait to ask Labour minister Peter Hain what he thought of the remarks, in a ludicrous piece of interviewing soft-ball this morning. Hain, who serves a British prime minister who talks about 'British jobs for British people', was unilluminating, and did not of course allow ignorance of Hastilow's words to get in the way of a sound-bite reply. Worse was the comment of Hazel Blears, that 'it is unacceptable to say that Enoch Powell was right'. Nonsense. You may dispute his inflammatory rhetoric, but Powell's argument was well within the boundaries of legitimate debate. The problem with debate on this issue then and now, as with related issues such as the dilemmas posed by Islamic fundamentalism in the UK, is that it is not just the far right who resort to hysterical reactions. Entrenched liberals do as well, none more lethally than those within a media that depends daily upon the need to create sensationalism, division and fear wherever it casts its gaze. And Nigel Hastilow should have known that.