Sunday, November 04, 2007

A Necessary Resignation?

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.

2 comments:

consultant said...

I see you've labelled this post "Liberal hysteria". You claim Hastilow’s comments are unremarkable; that he’s been forced to resign after they were blown out of all proportion by the "metropolitan, liberal" media. I fear this rather misses the point.

The issue of immigration is an inflammatory one. It is important to remember that it is one which affects thousands of individuals – both native and immigrant – who tend to be amongst the poorest and most vulnerable members of our society. They live in communities where inescapable poverty is endemic, violence is common place, and so, unsurprisingly, tensions run high. The issue is an inflammatory one; our politicians have a responsibility not to inflame it.

This is why Hastilow’s decision to resign is absolutely right. His form of discourse is unacceptable for a mainstream politician, and has been acceptable in some quarters for far too long. On such a sensitive topic, where ill-considered comments can have a genuine impact on people’s lives, it is vital that words are chosen with care. Cameron is to be commended for recognising this and trying to modify how his own party contributes to the debate accordingly; to fail to do so would leave the Tories in the company of UKIP and the BNP.

Hastilow must have known that his reference to Powell would provoke outrage; he’s a damned fool if he didn’t. It was, as you note, a cheap attempt to score political points. But cheap point scoring where explosive matters such as immigration are concerned is indefensible. You seem to suggest there is injustice in him being punished not for what he said, but for how he said it. But when dealing with immigration, how you say it is crucial.

consultant said...

Actually I just re-read your post after posting my rant and fear I've rather missed the point. Bollocks.