Thursday, March 08, 2007

PR, Not Principles

Dear oh dear. I wasn't going to blog this but Alan Duncan's waffle on Question Time has spurred me on.

Here's the original interview with Patrick Mercer in the Times. It doesn't seem to me that his comments have been reported out of context. Bear in mind also that the interview was specifically concerned with the formation of a new anti-racism trade union being set up by servicemen from former colonial countries, an idea Mercer described as "complete and utter rot".

With that in mind, Mercer has only himself to blame. The main problem, it seems to me, is that he demonstrated a far too relaxed attitude towards racist abuse in the army.

On the one hand, the situation which he describes is probably an accurate reflection of life in the British army. On the other hand, he doesn't appear to be in any way concerned about that situation. His attitude does, in fact, come very close to condoning it as part and parcel of army life.

Racist abuse is unacceptable. End of. Mercer appears to have a rather more ambivalent attitude towards it when it comes to the army. It may very well be the way it is but that doesn't mean that it's the way it should be. And yes, the army is a tough place but that doesn't mean that gratuitous racial abuse is acceptable there any more than it is in any other walk of life.

His second controversial statement, that he "came across a lot of ethnic minority soldiers who were idle and useless, but who used racism as cover for their misdemeanours" may well have some degree of truth to it. Although Mercer's claim that he'd seen "a lot" of this is highly questionable, I'm sure that it does happen on occasion. If you want to claim that a particular ethnic group doesn't have it's fair share of chancers, layabouts and scroungers, you're probably not quite connected to reality (white Europeans included of course). But the way Mercer expressed that was clumsy in the extreme.

What really interests me is the way that Tory HQ handled this and that's where Alan Duncan started to stray into the realms of fantasy. Duncan seemed to think that the BBC was somehow to blame for the initial lacklustre reaction of the Tory party. He suggested that BBC Online had phoned Tory HQ and put a partial quote to the spokesman and that that was the source of the initial minimal "it's a private matter" response (it's about 7:30 mins in to QT if you want to check).

Here's the quotation from the original Times Online article:
The Conservative Party, in which Mr Mercer serves as a frontbench spokesman with responsibility for homeland security and anti-terrorism issues, said that his comments were a personal matter and refused to discuss them.

"These are the personal views of a highly decorated former commanding officer talking about his real life experiences in the British Army," a party spokesman said.
Nothing to do with the BBC then and if the Tory spokesman didn't get the full picture before supplying that reaction then they should be sacked too.

It was only after the bad publicity generated by the remarks that Dave decided to take bold action and announce that Mercer's comments were "completely unacceptable". It was nothing more than an empty exercise in damage limitation after Dave realised that to do nothing would be to damage his shiny new Conservative brand.

He's so like Blair, it's almost become parody.
pol·i·tics (pŏl'ĭ-tĭks)

1. The art or science of vacuous marketing goons attempting to sell their worthless wares to the gullible.
2. The activities or affairs needed to fool just enough of the people for just enough time.
Someone wake me up if we ever actually get politics for adults in this country.

On a positive note, I see that the Gurkhas are finally going to treated fairly for risking their lives to protect us. I wonder if Mercer thinks that that's "complete and utter rot" too?


Martin Belam said...

I think the most depressing thing was the oh-so-predictible "I deeply regret" any offence caused, as if it had never occurred to him that the words "black bastard" might just be offensive. "I deeply regret" is the politicians equivalent of saying "I'm sorry if you thought..."

peter whale in france said...

Qutie right that he should be sacked for his remarks. But David Cameron like Blair over this? Who did Blair sack as quickly for their misdemeanours? Please give me one example!
I was going to produce a list of nulab misdemeanours with no action taken, but it is so depressing and so long that I despair.

Marcin said...

Why is racial abuse any different from other abuse with the same motivation? Why is it different from abusing someone as a ginger, when race is not the motivation?

Anonymous said...

gurkhas note 10 year cut of date.I bet most of claiments dont get anything

Will said...

There's a more concerning point that people have missed: Mercer is a constituency MP.

He has said that he dismissed the concerns of ethnic minority soldiers because he thought they were using their ethnicity as a cover. Who knows? He could have been right, but the only person who really knows that is the person who made the complaint.

I don't know the demographic profile of his constituency, but consider this: in a situation where each English constituency elects one MP who has to represent everyone in that constituency, regardless of background, ethnicity, gender, orientation, religion or political affiliation, Mercer has said that in a previous job, he felt that concerns raised by minorities weren't genuine.

So if you were in an ethnic minority in Mercer's constituency, and you had a problem, would you have confidence in Mercer? Would you trust him to listen to you? Would you think that he was either able or willing to help you?

I see this as more serious than a party political issue, or a PR one: Mercer has inadvertantly undermined his own position as a Constituency MP. Whether Cameron sacks him is irrelevant: his local Party need to think very carefully about his future candidacy.

Osama Saeed said...

Marcin, because being ginger has never led to people being enslaved or worse.

I heard Mercer on the radio yesterday and he said he'd only encountered racism twice in the army. How then is that "part and parcel"? What on earth was he talking about unless he STILL believes that being called a "black bastard" is not racism?

sam_m said...

Osama, thanks for cutting to the chase.
"..he STILL believes that being called a "black bastard" is not racism?"