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.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.
"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.
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.
PoliticsSomeone wake me up if we ever actually get politics for adults in this country.
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.
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?