Sunday, January 23, 2005
"Rivers of blood"
It is a sign of how hopeless the Tories must feel that Michael Howard has decided to play the immigration card. Charles Kennedy has rightly condemned this tactic as "desperation" but we have been here before.
Howard's warning that "uncontrolled immigration" will lead to race riots recalls Enoch Powell's notorious 'Rivers of Blood' speech in 1968. Powell was fired from the Shadow Cabinet by the leader of the opposition Edward Heath. Sadly, other Tory leaders have not set such a good example.
In 1978, a year before she became Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher gave an infamous TV interview in which she claimed that "people are really rather afraid that this country might be swamped by people of a different culture". Throughout the mid to late seventies, the far right National Front had been doing well in local elections and by-elections. Thatcher's remarks dealt the NF a fatal blow by recapturing much of the extreme right vote, and were credited with helping the Tories win the 1979 general election.
On an earlier occasion, at the 1964 general election, Tory candidate Peter Griffiths defied the national swing to Labour by capturing the Birmingham Smethwick seat in an ugly campaign, using the election slogan, "If you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Liberal or Labour". Griffiths (who, incidentally, had unseated Labour's foreign secretary Patrick Gordon Walker) was condemned by Harold Wilson as a "parliamentary leper".
Moral standards have deteriorated since Heath's and Wilson's day. Just as Howard can use remarks for which he would have been fired by Heath, so David Blunkett echoed Thatcher by reviving the 's' word in 2002.
Immigration and asylum have become another of those grubby little auctions where politicians compete to see who can sound the most 'tough'. The Liberal Democrats are right to keep well out of it.