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Saturday, April 16, 2005


If the cap fits

Michael Howard proposes to place a cap on the number of people allowed to seek refuge from tyranny and oppression. A cap like this, perhaps?

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Were you a German war criminal?

[I realise that this post will offend some people. However, I believe that Michael Howard is running a campaign based on the same prejudices, ignorance and hate that worked against members of his own family (who may be among those offended, as David Duff points out) during the 1930s. Our current electoral climate appears to be one in which such a robust campaigner against racism as Kem Livingstone is tarred as anti-semitic while a politician who seemingly does not miss an opportunity to push racial and xenophobic electoral buttons is the leader of Britain's second party. I do not think that someone willing to play such a nasty, dirty and immoral electoral game is above being called out on his shameful campaigning.]

Cor, you are a wag! Where do you think them up? I bet some of 'Mikey's' elderly relatives are splitting themselves! Do give us more, and then we shall know exactly whom the cap fits.
Well David, they ought to be spitting with rage. 'Mikey' is playing the very same immigration cards that were used against the Jews in the 1930s - they spread disease, are criminals, what is more owe their allegience to some supra-national power and that the country is full anyone.

Well done, I must say. He has read his history books, and knows which buttons work well when pressed. Shamelessly, he has pressed them all.
There can surely be no doubt that Howard is constructing a nasty little campaign that whips up xenophobic fears and prejudices rather than dispelling myths and smashing misrepresentations. Shame on him. I only hope that, as it seems, he has spun so many deceitful lies and so much poisonous slander about ‘foreigners’ – be they gypsies, asylum seekers, immigrants, or (in typical jingoistic Tory style) ‘Europeans’ – he has actually done enough to politically hang himself.

Come May 5th, goodbye ‘Mikey’ and good riddance to the nasty party.
Yeeeeees, but I would like to know for sure exactly what the last commenter is saying. Is it that a) there are absolutely no fears/resentments existing amongst the indigent population, and that 'Mikey' is inventing it all; or b) that there are such worries and 'Mikey' is reflecting these back, albeit in an exegerrated fashion?
Ok. I’m not saying that some people aren’t worried about immigration or that they don’t have concerns that equal or surpass Howard’s hyperbole. But because they have such concerns it does not mean that they should be pandered to in a search for greater power – in this case, the premiership. I would suggest that it the responsibility of people in positions of power to challenge such notions, rather than pander to fears that are not grounded in reason but in prejudice.
It really is ver difficult to know where to begin when faced with the sort of comment above from Anon.

First, he admits that there are concerns and worries but then states that it is not for politicians to "pander" to them. Sorry, but I thought that was what politicians (and general elections) were about. They try to discern what 'the people' are concerned about, and then offer up their different solutions.

Not so, according to Anon, who says, in effect, that the people have no business with such worries and concerns, it's just their own silly prejudices. So that's it then! In electioneering terms what you do is push your face close into that of a worried and frightened pensioner whose neighborhood has been swamped by immigrants, and shout, Prescott-style, "Stick it!"

Hmmmm. I assume Anon is not a candidate.
No, David, you are wrong. Democracy's job is to "discern what 'the people' are concerned about, and then offer up... different solutions".

A politicians job is quite different - he has to argue for what he believes in. This way, so theorists of democracy argue, the electorate will take an active part in a debate that determines the government of the country. It is argued that, in this battle of ideas the best ideas will win. The aim of every democratic politician ought to be, and this is an ought that springs from democracy and not my own morality, to reduce the number of people who believe that 'asylum seekers' get more in benefit than they do, and all other such simply untrue beliefs. When a politician does not correct these foundations for prejudice, but rather works to seek power on them, he is no longer democratic. Or, at least, he is less democratic than he would otherwise be.

Now, this can be demostrated with a thought experiment not centred on a hot-button issue such as immigration. If the majority of people believe in something that is not true, and cast their vote according to this belief, then the government can claim to represent their beliefs. But, if the people standing for election know that the belief that the people hold is not true, but by promoting this belief it will propel them into power, then we are no longer really talking about a democracy, but an ignorant, consenting aristocracy of those with special knowledge.

Democracy demands that people are informed, and that these informed people take part in debate. This surely, is a simple and obvious precondition of an electoral system claiming the title democrarcy.

If all democracy is is the professional perfection of mirroring prejudices back at people, then it really has very little moral weight as a system of government. Now, it might be what democracy IS, but when people defend democracy they defend what it OUGHT to be.
I agree with Andrew. Spot on.

By the way, don’t get the impression that I’m the kind of person who makes the assumption that the general public or sections within it are stupid or not worthy of consideration. I certainly don’t consider their prejudices to be silly. Something that really irritates me is when terms like ‘Daily Mail reader’ or ‘white van man’ (there are far too many to mention) are deployed casually by those who believe they are better than, or more intelligent than massive sections of society. It’s just not right and is a disgraceful example of class-based bigotry. I certainly wouldn’t condone such a view of people. Name calling is juvenile (and that’s an insult to juveniles…).

Oh, and can you please show me some examples of a “neighbourhood [that] has been swamped by immigrants”? This is pretty lame tabloid rhetoric that has no basis in reality. How many immigrants does it take to be swamped anyway? If I WERE a candidate then the ‘stick it’ policy is pretty far off the mark. What is needed is sensible dialogue and perspective. This is something I’d argue we witness far too rarely from any of the major political parties in the UK.
I’m also glad you’ve added the caveat to the original post Andrew.
You see, that's the joy of blogdom. There was me thinking that it was the job of politicians to 'discern' the hopes, fears and worries of the people, and along comes that nice Mr. Bartlet to put me right and tell me that it is actually "democracy's job".

Fair enough, where do I meet him, or her, of course (he said hurriedly). But hang on, 'democracy' is not a human being, it's a political idea, so how can it carry out human activities like "discerning"?

Well, I suppose that sort of confusion is what you get when you mix with intellectuals.
The fact that you have only been able to pick up on the point that Andrew said ‘democracy’ where it may have been better to say ‘democrats’ or ‘politicians within a democracy’ is rather telling. It is obvious to all that this is what he is saying. The remainder of his post demonstrates why and it is interesting that you do not challenge this in any ‘intellectual’ fashion yourself, which I invite you to do.
'epanon' accuses me of avoiding the main point by taking too literally an unfelicitous sentence written by Andrew. I apologise, guilty in the knowledge of my own countless and egregious errors of grammar.

To make amends I will take Andrew's thought experiment head on despite the great void at its centre. He talks of 'truth' in relation to what politicians tell us, but I am struggling to come up with any great issue of my lifetime in which 'truth' or 'falsity' were appropriate descriptions. Perhaps he simply means statistics, but they are always the first casualty, with all parties gulilty of murder in the first!

I *think* he means the 'truth' or 'falsity' of ideas, but even I have read enough to philosophy to enjoy a chuckle at the notion of 'truth' in such a context, and I certainly wouldn't look to a politician for it either. Andrew writes that without 'truth' "..then we are no longer really talking about a democracy, but an ignorant, consenting aristocracy of those with special knowledge." which is I think is a fairly accurate summation of modern British governance.
I think I can see what you’re trying to say Duff but it’s not convincing, especially if the ‘great void’ you speak of is due to the relativity of truth claims (and that’s probably not right of me to think that as it goes against what you’ve written in comments here and on other posts. But your argument is far from clear – not so much your fault I admit, more the lack of context provided). I myself am not keen on thought experiments that are so abstract and would invite Andrew to provide an example, even though I can think of many myself.
Well, let me toss the problem back to you. Can you come up with some big issue, and I do mean 'big', that has riven British democracy since the war, in which it can be said that the truth/falsity content outweighed the judgement and/or emotional belief of the politicians who were party to it.

For example, Labour's wholesale nationalisation, or 'that woman's' equally wholesale privatisation? Or, the decision to join a western defence pact against the Soviets, as opposed to remaining neutral? To keep the bomb, or get rid of it?

All of these are, in my view, matters of judgement which politicians should make clear to us before we vote, but anyone who is looking for clear, unalloyed 'truth' is, I submit, looking where the sun don't shine!
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