Friday, March 09, 2007

Cameron sacks Tory front-bencher over 'black bastards' gibe

The title of this entry shows just how inaccurate papers can be when they want to sensationalise their news headlines. If the headline had said the truth that Patrick Mercer had said the following

"But that's the way it is in the Army. If someone is slow on the assault course, you'd get people shouting: 'Come on you fat bastard, come on you ginger bastard, come on you black bastard.'"
It wouldn't have had quite the same effect.

I thought long and hard on what to say on this entry because it's a very delicately balanced matter, where does racism start as against PC speak, and also because we are now so scared about discussing racism that even someone trying to talk about racism gets tainted with it.

Most people in this country (the UK) are to some extent xenophobes, in that we don't like change and mistrust the stranger in our midst. This might apply to the townie who moves to a rural area, the English person who moves to Scotland (or Vice-Versa) or the, dare I use this word, immigrant who arrives from somewhere else in the world.

We will regard them with suspicion until they become part of the scenery. I know some people in villages in Scotland, who even after 30 years are still regarded as "white settlers". My Father-in-Law is one of the "White Settlers", before that he had been 20 odd years in the Marines where he had the dual problems of being Scottish and a stand out Carrot Top.

What I am trying to say is that we as a nation take a long time to get over our fears, and to counter these fears we tend to react against them in a less than tolerant manner, but gradually over time things become better as we realise that these fears were groundless. What was said or done 30 years ago was not acceptable 20 years ago and what was said or done 20 years ago was not acceptable 10 years ago, and so it goes on, as we all, hopefully adapt and learn.

To go back to Patrick Mercer there appears to be no doubt that he was a good soldier and leader of men (and women!). When he left the army back in 1999, nearly ten years ago, he then moved into the vastly different Political world and appeared to take to it very well, this is not surprising in some ways, as the organisational and people skills he learned whilst in service would have helped him to get things done.

However being a politician is a vastly different "game" you need to think more on the actions and reactions of your words rather than your deeds. So when he said
"I came across a lot of ethnic minority soldiers who were idle and useless, but who used racism as cover for their misdemeanours,"
It was taken literally to mean that a lot of ethnic soldiers were idle and useless and hiding behind racism. Not the words of a great politician. What exactly did he mean? Was he mis-quoted? Was it just clumsy phrasing? Patrick Mercer says, he meant that he had met a couple of men like this in his 20 years of service.

Unfortunately the whole tone of the Times article appears to have Patrick Mercer take on a slightly Old World and Colonel Blimp type image. It appears to say that racism was tolerated under his command and that he himself allowed it to happen.

From all accounts this appears to have been untrue. He was backed by one of the members of his battalion, Leroy Hutchison, who said

"In my 12 years with the battalion no form of racism went unpunished."

Patrick Mercer has accused the Times of putting an "extremely mendacious angle" on his comments. I would suggest that he helped then do this to some extent by his misunderstanding of what Politics is about.

He is guilty not of being a racist, but, of not being a Politician and this is why David Cameron has rightly sacked him from the Front Bench. I am sure he will continue being an effective MP.

One final thought from Muhammed Ali in 1996 which is very relevant to these times and especially to all the men and women in the services.

"When people are forced to interact to survive, their prejudices diminish."

It just takes too long elsewhere.

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