Back in September last year, I wrote about Chippenham Tory candidate Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones and specifically about his claim that the Lib Dems’ criticism of him not being local had racist undertones (declaration: his rival Duncan Hames is a friend of mine).
I suggested that this was a case of the Tories getting their excuses in early. All the local indications suggested that Chippenham, notionally Lib Dem, was going to stay Lib Dem, and that the “not local” card would have been played just as strongly regardless of his race. And so it proved to be.
It is a shame that Emmanuel-Jones is now choosing to continue with this line of attack, especially given the fact that he spent the election campaign making a big issue out of the fact that Hames himself was not local. But he spectacularly missed the point. Hames was not local in the sense that he was not born in the constituency and had lived elsewhere. That he had lived in the constituency since 2002 and contested the last election in one of its predecessor constituencies was not in doubt. Even his business was called Chippenham Consultants (and had been established before the constituency even existed).
By contrast, the criticisms of Emmanuel-Jones were that he didn’t live locally and that his business and family home were located in Devon. He was the very definition of a candidate who had a vested interest elsewhere. If his opponent had not raised questions about that, they would have been utterly foolish, regardless of skin colour. Either Emmanuel-Jones doesn’t want special favours on account of his race or he does; which is it?
I’m really sorry that even now Emmanuel-Jones still doesn’t see that this is a perfectly valid concern for a potential constituent to have. Even then, he didn’t exactly get wiped out. In fact, he actually increased his share of the vote. The bizarre thing about this racism claim is that, unfortunately, it suggests more than a little sense of entitlement. It is one thing to suggest that Conservative supporters didn’t vote for him because of his skin colour (in fact they did); it is quite another to suggest that Lib Dem and Labour supporters are racist for not voting for him.
I feel sorry for Emmanuel-Jones. Under any fair electoral system, he would be an MP right now I have no doubt. But accusations of racism without foundation are simply smears. I hope that in time he will come to regret making them.
I was a bit disappointed by Andy Beckett’s article on the future of the Lib Dems in the Guardian today. It is not that I have been misquoted – although I seem to recall saying that the number of Lib Dem MPs after the next election could be as low as 30 rather than probably 30 (a small but distinct difference). It is just that some of the potshots he makes are rather lazy ones.
I’m annoyed that he repeats the great Orange Book fallacy, that being that the book in question was written by a bunch of right wing idealogues with a specific agenda in mind. In fact, as anyone who has read the book cover to cover can testify, it is a mish mash of chapters which don’t particularly hang together. The only authentically economic liberal chapter is David Laws’ chapter on the NHS – even his chapter on liberalism is more of an overview than anything else. The rest of the book is written by people from all over the Lib Dem political spectrum. Still, the legend is more interesting than the fact, so print the legend. You can’t fault David Laws’ genius for giving his political movement a name simply by publishing a book and shouting about it six months before an election in a way that really annoyed people. At the time it looked reckless and foolish; now it looks inspired (if more than a little devious).
I’m irritated by his quoting of a comment by Joe Edwards on the Social Liberal Forum website. I don’t know Joe Edwards from Adam but if the irate text message from a reliable source I got this morning is correct he is not a Lib Dem member, resigning from the party before the election. He certainly has no association whatsoever with the Social Liberal Forum, and the biography on his blog makes no mention of party membership. Yet the article invites you to infer that he is somehow an SLFer. I thought the practice of quoting comments from blogs had been discredited by the West Wing?
Finally, just to clarify my position about the “long game” and the “short game”. I do see the Lib Dems taking a hit in popularity at the next election (assuming neither the Tories nor Labour self-destruct, which isn’t entirely impossible), but I wasn’t merely arguing that the party would crawl back in the long run. My point was that this government’s political reforms, if fully implemented, will transform UK politics for the long term and that in the long run the Lib Dems will get credit for that. And even if the party doesn’t get the credit, those reforms should be worth the hit.