Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones: victim or player of the race card?

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.


  1. Anyone who has any idea about our campaigning methods will know that we do that to more or less every opposition candidate at local and national level of whatever ethnicity who lives outside the constituency, sometimes, I think, to the detriment of the quality of the campaign. It’s almost one of our hallmarks.

  2. It is also the other parties’ hallmarks these days. The Tories have no exactly been backwards in coming forward with playing the “local” card on our candidates when it suits them. Fair play to them.

  3. Fair post James. You mention the voting system. I’ve read WEJ’s Guardian piece. It really is quite staggering that he doesn’t mention the voting system! He got 21,500 votes. It really is stupid that such a large vote isn’t rewarded with a seat under our current system. It is ridiculous that he goes into a spiel that wreaks of sour grapes a bit, when he was so near but so far away from winning, and doesn’t mention the voting system! AAAArrrrrrrrggggggggggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!

    Do Conservative candidates receive some sort of innoculation to prevent them mentioning voting reform, even when it is staring them in the face?

  4. That’s a strange question. Of course there are some racists out there, but what we didn’t see in Chippenham was Tory supporters deserting the Tories to vote in Duncan Hames. What we saw was the Lib Dem vote holding up, and the LDs attracting as much support from swing Labour supporters as the Tories.

    In other words, there is nothing out of the ordinary about Emmanuel Jones’ defeat, and nothing to suggest it would have been any different if he had been a white businessman based in Devon.

  5. Counterpoint, and only because it’s been raised elsewhere.

    We know that when the phrase “it’s a straight choice” was made in Bermondsey, nothing untoward was meant. But it was perceived by some at the time, and many many more since, as being dog whistle style “he’s gay y’know” anti-Tatchell stuff.

    Having seen the leaflet, it’s palpably obvious that it’s not. But we do tend to avoide using the phrase these days, especially if we know an opponent isn’t straight.

    Is it possible that, given the history, we ought to reconsider the way leaflets about ‘the local candidate’ are used if the opponent is from a minority group in an area like Chippenham?

    First thing I learnt in Pol1001; it doesn’t matter what is, what matters is what’s perceived. And Prof Rush did manage to put the italics in when he said that.

    We know it’s a fair line of attack, but some will perceive it as “he’s, you know, not local“. It’s not meant as a dog whistle, but some might read it that way.

    I honestly don’t know ont his, I’m raising it here as the discussion elsewhere is on a private journal and I think it’s something to consider. I’m, obviously, very pleased Duncan won, sat and watched his maiden life; first time for me that someone I met socially in a pub has then become an MP, it’s still really cool seeing him there knowing I’ve played silly games on Facebook with him.

    But if the sort of “anti-local” campaign can be misconstrued, perhaps we need to be careful in the future, in cases where it could be a problem?

    1. Mat,\n\nI take your point about the dog whistle but perhaps I should have been clearer in at least one respect: having read a lot of Duncan’s literature, while the phrase “local choice” was used to describe Duncan positively, predominantly Emmanuel Jones was described as the “Devon farmer”. In other words, they were being careful to avoid any accusation of dog whistle politics and were qualifying the criticism.\n\nCertainly, if a black candidate found themselves up against vague and unsubstantiated criticisms for not being “from around here” they would have reasonable grounds for complaint, but I’m confident that wasn’t the case here.

  6. Any thoughts on the wider implications of the Lib Dems’ uber local campaigning when it comes to your weak record on picking BME candidates for winnable seats? A party that demonises rival candidates for being from outside the constituency may at least subconsciously be more sensitive about racism than the other parties – even though quite a few your leading MPs were not local grown in their seats (Clegg, Cable, Huhne, Davey, Laws…).

  7. Tim,

    You appear to have been living in a hole for the past decade: all parties attack their opponents if they are not local and attempt to downplay it if they are. As for criticising the Lib Dems for being too uber localist, I have done so repeatedly. Have you spoken out against the Tory tendency to follow the same path?

    Ultimately, if we want to move away from this sort of politics we have to embrace electoral reform as a country. I am confused about why it is that on the one hand I am attacked for being a member of an uber localist party, whilst being simulaneously attacked, often by the same people, for believing that the single-member constituency link is pernicious.

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