Monday, 9 April 2012

Racism in Reading?

Reading Borough Council's local election campaign exploded into controversy this week as accusations and counter-accusations exposed the political divisions between the parties.

Following the deselection of sitting Conservative councillor, Jamie Chaudhary, over an internal 'vendetta', the Peppard ward representative announced his party resignation during the full public session of the Council stating that he would take legal action against the party, amidst cheering by Greens and Labour.

Cllr Chaudhary followed up by declaring he is to stand as an independent candidate against his former colleagues with the backing of local members and officers.

Former Labour representative Jane Griffiths, who had a similar experience when she became the first sitting Labour MP to be deselected, rejects claims that the decision was for 'health' reasons, and provides the insight that public splits inspiring bitter recriminations of this sort are rarely conducive to successful election campaigns.

LibDem Gareth Epps pays tribute to his opposite number, describing Cllr Chaudhary as "one of the most able and hardest-working" members of the tory group, adding his view that these events have been part of a 'murky process' - a euphemism for darker, racial motives.

Meanwhile Labour has since been forced onto the backfoot when they published an election leaflet using phrases described as a 'dog-whistle' to racists.

Battle ward's Cllr Sarah Hacker attempted to defend the combination of two divisive phrases by examining them separately, as more threats of legal action were made by electoral agent (and Labour Peppard candidate) David Absolom if tories didn't withdraw their 'smears'.

She is supported by Green Party stalwart (and former Battle ward resident) Adrian Windisch who similarly prefers to interpret Labour's language in isolation.

Labour candidate Tony Jones rejects outright any accusation of racism towards Azam Janjua, explaining that the underlying attack is because the Conservative candidate for Church ward is a 'political turncoat' who defected from Labour amidst allegations of misconduct - allegations which only arose once the 'betrayal' was enacted.

Other commentators have been scathing in their criticism of Labour.

Jane Griffiths was a victim of Labour's internal party factionalism, and she notes the irony of Mr Absolom's wish for a 'civilised and sensible campaign' having stirred up this vitriolic feud. Jane decides that this amounts to a climbdown by Labour with an implicit acknowledgement of racism.

Another former Reading Labour insider, Andrew Tattersall, knows their habitual practise of 'gas-lighting' all too well. He slams it as a racist campaign which shows Labour's desperation, and names John Howarth as the man responsible for a long-running track-record of epic policy failures and a systematic campaign of artificially stimulating public fears stretching back to the 1990s.

LibDems like to be known for their 'evidence-based' approach, so Warren Swaine (himself a victim of personal attacks by Labour over his use of satire) decides to compare and contrast leaflets delivered by Labour in different wards.

Gareth Epps celebrates the diversity of Reading as 'one of the most harmonious communities in the UK' and agrees with his colleague that the references may not be overt racism, but they create an 'unambiguous reference', one which is designed 'to pander to racism'.

Conservative bloggers are also quick to get in on the bickering. Continuing Peppard ward councillor, Richard Willis (who was previously forced to apologise for describing the racist policies of Rhodesian white-minority leader Ian Smith as 'wise and benign'), is typically straight-forward (if possibly hypocritical) in expressing his view that Labour's position is indefensible.

Meanwhile Cllr Isobell Ballsdon says Labour have 'stooped to a new low'. In particular, she notes Labour's candidate doesn't live anywhere near Church and is trying to play up any 'local' link to potential voters, however tenuous.

Isobell also provides a balanced round-up of alternate views, enabling her to judge Labour's behaviour as 'arrogant' and 'unjust'. She directly criticises Green Party chairperson Adrian Windisch for attempting to defend Labour, saying he has been taken for a fool in defending racism.

But the final word must go to Andrew Tattersall, who completely repudiates Labour's official response - he specifically highlights the inconsistency of Tony Jones on the matter, a man who resigned from his party for two years because of bullying treatment meted out to him, yet has since rejoined and is now apparently happy to bully others.

Oranjepan says:
Racism at any level of society is completely unacceptable, however it is vital that all sides understand the expression of such negative sentiment is an indicator of insecurity - in this case the political insecurity of candidates and campaigners who are trying to withstand an on-rushing tide of public cynicism about politics created by irresponsible representatives.

The politics of fear and division is a vicious circle which is wrecking untold damage our democracy. Political engagement and election turnouts continue to decline as a result and this is presenting opportunities for populists with more extreme motives and hidden agendas.


Update: the invisible man behind the storm, Geordie John Howarth, analyses the recent by-election success of George Galloway in Bradford West. He identifies the strategic reasons why the maverick celebrity candidate was capable of defeating his party with a stunning swing result of 40%:
"the fundamentals were ideal for Mr G [to cause an upset]: discontent to be exploited, community tensions, generational resentment, ethnic division, block votes, deprivation and decay."
Clearly Mr Howarth was taking notes and decided to follow the example.
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