Month: October 2009

Caroline Righton – ‘Sorry’ Seems To Be The Hardest Word

caroline righton

Righton in happier days?

Caroline Righton is not having a great week. Seven days after the former tv-am presenter and (at the time of writing) Tory PPC for St Austell & Newquay was invited to apologise for what still looks very much like a smear campaign, her silence on the subject remains defiantly unbroken. In between, Twitter and ‘the blogosphere’ have been feeding freely on the Tories’ ‘talk to the hand’ strategy.

What may well have been a basic mistake by Ms Righton and her election team has resulted in something of an awkward dilemma for David Cameron. He has received an official approach inviting him to tease out a simple apology, thereby leaving him with a choice of either backing his candidate – despite her campaign’s highly dubious smear tactics – or hanging her out to dry seven months away from a General Election. And all of this from an incident which could have been put to bed a week ago, but has instead snowballed into a serious fly in the Cornish Tory ointment.

This is somewhat surprising considering her media background and her presumably strong instincts for managing a story. Indeed, a glance at her Wikipedia entry demonstrates that, very recently, ‘her people’ have shown a very keen interest in trying to control what is written about her. “Caroline Righton does not want to have a Wikipedia page,” asserts an anonymous minion on the discussion page, only to be told (hilariously): “It’s not up to her”.

So, given the obvious control-freak element within the campaign team, why are they so reluctant to deal with this? What is so difficult for them? A simple apology might just undo some of the self-inflicted damage – but no one should hold their breath.

What others have written:
‘A Lanson Boy’ – The Curious Case of Candidate D**kh**d
Mark Pack: Caroline Righton: Will David Cameron Reply?
Andrew Reeves’ Running Blog
Matt Davies: Conservative Smear Campaign Or Just Stupidity
Norfolk Blogger: Caroline Righton – Hypocrite, Liar or Fool?
Chris Lovell: Caroline Righton Still Refuses To Apologise

‘D**kh**d-gate’ – The Return Of Tory Dirty Tricks

They’re not even back in power yet but already the Tories are starting to look like the sleazy, discredited political thugs we turfed out in 1997.

There’s an air of arrogance about them at the moment (even more than usual) which suggests that they feel the country’s twelve year aberration is over and soon they will once again be in possession of the thing that is rightfully theirs by birth: power. It’s not pretty to watch.

And here in Cornwall it seems the old-fashioned dirty tricks machine has been wheeled out in an attempt to help out Caroline Righton, former tv-am presenter and struggling Tory PPC, in her attempt to win the St Austell and Newquay seat at next year’s General Election. So far Ms Righton has done a blinding job of being completely invisible to the electorate (in stark contrast to her opponent, Stephen Gilbert) so, presumably on the basis that there is no such thing as bad publicity, ‘her people’ have embroiled her in that most modern of trends – ‘the Twitter Row’.
Righton recently emailed a number of target voters to express her shock at one of Steve Gilbert’s ‘tweets’. Steve’s update is (not so faithfully) reproduced in her email as: “[Steve Gilbert] was at meeting about regeneration of major town (declined by Tory PPC); Tory PPC at a publicity stunt (declined by me) – D**kh**d”.

Well, if that was true and Mr Gilbert had actually called her a ‘d**kh**d’ then I can understand why she might be so vexed that she’d want to email a whole load of people. The trouble is, he didn’t. The word was inserted at Righton’s end of things, as can clearly be seen by looking at Steve Gilbert’s Twitter feed.

Righton: Silent but...

Righton: Silent but...

All of this leaves two possibilities. Either an over-zealous member of Ms Righton’s campaign team added the word (for whatever reason) before it reached her, or she approved its inclusion in her email as a deliberate attempt to mislead voters in St Austell & Newquay. There’s a good chance it’s the former (I don’t think the Tories are stupid enough to think they can make things like this up and get away with it) but what is surprising is that, five days on, Righton has made no attempt to put this right. She could very easily have sent out another email apologising for the (hopefully honest) mistake and everyone could have had a laugh and moved on.

Instead she’s done nothing, and left the recipients of that original email under the false impression that Steve Gilbert has been going around calling her unpleasant names. Voters aren’t stupid, and the truth will come out in the end, but if Ms Righton’s people are going to put words into other people’s mouths, surely they can do better than ‘D**kh**d’.

Question Time – How Was It For You?

Although this will be my third post in a week about Griffin and the BNP I promise I’m not developing an unhealthy fixation with the far right – my immediate reaction to last night’s Question Time is that they simply aren’t that important. _46595525_qt_bbc226280 I must admit I approached yesterday’s programme with a certain amount of dread, fearing that Griffin would turn in an accomplished, well-rehearsed performance, but in the end I needn’t have worried. The BNP leader looked nervous, defensive and shifty, he fluffed many of his lines and didn’t once strike a chord with an audience who made me proud to be British.

We’re perhaps led to believe that the British public is entirely composed of curtain-twitching Daily Mail readers who are convinced we all live in a land of ‘political correctness gone mad’ and ‘elf and safety nazis’ (curse your lazy journalism, Richard Littlejohn) but it was heartening to see the way the Question Time audience, always a meticulous cross-section of the public, refused to allow Griffin to be their spokesman. Time and again he clumsily fired out a soundbite and each time he met with a wall of disdain.

The other panellists all performed well, crucially steering away from hysteria to tackle the BNP with reasoned argument, but the show-stealer for me was Bonnie Greer. She dealt with Griffin with an assured calm, most memorably with her “Got some reading for you Nick, think you need it” comment.

Today’s clumsy rebuttal operation from the BNP, inevitably accusing the BBC of bias and of putting Griffin in front of a lynch mob, just proves how poorly they think their leader performed. It also proves that the BBC were right to let Britain have this important debate.

Nick Griffin’s Question Time Appearance – How It Happened

(with thanks to The Daily Quail)

(with thanks to The Daily Quail)

Much of the day’s political discussion on the airwaves has centred around Nick Griffin’s appearance on the BBC’s Question Time tonight. Opinion still seems to be sharply divided over whether the BBC has done the right thing in inviting Griffin onto the show, with no end of voxpops either talking of ‘freedom of speech’ or ‘freedom from fascism’. As I’ve previously written, I have a great deal of sympathy with both of those arguments but ultimately freedom of speech wins it for me.

It’s perhaps worth remembering how we arrived at this point. Griffin wasn’t invited onto Question Time because the BBC have a deep-seated sympathy for his far-right views. (All sides of the political argument regularly accuse the BBC of bias, but I don’t think anyone has seriously claimed they are a white supremacist mouthpiece.) The BNP have a seat at the table because they have two seats in the European Parliament. The BBC – rightly in my view – have treated them the same way they would treat any other political party who are democratically elected, like it or not.

So perhaps the question really ought to be: “How did we, a tolerant, essentially liberal nation with a proud democratic history, create the circumstances in which such a party is able to represent Britain on an international stage?”

There are three groups of culprits here, in my opinion. The first target, and for me probably the easiest, is the print media. While I think it’s fair to point out that broadcasters have done their limited best to promote racial equality over the years, the same cannot be said of their tabloid cousins. On an almost daily basis the headlines scream ‘Immigration Out Of Control’, ‘Muslims Want Sharia Law’, ‘Britain’s Open Border Policy’ and so on. Although we all like to think that our opinions are not affected by the newspapers we read, if we’re exposed to a daily diet of the same myth eventually some of it is going to seep in. Most people who regularly read a paper stick with the same one six days a week, so if your diet consists of the Mail, the Express, the Sun or the Star the chances are you’re exposed to this kind of propaganda throughout the week. (It’s ironic, of course, that these same papers are the ones giving the BBC a kicking for promoting Griffin.)

The second ‘at fault’ group are the mainstream political parties. While all of them attack the extremism of the BNP none of them are prepared to pick a fight with the newspapers who keep peddling the myths that feed Griffin’s party. There are understandable political reasons why they don’t, but one of the things we hope to get from our leaders is leadership and unfortunately too little of it has been forthcoming on issues such as why we benefit from immigration. By being too timid to speak our leaders have allowed the debate to be framed in terms of ‘”they come over here and take all our jobs”, instead of pointing out that without immigration the economy would barely function, not to mention arguing for the wider benefits of broadening our culture.

Phil WoolasThe Labour Party has been the most disappointing in this area. One would expect a party of such proud traditions to be out there banging the drum for modern Britain. Instead they offer us Phil Woolas who seems to spend his time spewing out anti-immigration ‘initiatives’ tailored for the consumption of the Daily Mail et al. I know full well the Tories will head down the same road when their time comes, but I would expect little else of ‘the nasty party’. Labour disappoint because of all the opportunities they’ve spurned.

The last group of culprits are the public at large, every single one of us. We are the ones who have the power to tackle the BNP. We are the ones who can choose which newspapers we buy. We are the ones who decide what language is socially acceptable. How many of us challenge those who tell racist jokes in pubs? How often do we step in when we hear a ‘casual’ racist remark in someone else’s conversation? How many of us will switch off the TV and actually bother to go out and vote in those areas where the BNP find strength through ignorance? The answer is some, but not enough.

So when we feel our liberal sensibilities offended by Griffin’s appearance on tonight’s Question Time perhaps we should ask: “How exactly did he come to be there?”

Why the BBC are right not to ban the BNP from Question Time

This is a difficult one for sure. The BNP are clearly a malign, divisive force for evil, targeted at the ignorant and the nasty, and it will be highly uncomfortable for many of us to see their leader, Nick Griffin, sitting on a BBC Question Time panel alongside the representatives of democratically constituted political parties – parties whose membership is open to all, irrespective of colour or racial origin. And I do understand that instinct within many who feel that the BBC, or any other broadcaster, should not be giving these racists the oxygen of publicity.

Peter Hain arrested during Apartheid protests

Peter Hain arrested during Apartheid protests

Peter Hain is a case in point. No one can dispute his credentials as a campaigner for racial equality, having first reached the public consciousness in the fight against Apartheid, but I believe he is wrong to raise the spectre of legal action over Griffin’s Question Time appearance (BBC: BNP debate ‘illegal’, warns Hain).

For me, the simple part of the debate boils down to freedom of speech. In our society all views should be free to be aired and argued with, provided there is no physical threat to the freedom of others as a result. This can be an ugly concept at times – as the furore over Jan Moir’s deeply regrettable column on Stephen Gately’s death demonstrated last week – but it is one we should all be prepared to defend. Let’s not forget that when our forebears went to war against the Nazis seventy years ago one of the things at stake was freedom of speech, the lack of which was a feature of life under a far right government obsessed with racial theory and the subjugation of supposedly inferior races. (Sound familiar?)

That, for me, is the easy part of the argument. What is much harder is having to sit through an exuberant Griffin firing his nasty soundbites to a wider audience than he’s previously been accustomed to. Unfortunately that’s the downside of democracy. But that does lead me to ask the question “What would Griffin want the BBC to do?”.

My guess is that he would absolutely love it if the BBC pulled the plug on his Question Time appearance. Not only would he not have to sit through a public scrutiny of the swivel-eyed nonsense his party spouts, but also he will receive acres of coverage in the print and broadcast media which may, perversely, fuel a sense of outrage and injustice that his voice will not be heard. You can almost hear the soundbites now: ‘Liberal bias in the media’, ‘The supression of the voice of our indigenous people’ and so it will go on.

So while Thursday night’s Question Time may well be uncomfortable viewing, we must hope that the panellists and the studio audience ‘do a job’ on Griffin in a symbolic arena of our democratic rights. If they don’t pull it off we can console ourselves that the BBC did the right thing, and that the alternative would have been so much worse.

Jan Moir

By now we’re probably all aware that Jan Moir (evil, bigoted, arse-faced cow from the Daily Mail) has spilled her inner poison to the world, not to mention clearly displayed the editorial ‘standards’ of the fear-mongering organ of hate she writes for. While it’s been a truly bad day for her, the web (and most notably Twitter) has shown what a force for good it can actually be through the heartening, human defence of the memory of a young man who simply should have been too young to die. Much has all ready been written, but I think the best words were those of Charlie Brooker.