Tearing up the Race Card

Paul Foot

  • The New Untouchables: Immigration and the New World Worker by Nigel Harris
    Tauris, 256 pp, £25.00, October 1995, ISBN 1 85043 956 7
  • The Cambridge Survey of World Migration edited by Robin Cohen
    Cambridge, 570 pp, £75.00, November 1995, ISBN 0 521 44405 5

Every Tory attempt at ‘renewal’ – the staged leadership election last summer is a good example – pushes the Party closer to the abyss. Every poll indicates that they are losing more heavily than ever before. There is one possible remedy. Labour may be soft on immigration. The electorate may be scared away from its obvious intention, even at this late hour, by the prospect of hordes of foreigners being seduced into the country by Jack Straw. Several ministers, some for lack of any other strategy, some out of an instinctive xenophobia, press the Prime Minister to ‘play the race card’. The hawks on this subject are the two Michaels, Portillo and Howard, whose fathers were both immigrants, and Peter Lilley, whose holidays in his house in France enabled him to break into colloquial French in the course of a ludicrous comic turn about foreigners coming to this country to partake of the social services which he is assiduously dismantling. As always when a course of action is urged on him by his enemies in the cabinet, whom he describes as ‘bastards’, nice Mr Major rolls over on his back and pants happily in agreement. The Queen’s Speech makes it clear that immigration and political asylum will be an issue at the general election. Judging from the predictions of the very right-wing Hugh Colver, who has resigned in disgust after a few months as chief Tory press spokesman, there will be no holds barred. No doubt Tory chairman Brian Mawhinney will be in close touch with his colleague Peter Griffiths, the MP for Portsmouth North, who first won a seat in Parliament in Smethwick, in the general election of 1964, by concentrating heavily on the race issue. It was in that election, without the sanction of Mr Griffiths, that the slogan first appeared in stickers, leaflets and verbal sallies on the doorsteps: ‘If you want a nigger neighbour, vote Labour.’

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