Thursday, March 08, 2007

Patrick Mercer quits after "racist" comments

There is a reason I have put the word racist in quotes. It is quite simply because based upon what I have so far read on the BBC (the Times article is not working) he seems to have been talking historically about his time in the Army and just being thoroughly honest, albeit illjudged as well. The BBC reports him as saying,
"They prospered inside my regiment, but if you'd said to them: 'Have you ever been called a nigger,' they would have said: 'Yes.'... But equally, a chap with red hair, for example, would also get a hard time - a far harder time than a black man, in fact....But that's the way it is in the Army. If someone is slow on the assault course, you'd get people shouting: 'Come on you fat bastard, come on you ginger bastard, come on you black bastard.'"
Now personally, speaking, on that bit alone, I'm not sure what he said wrong, it was just telling the tale of his life in the Army. What should he have said? "Oh no! Everyone was really lovely to each other when they were on a training ground"? Anyone with half a brain would know that would be bollocks.

However, I'm guessing it was this bit that really did it for him,
"I came across a lot of ethnic minority soldiers who were idle and useless, but who used racism as cover for their misdemeanours.... I remember one guy from St Ann's (Nottingham) who was constantly absent and who had a lot of girlfriends.... When he came back one day I asked him why, and he would say: 'I was racially abused.' And we'd say: 'No you weren't, you were off with your girlfriends again.'"
I can certainly see, politically, how the first sentence in the second post could be construed as being racist, although I can equally see it as someone stating the matter of their empirical experience.

It seems to me that this is one of those times when resignation is the right thing do for political reasons (and Danny Finkelstein has a good point to make on that here), but at the same time I do have a wider cultural concern. This relates to the argument that if once perceives offence (in this case racial offence) then it makes it so, irrespective of the intent of the person making the original comment.

Do not misconstrue that statement though, I do not know Patrick Mercer from Adam* and for all I know he could be a raving racist thug or equally he could be a saint. However I don't think that detracts from the wider concern about how the perception of offence is often, today, equated with intent to offend.

Sadly though, there are many people out there who do have a chip on the shoulder and use racism, sexism, or whatever other victim group-ism for achieving ends (there are also many who don't who are genuinely subjected to discrimination). When it happens I personally think people should be called on it and offered some salt and vinegar.

I also think that in Britain we have a problem with race. That problem is that we don't talk about it enough. Unlike America, we had no giant civil rights movements, the result has been that the issue of race is framed in debate in much more pernicious and oppressive way.

If you talk about race, and if you are not careful enough with what you say, you find yourself charged with all sort of things, as I imagine someone will say about this post probably. However, we really need to deal with the way we deal with our use of language and the difference between actual deliberate discrimination and simple name-calling with no malice intended which is part of life whether one likes it or not.

I say all this, incidentally, as someone with ginger hair.

Update: I've been thinking about this post on the way home and wish to clarify something. When I talk about "name-calling" I'm referring to peer groups and the manner in which they speak to each. They will, quite often, use language which, in isolation could be deemed racist, but within the group is not considered so.

* OK that's a slight lie, I met him once outside Doughty Street whilst I was smoking a ciggie with Rachel North, the conversation consisted of "Hello, I'm Patrick Mercer". I'd hardly call it an interest though.


Praguetory said...

Tory politicians are measured to different standards for a variety of reasons. It's interesting that Gordon Brown is calling for all immigrants to speak English. 20 years ago a Conservative councillor by the name of Graham Ling (you won't even find this on google but it was a big story at the time) was expelled from the party for saying the same thing. He was a good bloke, by the way. Mercer was engaging in brinkmanship. I have mixed feelings about his treatment, but I hope that it won't tarnish him permanently. His words were not racist.

Chris Paul said...

Mr Mercer appears to think nothing of generalizing from the particular in a dangerously agile, and yes racist way. He generalises from one guy playing hooky to see his girlfriend and using an excuse related to race. Someone else might have used an excuse due to a grannie's illness. But Mercer's anecdote generalises in effect to the idea that black soldiers are lying skivers, and more so than say Irish gingas. He unwisely uses "lots" and other vagueness also.

He was right to resign. DC was right to require him to do so.

Chris Paul said...

PS It's very bad judgement anyway ...

Rachel said...

Oh no. He was the Tory politician I liked. I have known him fo rabout a year, and I think he is a very decent, kind, clever man, and I am 100% convinced that he was not being racist, because he is not like that at all.


Croydonian said...

Bizarre - I was out on the lash with 'mania earlier on, and being a sad wonk had checked the headlines on my phone and mentioned the Welsh and Ginge parallels without having seen the pith of the story.

Aaron Murin-Heath said...

I live in Newark, so Mr. Mercer is my PM.

Obviously I didn't vote for him, and he's made some daft comments in the past on defence, but he's been mistreated here.

He told it like it he saw it.

One of the few attractive aspects of the Conservative Party (at least to me) is its libertarianism and revulsion towards political correctness. Mr. Cameron is dangerously close to turning people off.

dizzy said...

Chris, I think you'll find that it you making a generalisation by inferring a generalisation. In fact you're expressing exactly what I think is wrong with the issue of "race" as a topic in the country.

There is a worrying, and intellectually bankrupt tendancy to leap tio a charge of racism whilst completely ignoring what goes in the real world.

I for example, am often referred to as a "gora" by my close Indian friends, likewise I call them bloody indians and do the head wobble which I mastered in Bangalore.

I'm afraid to say that referring to someone by virtue of their difference to you does not consequentially mean that you are either (a) discriminatiing against or (b) a racist/sexist/gingist or whatever. Suggesting so is nothing short of the most pernicious doublespeak.

The Daily Pundit said...

His comments highlight a relaxed attitude within the Tory party to issues of race and equality. If they expect to be taken seriously as a government in waiting, Mercer should be kicked out of the party. He's now a liability and an accident waiting to happen. I'm sure Labour and the Libs are looking forward to more 'plain speaking' from Mercer and many other Tory dinosaurs.

dizzy said...


Tony said...

Although I have sympathy for Patrick Mercer I do feel it was right for him to go. Following some of the comments and postings I have read since the sacking, and an excellent comment thread on Bel's site, I have written a reflection explaining my thinking that is a bit long to put on here.

Anonymous said...

Dizzy, I think your point about the difference between intention to offend, and the perception is a vital one.

I suspect none of this would have happened if Mercer had been in a face-to-face interview situation.

The old grey matter tends to filter stuff like that out, or send a little warning bell. No doubt you can tell us how easy it is to type stuff which you later think 'Ooh.. that was a bit near the mark.'

To be honest though, the real sloppy journalism of the past two days is the Guardian jumping to conclusions and rushing to judgement about that copper..

Anonymous said...

One of the annoying parts of this discussion is that (at least in polite society) one has to establish oneself as a fellow victim (in some form) before being allowed to join in.

This is a form of special pleading - victims are exempt from criticism, as well as from requirements of logic or accuracy.

It was relied on in the Macpherson Report "A racist incident is any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person".

thedacs said...

David Cameron was doing a really good job in pulling me toward the Tories for the very first time. Until his knee-jerk sacking of Mercer that is.

Anonymous said...

Yes - David Davis supporters must be purged. I wonder how many phone calls and briefings Steve Hilton made to undermine Patrick Mercer ?

Anonymous said...

David Cameron has gone down in my estimation his sacking of Patrick Mercer is the kind of knee jerk political correctness I expect from the Liberal establishment not a Conservative.
In this country discussion of racial topics is so cowed by the shriek of “racist” every time someone deviates from the multicultural politically correct line, that a genuine exchange of views is not possible. Without discussion no minds will be changed and closet racists will remain confirmed in their views that ethnic minorities are a different and protected spices.

Newmania said...

He had to go and as you say it was the further remarks that did for him. I find it sickening to see a purveyor of putrid Liberal; Political correctness like Rachel of North London pretending any concern.
It is the feverish reaction of the left that requires his absence . There is no room for that sort of mistake

Newmania said...

and ....Whether he is a racist or not himself is entirely beside the point

Newmania said...

Incidentally this was my take on it..part of it ...

The left however are not likely to be put off the scent, and Mathew Paris in the Spectator explained why. Having ditched Socialism , moral foreign policy , state provision ,, and everything else the Labour Party once believed in, the vague assertion that the Conservative Party are ,“ nasty”, is all they have left to hold them together.

Martin Bright in the New Statesman today described the Conservative Party as ideologically uncertain , unsure of a direction for the 21st century and with a leader tarnished with a serious of poor decisions”…..only in the NS eh , breathtaking swizzle headedness, but what a good description of the Labour Party.
The antennae of the left for a wiff of “nastiness” are therefore set to maximum sensitivity . This for example is the manner in which he describes David Cameron signing up MEP`s to the “extreme Euro sceptic movement” … worthy of the craziest days of the Tory wilderness years and “ Anti Europe “ and anti immigration. Anti immigration of course equals , racist, to the left.

That is why David Cameron has had to act decisively over Mr. Mercer. It isn’t fair but he’s in politics and should have known better. The horrible truth is that the Labour Party believe their own lies. How else can we explain disastrously flooding and unreformed NHS with tax booty unless they really believed the Tories were trying to starve it to death?

As the sage said , when men cease to believe they don’t believe in nothing , they’ll believe anything. That is the position of the Labour Party and that is why these minor scuffle looms so large

Anonymous said...

It was probably the right thing to do politically (sacking him that is),

But that's just a sad reflection on society that an MP cannot tell the truth about his non-political experiences.