There are dirty political campaigns (plenty of them) and there are campaigns so vile that a rarely constituted court is forced to intervene to restore some sense of fair play to the electoral system. In standing with those who believe that a law so infrequently invoked cannot be said to be over-intrusive, I applaud the decision to ensure a rerun of the Oldham East and Saddleworth General Election campaign. True, we don’t want the legal profession deciding our elected representatives but it is surely better to render null and void a result that was so skewed by untruth (The Labour Party accepting that point) that it was meaningless. It brought to mind an occasion when the boot was firmly on the other foot when the Lib Dems were the perpetrators of sloganneering ‘Local Homes for Local People’ in their 1990 campaign in Tower Hamlets- Paddy Ashdown’s inquiry leading to three expulsions. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a political leader look so relieved to see his party lose control of a council as Ashdown did in 1994. This kind of gutter politics has to be challenged to keep us all from being deceived by deliberate lies. My worry is, though, that we may well be in for more of the same in the coming years. As we saw in the General Election campaign, when jobs are scarce then the panic button of immigration is pushed repeatedly. As the cuts bite, especially in communities with large immigrant communities, parties may well be tempted to use the issue as a way to get their vote out. One line of a professor’s article about the future of the Irish economy today stood out:
‘Within five years, both Civil War parties are likely to have been brushed aside by a hard right, anti-Europe, anti-Traveller party’
In the UK our predicament may not be so severe. But the underlying resentment will fester and grow if we sit back and allow a xenophobic agenda to take root in difficult times. If you think I may be overstating my worries, have a glance at a quote from Migration watch issued on Conservative Home today (and don’t read the comments, if faint of heart):
‘Meanwhile, whole sections of some of our cities have become unrecognisable as part of England’
It is probably sensible to monitor and regulate immigration to the UK. But let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that scapegoating the foreigner- whom I seem to remember was protected in OT law- is a justifiable measure of patriotic behaviour. In recognising Ireland’s utter dependency on other nations in the coming years, Professor Kelly offers no solutions. Instead he closes with this assessment:
‘From here on, for better or worse, we can only rely on the kindness of strangers’
Maybe kindness isn’t such a bad thing.