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Tuesday, 8 May, 2001, 11:26 GMT 12:26 UK
Tory race row: Has Hague done enough?
Tory leader William Hague has forced outspoken MP John Townend to apologise for his comments on race.
Speaking outside Conservative Central Office on Monday, Mr Hague said he had taken the "unprecedented" step of making his MP sign a letter renouncing his views on immigration and asylum seekers.
His decision comes after prominent Tory peer Lord Taylor threatened to resign from the party unless MP John Townend was disciplined for his comments about "mongrel" races.
Mr Townend was forced to act or face expulsion from the Conservative Party.
Is this an end to the matter? Or should the MP have been expelled from the party as some demanded? Has William Hague done enough to defuse this row?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
Why all the talk about William Hague? It was the Government that precipitated this row for political gain. They engineered a compact, signed it and then played the race card at every opportunity to discredit the opposition.
Ben Butterworth, UK
John Townend had a point to make, but the language used was quite reprehensible, and he gave the Conservative Party a bad image no matter what action William Hague took. His response has been compared with that taken by Edward Heath after Enoch Powell's "rivers of blood" speech, by, among others, Andrew Ley and Sir Edward himself. Let's get the facts of this right. Edward Heath sacked Enoch Powell from the Shadow Cabinet, but Powell remained a Tory MP for the last two years of that Parliament, fought the 1970 election as a Tory, and sat in Parliament taking the Conservative whip for another four years. So - principled Mr. Heath allowed Enoch Powell to remain as a Tory MP for six years after his speech;
William Hague has not expelled John Townend because he will stand down as an MP in a few weeks anyway. Give William Hague some credit - unlike Sir Edward, he isn't keeping his troublesome MP for six more years.
Konrad is, of course, absolutely right. There has been no road to Damascus conversion. Townend's expressed views are the ones he held and the ones he still holds. Nothing he, or William Hague has said even suggests a change of attitude. No doubt there are lots of nice Tories out there who are in no sense racist, but this one should most certainly have been instantly removed if Hague wants to retain any credibility at all.
I think Mr Townends words were unfortunate, However, we are not allowed to have any debate about race or asylum seekers without fear of being called a racist. There are too many emotions and people prepared to take action to allow a considered debate to take place. This is a major issue for all the population and should be treated with proper debate. I don't think by ignoring the issue and signing a meaningless statement from our political leaders, will solve our issues. With our asylum policy this issue will continue to wreak havoc until suitably addressed.
Townend got elected on the Tory ideological and political platform and he should respect that. People didn't vote for him alone - they voted for a party. If he is so protective of his freedom of speech, he should resign his seat and then say whatever he wants. Also, Hague's response of just censuring this man is a non-measure, and on top of that asking the only black member to prove his loyalty borders on harassment.
Yes, asylum is a big issue which needs to be addressed and yes, freedom of speech must be practised at all times. But what is the threat that the British feel on losing their culture? 90% of foreigners were colonised by the British. By being colonised they lost the majority of their culture to the British one eg half of Africa speak English or French as their national language after losing their tribal languages and culture to the colonisers. Something to think about. Why feel threatened instead of guilty?
Once again political correctness has stood in the way of intelligent debate. William Hague has sat on the fence and failed to take positive action in either direction. I believe that John Townend's views reflect those of many average, rational, English citizens. He is clearly not racist but he does sense the urgent need to take steps to stop the continuing dilution of English culture by those elements of the non-indigenous population who have no desire to integrate.
I always thought that the point of democracy was that you voted against people who expressed opinions you disliked. Censoring them from voicing their opinion in the first place smacks more of communism to me. To follow previous comments, I enjoy sushi, chicken tikka and chicken satay, but that doesn't stop me being concerned that people are being silenced in a nation that is supposedly proud of our "right to free speech".
Why are politicians afraid to discuss the race, asylum and immigration issue in a democracy? Is it a case of political correctness or are they scared of the truth, that forcing nations to be multi-racial, multi-ethnic and multi-lingual is not what the majority want? In small numbers people are happy, but above a critical limit, tolerance gives way to unhappiness, which is where we are at.
Tanya Smithson, England
Rather than focus on what one or more individual politician(s) said or did not say, it is high time this country paid some attention to educating the masses and actually teaching people to behave in a civilised manner. This is not a racial/ethnic problem--there are many people from non-white ethnic backgrounds, who exhibit the same brutish and uneducated behaviour as the locals, because they have been exposed to the same culture.
People keep going on about "whatever happened to free speech?" Yes, as a member of the public he is entitled to say whatever he likes. Surely the point is that Townend is an MP who represents a community. He is a member of a supposedly mainstream party. He has a responsibility. There is simply no place for the kind of stuff he's coming out with. Hague should have got rid of him immediately. He only didn't because he knows that those are the views of the majority of what is left of the Tory party members. They have the final say in any leadership election.
Glenn Burnett, England
I agree with Mr Townend's comments. It's not xenophobic to recognise that the country is too full and we cannot cope. Charity begins at home. We should stop wasting taxpayers' money on other people. Immigration traffic should be zero, and that's not a black or white issue or which god you worship. We should erect a sign at Dover saying "FULL". In addition, if you are white, working, heterosexual and male in this god-forsaken country you have the least rights of all.
The comments seem to bang on a lot about freedom of speech, and freedom of expression. Of course Mr Townend is free to make whatever speech he likes, but William Hague is also free to throw him out. Which he should have done without a second thought.
With free speech comes responsibility which Townend did not exercise. There is a link between racial violence and these sort of comments from the political establishment. Hague missed a plum opportunity to show his "liberal" and "inclusive" credentials a few weeks before an election. His weak, slow reaction spoke volumes. The country is not as right wing as his party and he will suffer for that. As Robin Cook rightly implied, Britons are "mongrels" anyway. Guys like Townend are only on about separating white and black, however they dress it up.
The politician meant what he said, and if his comments drive debate and discussion, then he is doing what politicians need to do more often.
At the end of the day it was Hague who censured Townend, who was only building on the foundations laid by Hague's own "foreign land" speech. I'm surprised that Portillo has not spoken out against this "pledge of loyalty" letter as he had done before when he talked about his refusal to sign the CRE letter. The Tory handling of this has been hypocritical and Hague's attempts to censure the unpopular views of his own party will not last the election campaign.
Political correctness run amok. Remember the excellent orator Enoch Powell and the stinging criticism he received from his political peers for his vision of the future? Same difference here - the man was expressing his opinions and no one has to agree with him. The value of dialogue is important and that which is unsaid is dangerous. So he used the word "mongrel" - sometimes used in a derogatory manner (according to the dictionary anyway), perhaps he should have used an alternative. He was talking about ethnic diversity. Here in the US we still have that vile organization, the KKK, who believe in white supremacy - they can march, they can speak, we can choose to listen or not, then form our own opinions. Mr Townend is not a racist and should not have had to apologise for his opinions. Hague is pushing the wrong buttons here and it's not the direction the Tories should be heading.
I have been following with interest the concerns of some that recent immigrants might be altering England's "Anglo-Saxon" culture. Certainly I have known people who are uncomfortable with social changes here in the US, and England should be expected to have them as well. But it hardly seems right to single out one particular group of interlopers as acceptable. If people from the Commonwealth countries are objected to, why not other interlopers? The Normans, for instance (certainly a brutish lot); the Norse (Danes, if you will); the Angles; the Saxons; the Celts; and perhaps even Homo Sapiens? The Romans are something of a special case, having officially withdrawn; but they doubtless left behind many descendants of their soldiers from Panonia, Syria, Italy and who knows where.
I clearly missed the racist part of the speech. A mongrel is a mixture, which is what it means to be English. Our culture is a mixture from around the world. Why was it offensive to state the truth? The real debate should be how to integrate the newcomers better into society and the rate people should be allowed into this country. The current issue seems to be Labour pre-election spin to prevent a proper discussion on the issue of immigration.
The uncomfortable fact is that these views are widespread not only in the Tory party but in large sections of society as a whole. I always read with interest about people complaining about a "liberal elite" - it's as if they are saying they would prefer a good old-fashioned "illiberal elite" like we used to have.
The debate is more than 'but what about freedom of speech?' I agree with freedom of speech as long as it doesn't infringe upon the freedom from intimidation and freedom from harassment. Now people may argue that Townend's comments are merely words, but Scotland Yard has recently published a report linking anti-asylum seeker and racist language used by politicians with direct links to increases in racist attacks. So which freedom is more important?
Groove Armada play a song with the lyric "If everybody looked the same - we'd tire of looking at each other." I have studied the concept of culture shock and the adjustment process to a new culture. The conclusion I've come to is that, through the process of becoming "Bi-cultural" - that is assimilating one's self to another culture from one's own, there are only positive and beneficial effects to be gained - a wider world perspective, and a general openness to new ideas, to name a couple. John Townend would do well to open his mind and embrace other cultures, learning from them and using new-found qualities to his, and everybody else's, benefit. It's not a perfect world - but isn't that what we are all striving for?
It is good to talk! I like to think that I live in a country where people are free to express their views. Once I have any doubt about this, it will be time to emigrate - once again!
Mohammed Shafiq, United Kingdom
This isn't about whether or not Townend's comments are acceptable in general. Whilst I would argue that they are not, he is entitled to his opinion, and to express his views freely. The question is whether or not his views are acceptable within a mainstream political party. If the Conservative Party does not want to be regarded as a 'safe haven' for racists, then it needs to act more firmly against Townend and his ilk.
Racism is detestable - but we do not prevent it by pretending that there are not, and never will be, practical problems with a multi-racial, multi-cultural Britain. Labour's approach - gag the racists and hope for the best - is naive and attempts to solve one perceived problem (racism) whilst ignoring the broader and more serious problem of how you make a multi-racial Britain work, when there are meat-heads of all ethnic backgrounds causing trouble, and when the process of assimilating the cultural changes currently underway is far from smooth or easy.
Thelma Matuk, Germany
After reading the previous views, on this matter - think everyone, Do we really want to live in a society where someone can be expelled from an organisation when the mob shouts loud enough, or in a society where if we disagree with what he says, we vote him out? For the record, I disagree strongly with what he said, But I want to live in a society where he has the right to say it.
I am Portuguese and my wife is English. We have a beautiful boy who was born here in the UK. It make me feel extremely angry to see politicians making xenophobic comments such as these.
I am fed up of hearing that John Townend and co are sorry. They meant what they said and the fact is views like this should not be mentioned, especially by such prominent figures as MP's. We pay their wages whether black, white or Asian.
Chris Klein, England
Mr Townend should take a holiday in Mauritius. It's a great example of a multi-cultural community, with all colours, races and religions living and working happily together. What is it with the British that we find it so difficult to accept other races? After all, we were quite happy to "own" most of them in the days of the British Empire!
To be racist in this country all you need to be is white and British. I'm tired of being told that it's OK to have an Asian community centre, but it's racist to have a British community centre. I'm sick of being told that 'Black Pride' is a good thing, but 'White Pride' is racist. I have a black partner who totally agrees with me on this.
I am half English and half Spanish, so I suppose that makes me a mongrel. I have ignored Townend's comments and would hope that others do the same. Please get back to the serious issue of running the country and stop making such silly comments.
John Goodman, UK
Townend should have been expelled for his obscene comments, which have no place in 21st century Britain. Hague has just compounded his leadership weakness. However he made his position almost impossible by his own earlier comments about New Labour turning Britain into a foreign land. Whist this was aimed at EU matters the connection with asylum seekers was unfortunate. How can the Tories claim to be an inclusive party when its membership is 99.9% white? The facts just don't stack up.
This proves to me that people cannot talk about race without being racist.
Gary Eales is dead right, Townend's views are his own and he has a right to them. It seems that free speech in this country is only allowed if you are saying what the liberal elite agree with. If you don't like what someone says then don't vote for them, if you think his party isn't doing enough then don't vote for the party. This applies to any subject, it's known as democracy. Now can we get off the non-issue of imagined racism and debate something relevant.
Has Hague done enough about the Townend affair? Does the Conservative Party ever "do enough" to stamp on idiocy within its ranks? To ask the questions is to answer them. It's almost as if the Tories are either somehow inherently incapable of taking action to control their most embarrassing members, or else are just too proud and conceited an organisation ever to admit that they are wrong. We've seen it all before: the party failed to act decisively against MPs accused of sleaze before the last election, and look what happened then. Looked at from this perspective, it doesn't much matter what Hague does or doesn't do, or whether he remains their leader.
Rose Scott, USA
In the sixties the intelligentsia stormed the barricades (figuratively) to rid us of censorship. Now they have restored it, and included that appalling Orwellian concept "hatecrime" in order to achieve their own ideals. The cause of colour-blindness has been set back decades.
Now that the comments have been made, he will always have them on his reputation. It is not enough simply to make an apology that costs nothing, but there will be serious consequences for Mr Townend in the future from those offended. There are no mongrel races. The only mongrels are people and that sort of racist generalisation should not be forgiven.
John Townend's comments were not wisely chosen, I think he realises that now and he has apologised. William Hague has given him his final chance. Let it drop for Gods sake.
Jennifer Sanders, UK
I'm afraid the Conservative Party just digs itself into a deeper hole with every view expressed. The reality is, most moderates lost in the last election, and the remaining MP's do NOT represent the views of most people. Mr Hague should have dealt hard and fast with the problem. He has not, and will suffer the consequences.
William Hague and many people seems to confuse the freedom of speech and being a member of a respectable Political Party. Mr. Townend has every right to speak his mind but the leader of the Conservative should not allow him to make racist remark while he is a member of the Conservative Party.
A decisive leader is a strong leader. Edward Heath, then the opposition leader, expelled Enoch Powell as soon as he made the speech of "River of Blood," which helped him to win the election by showing he is a man of principle. By contrast, William Hague has swung one way to another making him look indecisive and without principle.
We always here the opposition leaders making comments like "too little too late?" This phase cannot be better applied than in this row.
G. Cooper, England
I'm sure black people throughout Britain will be relieved that in William Hague's Conservative party bigots won't be tolerated. Unless they apologise, obviously.
Joon, US (but English)
A weak response from a weak leader. Does anyone really believe that John Townend has changed his views? Of course he hasn't.
I worry about free speech in this country, and the demand that all members of a political party must be on message or else. I want a society where John Townend can say what he said and the rest of us can explain why we thing he is very wrong, but I want our politicians to be people, not parrots.
William Hague talks tough on a lot of issues - now he should act tough to stamp out racism and bigotry. Until then, he's losing more and more respect every day.
The vast majority of the UK electorate will not have signed the CRE's document. Does this make us all racist as the press and the CRE's adverse reaction to a few MPs' non-signature would suggest? One would imagine that in the run-up to a general election there would be rather more important issues to debate.
I think William Hague has acted how everyone expected him to act - very weakly. I'm not a spin-doctor myself, but pre-election tactics of condemning racism in the ranks only if it occurs a second time are extremely lame! It's very worrying that in this day and age, top ministers are allowed a forum in which to publicly display their intolerance of multi-culturalism.
William Hague's failure to take decisive action and punish right-wing bigots within his party will tar the Tories with a racist brush for years to come. Modern British culture deplores open prejudice and I can but hope that Hague's policy of deliberately pandering to the lowest common denominator will sting him at the ballot box in the forthcoming election.
Sue Stephens, London, England
He's done nowhere near enough. Although I've been slightly uncomfortable with the CRE's 'sign or else' attitude over the pledge, William Hague has just shown himself, yet again, to be a weak leader totally unsuited to be PM and totally at the mercy of the rather nasty hard right element of his party. When Townend praised Enoch Powell's 'Rivers of Blood' speech, Hague should have acted as Ted Heath did, decisively and unambiguously, by squashing Powell immediately. Forcing Townend to back down after two or three weeks of unflattering media coverage means nothing. If Lord Taylor has any sense he'll jump ship to Labour or the LibDems anyway.
This is too little too late. Hague should have acted as soon as Townsend spoke out on racist views. Far from strong leadership, this smacks of another example of Hague being an unfit party leader and, god forbid, Prime Minister.
It astonishes me that Mr Hague has gone out of his way to keep a man like Mr Townend in the Conservative party - he would have appeared a good deal more impressive if he had had the courage to expel him two weeks ago. As things stand Mr Townend is still a Tory MP and, despite the forced apology, he is someone many people still consider to hold racist views. One man has been allowed to make the Tories seem more extreme, isolated and unelectable than before.
William Hague has done nothing but further erode the ability of the British people to participate in free and open debate. Would somebody please tell me what living in a free society means? Does a (unelected) member of the House of Lords have the right to call an elected Member of Parliament a racist for stating his views? Since when did Lord Taylor have the right to dictate what YOU or I can say? I personally have a problem with the way the UK has absorbed so many immigrants. Am I a racist?
Of course this is not enough! The man has been told to sign a letter. If he did not hold the views, he would have not made the comments in the first place. I sincerely doubt a chat in William Hague's office has given rise to a Road to Damascus conversion in John Townend. Why is Hague so desperate to cling on to the chap?
30 Apr 01 | UK Politics
Race row MP forced to apologise
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