It's not often I feel sorry for the Tory leader, Michael Howard, but the roughing-up he was subjected to on the Today Programme this morning had a hint of McCarthyism about it. (You can listen here. The interview with Sarah Montague heats up at around the 10 min mark.) Like a lot of media people, Montague seems outraged that Howard had dared to raise the subject of immigration in the first place. She pounces on him, too, for using the phrase "Communities cannot absorb newcomers at today's pace..." Why?

Labour's leaders realize that they are vulnerable in this area, of course. There's no more delicate topic in British politics - I'm all too aware of that. My father came to Britain from Jamaica during WW2 as an RAF serviceman; my wife arrived here in 1968 as part of the Kenyan Asian exodus. So it goes without saying that we have a personal stake in this issue. We've both had to put up with a modest amount of racial abuse in the past. (As I think I've mentioned before, we had an idiot on our doorstep soon after 9/11, accusing us of being part of "Bin Laden's lot". We had to call the police in the end.) But I have to say that, as things stand, I'm less worried by the thought of politicians stirring up racism for their own benefit than I am by the idea of a well-meaning Establishment trying to suppress or ignore the tensions that already exist. So on balance I think Michael Howard is right to call for a debate.

There is one nagging question, though. If he had been Prime Minister or Opposition leader in 1968, would he have been absolutely in favour of letting my wife into the country? I honestly can't say I feel confident on that score. It may not always be fair to accuse him of being an opportunist, but sometimes he only has himself to blame.

|||Clive|||http://clivedavis.blogspot.com/2005/01/taboo-subject-its-not-often-i-feel.html|||1/24/2005 12:20:00 pm|||||||||