Dave Cameron’s Tories are a million miles away from the Tories I used to know and loathe. Racism or anti gay sentiment is now enough to bring a promising parliamentary career to an end, and quite rightly so. No modern political party can afford to alienate a section of its electorate – that is, those who are disgusted by bigotry – and hope to succeed. Britain has changed for the better, and so – in many ways – have the Tories.
I’m thinking of testing the Tory’s commitment to stamping out viciousness in its own part later this year. There is a prospective parliamentary candidate for the Tories standing in a London seat who I knew when he was at university. Although he was a Tory activist he was hated by his colleagues, who engineered his ‘resignation’. I was unsurprised that they gave him the boot. He was the very definition of weird and nasty.
I witnessed this Tory activist try to persuade a group of students to vote for him, rather than an opposing candidate, on the grounds that “he’s a poof”. This Tory then flapped his wrist, limply, to emphasise his point. The students were unimpressed. This activist later punched the opposing candidate in the stomach.
This candidate also recently sent out a highly defamatory and racist email – probably by mistake – relating to a very prominent British lawyer. As a result, he left his place of employment. He was fortunate not to be sued.
I expect that when the Tories know the full facts about their candidate, they will ask him to step aside for the good of the party. That is because, at least where small decisions are concerned, the Tories are careful to do the right thing.
From the little issues to the big ones…
What are we to make of the Tories’ new allies in Europe?
A great deal of chaff has been thrown around, by all sides, in relation to Michal Kaminski, of Poland’s Law and Order party, and Roberts Zile, of Latvia’s Freedom and Fatherland party. But the dust is beginning to settle and I’m sad to say that it does appear that, in the name of opposing Lisbon, the Tories have sacrificed opposition to the extreme Right in Europe.
Now, I freely admit that I’m no Eurosceptic. I certainly have very severe concerns about the process of law making in Europe, and the quality of the legislation with which I deal professionally. However, on balance, I think it would have been better for Britain had the Tories remained in the European People’s Party, and acted as a brake on the excesses of enthusiasm that sometimes emerge from that grouping. Nevertheless, I’m not a Tory, and so I’ve not been part of the debates which led to their decision to form their own alliance.
But what an alliance they have formed!
The best article I have found on the problematic nature of the grouping in which the Tories now find themselves is this piece, by Jonathan Freedland:
But the ad any American politico worth his salt would be itching to make would open thus. “They say you can judge a man by the company he keeps. So what does it say about David Cameron that these are his friends?” At which point we’d see images of the men feted in Manchester yesterday, Michal Kaminski, of Poland’s Law and Order party (PiS), and Roberts Zile, of Latvia’s Freedom and Fatherland party, who now sit as allies with the British Conservatives in the European parliament – an issue raised first, to his enormous credit, by David Miliband last week.
This is about more than party point-scoring. It is, in fact, a matter of the deepest principle. For there was a time when no self-respecting British politician would have gone anywhere near such people. Kaminski began his career in the National Rebirth of Poland movement, inspired by a 1930s fascist ideology that dreamed of a racially pure nation. Even today, the PiS slogan is “Poland for Poles”, understood to be a door slammed in the face of non-Catholics. In 2001 he upbraided the president for daring to apologise for a 1941 pogrom in the town of Jedwabne which left hundreds of Jews dead. Kaminski said there was nothing to apologise for – at least not until Jews apologised for what he alleged was the role Jewish partisans and Jewish communists had played alongside the Red Army in Poland.
Incredibly, Kaminski’s Polish party is not the most unsavoury of the Tories’ new partners. That honour goes to the Latvian grouping whose members have played a leading part in the annual parade honouring veterans of the Latvian Legion of the Waffen-SS. Lest we forget, the SS were the crack troops of Nazi genocide; the Latvian Legion included conscripts, but at least a third were volunteers, among them men with the blood of tens of thousands of Jews on their hands. It is in honour of those killers that Cameron’s new buddies march through the streets of Riga.
The Tory defence has been weak. They have cited the embrace extended to Kaminski by first, the editor of the Jewish Chronicle, and second, the Conservative Friends of Israel, which astonishingly welcomed Kaminski yesterday. What Tories do not point out is that the former is now a fierce anti-Brown partisan while the latter is, as the name suggests, wholly aligned with the Conservatives. Of course they are defending Cameron’s decision. And both have spoken chiefly about Kaminski, suggesting a reluctance to defend the Latvian party. Besides, the president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews has now written to Cameron, raising questions about the Tory leader’s new friends in Europe.
The party chairman, Eric Pickles, offered an appalling defence, telling the BBC last month that the Latvian Waffen-SS were only conscripts fighting for their country, and to say otherwise was a Soviet smear. Again, this misses the fact that a substantial minority of the Latvian Waffen-SS were eager volunteers, including veterans of pro-Nazi death squads who had already taken part in the first phase of the Holocaust – and that should be enough to decide that those who march in celebration of men who fought with Hitler, and against Britain and its allies, are beyond the pale.
The talk coming from senior Tories – at least some of whom have the grace to squirm when questioned on this topic – suggesting that it’s all terribly complicated, that it was a long time ago and that even SS members were, in some ways, themselves victims, is uncomfortably close to the kind of prattle we used to hear from those we called Holocaust revisionists.
They too tried to relativise away the crimes of the Nazi era, constantly telling us that the Soviets also did terrible things, that Hitler’s eastern European collaborators were freedom-loving patriots and all the rest of it. What is shocking is that this garbage is now coming from those defending the party poised to form the government of Britain.
I like Tories. I count Tories among my close friends. Tories are not Nazis. Which is why I find the cuddling up to some pretty unsavoury Poles and Latvians just surreal. To welcome them to their own party Conference as honoured guests is a huge political error.
Sure, politics – European politics in particular – is a dirty business. If they’d stayed in the European People’s Party, they’d have been in alliance with Berlusconi’s The People of Freedom Party. That party is formed, in part, by the National Alliance, whose roots are in the Italian Fascist movement. Granted, Fini and the National Alliance has moved some distance from its fascist past, but the thought still makes your flesh crawl, doesn’t it?
But seriously, have a look at the people who the Tories now sit with in Europe. Read this article by a Polish academic on Kaminsky. Or this one by Efraim Zuroff, the Jerusalem-based Nazi hunter from the Simon Weisenthal Centre, on the Latvia case.
Tories should ask themselves: what is the point of drumming the bigots out of your party, domestically, only to cosset them the moment you cross the Channel?
I wish I could dismiss this all as party political game playing, but I don’t think I can.