By Cathcart, Brian
New Statesman (1996) , Vol. 136, No. 4836
Is your heart chilled? Apparently it ought to be. According to Melanie Phillips in the Daily Mail, the sacking of Patrick Mercer from the Tory front bench "should chill the heart of every single person of any colour or creed who cares about truth, justice and decency". Why? Because it shows that the Tories "are running scared of a venomous media and left-wing intelligentsia" bent on smearing the party with "the toxic taint of racism".
In case you missed this story of towering moral significance, Mercer (of whom most of us had never heard) was the Tory spokesman on homeland security (a job most of us did not know existed) until he was fired by David Cameron for saying some dazzlingly ill-judged things about black soldiers in the army. Phillips takes his sacking as the final proof that anti-racism has become the McCarthyism of our age, and she goes so far as to say that its assault on our values is not just an evil in itself, but is also giving assistance to the attack on this country "from without" (in other words al-Qaeda).
Trevor Phillips abetting Osama Bin Laden: that's quite a charge. As so often with Melanie Phillips, though, the tone distracts from the argument--not just the apocalyptic alarmism but the air of victimhood. Right-thinking people, it seems, are as puny flyweights confronted by the mighty Mike Tyson that is the venomous media, the left-wing intelligentsia and the new McCarthyism. Phillips feels bullied.
Amanda Platell warned about these same dark forces in her Mail column a couple of days earlier. "As a former spin-doctor to William Hague", she knew the terrors of a world where "a whiff of racism can provoke hysterical reaction". And Peter Hitchens had a similar message in the Mail on Sunday--calling us to take up arms against a "project aimed at dismantling Britain and replacing it with a multicultural, amoral nowhere".
Simon Heffer was no less angry in the Telegraph ("Freedom of speech is clearly going straight out of the window"), and he had support there from Lord Tebbit. Then there was Rod Liddle in the Sunday Times, who professed himself "clueless" about the reason for Mercer's sacking. And for good measure, Carole Malone of the Sunday Mirror complained: "If we've now got to the stage in Britain where people cannot speak freely ... then our so-called democracy is a sham."
Add them up and that's quite a lot of column inches for an underdog. Nor could this be called a group of lightweights. …