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Don’t stand as a candidate if you can’t stand the constituents

Much has been written on both the inevitability of the Barnsley result, and of its role as a harbinger of doom for the Lib Dems. The result itself just isn’t that interesting, nor is the lack of time and money the Lib Dems spent on it. However, within these constraints, I’m not at all impressed with the way the Lib Dem candidate has chosen to handle it.

As Jonathan Calder points out, Dominic Carman (Lib Dem PPC for Barnsley Central) seems to have a very dim view of the people of Barnsley. Here’s a selection of phrases from throughout his Daily Mail character assassination:

.. the town that political correctness forgot .. his eyes menacingly warningly warning me to keep my distance .. the bile flows fast and free .. most comments being spiced with expletives .. one woman rants at me for five minutes .. “you’re all bloody foreigners,” says one woman .. diversity and difference are not welcome here ..

In contrast, here’s his opening line from a piece on Lib Dem Voice while he was campaigning just seven days ago:

What has pleasantly surprised me in Barnsley is the number of voters who are genuinely open-minded about who they will support.

This stark difference is exactly the kind of two-faced attitude that people don’t want to vote for. You know, Lib Dems who say one thing before an election and completely different things afterwards. Or maybe an old school Tory who sneers at the badly expressed frustrations of the poor, struggling constituents that he was offering to represent in Parliament.

A once upon a time friend of mine was a Barnsley lad. I’ve been to a couple of their home matches. Like any town, it has a mix of characters. Not all of them nice people, just like any town. A political campaign at a time of economic hardship is going to provoke many displays of hard speech as a way of expressing anger. It’s always easy to paint a deeply negative picture if you look for the angry ones.

One of the more cringeworthy references is to being Manchester born and raised. Well, assuming Dominic is making some kind of claim to northern solidarity, I’ll join him by saying I’m Glasgow born and raised. Also like him, I went to an independent, fee-paying school that sent most of its kids to a good university. But I would never bullshit anyone with disappointment that if I wandered from the West End down to the Gorbals, I might not be immediately taken into the hearts of all I met, every step of the way. Not even with a cost cutting government rosette in my lapel.

If you’ll forgive the misogynist vernacular (see? fancy schooling, that is) I’ve got the balls to take the odd sweary word on the chin. Maybe Dominic has kept restricted himself to the more refined atmospheres he grew up in at Manchester Grammar and Durham Uni. Otherwise he might have learnt that, right or wrong, expletives are a form of punctuation and practically an art form in the right hands. Don’t stand to represent a deprived area if you’re the kind of delicate flower that goes running to the tabloids to cry about the nasty words the mean man said to you.

It’s not wise to draw too many conclusions from a run-of-the-mill tabloid hatchet piece. Dominic’s style is reminiscent of a paid-by-the-word hack, and maybe that’s all I should take from it. But I am nonetheless tempted to conclude that political wannabes should not be allowed to use opposition safe seats as crusading platforms and verbal punchbags. At best it just looks like amateur politics – when you’re guaranteed to lose the election, putting up a sore loser is a bad bet.

More seriously, at worst it provides excellent campaigning material for parties like the BNP. Supposed liberals sneering at the poor for swearing during a bad recession and deep cutbacks is raw meat for the likes of Nick Griffin.

Dominic Carman has set himself up as the white knight of the Lib Dems, charging about from Barking to Barnsley to save us all from the dark forces of racism. Well, on the evidence I’d rather he didn’t. The biggest vote winner for the racist politician is not racism, but economic deprivation and feeling of exclusion. Having a grammar school boy painting Barnsley as a town of ignorant, foul mouthed bigots just doesn’t help.

As long as Dominic is in the mood for forming snap judgements, here’s mine: he has progressed from joining the National Front to piss off his father, to obsessively railing against onetime fellow member Nick Griffin to make up for it. He is fed up with standing in his father’s shadow, and so now repeatedly stands for Parliament. Not to represent Barnsley, but to bolster his own self-esteem.

OK, so perhaps an unnecessarily harsh snap judgement. I’m sure he’s a good man. From what I’ve read today, a childhood with a drunk and violent father gave him good reason to have a chip on his shoulder. But if he wants to be a Member of Parliament, he needs to take on board that the job is about standing up for the people – including the racist, bigoted, ignorant, and foul mouthed ones. It even includes the people who only live next door to the idiots, and don’t get the same attention because they don’t play into the convenient political narratives of the day.

I should say at the end of all this that there are far worse things in life than a politician who is driven by a need to prove himself, or lets a bad election result get under his skin. Here is Dominic again, this time keeping a clearer head back during his Barking campaign:

I listen to those people who speak most strongly against immigration and tell me how wonderful the BNP is and I will listen and listen, not criticise, not condemn, not tell them they are bigoted, not tell them they are wrong but try and understand what the causes are underneath. More often than not they are not inherently racist, people who just don’t like foreigners. There are concerns like housing, a central issue here.

Maybe that was just for show. Or maybe the Barnsley campaign and the second electoral loss has simply taken its toll. Either way, he should either listen to his own, calmer advice – that, or not seek to stand again.

As for the Liberal Democrat party itself? The Barnsley by election was a guaranteed loss. Therefore the party is judged by how well it handles that loss. In this case, it performed extremely poorly. I’ll bet you that Barnsley doesn’t forget Dominic’s op ed, and that Labour politicians will find ways to use such mistakes to reinforce messages of elitist Lib Dem betrayal that resonate deeply with the people.

There have been many accusations of Lib Dem complacency regarding Barnsley. That article is one that no sane Lib Dem is going to talk about publicly – may it rest in peace in yesterday’s news. Hopefully someone is having a little chat with the man, however. He has now stood twice; this suggests the kind of determination that applied well can achieve great things. Complacency would be a great shame.

Update: Here’s an excellent example of what gets written when prospective MPs lose their head. George Potter’s reaction: “the only decent article ever to appear in the Daily Mail ..  he’s my new hero .. the people of Barnsley (or the majority) are fucking stupid .. to put it bluntly, they don’t deserve a Lib Dem MP.” How inspirational. An aspiring Lib Dem who only wants to represent people smart enough to deserve it. Yet he lacks the nonce to realise that a loser’s bitter revenge piece is not to be taken at face value. Oh, the irony.

14 Comments Post a comment
  1. MerseyDave #

    The election result was poor, the last thing the party needed was the candidate bad mouthing the people he was glad-handing for weeks.I do hope the party takes note of his comments, he is now a political gift to our opponents.

    March 6, 2011
  2. You may be interested to know that reading this prompted me to write the following post:

    March 7, 2011
    • Jon #

      While it is commendable you’ve had a re-think, I think it defeats the purpose to apologise for an offensive article by describing offensive behaviour as “inexcusable”. Perhaps a bit more self-reflection is in order before you stand proud in your denunciation of strangers.

      March 7, 2011
  3. Chris #

    Couldn’t disagree more. What is it about nasty bigots that the rest of us aren’t allowed to hurt their vile and disgusting feelings? Thanks to these people our education system is losing millions, our jobs are threatened because of the loss of useful talent and getting in and out of this country has become a painful process of queuing up to ask permission, no matter what your nationality.

    I am sick to death of having to accept views that are nasty and unjustified. And I’m sick to death of those views being appeased by government.

    March 7, 2011
  4. Jon #

    Chris, the problem with bigots is that they are small minded individuals who trot out lines such as “thanks to these people” as a substitute for simple common sense. Blame first, think later – the idiot’s philosophy of politics. You sound exactly like the kind of person Dominic Carman was complaining about.

    All I’m doing is arguing that an MP has a duty to represent people like you, Chris, even if you do have nasty and unjustified views that you demand be appeased by the rest of us.

    March 7, 2011
  5. Jon, this may have escaped your notice, but Dominic Carman isn’t an MP. He’s a private citizen and is allowed to write about what he experienced on the campaign trail if he wishes. If you read his article you’ll see that he doesn’t go after everyone in Barnsley with a hatchet, he doesn’t claim that everyone there is the same as the people who’s behaviour he’s recounting. I guarantee you that if Dominic Carman had been elected he’d have worked hard for all of his constituents no matter what their views. But if you go somewhere where you’re insulted and spat on simply because of your beliefs then I think you’re entitled to be angry.

    And please tell me, even if everything else Carman says is a lie, how can you claim that the following doesn’t indicate an accurate portrait of Barnsley:

    ‘Whenever we go into local pubs, people openly call my partner “n*****” and “w**”, and no one says a word.’

    March 7, 2011
    • Jon #

      George, if you’re serious about becoming a politician, at some point you’ve got to learn there’s a difference between having a right to be angry, and knowing what to do about it.

      Carman has stood twice now as parliamentary candidate for a major political party. It’s perfectly reasonable to measure him by an MP’s yardstick. Don’t assume I’ve made a mistake just because you’ve got low standards.

      Lib Dem activists, particularly in the north, went around telling people all sorts of things about the evils of the Tories, the dangers of cutting too hard and too fast, and so. You’ve got to be a bit of a self-absorbed pillock to think that a Lib Dem showing up after joining the Tories and signing up to remove the deficit in a single term is getting abuse “simply because of his beliefs”.

      I’ve met enough racists at nice corporate functions with people from places like Surrey to know that a single line about people being called niggers and wogs doesn’t indicate an accurate portrait of anywhere. An accurate portrait in a single line would surely refer to something unique about the place, and not refer to an underlying similarity with much of the home counties?

      If there’s a time and a place to pretend that you’ve got a spine in the face of a bit of abuse, I’d say that one of them is in the middle of a depressed constituency, during the worst economic situation of your lifetime, when putting yourself forward for a job that pays multiple times what most people earn.

      Still, how reassuring it is to know that you can guarantee what he would be like as an MP, despite his complete lack of experience at being one. I can see why you want to be a politician: you’re as comfortable with empty, cookie cutter promises as you are with sneering at the badly educated poor.

      But really, are you sure you wouldn’t be more comfortable with the Tories?

      March 7, 2011
      • Unless the person quoted was lying, the fact that they can go into pubs (plural) and suffer racial abuse without anyone saying anything about it, it does indicate that it’s a bit more of a problem than the small number of racist neanderthals you get everywhere.

        When it comes to the economy, I went around telling people that the tory cuts would damage the economy but I don’t see tory cuts being implemented now. I still think that the cuts the government are making are a bit on the steep side but a) I have changed my mind somewhat as the economic circumstances have changed and b) I don’t believe the cuts we’re seeing now are anything like what they would have been under the tories. There are still some areas where they’ve got it wrong and, like many of my fellow Lib Dems, I campaign for the government to change it’s mind on those issues. But I don’t believe for one second that a tory government would have saved half the things we’ve saved, or that it would have kept funding capital projects like crossrail, HS2 and green initiatives of the type that are creating 100,000 new jobs in Hull, for example.

        I accept that a lot of people disagree with me on this but if someone were to spit at me simply because I happen to disagree with them then they’d be lucky to get away without being punched.

        “If there’s a time and a place to pretend that you’ve got a spine in the face of a bit of abuse, I’d say that one of them is in the middle of a depressed constituency, during the worst economic situation of your lifetime”

        I’m pretty sure that Mr Carman was alive back in the 70s and 80s, back when things were far worse for a lot of people than they are now. Most Lib Dems had their defining political experiences in opposition to Thatcher and I guarantee you that if this government was even half as bad for the poor as Thatcher’s was then we’d be out of it like a shot.

        I’ll ignore your cheap shot about “cookie cutter” promises as you’re clearly to close-minded to see the obvious. Lib Dems don’t join the party in search of a quick ride to the top, they don’t join the party just because they want to be a minister with a chauffeur driven Ferrari. If you join Labour or the Conservatives then you’re guaranteed that your party will be in power some day so if you’re looking for a ladder to climb to the top then that’s where you go.

        You do not join the Lib Dems if that’s what you’re after because we’re never in power (with the exception of the moment after an election which surprised everybody). People join the Lib Dems because they have principles. That’s why I joined and if you’d spared even five minutes to read through some of the stuff on my blog then that would have been immediately apparent. And don’t even dare try to excuse racism by them being “badly educated”. Just because you’re not educated doesn’t mean you’re not intelligent and any intelligent person would at least stop to think occasionally. Badly educated is an excuse for not being able to read, not for abusing other human beings just for being different.

        “But really, are you sure you wouldn’t be more comfortable with the Tories?”

        I’d rather quit politics forever than join the tories and I’d rather gouge my eyes out than join Labour. Both of them have betrayed the British people and I’m sick to my stomach with them. Does that answer your question?

        March 7, 2011
  6. Jon #

    Yes, you’ve answered my question. You cover everything from what can be expected of “any intelligent person”, to the superiority of your own party compared to the scum in the others, to sophistry over just how bad economic conditions really are. Everything I’d expect from a smug, frothing-at-the-mouth Tory sitting in nice leafy Surrey.

    I’m not impressed by self-proclaimed virtue, so you’ll have to forgive me while I don’t waste my time reading your blog to check your right-on bona fides.

    Dealing with racism effectively means confronting the racist head on. It means addressing underlying issues. You’re doing neither, just taking an opportunity (based on the tabloid opinion piece of a clearly bitter individual) to show how superior you are to large, anonymous groups of people you’ve never met. You don’t even have any reliable second hand evidence of what they’re like.

    In my experience, such pronouncements rely on a strong streak of prejudice. Like anyone confronted on their prejudices, you’re digging in deep to justify them.

    I too joined the Lib Dems because I have principles. They are exactly why I find your grandstanding so contemptible. That the idea that people you disapprove of don’t deserve political representation even occurred to you suggests that you don’t have the principles that I believe the party stands for.

    As for using the party’s good works to bolster your own personal value – are there any clichés of a posturing politician left for you to use?

    March 7, 2011
    • As it happens I have quite a few friends in other parties. My best friend at school was an ardent UKIP supporter.

      You certainly seem keen to jump to conclusions from my living in Surrey. I’m only here as a university student and, as it happens, I spent most of my life in East Sussex and was born in Belgium. Does that add any more imagined dimensions to my character?

      Dealing with racism as far as I’m concerned means persuading people through reasoned debate, challenging the media narratives that fuel it and ending out the high unemployment and low social mobility that act as a breeding ground for prejudice in the first place.

      I will admit that I am digging in strongly here, as anyone will do when they’re challenged (as you’re doing as well) and this isn’t much helped by the fact that I now face a lot of criticism and sometimes outright abuse simply for being a Lib Dem. I’m also well aware that I sometimes come across with a tone of moral superiority and confidence bordering on arrogance. That’s because I spent a lot of time working out what my principles are and now I stick to them. Of course, when it comes to practical policies then I’m willing to listen to opposing viewpoints as no one has a monopoly on wisdom. It’s precisely because of those principles that I will leave the party if I ever feel they’ve strayed too far to the right or left of their 2010 manifesto position (I’d probably end up joining the Greens).

      If you want to think I’m taking the opportunity to take a pot shot at the people of Barnsley then you should bear in mind that the only people I expect to read my blog are myself and possibly my girlfriend. If I wanted to take a cheap shot at people I think are racists then I’d get a job writing for the Telegraph or I’d go to a BNP conference and laugh at the ones who muck up the Hitler salute.

      For what it’s worth I think that you are actually a decent person (though of course I am judging you without knowing you – just as you are me, and just as I am Barnsley, – so I may be wrong) but I fundamentally refuse to believe that you can excuse racism. If you like, you can sum up my view as a “tolerate/feel sorry for the sinner, hate the sin”. And, incidentally I would never want to deny even vile racists political representation (that’s why I don’t object the the BNP having two MEPs). As it happens, I believe that people get the politicians they deserve. If the people of Barnsley want to vote without fail for the same party, regardless of the candidate’s character or policies, then they deserve to have that party represent them.

      One final point, I was holding up the party’s good works to refute your description of Dominic Carman. I don’t think that he’s joined the tories and I don’t think that your criticism and implied tone that he only cares about being elected is particularly fair.

      March 7, 2011
      • Jon #

        George, my little closet Tory, it is no surprise at all to learn that your best friend was an ardent UKIP supporter. It’s even kind of funny. Are you deliberately parodying a stereotypically conservative mindset?

        Getting back to Lib Dem principles, one of the reasons I joined was electoral reform i.e. the belief that people do not in fact get the politicians they deserve. So I have to disagree with you there.

        True, the article may not have been particularly fair. Given that it’s laden with phrases like “an unnecessarily harsh snap judgement,” I’m comfortable with my decision to publish a frank reaction to what I thought was a harmful article in the national press. It sure beats “the majority of the people in Barnsley are fucking stupid” into a cocked habit for a considered reaction.

        March 8, 2011
  7. Sigh. I give up.

    I’m clearly not going to change your mind so I’m going to stop trying. And at the end of the day it doesn’t matter what your opinion of me is because I know myself and, given that the president of the university’s Labour students said that I was even more left wing that he was, I’m pretty damn certain that I’m not a closet Tory.

    March 8, 2011
    • Jon #

      Ever considered the viewpoint that the political left-right axis is actually better represented as a circle? The first Google result was US-centric, but the analysis stands. By standards not of my own making, you keep on piling up the evidence that my hypothesis still fits the facts as they reveal themselves.

      You seem to think you have superior morals and intellect to people like Ghandi and Richard Feynman? The former was fond of the original “love the sinner, hate the sin” as compared to your self-serving, bastardised version. The latter makes excellent comments on the foolishness of thinking in terms of names rather than the underlying substance, and how intellect alone should not make you certain of anything.

      I’ll freely admit that anyone so delusional your comments make you appear is unlikely to change my mind on anything. Yours is a nasty brew of moral self-righteousness and tribalism, heated by bitter tabloid opinion pieces written by people you don’t know but nonetheless feel entitled to speak for.

      I don’t condone racism, but I think your form of prejudice is equally problematic – and I challenge the problem in front of me, rather than summoning up bogey men to fight. Simplistic, abstract, absolutist arguments are nothing but a quick and lazy route to posturing on the moral high ground. It serves no practical purpose except to look down on entire localities, providing raw meat for the likes of Nick Griffin as they play upon people’s feelings of exclusion.

      Perhaps you believe that good intentions are enough to justify granting succour to the BNP. But I most firmly do not.

      March 8, 2011
  8. steve #

    We don’t like niggers in Barnsley

    June 25, 2011

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