A Tale of Two MPs

What are "accepted politics"?

April 8, 2001

Contrasting reactions to recent outspoken comments by two members of the British parliament reveal a lot about the power of political correctness and the state of contemporary British politics, and the news is not good.

In March of 2001, Conservative MP John Townend made a speech about immigration. He said that massive immigration into Britain had changed the character of the country in a way he did not like, and suggested that if the British people had known what would happen, they would have made the controversial immigration opponent Enoch Powell prime minister. Mr. Townend did not insult any particular person or ethnic group, but he certainly demonstrated a more hardline negative attitude toward immigration than is usual for British politicians.

Mr. Townend's remarks prompted a furious outcry from all parties. Prime Minister Tony Blair informed the Commons that none of his party's candidates would be allowed to talk this way. Opposition leader William Hague termed his fellow Tory's speech "totally unacceptable." Others described it as "outside the bounds of accepted politics," demanded that Mr. Townend be deprived of his position as Tory whip, and described his views as "a nasty and ignorant element in our society which needs to be condemned."

A few weeks later, another MP made some harsh comments, but this time about the royal family, and in more insulting terms. In the wake of the scandal surrounding HRH the Countess of Wessex's taped indiscrete comments in a conversation with a tabloid reporter disguised as an Arab sheik, Labour MP Kim Howells, Minister for Consumer Affairs, joined the controversy by calling the royal family "a bit bonkers" and advocating that they not receive any more money from taxpayers. He also said that he had "never understood the attraction of royalty."

For a cabinet minister to casually refer to his sovereign and her family as "bonkers" would have been unthinkable merely two decades ago. But in 2001, while his comments were widely reported, there was no outcry. Mr. Howells was neither reprimanded by his own party leadership nor strongly denounced by the Opposition. Tony Blair merely issued a mild statement reaffirming his support for the monarchy--as if it might be an option for a Prime Minister not to support the monarchy. No one suggested that Mr. Howells' views might be "outside the bounds of accepted politics." The only rebuke he received was an editorial in the Daily Telegraph.

In Tony Blair's New Britain, insulting the Queen is no longer considered reprehensible. Kim Howells was not the first Blair minister to do so; Mo Mowlam had also made headlines with her ridiculous suggestion that the royal family ought to vacate Buckingham Palace. MPs are obligated to welcome immigration and its consequences, or risk demonization as racists; in contrast, attacks on the monarchy are tolerated no matter how churlish. It is a sad time indeed when the British government sends the message that enthusiasm for immigration is mandatory, but loyalty to the Crown optional.

--Theodore Harvey

Update (May 1, 2001):
On April 30, with the lingering controversy becoming an increasing embarassment to the Conservative party, Mr. Hague forced Mr. Townend to apologize, which he did. Meanwhile, everyone has forgotten about Mr. Howells.

On May 3 I wrote a letter to VDARE, an American paleoconservative website that focuses on immigration and related issues, asking why they had not mentioned this story. Editor Peter Brimelow responded by publishing the letter, including a link to this essay.