Victoria Ayling screen grab
Victoria Ayling, in an unflattering screen grab unapologetically taken from the Mail’s website

Following The Mail on Sunday’s exposé of Victoria Ayling I should confess that I was a key advisor to her.

I’ll qualify that by adding that I was a key advisor in the same way as (I suspect) she is a ‘key Farage ally’ and a ‘high-profile’ UKIP politician: in other words, not at all except in the eyes of journalists wanting to make a story bigger than it is.

My non-position only lasted a few minutes when she called me about the Great Grimsby constituency after she was selected to see if I could offer any advice as the candidate-before-last. It was mildly flattering, although unnecessary, and I spent a while outlining my analysis of the constituency’s politics1. I’d like to think she paid attention to my diagnosis, and that it made a difference to the result. But putting the phone down I couldn’t help feeling it had been a nice courtesy, not a serious call.

I didn’t find myself thinking, “wow, that Victoria Ayling is a horrible racist” because the conversation didn’t cover anything to do with race. Even now I don’t know if she is a horrible racist. Having watched the video I’m inclined to think her comments were racist, but I’m not naïve enough to take at face value excerpts from a video edited by either the newspaper or her (seemingly embittered) ex-husband.

So the story is that someone who once stood for Parliament and is now a councillor is possibly, or even probably, a racist. Not good, but surely not worth the front page of a national paper.

As someone who once stood in Great Grimsby and is still a councillor I’m very comfortable with my place in the foothills of politics. I don’t expect to make the front page of even our local rag, let alone a national, because I recognise my lowly position in public life and public interest. I may be at the pinnacle–if looking down the precipice–of my political career, but it’s not that high up. The failed MP and local councillor combo is not front page, it’s footnote at best.2

But that ramble through the foothills of political careers brings me to my main point. The problem here is the sensationalising of such issues. The Mail on Sunday have taken a bit of video of a non-entity provided by an ex-husband motivated by, I assume, a mix of spite and financial gain, and published it. Ironically this is a from a newspaper stable that sensationalises everything. They bring daily cures or causes of cancer. Column inches demonising anyone who might dare to be vaguely foreign. Then put it all on website adorned with such banal fluff that it’s a Herculean effort not to feel your IQ dropping whenever you glance at it.

In fact the awful truth is that, as reading the comments on the Victoria Ayling article reveals, her alleged views are far too common and the political party makes no difference, especially once you are out of metropolitan areas. It isn’t just UKIP supporters, but also Conservative, Labour and Lib Dem supporters, sympathisers, activists and candidates sharing these views (nor is just those involved in politics, they are a small proportion of the population, and merely reflect it). Part of the reason they share these views is that papers like The Mail and Mail on Sunday give them all the ammunition they need.

A quick Google search reveals that in recent weeks Mail newspapers have been concerned about race riots, the £3.7 billion a year cost of immigrants, the loss of working class jobs to–you guessed–immigrants and the failure of the government to meet immigration targets. It doesn’t take a genius to work out the conclusions some will reach from this barrage of coverage. It does not excuse racism, but it certainly doesn’t help reduce it.

Plenty of other people have made the point before, though it is always worth repeating. The point that is less often made is that racism isn’t, generally, a political stance. People support political parties through a rational choice, for some that choice is more analytical than others, but it’s an informed choice based on principles or economics. Racism isn’t a rational choice, it’s driven by hatred, or by fear, or by ignorance. Instead of attaching political labels when such accusations are made, we may as well attach other information: “‘Send them all back home’ demands Sky subscriber” or maybe “EDF Energy customer demands stricter limits on benefits for immigrants.”

It means that we can’t have a proper debate on immigration, its advantages and disadvantages, because the risk of accusations of racism is too great; even typing this I’ve been wondering if I’m leaving myself open to criticism. That so many other media sources have rushed to cover the Victoria Ayling story means the problem continues. Rather than creating an environment which can host proper debate that might result in a more educated and enlightened society , the media’s break from immigration sensationalism to hunt for a racist non-entity means that the insidious grumbling racism that exists in homes, workplaces and pubs up and down the country will thrive for just a little bit longer yet.

  1. Being young and arrogant in 2001 and I didn’t bother calling the 1992 candidate. I paid the price for this, when, late one night at a subsequent party conference, the relevant candidate button-holed me–possibly tired from the late night and emotional from the sleight–to offer a lengthy, but hopefully therapeutic, exposition of my failings.  ↩
  2. But I’m happy with that, I like footnotes.  ↩

The council have published the final list of candidates for the Battersea parliamentary seat.

I know I shouldn’t say this but I’m a little disappointed, the field has narrowed, and we are now down to seven candidates, the major parties are there, obviously, with the Conservatives Jane Ellison challenging Labour’s Martin Linton for the seat. They are joined by the Liberal Democrat, Greens and UKIP along with two independents: Tom Fox, who opposes corruption and Hugh Salmon who seems to share a lot of Conservative policy (although I confess I’ve not spent a lot of time studying his policies).

We’ve lost two candidates though. The Jury Team candidate, it seems, didn’t manage to get a nomination together and, sadly, the Monster Raving Loony Party didn’t stick to his promise to stand. Why am I disappointed? Because I occasionally enjoy politics and some of these candidates can bring some colour to the race. Sadly, they won’t be bringing it to Battersea.

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect is the nomination of a BNP candidate in Putney. Given that they had managed to nominate a candidate in West Hill, they could clearly get the signatures for a parliamentary nomination (both only require ten people) and the only question remaining was whether they could afford the deposit. It seems they could.

I’m still slightly puzzled by their choice of constituency, as I mentioned with their West Hill nomination, they predominantly take votes from Labour so Putney is a surprising choice given that that the Labour vote there isn’t that high. There isn’t even the argument that there is a media focus on the seat – since most will be looking towards Battersea and Tooting where there are likely to be changes.

Whatever their logic, I hope they get a record low in the polls.

They are queuing up to fight for the Battersea seat.

Obviously Martin Linton is defending his seat and Jane Ellison hoping to take it, but there are plenty of others looking forward to their moment of fame as also-rans. I’ve already highlighted the independent Tom Fox, Green Guy Evans and Liberal Democrat Layla Moran.

We have had, apparently, a UKIP candidate for some time – Christopher MacDonald. And if I have the look of a Tory boy I think I can get away with saying he has the look of a UKIP candidate! And it looks like we are going to get a Jury Team candidate – Nicholas Rogers seems to be willing and able to pay his £500 deposit. If you are wondering why you might vote for him, his Twitter profile contains just one word: “Legend”

There is also another Independent – albeit one with his own party – Hugh Salmon who is standing for the ‘Hugh Salmon for Battersea’ party, largely on a platform of supporting the neighbourhood schools campaign, which has already got support from both major parties.

Finally, they are joined by David “The Priest” Priestly, of the Official Monster Raving Loony Party (at least according to the party’s website).

By my reckoning there are now nine candidates – more than I can ever remember in Battersea, and if we’re honest, seven more than necessary in a straighforward two-way marginal.