Tuesday 14 April 2015

Froth and soundbites

I’m not sure that last week’s exchange of exposés of what two candidates in Ceredigion have written in the past tells us much more than (a) that politicians can be much too quick off the mark in responding to headlines and tweets without bothering to check the detail, and (b) that some of them don’t really care about the truth; they just know that mud sticks.  Personally, I think that there’s far too much concentration on all sides on views held or expressed in the past, when what really matters is what the individuals really think now.
The underlying issue, about racism in Wales, is a serious one, and simply exchanging insults doesn’t help to address that issue.  From personal experience, I can say that I have certainly met with racist views on the doorstep over the years.  I can remember one gentleman from the English Midlands, living in a rural village where most of the residents spoke daily a language which was incomprehensible to him, telling me that they’d moved there “…to be amongst our own people”.  Not exactly an outright expression of racism but the meaning was clear, even if the irony was completely lost on him.  And I’m certain that anyone who claims not to have encountered such an attitude on the doorstep in rural Wales has either not done very much canvassing or else not listened to what was being said.
What’s harder to judge is how typical it is, and the extent to which one can generalise.  Whilst it’s certainly true that for every individual who expresses a particular view there will be many more who hold the same view and just don’t express it so openly, it’s also true that some doorstep conversations make a deeper impression than others.  It’s all too easy to extrapolate from a few egregious examples and leap to a conclusion that a view is more common amongst a particular section of the population than is actually the case.
So, for the sake of balance, let me add that, over the years, I also met many English in-migrants who held a much more liberal view on race, and who made huge efforts to integrate with the local Welsh-speaking communities – and I met more than a few racist Welsh voters as well.  Racism is a problem; and in tackling it, it would be a good idea not to start with an assumption that it’s restricted to, or particularly prevalent in, any particular demographic.
In discussing the issue, then of course there’s a need to choose words carefully; but there’s something very wrong with political discussion which focuses more on the words chosen to discuss the issue than on the issue itself.  It’s symptomatic of a sound bite and froth attitude to politics; an approach which the way in which some politicians use social media seems only to reinforce.

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