But even knowing nothing about the details of particular parties or candidates (beyond the very broad brush strokes), following a link from a friend led me to a moment of absolute clarity as to the level of dirty tricks one English party is stooping to in a particular parliamentary race.
I wandered into this local political debate following a link a friend of mine mentioned in a discussion on the Dragonmount.com message boards; I had asked what people considered "required reading" - for me it's Michael J. Totten's eloquent, intelligent and thoroughly non-ideological independent reporting and analysis of events in the Middle East - and she came back with Iain Dale's blog, which I promptly checked out. When I did, this was the first post showing:
Tom Watson Sinks to the Depths (Again)
Am I alone in thinking that Tom Watson's* latest post on the Conservative Candidate in Ealing Southall is, well, borderline racist? It's also complete rubbish. He's no raising a canard about Tony Lit's directorships being registered at different addresses. Big ****ing deal. Mine probably are/were too. Ooooh. Big conspiracy. And maybe I may have registered one in the name of Iain Dale and one in the name of Iain Campbell** Dale. Obviously I am a criminal. . . .
Somewhat intrigued, I followed the link. Here's what I found.
Apparently, the Conservative Party candidate in the Ealing Southwall district is a man named Surinderpal Singh Lit, who has become somewhat of a celebrity businessman using the name "Tony Lit" - which is also the name he is running for election under. Members of the Labor Party did some basic opposition research and discovered that there was no "Tony Lit" registered to vote in the district, and rushed to the papers with the news, asking how a candidate could ask others to vote for him if he apparently never bothered to do so. Tom Watson - from what I can gather a Labor Party campaign manager ala Karl Rove - posted the news on his blog. The Conservative Party came back swinging, pointing out that Tony Lit was registered under his given name.
And that was the end of it, right? Wrong.
Instead of offering a simple apology (or even a non-apologetic "my mistake") or simply letting the subject drop, Watson opted to defend his initial charge that Tony Lit wasn't registered to vote. Here's the start of the post that got Dale all hot and bothered:
Aside from the political idiocy of keeping the story alive (does Watson really think voters will be concerned by the fact that a candidate is running under a nickname? Maybe that is a big deal in England, though I can't see why it possibly could be), Watson's last quoted line rang several bells for me. From what I'd read in the comments section on Dale's blog (which was peopled by both Conservatives agreeing with Dale and Laborites disagreeing - more on that in a moment), one of the major points being raised against Lit was that he was a sort of Ealing-Southall version of Mike Bloomberg - a celebrity businessman who joined the Conservative party out of political opportunism rather than true belief in its ideology just a short time before being named the party's candidate. People were complaining that he was being run for his name recognition, not his political viewpoints. Which led me to believe that Watson's statement - that Tony Lit only goes by "Tony Lit" "when he is campaigning in Ealing and Southall" was thoroughly false.
It remains the case, that there is no Tony Lit registered to vote in either Chiswick or Richmond (and certainly not in Ealing or Southall). It is true that a Surinderpal Singh Lit is registered to vote in Chiswick, just as he was previously in Richmond. Though not in Ealing or Southall. I do not think it unreasonable to have assumed that the man the Conservatives are telling the voters of Ealing Southall is Tony Lit is, in
fact, called Tony Lit.
The fact that “Tony Lit”’s six company directorships are not only held at three different addresses but in three different names does not add clarity to the questions I raised yesterday.
It appears that almost the only time that the Conservative candidate is Tony Lit is
when he is campaigning in Ealing and Southall. . .
A quick Google search confirmed it. Searching "Tony Lit" returns 45,000 hits, the first of which is a 2005 article referring to him as (shockingly) "Tony Lit." That Watson would stoop to such an obviously false assertion about an opposition candidate (in an attempt to defend a prior false claim about the candidate) pretty much clinched it for me. I know next to nothing about British politics - but I do know that were I a British voter I would be wary of any candidate Watson endorses.
But that's just Watson the politician; playing dirty politics, the politics of victory at any cost, but politics. Frankly, I'm already inclined to be wary of any candidate too enthusiastically pushed by party machinery, and as most people probably do, take anything said in a campaign by partisans of either side with a large grain of salt.
What really offends me is the actions of Watson the Blogger. After reading Watson's post and running my Google search, I posted a quick question to Watson asking how he could explain the discrepancy. From the comments section of Dale's blog, it's clear that several other skeptical individuals posted negative comments on Watson's blog. Care to guess how many appear in Watson's comments section?
The contrast with Dale's blog is unavoidable. On Dale's blog, Conservatives and Laborites debate (mostly by talking past each other, but that's a different issue) and both viewpoints are expressed and allowed to be seen. Dale is obviously a believer that the marketplace of ideas should be populated with different voices, and likely both reasonably confident that his viewpoint will prevail and interested in the ability to take in other viewpoints and perhaps alter his thinking on particular subjects to the extent that people with other views make good points.
Watson, quite clearly, is not; the only viewpoints that may be expressed on his blog are those that agree with him. Any other opinions are unwelcome, and will be deleted.
And, to get back to the politics, I don't think I could ever bring myself to vote for a party whose main operatives work like that, no matter what the political positions of the candidates. As Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote in a 1919 Supreme Court decision, "when men have realized that time has upset many fighting faiths, they may come to believe even more than they believe the very foundations of their own conduct that the ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas...that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market, and that truth is the only ground upon which their wishes safely can be carried out." The belief in the marketplace of ideas is fundamental to good government; that Labor's primary election guru seems to lack that belief is profoundly troubling.