The Prime Minister’s punishment for Anne Marie Morris was swift and firm yesterday. Even swifter were the demands that Morris lose the Conservative whip or even her seat (the latter demand apparently issued by people unaware of how Parliament works, or that the Coalition fudged the introduction of recall).
In my view, it’s right that May acted clearly and immediately on the news. She personified a zero tolerance policy in doing so, and her decision has broadly been welcomed even by her critics.
The case does raise one concerning comparison, however. Are all racisms treated equally in our politics? I’ve written before about the disgraceful way that anti-semitism has slithered back into some parts of frontline British politics, and it has been wondered at widely that this has been allowed to happen. But compare the right and instant response to Morris with the various delay, equivocation, excuse and forgiveness meted out in cases of prominent political figures expressing anti-semitic views. David Ward (pictured, right), Naz Shah, Jenny Tonge, Ken Livingstone – each of these cases was treated very differently.
For the avoidance of doubt, I’m not – as some others have done – pointing to these examples as justification that Morris shouldn’t be punished by her Party. Quite the opposite: rather than level the handling of her case down to the weakness of these others, I’m asking why these other examples of racism were not treated as firmly as Morris’s?
Consider the evidence. Ward and Tonge were allowed to continue spewing their poison for years, Livingstone benefited (and still benefits) from the efforts of numerous apologists who try to portray him as a simple speaker of truth, while Shah was reinstated after general acceptance of her defence that she was simply ignorant of the hate that she was promoting, an excuse already roundly ruled out for Morris (who has not, as far as I’m aware, yet deployed it). Shah’s local Momentum branch even touted an article claiming that her apology was forced out of her like the victim of a “Stalin purge trial”.
Comparing these cases, it’s justifiable to wonder why anti-semitism appears to have a higher bar for punishment, and is more easily tolerated, excused or even justified, than other types of racism in modern Britain. Morris has no excuse – anyone else doing the same thing but to other victims should not have one either.