Oliver Letwin was on GMTV this morning, saying that the Party still had a lot of work to do in being open to women and ethnic minorities. Responding to grassroots unrest in Mercer’s constituency, Letwin asserted that the Conservative Party was comprised of its voters as well as its members, and that they should be in sync with eachother.
Whilst admitting that Patrick Mercer’s comments weren’t racist, he still cited them as showing that more needed to be done to "change" the Party:
"I think we recognise that change isn’t something that happens overnight, that it takes a lot of work. We’re certainly not complacent about it. There’s been much change, not just in the sense of sounding different, but when we’ve had decisions to make we’ve made them very often differently. We haven’t engaged in a certain kind of politics that there’s been a temptation to engage in. We’ve tried to ensure that every time we talk about something, we talk about it in a certain tone of voice and with a view to the long-term, which is a different kind of opposition. There’s much change going on but I accept, yes, there’s more work to do."
As far as the above can be understood, it seems the straw man of the "nasty wing of the Conservative Party" is rearing its head again – so it is no wonder that commentators like Andrew Rawnsley analyse the Mercer sacking thus:
"David Cameron sent a tough and clear message about his ability to act and his abhorrence of racism when he sacked Patrick Mercer. His harder and wider struggle is to convince watching voters that his modernising message is not merely a smiling mask on a Tory party that continues to harbour a lot of nastiness."
The media reaction to Cameron’s swift action is not as positive as might have been hoped.
Rod Liddle is perplexed at how a friend of his could have been construed to have been racist:
"A man is sacked for explaining, with candour, what he’d observed during his time serving this country as a soldier. Sacked by a man whose effortless dog-sled ascent to political power has involved nothing more hazardous than the occasional Notting Hill dinner party where the chablis wasn’t adequately chilled."
Fraser Nelson looks at Mercer’s record in today’s News of the World:
"Mercer’s regiment, the Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters, had five companies. At one stage ALL of them had a black sergeant major. This was no accident. He put together a strategy to persuade local ethnic minority kids in Nottingham to consider the army… Plenty of politicians sneered at Mercer last week. but they can only dream of having their own parties as diverse as the regiment he commanded."
Amanda Platell described the sacking as "immature" in yesterday’s Daily Mail:
"Quicker than you can say ‘photo opportunity’, and in less time than it took him to whip off his tie, an open-necked David Cameron was on television to announce that he had sacked his Shadow Security Minister, heralding the decision as a triumph for his new Conservatism. Sorry, Dave, but that was not an act of decisive leadership – it was an immature over-reaction to a complex situation."
And Edward Pearce is distinctly unimpressed with what he describes as Cameron’s cowardice and mediocrity of mind in sacking Mercer:
"The reaction of the professional reactors to "black bastard", – not uttered second person vocative, merely remarked as natural rough soldier talk – is perfect Victorian middle class. It is Thomas Bowdler, cutting the dirty bits out of Shakespeare, it is old-lady-ish, prim, hands-over-ears, Frinton-on-Sea, unhand-me-sir niminy-pimmery of a very high order. It is also close to a sort of right-thinking McCarthyism. For "commie subversive," read "racist"."
Patrick Mercer’s record on race is solid. What a shame that his frank comments are being used to bash the Party yet again.