(Batman posts will come tomorrow, I had to say this now).
I am, despite my unease with some (many) of the coalition’s policies, still a member and supporter of the Liberal Democrats, and still want to see as many Lib Dems as possible elected. I also live relatively close to Oldham & Saddleworth. However, I will not be helping out in the coming by-election.
The reason is simple. In the run-up to the General Election, Elwyn Watkins was quoted in multiple sources as saying, publicly, that he would ‘rip up’ the Geneva Convention and the European Convention On Human Rights. According to these sources, he actually managed to attack the odious, race-baiting Phil Woolas *from the authoritarian right* on the issue of immigration.
I, and many other Lib Dems I know, all contacted both his team and Cowley Street as soon as we were made aware of this, asking him to clarify his position, but until today we got no response. However, after several increasingly angry emails I finally got a reply today – a form email that has been sent out to many others.
In this email, Mr Watkins notably does not deny that he said those things. Nor does he deny that they are his views. Nor does he say they were in any way taken out of context. He does, however, talk about how “the position of the minority who abuse asylum is a genuine concern for local people” and how Labour have “swept the issue under the carpet”.
As I have been very, very vocal in my belief that the party is already too illiberal in its immigration policy, and as the Coalition is even more illiberal than that thanks to the Conservative dominance, I cannot in good conscience bring myself to spend time supporting this campaign, though I still wish good luck to my Lib Dem friends who will be doing so, and I certainly don’t endorse any other candidates.
I also hope very much that me saying this publicly does not lose me any friends within the party – a party of which I remain a loyal supporter. I feel very, very conflicted and upset about posting this (not least because I know many good people who have devoted huge amounts of time and effort to this campaign, without knowing of or endorsing Watkins’ views). I’m shaking and tearful, in fact, because my party loyalty and loyalty to my friends has come into conflict with one of the very small number of principles on which I really cannot remain silent. If you think it wrong of me to post this publicly, because of the damage it may do to the party, please forgive me. I hope I can forgive myself…