Friday, 16 July 2010

Lord Taylor and the myth of Cheltenham 1992

Lord Taylor has been charged with false accounting, and has resigned the Conservative whip in the House of Lords.

As an aside, Next Left is going to keep an eye on whether media outlets can avoid repeating the mythical claim that Taylor lost "a safe Tory seat" because he was a black candidate when defeated in Cheltenham in the General Election in 1992.

Controversy over Taylor's selection as Tory candidate certainly reflected racism in the local Conservative constituency association - but there is little or no evidence for the claim that the candidate's race proved decisive in the General Election itself, where Taylor secured 28,683 votes for the Conservatives but lost the seat to the Liberal Democrats on a 5.2% swing.

So Cheltenham was certainly not a "safe seat", being the LibDems' 12th target from the Conservatives, and one where their previous candidate Richard Holme had even told the BBC he was confident he had taken the seat on election night in 1987.

In 1992, the LibDems took Bath on a 5% swing during the same election and won tougher south-west target seats in Devon North and Cornwall North. The anti-Tory swing to Labour in neighbouring Gloucester (5.3%) was slightly larger than the Tory-LibDem swing in Cheltenham.

However, the myth that race was the decisive factor in Cheltenham proved a potent one, being constantly referred to in media accounts. And this helped to reinforce the reluctance of party selectorates to select black candidates due to a form of "imputed racism", as the leading British academic expert on race and electoral politics Shamit Saggar told the BBC in 2001,


That is to say, selectors who are mainly white, are taking the view that whilst they are not racist, and do not discriminate against black and Asian candidates, their fear is - entirely unfounded by the way - that voters will discriminate on that basis, and for those reasons, selectors play safe and shy away from adopting black and Asian candidates, particularly in marginal seats.


Though similar fears proved unfounded in Gloucester in 2001, similar confusion was evident in discussion of the Chippenham result in 2010, despite there being absolutely nothing at all unusual in the result if it is compared to similar LibDem-Tory marginals.

The myth of the loss of the "safe seat" of Cheltenham remains strong. (When writing about the Chippenham result, Next Left dug up the following small and far from comprehensive recent selection in 2 minutes on Google: BBC, 2001, Sunday Times, 2004, New Statesman, 2007, Daily Mail, 2009, Observer interview with Emmanuel-Jones, 2009, Sunday Times, 2009).

I am sorry to see Lord Taylor back in the news in unfortunate circumstances, but perhaps it could also provide an opportunity to lay the myth of Cheltenham 1992 to rest.

4 comments:

Ambitious Mamas said...

Fast forward to 18 years later and colour is no barrier to being selected. In fact it's a positive trait but still not a guarantee of winning seats.

Tim Worstall said...

Taking over the seat after Charles Irving (former Mayor, and I think owner of the Queen's Hotel as well?) was always going to be tough as an outsider.

I wasn't in Cheltenham any more by '92 but I did think it a little odd when there were those ructions in the local Tory party over Taylor. Hopeless bigots they simply weren't....they'd been entirely happy with a gay MP for the previous 18 years after all.

Willard said...

For a post claiming to be debunking and fact-checking a myth, the author seems not to have done very much actual fact checking.

The numbers are interesting, but Racism was clearly "a" factor, if not "the" factor in the 1992 election.

Here is the parliamentary question asked in Hansard about the specific racist incidents:

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm199091/cmhansrd/1...

Here are the specifics of what mr.galbraith said:

http://www.heraldscotland.com/sport/spl/aberdeen/true-blue-s...

As you can see, there was clear racism in the local party at the time - pretty shocking to read twenty years on.

As anyone who has campaigned will know, losing a full half of the constituency party before the election, plus dealing with de-selection attempts, will have had a huge impact on Lord Taylor's ability to win.

I'm afraid to say, reading the local party comments as reported in the Herald, does seem like they were awful bigots.

Sunder Katwala said...

Willard,

The post you are responding to says this, so I am not sure what you think is missing:

"Controversy over Taylor's selection as Tory candidate certainly reflected racism in the local Conservative constituency association - but there is little or no evidence for the claim that the candidate's race proved decisive in the General Election itself".

(Of course, the Tory members in Cheltenham had just voted to select Taylor before some members made disgraceful racist and bigoted comments).