Stephen Heffer is a good writer, even if I personally do not like his writing style. He will not care about that, particularly since I still read the stuff he writes. Today, his Telegraph column defends the reputation of Enoch Powell - and expounds his belief that Nigel Hastilow, the former candidate for Halesowen and Rowley Regis should not have been pressurised and, in effect, forced to resign. Several Conservatives have told me that they take the same view as Stephen Heffer. I think that they and he are wrong - I will outline why.
The defence of Enoch Powell's 'Rivers of Blood' speech (and Nigel Hastilow's comments is based on the dictionary definition of the words used. This is never the whole story. The meaning of words depends on the context in which they are used. The meaning of words varies, depending on where and when they are spoken. And words mean both what the speaker/writer intends and what the listener/reader understands.
Now, I do not know Nigel Hastilow, but assume that he is an able man. And I have read enough of Enoch Powell to know that he was a truly brilliant man. He was far too clever not to have known that his words would have been heard as having racist undertones - even if there wasn't a racist word uttered (in the dictionary sense). What Powell did was make it impossible to have a rational discussion about immigration (without accusations of racism) for decades. His indulgance crippled objective debate - and I speak as an admirer of the great man.
I absolutely believe that immigration is a serious issue for Britain, which politicians should be addressing with honesty and urgency. Predicted levels of population increase have reached frighteningly high levels. I see the consequences for the countryside, for wildlife, for housing, for public services and for social cohesion as serious issues for debate. Over recent months, the debate has taken off - without any significant accusations of racism. David Cameron has played a big part in this and has made the hugely significant statement that immigration levels should be lowered. Trevor Phillips has supported what David has been saying. Real progress was being made. By linking the debate with Enoch Powell's speech, Nigel Hastilow has made this debate much more difficult. If my party is serious about leading a real grown up debate about immigration, Nigel Hastilow had to go.