BISHOP PATRICK O'DONOGHUE, chairman of the bishops' Office for Refugee Policy, has declared that he is "dismayed" that the effort to avoid the exploitation of race at the general election has descended into petty, party-political "squabbling". Certainly, the row that has broken out — not only over the refusal of some members of Parliament to sign the CRE's election compact, but also over MI Robin Cook's now celebrated "Chicken Tikka Massalail speech •is hardly likely to remove race as an issue from the political agenda.
This prompts two separate but related questions. firstly, why, if Mr Cook was really concerned that race should not be an election issue has he gone out of his way to make it one; and second, what was the CRE compact actually designed to achieve? Bishop O'Dortughue has expressed strong support for the compact, which he describes as a "commendable initiative", adding that he cannot not understand why some MPs have had problems signing it.
But cogent reasons have been offered, by MPs of both major parties, why they have refused to have anything to do with the document, reasons which ought at least to be listened to. The respected and admirably independently minded Labour MP Tam Dalyell (if only, for the health of Parliamentary democracy, there were more like him) has described the request to sign it as an "affront": why, he asks, should he be asked formally to declare something he has practised all his political
life and which ought to be taken for granted by any decent person? These, essentially, are the reasons given by those Tories who have refused to sign it — and it should be noted that Mr Dalyell is far from being alone among Labour's conscientious objectors. Our columnist John Gummer MP has refused to sign on the grounds that "democratic politicians don't answer to the CRE: they answer to their constituents" and that "it is improper for an organisation funded by the state to interfere in the election in this way fire tact is that it is precisely the CRE pledge togethet with Mr Cook's speech — which have put race on the political agenda. It should be noted that it is not Tory politicians who have most convincingly made the case in their own defence, but those who hayed been in the front line of the battle for good race relations for years. Sir Herman Ousely, former chairman of the CRE, has denounced Robin Cook's speech as "insulting and absurd"; Dr Raj Chandran, nine years a Commissioner for Racial Equality, has accused the Commission of "serious political foul play", and has hinted that the idea of the CRE pledge was dreamed up in collusion with the Labour Party in order to make the Tories seem racist.
We make no comment on these accusations, except to say that there is more than one way of playing the race card and that it would be an excellent thing if all sides in this particular political dogfight were now to fall mercifully silent.