Patrick Mercer’s resignation

Frank Luntz, the American pollster, has written a book about political communication called “Words that Work”, however it is the subtitle that is of most interest to me, “It’s Not What You Say, it’s What People Hear”.

Patrick Mercer made a number of remarks about life in the army. Reading through them I couldn’t find any that I knew to be factually inaccurate, Patrick painted a picture of the Army warts and all.

When I first heard about this situation I felt that it was deeply unfair that Patrick had to stand down for simply describing the rough, brash, rude and often insulting way that all soldiers habitually interact. The level of swearing, name calling and shouting does not increase nor decrease in relation to the colour of the deliverer or recipient’s skin, all soldiers are rude to all other soldiers all the time.

Then I thought about the subheading of Frank Luntz’s book, “It’s Not What You Say, it’s What People Hear”. Patrick Mercer will probably be familiar with a fundamental rule in military communications, the responsibility for ensuring the correct and complete receipt of a message lies with the sender not the recipient.

Whatever Patrick meant to say was overshadowed by what people thought he said, and that is his fault! What he said has given ammunition to a lot of Tory hating MPs and media commentators who were desperate to cry out “same old racist Tories”, as unfair and untrue as that line is, it will stick and undo much of the good work that the party has done.

In a country which increasingly swayed by just the headline of a story lines like “Cameron sacks Tory front-bencher over ‘black bastards’ gibe“, “Top Tory axed over Army race row“, “Nasty Party” etc. do a great deal of damage.

I don’t believe for a second that Patrick Mercer is a racist or is an apologist for racism, but after today there may be a number of people who do. That is why it was right that he stood down from the front bench.

8 responses to “Patrick Mercer’s resignation

  1. Mercer: <>“I came across a lot of ethnic minority soldiers who were idle and useless, but who used racism as cover for their misdemeanours.”<>Is this really the case, that accusations of racism are widespread by useless ethnic minority soldiers, as a cover for their poor performance? Or was Mercer tarring all members of minorities with the same brush? That is certainly what I would regard as racist whatever his intentions behind the statement might be. I’m sorry you cannot see this.This in the same week that < HREF="http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/6425529.stm" REL="nofollow">Commonwealth Soliders form a Union<> to complain about their mistreatment, racist attacks and abuse in the army. If you tolerate racist name calling amongst fellow soldiers it soon leads to the situations described in this report and an army that is useless when it comes to peacekeeping or working with civilians in other parts of the world. I’m glad that this man will never be in charge of ‘homeland security’.Contrary to what you say this is not all about spin. Cameron did the right thing by totally condemning the comments and I think you do the party no favours by excusing his comments as the wrong words but not factually inaccurate.

  2. Well said James.On < HREF="http://www.liammurray.co.uk/writing/liammurray.html" REL="nofollow">my blog<> I suggested an alternative paragraph Partick could have used that made the same points, highlighted the same truths etc. but which would probably have meant he was still in a job this morning.“The norms of army life are very different from those in civilian life. It’s a blunt and brutal environment and I wouldn’t be surprised if some soldiers thought a little racial teasing wasn’t really any different from the general teasing that goes on every day and to which everyone is a victim. In reality of course it’s completely different and there can be no excuse for racially motivated remarks whatsoever.We also need to recognise that soldiers from every ethnic background will need disciplining from time to time. We don’t want a culture where discipline breaks down because higher ranks are reluctant to address issues with ethnic minority soldiers for fear of being accused of racism. Perhaps for some soldiers it’s a convenient excuse so we need to get the balance right”

  3. Lesson 1Don’t talk to the bloody press -the’re just parasites.Lesson 2If you do talk to them NEVER assume you are off the recordLesson 3Don’t assume that just because you have first hand knowledge of the real world that the Party wants you to contribute anytthing meaningful to debate – sign the freedom wall, agonise about world issues emote over the underprivileged or rebuild a church in your spare time to show how you’ve ‘changed’, but don’t for God’s sake have any unfashionable or honest opinionAnother honest man, who has done a real job bites, the dust – but the PR and marketing men march on.

  4. Jimmy, You clearly have never served in the Army!Anon, well said.Liam, where were you when Patrick needed you???? He’s a soldier, and they “say it like it is”.

  5. Great post James. A bit of a blogging minefield but one you couldn’t and shouldn’t have ignored.You didn’t mention if you had actually read Luntz’s book. Maybe about time if not.

  6. That may be so in the military but he can’t be held responsible for people’s wilful misinterpretation if what he said was fundamentally so. There are people for whom the facts are not enough.

  7. “It’s Not What You Say, it’s What People Hear”Indeed and I have blogged aboput this extensively recently myself. He should have known better…he fucked up .Simple

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