I have no time at all for Margaret Hodge and share the common view of Hazel Blears. Conversely, Alan Johnson seems almost likeable, sensible and level-headed.
So what does one think when Hodge makes a sensible, non-political statement about immigration, Blears supports her, and Johnson leaps up to attack her.
Hodge’s comment was that British families have a “legitimate sense of entitlement” to priority in social housing allocation and that the perception of many in her consituency was that new immigrants were being given priority over those who had been waiting for housing. This was driving many of them into the arms of the BNP. She said much the same at the last election.
This seems to me to be a statement of the obvious, but it takes some courage for someone in Hodge’s position to say so. She was, predictably, attacked by Ken Livingstone who probably is clever enough to see that Hodge is actually just trying to start a debate on a point of concern to many, but who is dishonest enough to twist her words.
Livingstone’s response is no surprise. To hear someone of Alan Johnson’s stature stigmatise Hodge’s comments as “using the language of the BNP” is more depressing. The uncontrolled immigration of the last decade is a serious issue – it affects practical things like housing, education and healthcare and it also affects deeper feelings about national identity and culture which deserve debate.
To try and suppress such debate by lumping Hodge in with the BNP is deeply dangerous, stupid and dishonest. Johnson is one of the few ministers who I would not hitherto have labelled stupid and dishonest. I do now.