One of the saddest results of the last general election was the defeat of Dr Evan Harris MP by just 176 votes. He is not of my party, but he is a decent man, a brilliant parliamentary performer and a loss to the House. Professor David Colquhoun says it better than I can:
Let me declare an interest. Evan Harris is one of the most principled men I have ever had the pleasure to meet. His stands on human rights, civil rights and libel law reform have been exemplary. He is also one of the few (and now fewer) members of parliament who understands how science works and its importance for the future of the UK.
Here’s what he was up against.
As a secularist Harris has always been a target. Profiled as ‘Dr Death’ in a textbook case of Daily Mail yellow journalism (sample line: ‘Unmarried and without children, he has been nicknamed Dr Death around the corridors of Westminster because of his enthusiasm for abortion and voluntary euthanasia’) he faced fear and loathing on the campaign trail. Catholic commentators repeated the Dr Death line, and rejoiced in his defeat. A local Anglican vicar circulated leaflets stating that Harris ‘[v]oted against a ban on creating human/animal hybrid embryos’ and ‘[v]oted for the Sexual Orientation Regulations which restrict religious liberty’.
A bizarre twist on this line of attack came from Keith Mann’s Animal Protection Party, which as well as repeating the Dr Death/hybrid embryos line also claimed that Harris ‘is the drug companies’ chief mouthpiece in parliament and always has their best interests at heart. As such he uses his position to attack herbal remedies, vitamins and homeopathy as ‘untested”. Mann, an ALF activist who has served eleven years for various offences including possession of explosives, also claimed that Harris ‘wants to remove our right to remove the mass fluoridation of our water supply.’ And presumably the EU ban on tinfoil hats.
Harris was beaten by Nicola Blackwood, a basic A-list Cameroon. Professor Colquhoun looked at her website, which carried no mention of her membership of the Conservative Christian Fellowship. Colquhoun did find a disclaimer distancing her campaign from ‘from literature distributed by private individuals and special interest and pressure groups attacking her opponent.’ Blackwood’s CCF profile says that she ‘fears that the voice of Christians and people of other faiths on key issues of conscience is too readily dismissed in public debate.’ In that case, why no mention of faith on her website or in her campaign literature? As Colquhoun says, shouldn’t voters know about your beliefs?
Surely, it couldn’t be that Blackwood’s campaign team had suspected that the voters of Oxford West and Abingdon would not necessarily vote for pro-faith policies?
To finish with Colquhoun:
Religious people, and those with other belief systems that resemble religions are supposed, traditionally, to be warm, caring people, charitable, forgiving and selfless, That, at least is the image they like to cultivate. Of course it has never been quite as simple as that.
‘But listen to the music! He’s evil!’