"Let Them go if They Don't Like it Here"


Few jobs are more thankless than that of a political staffer. The hours are long. The pay is pretty piss-poor (unless you get to appear on A Current Affair). Work/life balance is almost non-existent.

An old mate finished his PhD and then commenced life as an electoral officer for a Western Sydney Liberal MP. The poor chap’s employer was completely paranoid about local branches trying to challenge him in an internal party preselection ballot. My mate wasn’t sure whether his job consisted more of attending to constituents, drafting correspondence or stacking Young Liberal branches. In the end, it was almost all in vain when the MP decided to run as an independent and give preferences to the ALP.

My friend was lucky enough to subsequently pick up adviser jobs with various Howard ministers, where the research and policy skills he picked up writing his PhD thesis could be used to greater effect. He rose to the dizzying heights of chief-of-staff before his boss (a Howard minister) was tossed out by the voters. I understand he’s now a poorly-paid consultant to Centrelink.

His story raises a useful question. Namely, where will all the Howard-era staffers go? It seems a fair few of them are heading for mother England. Last month, The Oz profiled 34-year-old Queenslander James McGrath, who at the time held "the most senior political strategy job [of any]Australian Liberal in any government in the world".

McGrath was one of the young lads accompanying John Howard’s favourite pollster Lynton Crosby, who at the time was helping UK Conservative Party apparatchik and former editor of the Spectator, Boris Johnson, take over the Mayoralty of London. Johnson was running against incumbent Ken Livingstone.

To understand just how much was at stake in this mayoral ballot, we need to go back a few years to early July 2005, a collective emotional rollercoaster ride for the people of London. One moment, Londoners of all colours, ethnicities and faiths were busy celebrating winning the 2012 Olympics. Within 24 hours, the city was reeling as over 50 people died in a home-grown terrorist attack.

This was a terrorist attack of great irony. The first of the victims to be buried was 20-year-old bank clerk Shahara Islam. Shahara’s parents were originally from Bangladesh. She was a devout Muslim, murdered by young men who claimed to share her devoutness.

London mayor Ken Livingstone summed up the mood of Londoners on that occasion. Within hours of the bombing, he released a statement which said:

"This … terrorist attack … was aimed at ordinary, working-class Londoners, black and white, Muslim and Christian, Hindu and Jew, young and old. It was an indiscriminate attempt to slaughter, irrespective of any considerations for age, for class, for religion, or whatever … Londoners will not be divided by this cowardly attack. They will stand together in solidarity …"

But the Mayor’s job isn’t just making statements about cultural diversity. Livingstone was heavily criticised for focusing more on ethnic politics and less on improving services and solving London’s traffic crisis. Local government elections in early May saw Labour suffer near-electoral annihilation across England. London was no different.

The Conservative Party took a rather big risk in running a somewhat controversial candidate. Johnson, known by some as "bonking Boris" for his history of colourful affairs, is famous for describing British blacks as "piccaninnies" with "watermelon smiles". One of his articles in the Spectator speaks of the "paranoia of the Muslim mind". He wrote in the Daily Telegraph that "we must begin … the re-Britannification of Britain", as if London isn’t British enough. Not exactly what conservative leader David Cameron needs if he wants to become PM.

With attitudes like that, Johnson could do no better than recruit the Liberal Party’s own dog-whistle-politics master, Lynton Crosby. One can only speculate whether Crosby advised Johnson on methods Crosby is known to have recommended to other conservative politicians in Australia and New Zealand.

After Johnson won the election, Crosby personally recommended McGrath to be senior adviser to keep the recently-elected London Mayor in line.

Now, in a curious role reversal, Johnson has forced his own minder to resign after McGrath made the following politically astute observation about blacks who didn’t like Johnson’s approach to racial issues: "Let them go if they don’t like it here." Marie Antoinette couldn’t have put it better – and we all know what happened to her.

Strangely enough, it wasn’t a mainstream newspaper that caught out McGrath. Instead, it was Marc Wadsworth, a self-styled "citizen journalist" who produces the-latest.com. Who said blogging power was limited to staffers of the Victorian Opposition Leader?

Speaking of which, numerous UK Conservative bloggers have attacked Johnson for his hypocrisy in sacking McGrath for making remarks Johnson himself would have no hesitation in making. Certainly, Johnson made it clear that he didn’t find McGrath’s comments in any way racist. Would be Conservative PM David Cameron agreed.

Keen not to be left behind, McGrath himself insists that telling blacks to go back to their home countries doesn’t make him a racist. Surely it’s far less offensive than describing a colleague as a "greedy f#cking Jew", as former Liberal campaign director, Susan Chandler did.

Perhaps, in true Chandler syle, McGrath should exonerate himself by reminding us that some of his best friends are piccaninnies with watermelon smiles.

Seriously, when it comes to racism, some conservatives just don’t get it.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.