Mixed race marriage Bban

Unbelievable -- and still happening today

I was going to blog today about Geert Wilders, but then my eye was caught by this astonishing story: "Anger at US mixed marriage 'ban". Keith Bardwell, a white Justice of the Peace in the US state of Louisiana, refuses to issue marriage licences for mixed race couples on the grounds that any children they may have may not be accepted by their parents' communities. "I think those children suffer and I won't help put them through it," says Bardwell, who nevertheless insists that he has "piles of black friends". "They come to my home, I marry them, they use my bathroom," he says. Fancy -- even letting "them" go to the loo in his own house.

Incredibly, no one ever seems to have called Bardwell to account for operating this policy, which, besides being repulsive, is of course illegal -- and he's been a JP for 34 years. It was only after a couple consulted a lawyer on being refused a licence by him that his case was raised, and is now being taken up by the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People).

Stories like this crop up from time to time and are often dismissed as being so awful and extreme that they don't have to be taken very seriously: people with such views are isolated crazies, tends to be the line. When Italy's Northern League proposed putting limits on the number of mixed marriages in January, one former colleague with impeccable left-wing credentials pretty much told me not to be silly when I raised the subject. ( I wrote about it at the time, here.) As the League is, and was then, an important partner in Silvio Berlusconi's government, I was astonished. Italy is not so far away, and the rising profile of the BNP leads one to suspect that there are probably quite a few people in the UK who would have some sympathy both for the League and for Bardwell -- who naturally insists that he's not a racist, he just doesn't "believe in mixing the races that way".

It is possible that Bardwell means well -- we probably all know otherwise kind and gentle souls of a certain age who don't see their "it isn't fair on the children" line as bigoted -- but even if we extend him that latitude, such an attitude only perpetuates the prejudice. Bardwell is also of the opinion that mixed-race marriages don't last long. I'm sure that all of us whose skin colour is of a different hue to our wife's or husband's would beg to differ . . . and happily prove him wrong as the anniverary milestones pass by.

Sholto Byrnes is a Contributing Editor to the New Statesman
Photo: Getty Images
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The buck doesn't stop with Grant Shapps - and probably shouldn't stop with Lord Feldman, either

The question of "who knew what, and when?" shouldn't stop with the Conservative peer.

If Grant Shapps’ enforced resignation as a minister was intended to draw a line under the Mark Clarke affair, it has had the reverse effect. Attention is now shifting to Lord Feldman, who was joint chair during Shapps’  tenure at the top of CCHQ.  It is not just the allegations of sexual harrassment, bullying, and extortion against Mark Clarke, but the question of who knew what, and when.

Although Shapps’ resignation letter says that “the buck” stops with him, his allies are privately furious at his de facto sacking, and they are pointing the finger at Feldman. They point out that not only was Feldman the senior partner on paper, but when the rewards for the unexpected election victory were handed out, it was Feldman who was held up as the key man, while Shapps was given what they see as a relatively lowly position in the Department for International Development.  Yet Feldman is still in post while Shapps was effectively forced out by David Cameron. Once again, says one, “the PM’s mates are protected, the rest of us shafted”.

As Simon Walters reports in this morning’s Mail on Sunday, the focus is turning onto Feldman, while Paul Goodman, the editor of the influential grassroots website ConservativeHome has piled further pressure on the peer by calling for him to go.

But even Feldman’s resignation is unlikely to be the end of the matter. Although the scope of the allegations against Clarke were unknown to many, questions about his behaviour were widespread, and fears about the conduct of elections in the party’s youth wing are also longstanding. Shortly after the 2010 election, Conservative student activists told me they’d cheered when Sadiq Khan defeated Clarke in Tooting, while a group of Conservative staffers were said to be part of the “Six per cent club” – they wanted a swing big enough for a Tory majority, but too small for Clarke to win his seat. The viciousness of Conservative Future’s internal elections is sufficiently well-known, meanwhile, to be a repeated refrain among defenders of the notoriously opaque democratic process in Labour Students, with supporters of a one member one vote system asked if they would risk elections as vicious as those in their Tory equivalent.

Just as it seems unlikely that Feldman remained ignorant of allegations against Clarke if Shapps knew, it feels untenable to argue that Clarke’s defeat could be cheered by both student Conservatives and Tory staffers and the unpleasantness of the party’s internal election sufficiently well-known by its opponents, without coming across the desk of Conservative politicians above even the chair of CCHQ’s paygrade.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.