Tory MEP Dan Hannan is in trouble again.
In an interview with reason.tv (an internet TV channel) he cited Enoch Powell as one of his political influences stating that he:
Understood the importance of national democracy, who understood why you need to live in an independent country and what that meant, as well as being a free marketeer and a small government Conservative.
Of course the reason why Mr Hannan's remarks could be construed as contentious is because of what Enoch Powell is so famous for, his "Rivers of blood" speech in 1968 which did much harm to race relations in the UK. It also comes hot on the heels of his comments about the NHS (although the reason interview was actually conducted before he made his NHS remarks - they have only just come out now).
But what he says is true. Powell was all of the things that Hannan claims, and frankly given Powell's visceral opposition to the European Common Market and Hannan's visceral opposition to the EU, it's successor, it's hardly surprising that he considers him an influence. Indeed it would be odd, and he would be pretty obviously lying if he claimed otherwise.
None of this matters to Hannan's political opponents though who have leapt upon this latest revelation with absolute glee. Here's Lord Mandelson:
Yet again, we are seeing the two faces of the Conservative Party. The one they want to present to the public and the one which attacks the NHS and praises Enoch Powell.
I have seen plenty of similar reaction on Twitter and elsewhere from all sorts of levels within the Labour party.
The reason I despair here is because of what episodes like this do to politics in general. People often compain that most politicians are like automatons who rigidly stick to a predefined script and don't say anything interesting. That's because of what happens when they step outside these ridiculously defined bounds that the political class as a whole sets themselves.
Why should Mr Hannan not be allowed to be honest about who his political influences are? He is not saying he agrees with everything that Powell said and did. He has been very specific about what he admires in Powell and there will be many in the Conservative Party (and also some across the political spectrum) who actually agree with him.
In fact, here are some comments from Prime Minister Tony Blair after Powell died in 1998:
He was one of the great figures of 20th-century British politics, gifted with a brilliant mind
Does that demonstrate the two faces of the Labour Party and of Mr Mandelson's protege?
Time and political debate would be better spent by his opponents arguing against what Dan Hannan believes and the reasons for it. Not trying to smear him by association when he is just being honest about the formation of his political views.
Of course that would involve detailed discussion and debate and is more difficult and nuanced than the sort of response Peter Mandelson has put out.
I should probably end by making it clear that I hold no candle for Daniel Hannan. There are things he thinks that I strongly disagree with. However I also think he makes a good contribution to debate in this country and our politics is richer for having people like him involved in it.
The playground tactics being deployed in this latest spat however make me wonder how much longer people like him will bother, and the march of the automatons continues unabated.