Tag Archives: race

Diane Abbott: what’s race got to do with it?

NB Sent by phone. I will add links later.

The nowtrage over Diane Abbott’s twitter comment that “White people love playing ‘divide & rule'” has been entirely predictable and lamentable, with people on both sides guilty of exaggerating their positions to the point of absurdity.

I’m not remotely offended by Abbott’s comment; it is simply too absurd a generalisation to take seriously. I find the rush by people to exclaim offence and outrage at the comments frankly embarrassing; especially since, as a rule, they have been quite transparently politically motivated. It is simply too soon after the sentencing of Norris and Dobson to play that game.

Equally however, Abbott’s initial defence that the comment had been taken out of context was weak, because there is simply no context in which bringing race into the point she was trying to make could be acceptable. Many of her defenders have leapt on this, claiming that divide and rule was a feature of white colonialism, but the simple fact is that most white people were not colonialists.

Irish potato farmers were not responsible for the oppression of Africa and India any more than Mancunian clothmakers or Italian winemakers. African monarchs who sold their own people into slavery were. There isn’t much evidence to support claims that ‘white’ empires such as the British and Romans were any more oppressive than the Persians or Mongolians.

To cut to the chase, surely racialising what is, in essence, a matter of the functions of the political-economy throughout history, is far more of an act of ‘divide and rule’ than, to return to the original discussion, questioning the legitimacy of so-called black community leaders?

Diane Abbott’s comments were in response to Bim Adewunmi raising concerns about talk of a single ‘black community’ and the people who purport to lead them. Abbott’s point was that ethnic minority groups who are more united than blacks tend to do better. This is a valid observation, but so too were Adewunmi’s objections to having people speak for her who are often out of touch.

And while Abbott is also correct to suggest that ‘divide and rule’ is one of the oldest tricks in the book, so is the co-option by leaders, of whatever race or background, of the groups they claim to represent.

That’s true of colonial powers, and it is true of people who enjoy the trappings associated with being a ‘community leader’ in a local authority, as anyone who has ever been involved in local politics must surely have observed. And it is true of party leaders working against their parties interests and of trade union leaders making power plays which ultimately work against the workers but which consolidate their own control and influence.

In short, strip race out of it, and there is a very important debate to be had about the nature of power, control and democracy. It suits politicians like Diane Abbott for that debate to be sidetracked by red herrings such as skin colour just as much as her loudest detractors.

Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones: victim or player of the race card?

Back in September last year, I wrote about Chippenham Tory candidate Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones and specifically about his claim that the Lib Dems’ criticism of him not being local had racist undertones (declaration: his rival Duncan Hames is a friend of mine).

I suggested that this was a case of the Tories getting their excuses in early. All the local indications suggested that Chippenham, notionally Lib Dem, was going to stay Lib Dem, and that the “not local” card would have been played just as strongly regardless of his race. And so it proved to be.

It is a shame that Emmanuel-Jones is now choosing to continue with this line of attack, especially given the fact that he spent the election campaign making a big issue out of the fact that Hames himself was not local. But he spectacularly missed the point. Hames was not local in the sense that he was not born in the constituency and had lived elsewhere. That he had lived in the constituency since 2002 and contested the last election in one of its predecessor constituencies was not in doubt. Even his business was called Chippenham Consultants (and had been established before the constituency even existed).

By contrast, the criticisms of Emmanuel-Jones were that he didn’t live locally and that his business and family home were located in Devon. He was the very definition of a candidate who had a vested interest elsewhere. If his opponent had not raised questions about that, they would have been utterly foolish, regardless of skin colour. Either Emmanuel-Jones doesn’t want special favours on account of his race or he does; which is it?

I’m really sorry that even now Emmanuel-Jones still doesn’t see that this is a perfectly valid concern for a potential constituent to have. Even then, he didn’t exactly get wiped out. In fact, he actually increased his share of the vote. The bizarre thing about this racism claim is that, unfortunately, it suggests more than a little sense of entitlement. It is one thing to suggest that Conservative supporters didn’t vote for him because of his skin colour (in fact they did); it is quite another to suggest that Lib Dem and Labour supporters are racist for not voting for him.

I feel sorry for Emmanuel-Jones. Under any fair electoral system, he would be an MP right now I have no doubt. But accusations of racism without foundation are simply smears. I hope that in time he will come to regret making them.

School vouchers: convince me

Here’s the thing. I like the simplicity of school vouchers, they appeal to my sense that policy is at its best when it is simple. Events over recent weeks have got me thinking about how we sort out the mess that is school admissions, and they seem to have a lot going for them.

However, that isn’t to say that I don’t have concerns about the system, and I’m not sold yet. Worse, the attitude of most school voucher supporters have is that anyone who doesn’t already support them is either an idiot, an unreconstructed socialist or most likely both. At the risk of exposing my inner-moron, here are my concerns. Can people convince me?

Sweden is always being cited as a socially-progressive country which has made a success out of vouchers. There are two problems with this model however. For comparisons with Sweden to work, any UK voucher system would have to give parents the same purchasing power as Swedish parents. How much is the Swedish voucher in UK money, and how does it compare with the existing spending on each child in the UK? How much extra would the UK have to spend in order to have a similar system? This is particularly significant in rural areas as the size of the voucher would be directly related to the minimum viable size of a school. Set it too low, and all talk of competition and choice will be irrelevant.

Secondly, Sweden would appear to be an overwhelmingly white, Christian country. I’ve been there, and while walking through the streets isn’t anything like as strange an experience as Finland (where seemingly everyone is white), it doesn’t appear to be a country with the same multi-cultural experience that we have. How then would a voucher system work in a country where we already already have mass voluntary segregation in our inner-city schools? Wouldn’t the voucher system simply make this worse? Would you accept some kind of quota system to moderate this? Or is segregation a price worth paying?

Related to that point is how religious schools will be helped by the voucher system. We already have Vardy Schools out there teaching science in permanent ‘quotation marks’ and trying to slip in creationism wherever they can, and there are plenty of religions scrabbling to get their hands on public money. Supporters of the voucher system appear to accept that it will open the floodgates for this sort of thing. This happens in Sweden, but the secular consensus seems to have taken hold much more strongly there than here (due again in part to it being less multicultural). What is the argument for leaving children so much at the mercy of their parent’s belief system? What are the benefits, and how do they outweigh the problems?

As I said above, I want to believe. In 2005, I blogged about how I feared that a truly free market on education might lead to gigantism, but I’m not so convinced now as I can see why people would be distrustful of McSchools (like the scary one being build in Peterborough). But I remain concerned about how such a system would work in the UK in practice. Either way, we should be debating this rather more than the staid one about grammar schools, and we certainly need a better answer to academies, particularly now that Cameron has decided that his response should be little more than “me too!” Seriously though: convince me.

New Generation Network

Writing this post later than I would have liked, I’m surprised that there has been so little commentary today about the launch today of the New Generation Network, founded by Pickled Politics‘ Sunny Hundal.

I think Sunny has hit on something here, something not all that dissimilar to my own contributions on the subject recently. In my own view, what we seem to have seen over the last five or so years, is an importation of the worst kind of multicultural politics that we see at a local (particularly Northern metropolitan) level into the national stage.

When I first got involved in Lib Dem politics, I’m ashamed to say that the first campaign I worked on was a blatant and cynical attempt to court the Pakistani vote in Rusholme, Manchester. In my defense, I was young and naive, but we were also inheriting a situation exacerbated by Labour’s own approach.

I would imagine that most people who have had a similar background would recognise the technique. Find a few ‘community leaders’ from the Pakistani or Bangladeshi community, beef up their egos and work on the assumption that they can single-handedly deliver you thousands of votes, simply through talking to the right clerics and family leaders. The fact that we weren’t particularly adept at it in the mid-90s was simply because Labour had got in there first, something which held firm until the Iraq War in 2003. This wasn’t about representation, dealing with basic needs such as housing and crime, it was about buying off the ‘right’ people with things like money for religion-based community centres and ‘partnerships’ with schools in Kashmir. And it has only helped to increase tensions and divisions.

This all should have reached its nadir with the 2001 riots. Much of the reportage at the time reflected on the complete failure of both ‘community leaders’ and mainstream politics to connect with the second- and third-generation of black and Asian communities. But 911 seemed to end what looked like the beginning of a sensible national conversation about race, religion and identity. Since then, national government seems to have treated ethnic communities in a remarkably similar way to what we’ve seen on the streets on Rochdale and Bradford. And the result seems to have lead to even greater tension and lunacy such as Trevor Phillips’ monthly predictions of race riots.

So I welcome NGN, its manifesto and its unequivocal call against prejudice, for equality and for freedom of speech (in light of some of the rows I’ve had in recent months I particularly welcome the line “we reject the idea that representation should mean ‘ethnic faces for ethnic areas’, which would ghettoise minority representation.”). I would urge my fellow bloggers and Lib Dems to sign up.

I (don’t) predict a riot

Trevor Phillips was confidently telling Sunday Times readers this weekend that Muslims will be rioting in the streets as a direct result of politicians saying beastly things about veils.

The thing is though, Phillips seems to have been predicting race riots about pretty much everything, from Polish plumbers to the 7/7 attacks, for the past five years. It’s become his catchphrase, causing me to do that most rare of things, agree with Ken Livingstone.

I’m not convinced that this is a responsible sort of thing for the Chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality – or anyone for that matter – to say. When riots do happen, they happen for lots of different reasons and the biggest factors tend to be local. Talking them up merely increases racial tensions and, if anything, actually increases the chances of them happening.

40 years ago some bloke started making confident predictions about racial unrest. Instead of ‘streets of fire’ he talked of ‘rivers of blood’ (actually a misquote IIRC). He was accused of stoking up tensions and completely ruined his political career. Trevor Phillips on the other hand is about to get a promotion.

It doesn’t seem to be the colour of Phillips’ skin that makes him immune from the sort of public roasting that Enoch Powell endured, as this sort of rhetoric is becoming increasingly common from politicians of all racial backgrounds. But we do appear to have crossed an invisible line that we wouldn’t have dreamt of crossing 20 years ago. Perhaps that will ultimately prove to be a good thing in the long run, but it is producing a lot of confused nonsense at the moment. For example, it is deeply ironic that Phillips in condemning politicians here, seems to be committing the very act that he claims to disapprove so much of.

A few weeks ago, I was inclined to defend Jack Straw and his position on veils. I did think the stuff about asking women to remove their veils before talking to him was a bit off, but he was careful in his language. The fact remains that has triggered a lot of nonsense. In the long term, debates such as this can be healthy, but the onus is on everyone to use measured language. Even the CRE/CEHR Chief.