Sunday 15 March 2015

Trevor Phillips is resurrecting an obsolete debate

"At last! A man who dares to tell the truth about race!" shrieks the Daily Mail, feeding the kipper narrative that there is a conspiracy of silence from our political elites. But following the violent deaths of seven black teenagers in London in 2007, one individual remarked that "We won't stop this by pretending it isn't young black kids doing it". That would be Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Similarly Jack Straw went on record in 2011 saying "White girls seen as 'easy meat' by Pakistani rapists". And what did Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, a Ugandan-born British journalist and author, who describes herself as a "leftie liberal, anti-racist, feminist, Shia Muslim, part-Pakistani" have to say about it? "Jack Straw is right to ask hard questions about Asian men. Fear of racism should no longer be the veil covering up hard truths". Hardly a politically correct denial conspiracy is it?

But according to Trevor Phillips, The former chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Britain is "silencing debate on race issues by ‘intimidating’ those who dare to ask questions". Yeah really looks like it! To be more specific, it was his own office most instrumental in silencing critics.

Ann Cryer, who represented Keighley in West Yorkshire, in 2001 said many UK Muslims were held back economically and educationally by language difficulties. She made a direct connection between arranged marriages, difficulties in learning English and the success of different ethnic communities in the UK. She said: "A great deal of the poverty in the Asian community in Bradford and Keighley is down to the fact that many of our Asian community do not speak English or very little".

But the MP's views were described as "sinister" by Shahid Malik, then a senior member of the Commission For Racial Equality - and a Labour Party National Executive Committee member. Malik "expressed concern" that Mrs Cryer had chosen to focus her remarks on Muslims. Being a Bradford man, I remember these remarks were greeted with incredulity. As it transpires it's nothing to do with Islam, and everything to do with the backward cultural backgrounds of some ethnic minorities - and the Islam association is proximate, but to call Ann Cryer of all people "sinister" is astonishing. It was this that prompted a surge in the BNP vote.

Ever since then we are never very far from a condescending article entitled "We need to have an honest debate about race" and Melanie Phillips has had her air time over and over again on Radio 4. To say there has not been a thorough and far reaching debate ignores a decade of furious rows that characterised much of the Blair era. If anything we must thank the BNP for busting that debate wide open, in their own grubby way. In reality, that's what it took to bust it open - but that debate was had.

What strikes me as disingenuous here is that far from being a repentant sinner, Trevor Phillips himself was a vocal critic of Multiculturalism. In 2006, Ken Livingstone accused Phillips of "pandering to the right" so much that he "would soon join the BNP". One then wonders if this latest revival is not a completely self-serving career move in tandem with Farage's own publicity seeking.

It's true there was a politically correct mafia but it existed not in Westminster, but in the councils, where I remember one Abid Dar, a Palestine advocate and activist known for posting gruesome images of dead children on his Facebook was actively engaged in denouncing anyone even remotely conservative as a "white supremacist". Not being terribly bright it was easy to trace him where I discovered he was in fact a diversity officer at Surrey County Council. A complaint was made but it is not known if he faced disciplinary proceedings. A typical non-jobber with too much time on his hands.

But this didn't happen in isolation of the public either - who themselves largely did not want to know. Not through actually being politically correct but being politically lazy and refusing to pick up anything socially inconvenient. It was not really a dinner table topic. I was widely castigated for criticising multiculturalism and it did not come without a cost, but that public consensus has since been shattered, not least with the ejection of New Labour and a raft of council cuts. The far left had their time and now it is perfectly possible to discuss multiculturalism and grooming without being branded racist. Unless of course you are racist.

Trevor Phillips said far too many people felt unable to speak their minds because they feared being branded racist. He said that people would have to become ‘more ready to offend each other’ as the price of free speech. But this is a nonsense. There is no need to offend. We can have a mature discussion about it without resorting to expressions like "muzzer pedo gangs" as Ukippers do.

The narrative is that this politically correct consensus still exists because Kippers are called racist for talking about grooming, but if you are talking about it in a racist way, you can't be surprised if people do call you racist. Thus all Kippers are doing is reinforcing their own victim narrative, aided by Trevor Phillips and the Daily Mail.

I think it's fair to say the era of political correctness is over. Just recently I heard Rotherham discussed openly in the office in a way that few would perhaps have dared in 2003. Political correctness was part of the New Labour zeitgeist.

So when confronted with this Daily Mail piece, I get a Groundhog Day feeling where the places and dates and names change, but the narrative does not. A dead-end Northern town has a grooming problem and in rides a populist politician mouthing off about multiculturalism, echoing the rise of the BNP and Nick Griffin's arrival in the public sphere. But a more thorough examination of the Casey Report shows a more profound dysfunction and the reason grooming is happening now is not for the same reasons as perhaps in 2001. Farage, Phillips and the Daily Mail are superimposing a tried and tested narrative of old onto a new phase of the problem.

We're not tackling Child Sexual Exploitation because the political leadership is not there. Few councils have a strategy and few are intellectually equipped to deal with it with the joined up approach required. To distort the debate by rehashing old arguments is a self-indulgence which neither progresses the debate or adds to our understanding. What we are seeing here is political theatricals by a media with no self-awareness and no interest in getting down to brass tacks. We're going over old ground.

No doubt what occurred in the Blair era is a shameful chapter. But that in itself was a poorly executed response to very real problems of racism, especially in the police. We can complain that perhaps the police tempered their responses on the grounds of political correctness, but the charge that the police were "institutionally racist" was not an unfounded one, manifested in the form of racism of low expectations when approaching violence in the "black community". Much the same as social services indifference to young girls caught up in grooming - a snobbery of low expectations.

The zeitgeist of "celebrating diversity" and ramming equality down people's throats was an overkill solution, badly executed policy - and unwholesome in that it gave unions and political parties the opportunity to stack their offices with their own activists and hacks. Political correctness was used as an instrument of power. Thus this is less a matter of "multiculturalism run wild" as state sanctioned political corruption.

Now we are in a different era and a global banking crisis away from the Blair years, many of the non-jobbers have since been cleared out and outsourcing has created a firewall against it happening again. Thus the resurrection of this debate more resembles political nostalgia, where we choose to ignore the problems as they stand now. The Daily Mail has set the agenda, Kippers will make a noise and the "establishment" will have to respond with suitably sympathetic clucking noises, but really nothing is served by this.

The effect of it will probably give Ukip a poll bump - but their inability to mask their actual racism will rapidly undo it, and once again we will see that neither Ukip nor the media has any interest in expanding the debate beyond tribal lines and off-the-shelf convenient narratives. As much as they may protest to the contrary, I don't think either really gives a damn about child sexual exploitation. This is exploitative politics at its very worst.

The question to ask is whether we would still be seeing Child Sexual Exploitation on a massive scale had multiculturalism and political correctness never existed? Looking at other colossal failures in the public sector, the answer is quite obviously yes. Unless we ask serious questions as to why that is, we will be here again - and probably rehashing the same old arguments when the next Ukip comes along.

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