Nation-Breaking in the U.K.
[Derek Turner, editor of the intrepid British journal Right Now slices through the fog shrouding the so-called Parekh Report on “multicultural Britain.” The polemical to and fro since the report`s release has parallels here: the shocked reaction of mainstream politicians when forced to confront the popular reaction against the multicultural policies they avidly pursue; hurried retreats to the seemingly safer ground of “we are a proposition nation.” In the Tory variant, apparently, to be British you can come from anywhere but simply have to believe in the “Free Market” – an assertion consigning the whole Labor movement and much of the Christian socialist tradition to non-Brit.]
The Parekh Report is the ultra-Left`s most ambitious attempt to date to change Britain from an historically successful state into, in the Report`s words, “a multicultural post-nation.”
The Report was published in October 2000 by the Commission on the Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain, a body set up with a fanfare in 1998 by Home Secretary Jack Straw. The Committee is itself a subdivision of a well-known race relations lobbying group, the Runnymede Trust. The chairman of the Commission is Lord Parekh, an Asian Labour peer. The remaining 23 members of the Commission are a motley bunch of Left or far Left academics, politicians, minority activists, people with non-jobs (e.g., “former equal opportunities adviser to the Greater London Council”) and rich Labour supporters with guilty consciences.
Labour agitators have been beavering away constantly since they came to office in 1997 to articulate real or imagined black grievances – which has had the predictable effect of aggravating or creating them. Parekh is the second major report on racial matters to have been published in the last two years. (The Macpherson Report on the failed police investigation of the murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence was published in February 1999.)
Parekh`s remit was much wider than Macpherson`s. Underlying the Commission`s deliberations (if that is the appropriate term) were certain assumptions, derived from the prevailing tendency of Leftwing thought, which is to deny not just the legitimacy of all institutions and traditions, but even sometimes to deny that they exist. Our homegrown Trotskys have been unable to make lasting political progress in a country in which the majority of people cling stubbornly to the nation-state, the pound and the Royal Family and who insist on believing such shocking things as that men are different from women, homosexuality is not necessarily a “valid lifestyle choice” and large-scale immigration may not be an unmixed blessing. So they have decided, consciously or unconsciously, to demoralise the unexpectedly reactionary masses from within.
Human beings, according to them, are all equal, interchangeable and malleable. The British nation does not really exist (by which they mean that it should not exist) or if it does it is infinitely elastic, capable of absorbing any numbers of people from anywhere. Race either does not exist or if it does it is unimportant. These Leftists are no longer socialists but deconstructionists, to whom everything is a matter for individual choice – except private opinions, which can only be Leftwing ones. Nothing, the deconstructionists say constantly, is to be taken on trust – except their own intellectual and moral superiority.
The great problem with Britain, as the Report`s authors see it, is that it has “systematic, largely unspoken, racial connotations … Englishness and therefore by extension, Britishness, is racially coded.” This means that the very word “British” is tainted with racism; the Report looks ahead to a glorious future age when people living in these islands can share a less terrifying collective noun. The Report says that Britons believe that “to take race or racism seriously or even to talk about them is bad form.” These “deep-rooted antagonisms to racial and cultural difference” need to be “defeated in practice, as well as symbolically written out of the national story.”
Lord Parekh seems to have spent his whole time in the country that adopted and ennobled him saying how terrible it is. His Report made over 100 recommendations, such as that there should be a formal declaration that Britain is a “multicultural society”, that vouchers for “asylum seekers” should be abolished and that there should be citizenship “education” in schools. Even political parties should have an ethnic “audit” of members, and so on in a long list of preposterous and splenetic demands.
Actually, in the wake of the execrable Macpherson, much of Parekh almost seems redundant – or perhaps I have become inured to the endless stream of whining, veiled threats and sentimentality that characterises political discourse in Britain today. In many cases, similar recommendations are being carried out anyway in anticipation of expected law or simply because it seems to be the right thing to do, by fanatical or well-meaning educational authorities, local councils, universities, civil servants and private individuals up and down the country. The Parekh recommendations are merely part of a constant refrain on the television, radio, in segments of the press, in think tank reports and from pulpits.
But here they are all gathered into one place, and the cumulative effect was so shocking to even the mainstream Right, who have long underestimated the seriousness of political correctness, that the press launched into a ferocious attack on Labour and the ostensibly independent Commission. They alleged, with considerable justification, that Labour “wanted to rewrite history” and believed that all Britons were intrinsically racist. This unexpectedly robust response compelled Jack Straw hastily to rewrite his planned speech for the formal launch, eventually saying that he “strongly parted company” with some or all of the Report`s conclusions.
But Labour`s vision of Britain leaves a lot to be desired too. This is how Tony Blair`s spokesman, Alistair Campbell, defined New Labour`s patriotism: “Britishness to us is about issues as varied as how you manage the economy, the approach you take to issues like unemployment, your vision of society.” The order of priorities is illuminating; at least the old Left believed that there were more important things than the economy. Insofar as Britain does exist, and insofar as it does have any redeeming features to people on the Blairite Left, Britain, they believe, is a land of merely abstract values, like fair play, tolerance and freedom. These values, they say, are transferable to everyone.
The “extreme Right wing” Tory hierarchy of Labour demonology has a surprisingly similar view. Although one Tory MP went so far as to say that whenever she arrived at Heathrow she “said a silent prayer of thanks that Britain is my home” and alluded to her love of Britain`s history and the landscape, the Tories don`t know what Britain is either. Senior Tories always say that patriotism resides in defending Britain`s institutions, while David Willetts (nicknamed “Two Brains” because of his reputation as a Tory sage) once said “Being British means believing in the free market.”
Hardly anyone in any senior political position seems to realise that Britain is the way she is essentially for ethnic reasons. If anyone does realise this salient point, they are keeping it quiet. When William Hague decried the “anti-British disease” that had produced this Report, he was certainly not thinking of the British people in ethnic terms, but rather as randomly accumulated people united by free market ideals.
One doesn`t expect too much from politicians, who are often so consumed with minutiae that they don`t have time to think. But no-one even at the “right-wing” Daily Telegraph pointed out this obvious fact either. Nor, so far as I saw, did anyone mention that if “British” is racist, then so is every national collective noun. How many people think of black people when they hear the word “Irish” or of white people when they hear the word “Gambian”?
People on the Left are often more knowledgeable and honest than the Right on the issue of race, because their consciences are clearer on the subject. As noted above, the Parekh Report at least acknowledges that there is a racial component to the British identity – even though they deplore this, doubt that races really exist at all and would probably like to prevent uncensored discussion of ethnic issues (by white people). Many Conservatives, on the other hand, know or feel that they are vulnerable to charges of “racism”, and so they will perform mental gymnastics to avoid discussing the topic.
But had Britain been settled by Nubians rather than Normans, it would not be the Britain we know today. Evidence from modern Sudan suggests that tolerance and fair play might not have been entirely typical of modern Britain had the Nubians got here first. Had the Vikings been Vietnamese, the Picts been Persians or the Irish been Indians then it is safe to say that British history would have been very different.
The institutions that characterise Britain and which conservatives quite rightly defend are not here by chance or through the workings of Providence. Rather, they are the painfully-acquired product of a particular blend of related peoples, living in a particular place over a very long period of time. The institutions simply cannot be separated from the people who dreamed them up. Would Italians have created London clubs? Would Ethiopians have come up with the Church of England? Would Papuans have invented cricket? It is a cliche now to say that Britain was created by invaders and settlers; no-one cares to mention that all of these invaders and settlers were of northern European origin.
The complex political organism which Labour is presently trying to destroy with its single currency, devolution, republicanism, immigration and multiculturalism, has evolved from the gradual coming together of discrete but related peoples, all of whom originated in northern Europe. These related peoples have grown up adjacent to one another over many centuries, under the common influences of Celtic and Viking paganism, classicism, Christianity and the ideals of the Renaissance and Enlightenment.
Britain has evolved into being through centuries of confrontation, compromise and intermarriage between English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish people (with a Jewish and north European tincture), all of whom gradually learnt to live together. For centuries, despite setbacks and occasional internecine strife, these peoples have been becoming increasingly united by shared experiences, like empire building and living under the monarchy. Now habit and practicality have cemented the alliance.
Bearing in mind these very narrow racial origins and Britain`s geography and history, it is small wonder that British institutions seem incomprehensible or even vaguely threatening to those who come from outside that milieu. What is surprising – and vexing – is that now those who claim to speak on the newcomers` behalf expect those who were here first to be the ones to adapt, rather than the other way around, which good manners would seem to dictate.
No-one seems even to consider the possibility that perhaps some day indigenous Britons might get fed up with being pushed around in their own country.
November 20, 2000