Friday, 8 June 2007

So what exactly ARE they thinking?

Recently Conservativehome attempted to do away with the "Tory Bigot" characterisation that dogs their Grassroots (sample claim: "only 65% of us think immigration is bad - so we're only 35% racist!").

It's not just on ConHome that the subject of race has loomed large recently. It seems that, because Dave has put a bird blender on his roof, the caring sharing Tory membership is suddenly entitled to lecture everyone on the subject of race. Or something.

It started with Donal Blaney's attempt to excuse away an eight year old complaint made against him to the CRE via Margaret Hodge's "British homes for British people" speech. He then moved onto the Big Brother Race Debate mk.2.

It's the Big Brother thingy that's really annoyed me. (Funny to think that this has been caused by some daft bint whose parting words on British television were a disclosure that she wasn't wearing any underwear.) What annoys me is that even though we know they're bigots, and they know they're bigots, it's almost impossible to nail them down on it enough to properly call them on it.

Tory comments on BB were predictable: "not racist", "freedom of speech", "overreaction" blahdeblah. They're predictable because we know they're bigots. It's when they say things like the death of thousands of people is excusable on the grounds that it controlled inflation and prevented a communist takeover of a foreign state. It's a belief that certain classes of people are somehow below the rest of us. That's what I mean by Tory bigotry.

After Donal's effort on BB, Dizzy had a go, and purely for the fact that he was once voted Tory Blogger Most Likely To Construct A Meaningful Sentence, Iain sang his praises. And so the circle of Conservativism was complete.

Yer Tory approach to the Big Brother debate seems to be this:
because the "N Word" is used in American rap music by black people, then white middle class Tories can use it too. If you don't agree, then you're a racialist, racist racemonger - do you see? Oh, and Channel 4 is the work of the devil/Labour supporting media consiracy (delete as appropriate, or not at all) anyway.

Now, far be it from me to trample all over the civil rights of a load of white, privately educated middle class British men - especially after Dr King and Malcolm X fought all those years ago to establish those rights - but they're talking bullshit. Again.

Fact One: The word "nigger" is the most hateful, racist term that can be used against a black person.

Fact Two: A white adult cannot use that word to a black adult in a "jokey" way. At all. See fact one.

Fact Three: And this is the complicated bit: This debate is an American import. Because of the ghettoisation of Black America, the word has been reclaimed by elements of the black community. This has been brought to our attention, in little old England, by rap music. But just as I wouldn't ask Doug E Fresh to give me his opinions on the Tory Grammar Schools row, I'm not going to ask Donal Blaney to give me his opinion on the finer points of the relationship between linguistics and popular media in black America.

Black people calling black people "nigger" is a matter for black people - it's not a matter for people like me. Or the Tory blogosphere. And it's not an excuse for white people to call black people "nigger".

And as for Dizzy's argument that it must be OK "cos I heard some kids saying it on the bus, innit" - well where do I start? A bunch of teenagers do it, so it must be OK? Please. Kids do things to shock. Tell a kid that a word is wrong and they're gonna use that word - you have to be immature before you can be mature. In fairness, Dizzy almost gets this. But the Big Brother housemates are adults, not schoolchildren. They might not be an example of maturity, but they should be treated as adults.

In his post, Blaney relies on freedom of speech to defend one's right to say the word. This is another false argument. Freedom of speech is not the freedom to call someone the most hateful name possible. It is the freedom to criticise without fear of recrimination. There is no human right to call someone a racial slur. (And isn't it amusing how people who seemingly send a green-inked letter to the Daily Telegraph every time the concept of "Human Rights" is mentioned seem particularly keen on claiming a Human Right to Free Speech every time racism or homophobia is mentioned?)

In much the same way, the word "queer" has been reclaimed by the gay community. If someone referred to, say, a senior gay member of the Tory Party as a "queer" - "albeit in a jokey way that the recipient didn't find offensive" - would it be a defence to say that it was their entitlement to do so under the principle of free speech? No.

In the US, your education and career prospects, your average earnings, your likelihood of going to prison, your expected life-span - in fact pretty much every other social indicator you can think of - are severely reduced if you are born black rather than white. In the UK the story is not as bad, but it's bad. There are therefore differences between black and white on either side of the Atlantic. And those differences extend to language as well as social indicators. Different rules apply - we don't want them to, but they do.

One of the things that the Tory hierarchy realises - and this is not just David Cameron, it goes back to Teresa May's "Nasty Party" speech - is that the Tories have abdicated the right to lecture anyone on the subject of race. Of course, they can say what they like: that's Freedom of Speech. But they can't expect to be listened to or taken seriously.

That's the price you pay for dog-whistle politics and "Fulham Homes for Fulham People" literature. Cameron, for all his vacuous photo opportunities and Diet-Blair, policy free politics, at least realises that the party has a way to go before anyone asks their opinion on race. He keeps his head down as low as possible.

Witness his ruthless expulsion of Patrick Mercer. No-one in the party accused him of being overtly racist, they simply knew that a Shadow Minister who used the words "black bastard" in an interview - in any context at all - was a liability. Cheerio Patrick. In the past, treatment like this was reserved for Shadow Cabinet members who were incontrovertibly racist, like Ann Winterton.

Winterton is one reason among many why people don't trust the Tories on race, and why they have ceded the right to comment on it. And consider this: after she made the "ten-a-penny" Pakistani comment in 2002, she was re-elected on an increased majority. It's not like she made a "mistake" or was quoted out of context - she's made similarly racist statements since then. It's hard not to draw the conclusion that there was at least an element of her constitutency party that approved of her racism, and voted Tory because of it.

So people think Tories are bigoted. But - Cameron and a few others aside - do the Tories know they're bigoted?

On Irish television the other week, Iain Dale was asked (part two at 18:10) by a member of a panel: "Is your party any different from the filthy old bigots they once were?" Iain couldn't or wouldn't answer the question, but it showed three things:

1. The Tories are unable to recognise that their public image remains tarnished by bigotry

2. Because they won't recognise this, they can't do anything about it.

3. Despite the evidence of months upon months of 18 Dullty Street panel discussion, it turns out that it is possible to have a television panel discussion featuring Iain Dale that is in some way entertaining.

And until the Tories address their reputation as bigots they will have nothing to say about race that can possibly contribute anything useful.

(Incidentally, can someone PLEASE explain this to people who write things like this - the reason why no-one has set up a "White Police Officers' Association" is because it already exists - it's called the Metropolitan Police Force. That's why they've set up the Black Police Officers' Association).

So when Cameron is looking around for his Clause IV moment - as surely he must - he would do well to find one that expels the image of the bigoted old Tory. Because that's the last bastion of old Toryism that really could ensure that they win the next election.