Today is Black Friday – so named, apparently, because it is a day of unrelenting consumerism, when bargain hunters storm the shops in search of the instant deal. For me, though, it will go down as a dark day in the political calendar for other reasons. Because today, a British Prime Minister has finally dropped all pretence of buying into the liberal consensus on race – and advocated a policy that is racist in both form and origin.
Yes. David Cameron finally gave that speech: the one advocating that migrants (aka foreigners, or people of different race/nationality) be treated differently from the indigenous workforce on the basis of one simple fact: where they are from.
If you work in the UK and are born here, are a citizen of here or have some other close connection to here, he would like you to have one set of benefit entitlements. If you were not born here, have citizenship, or whatever, he would rather your entitlements were different. Irrespective of how much you actually pay into the UK tax system.
That is – or for pedants who argue that nationality is not quite the same as race, that includes – racism. But don’t expect a clever, sophisticated politician like Cameron to admit that. Not yet, at least. Though intriguingly, a paper that one might otherwise expect to be in the Cameroony camp – the Telegraph – has today made a very telling comparison between this speech and the “Rivers of Blood” tirade by arch-racist Enoch Powell.
The slippery slope
Over the last few months, i have noticed, courtesy of UKIP and various far-right organisations, a budding sophistry that seems designed to provide a cloak of respectability to racism. Those familiar with the instant Twitter spat (I resist the temptation to shorten that expression) will recognise the line instantly.
A proposition self-evidently racist is advanced. “British values are unique”. Or: “We should be prepared to look after our own before we look after others”. Or even: “English votes for English matters”.
Such propositions are regularly prefaced with the equally self-evident absurd: “It’s not racist to say…”.
Except, of course, it is. If you’re drawing a distinction based on some notional difference based in race or nation characteristics, and then treating people differently on that basis, then you are being racist. Rarely, you might be highlighting a genuine difference: as a demographer; as a student of cultural history. That, though, is not what is happening here.
My difficulty is that i was raised to a simple morality, quite unlike the refined and complicated codes which afflict our most senior politicians. A bunch of nuns, and then a gaggle of Liberal Catholic priests, inculcated a series of clear-cut, unfussy values.
Don’t obsess over material things. When someone asks you for help, give it. Above all: treat other people the way you would like to be treated yourself.
I really would not cut it as a politician.
The mob are demanding that different groups of people be treated differently, according to race or national origin. That is, i repeat, racist, irrespective of rhetorical wraparound: irrespective of the fact that any moment now, i expect Cameron to defend his position with the obligatory: “It’s not racist to require migrants to subject themselves to working conditions that are markedly less favourable than we grant to true Brits”.
At least, it is to be hoped that that is as far as he goes and we are still a way off from the next inevitable twist in this race to the political gutter. For having argued, ad nauseam, that “it’s not racist” to advance this or that racist thing, some in UKIP, in Britain First and all points rightward, are now on to the next abysmal proposition: “it may be racist, but…”. Or, “Sometimes it’s OK to be racist…”.
Cameron is not there. Yet. Though with his argument about English votes, he is skimming close. Besides, we still have six months to go before the next election. There is still plenty of time for him to arrive, dragging, one suspects rather too many fellow conservatives with him.
This week, we all had a bit of a giggle at UKIP’s inability to distinguish a mosque from an English Catholic Cathedral. The result: the highly amusing #ThingsThatAreNotMosques trended for a while on Twitter.
Next week, perhaps we should throttle back on the humour, and turn our minds instead to #ThingsThatAreNotRacist.
Today’s speech, by David Cameron, is probably not one of those.