Alex Story: The Government needs to end the State’s fixation on race

2 Jul

Alex Story is Head of Business Development at a City broker working with Hedge Funds and other financial institutions. He stood for parliament in 2005, 2010 and 2015.

“We are the most tolerant, lovely country in Europe” said Lawrence Fox, an actor, on BBC’s Question Time back in January 2020, in response to Rachel Boyle, a lecturer at Edge Hill University, who accused Britain of being racist.

The lecturer then attacked him for being a “white privileged man”. His riposte: she was being racist for judging him by his colour. The audience cheered.

Who is right?

Over the last decade, two large scale surveys were conducted to find out which countries in the world were the most and the least racially tolerant.

In 2013, the Washington Post published a survey to shed light on racial attitudes across the world. The data was then used to produce a world map to give a sense of the issue. The question asked was whether locals would like having people of other races as neighbours. Answers saying “no” were assumed to have some form of racial basis.

The research showed the following: Britain, the U.S., Canada and Australia were more tolerant than anywhere else. India and Jordan were the least. The survey showed that racial tolerance in China was low. 

A few years later, in 2015, Insider Monkey, an economic and trading organisation, combined data from the World Values Survey covering the years 2010-2014 with the findings published by the Washington Post. The aim was to rank the top 25 most racist countries in the world. It asked whether respondents had seen or experienced racism. Overall, 85,000 people in 61 countries took part in the survey. The data was gathered over a two year period.

Again the top slot went to India, this time followed by the Lebanon and Bahrain. Nigeria came in 12th, Pakistan 17th. Japan just squeezed in at 25th. Only two European countries made it onto the list: Russia (21st) and Cyprus (23rd). With the usual caveats when it comes to surveys, the findings backed the claims of Fox. “Britain is one of the most racially tolerant countries on the planet”, the survey noted.

Whilst these rankings provide some data to gauge attitudes on race on the world stage, we need to delve a little into mind-sets within the UK. And for this, luckily, there is no need to wait for a new “cross-governmental commission on race and ethnic disparities” as announced recently by Boris and team. Data on race disparities in the UK exist aplenty.

For instance, only four short years ago, the Equality and Human Rights Commission published its “Healing a Divided Britain” findings in which it showed that of all the ethnic groups in the United Kingdom, poor white working class boys “suffer higher rates of exclusion from school and achieve the lowest academic results, making them less likely to enter higher education and therefore more likely to end up in lower-paid, insecure jobs.”

On the same metrics, young white working class girls came second to last. And in Rotherham, Rochdale, Telford, Manchester and currently Wakefield, poor white girls do doubly badly as they are seen, as Jack Straw once said, as “easy meat” by grooming gangs – to use a fashionable euphemism.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission couldn’t explain the reason behind these numbers. The authors speculated that it may have something to do with  culture and location, not, however, family breakdown, the usual port of call when researching social breakdown.

Be that as is may, around 85 per cent of the population in the United Kingdom is white and nearly half of the population is working class. With a population of around 65 million, and around 29 per cent under 24, over five million poor white boys and girls are either on the road to failure or have already failed. In short, there are thirty three times, or 3300 percent, more poor, young white failures than black ones.

Their plight is an open secret. Few seem to care. No statues were vandalised in their name. Their flag, however, has been burned and oftentimes desecrated. The only thing they still have is the vote, whatever that might mean.

Two things stand out: Firstly, the United Kingdom is, as Fox said, on the face of it, one of the most tolerant countries in the world; Secondly, the country has a young army of failed poor white boys and girls, who are left metaphorically to drown in a sea of official indifference.

Giving the facts, for neutral observers, the stunning thing over the last fortnight was the alacrity with which our leaders accepted the narrative and violence, both cultural and physical, of the Black Lives Matter movement.

But wait.  Could it be that both Fox and Boyle, the lecturer from Edge Hill University, are right, but mean completely different things?

When Fox said that “we are the most tolerant, lovely country”, he was, and is, of course right.  According to the data published by the Washington Post, over 95 per cent of the people in the UK tend to judge, in the manner of Martin Luther King, a person by the content of their character rather than by the colour of their skin. They are, in other words, colour blind. To them racism is alien, which is why they are so sensitive to being tarred with the indelible “racist” brush.

However, Boyle is also right when she calls the country racist. In her case, though, she, perhaps unwittingly, means the British State. Every official document demands racial data from anyone who wishes to fill them in; policies are increasingly focused on quotas based on a person’s “identity”; finally, as Boyle intimated, in the UK today, it is preferred if one opines on behalf of another only if one shares that person’s racial make-up and/or other proclivities.

The fact is that over the last two decades, the British State has beavered away at creating what looks and smells like a caste system.

It has done so surreptitiously. At the bottom of the social scale, the untouchables as it were, are the millions of poor, white working class boys and girls with little hope of escape; at the top, the Brahmin caste is represented by the likes of Steve Bell from the Guardian, who produced what the newspaper considered to be a “cartoon”, depicting Priti Patel, the Home Secretary as a fat Indian cow. That higher caste can seemingly vent their racist views without fear of retribution because they are, by their own opaque standards, “morally” right (and politically Left).

The bottom line is that the British State is weaving a complex, apartheid-style mosaic of identities based on skin colour, sex and religion, with each caste vying for space at the top of this multifaceted and narrowing peak, moving a step closer one day and slipping one or two the next, depending on events, whims and fashion.

The conclusion must be, as Fox implied, that those who fixate on race are themselves racist. Very much, it would seem, like official Britain.

Anand Menon: Our latest research finds that the Conservatives are divided on economics, but united on culture.

30 Jun

Anand Menon is Director of the UK in a Changing Europe.

Dominic Cummings must be rubbing his hands with glee. As more and more questions are raised about what some are calling the ‘lethal amaterurism’ that has characterised the Government’s handling of the Covid-19 crisis, the country spent most of June distracted by furious arguments about race and statues.

This has moved the debate on from Boris Johnson’s chief advisor’s unique approach to optical health. More importantly, a debate about values rather than health outcomes suits the Government down to the ground.

The referendum of 2016 polarized the country along values lines (between social liberals and social conservatives) rather than along the left-right cleavage that traditionally structured political competition.

Source: British Election Study

Nor was this a one-off phenomenon. The values division laid bare by the referendum went on to shape the nature of subsequent electoral competition. Think back to last year’s election.

The fact that the Conservatives won seats like Wakefield, Bishop Auckland and Workington, or that they won by 21 per cent among working class voters is testimony to the realignment that had taken place in our politics.

So too is the fact that in seats where over 60 per cent backed leave, the Tories increased their support by an average of six per cent, whereas in those seats where more than 60 per cent voted Remain, the party’s vote actually fell by three points.

The argument over statues that has been such a central part of the Black Lives Matter protests in this country has mobilized that same division. And it is terrain on which the Conservatives are relatively well equipped to fight.

Recent work carried out by the UK in a Changing Europe compares the attitudes of MPs, party members and voters, by asking each group a series of questions about fundamental ideological attitudes. The findings are revealing.

When it comes to social values, the Conservative clan looks relatively united. Even more importantly, on values they are far closer to those crucial voters who switched from Labour in 2017 to the Conservatives in 2019 than to Keir Starmer’s party.

But when it comes to the politics of left versus right – questions like whether ‘there is one rule for the rich and one for the poor’, and the idea that ‘ordinary working people do not get their fair share of the nation’s wealth’ – the picture could hardly be more different.

Conservative MPs are to the right of both their own party members and Conservative voters, and significantly to the right of those 2019 Labour-to-Conservative switchers. Labour, on the other hand, is not just far less internally divided but considerably closer to those lost voters.

Looking forward, then, the Conservatives have an interest in maintaining a focus on values. Think of it this way. On the (feigned) threat to Churchill’s statue in Parliament Square, the Conservative Party spoke with one voice and rallied behind Boris Johnson. When it comes to the economic response to Covid-19, the party’s backbenches are increasingly restless.

The easing of lockdown will focus attention firmly on economic recovery. How these issues are framed then takes on crucial importance. We face another decade in which political life will be shaped by the impact of an economic crisis.

The Conservative narrative may well seek to major not on the details of the economic response – on how great the role of the state should be, or how we pay for ballooning deficits – but on arguably more ‘ephemeral’ concerns.

Conservative commentators are already queuing up to point out that it is surely no longer a priority to publish gender pay gaps, or to ‘suffer a little for the sake of the planet.’ Others argue that fads like the war on plastic have been made redundant by the virus.

It seems Number 10 is, in the short term, planning a number of ways of triggering values divisions. The Sunday Times reported that the Government is planning to scrap plans to allow people to change their legal gender.

Other reports suggest that some in Downing Street are encouraging the Prime Minister to launch a ‘war on woke’. The hope is clearly to profit from profound values divisions within Labour’s electoral coalition and detatch voters who might, if it really were all about the economy, stupid, support the centre-left rather than the centre-right.

For Labour, then, the key will be to find a way to nullify this strategy. Paul Mason has rightly argued that the party must focus on coming up with a more convincing narrative about reshaping the role of the state in the economy, as a means of uniting a coalition that has fractured over the last decade over values questions.

The party now has a leader that the public, including Leave voters, find broadly convincing – and one who is going to be less easy to label as an unpatriotic ultra-liberal.

A narrative about economic fairness unites Labour and has the potential to tap into the ideological attitudes of the median voter.

The Government’s current plans to emerge from lockdown will create millions of economic losers, and the Conservatives look set to incur significant governing costs.

A laser like-focus on the economy and on the steps needed both to recover from the post-lockdown slowdown in such a way as to tackle the numerous inequalities that the pandemic has highlighted could command broad support, not least among those voters that fled the party last year.

As the recent Labour Together review of the 2019 election concluded, Labour could win by building support for a ‘big change economic agenda’ that neutralises cultural and social tensions.

Whatever happens, the relative impact of the two cleavages – left vs right and social liberal vs social conservative will be crucial. The relative success of each side in imposing its own agenda on the political debate will help determine who ultimately triumphs.

This article is a cross-post from the UK in a Changing Europe’s website.

Read the Mind the values gap report here.

Neil O’Brien: The New Puritans want to tear down our liberal settlement. Here’s who they are, what they think – and why they must be resisted.

29 Jun

Neil O’Brien is MP for Harborough.

Consider recent news.

JK Rowling criticised the expression “people who menstruate,” leading to accusations of “transphobia”, numerous authors quitting her literary agency, and staff at her publisher refusing to work on her new book.

Various controversies have followed the Black Lives Matter protests. Liverpool University will rename a building named after Gladstone.  UKTV deleted an episode of Fawlty Towers making fun of a racist character. The RFU is reviewing the singing of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”.

These stories illuminate a new division in our politics. It’s not left vs. right, but is uniting conservatives and liberals against something new, which we need to give a name to.

“Woke” is the most common term, and laughing at its excesses is part of the cure. But we also need to take it seriously. Paul Staines calls it “Neo-puritanism”, which captures the absolutist, quasi-religious nature of it – the urge to “police” others behaviour.

Like puritanism, it’s strongest in America, but powerful here.

So what is Neo-puritanism?

First, Neo-puritans want to change the balance between free speech and censoring offensive speech.

The embodiment of liberalism is the slogan: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

Neo-puritans feel a duty to “call people out”, often pressing for people to be sacked or shunned.

Don’t debate JK Rowling – “cancel” her. They see debate not as a chance to test and exchange ideas, but as unwelcome, wearying, maybe impossible.

Neo-puritanism has tightened the boundaries of free speech. Like Amber Rudd being “no platformed” by Oxford students. The NUS trying to block Peter Tatchell from speaking. A school dropping plans to name a house after JK Rowling. A DJ sacked (now reinstated) for denying he has “white privilege.” An Oxford professor given security guards after threats from transgender activists. Sheffield University paying students to police “micro-aggressions”. Hundreds of Guardian employees attacking Suzanne Moore’s “transphobia” for writing: “Female is a biological classification.”

Second, Neo-puritans believe in “hard” quotas and targets.

Conservatives and liberals often support increasing numbers of women or ethnic minorities in certain roles. They favour outreach programmes, mentoring, open days, etc.

Neo-puritans want quotas and sex/racially defined scholarships which other groups can’t enter. For example, Reni Eddo-Lodge argues that “when there are no hard targets for programmes of positive discrimination, they will always run the risk of looking like they’re doing something without achieving much at all.”

Examples include Cambridge University’s scholarship scheme (worth £18,000 a year) solely for black British students and Oxford’s  Arlan Hamilton scholarships for Black undergraduates. UCL has scholarships for BME postgraduate students. The Bank of England has scholarships for African Caribbean students.

Third, Neo-puritans (i) think people are defined by their group, (ii) say people have “false consciousness” about our society and (iii) attack the liberal idea that people can be neutral.

A wave of bestselling books by Neo-puritan authors ramp up the importance of group differences Whether we’re talking about “White supremacy”, “White privilege”, or “White Fragility”, it’s not that some people are racist, but society.

For Neo-puritans, not only are people defined by their race, but race is defined by behaviour in an almost mystical way. The founder of “decolonise the curriculum,” Pran Patel, said: “Priti Patel is the perfect example of whiteness inhabiting a different coloured vessel”.

Dr Priyamvada Gopal, a Cambridge academic, tweeted: “White lives don’t matter. As white lives” and “Abolish whiteness.” This isn’t just divisive and unhelpful. The concept of “whiteness” – that there are certain ways of behaving that are “white” – is intrinsically racist.

This explains why Neo-puritans think it’s OK to attack Conservative MPs from ethnic minorities as “coconuts” or “bounty bars” Robin DiAngelo argues there is deep false consciousness in our society: “Our racial socializatition sets us up to repeat racist behaviour regardless of our intentions.”

Neo-puritans see the “colour-blind” ideals of liberals as part of this false consciousness.

Reni Eddo-Lodge argues: “Colour-blindness is used to silence talk about structural racism while we continue to fool ourselves with the lie of meritocracy.”

A headteacher in Sheffield agrees, writing to parents: “Our society is built upon white supremacy… the world’s systems and structures are built on this bias, and this therefore creates White Privilege.”

Finally, Neo-puritans have a particular take on history, with the emphasis on criticism.

The self-styled “leader” of the BLM protests says Churchill’s statue is offensive and should be taken down.  A university lecturer argues: “Churchill must fall”, because he was an “imperialist racist,” “hated” by the working class. Maya Goodfellow argues: “The way Churchill is remembered in the UK has always been tied up with ideas of white superiority.”

Nor is it just Churchill.

Take the student union leader who vowed to paint over a First World War memorial: “Mark my words – we’re taking down the mural of white men in the uni Senate room, even if I have to paint over it myself.”

Or the Oxford lecturer who hopes Oxford researchers don’t invent a coronavirus vaccine first because: “it will be used as it has been in the past, to fulfil its political, patriotic function as proof of British excellence.”

So what’s the problem with Neo-puritanism?

First, I worry hard quotas lead to resentment; undermine those who succeed (am I only here because of my race or gender?); and lead to unfair, arbitrary decisions: can a scholarship for black students be awarded to a mixed-race person?

Second, there’s an abuse of language here. Apartheid South Africa and the Confederacy were states with an ideology of “White Supremacy”. Britain isn’t.

Third, relentless emphasis on group membership plus tighter boundaries on speech will lead to a society not at ease with itself. Instead of the colour-blind world liberals hope for, we’ll end up in a world walking on eggshells, where more and more we’ll see each other primarily as members of groups.

Fourth, I worry about the counter-productive effects of this conversation. If the “core function” of the police is racism, why should anyone non-white join up?

A 13 year old boy recently pleaded guilty to kicking a police officer on the head as he lay on the ground because of protests he’d seen on TV. Ideas have consequences.

If you claim our society is built on “white supremacy”, this will be heard by some people with fragile mental health. I know of a case of a young person who feels oppressed by all around her, seeing offers of friendship and help from white people as disguised attempts to hurt her.

Compared to a world in which you tell kids – ‘you’re all just the same, you just have different coloured skin’ it makes it more difficult to have natural relationships, and friendships without hangups.

Overemphasis of group differences is disempowering. Katharine Birbalsingh, head of one of the country’s top performing state schools says it: “undermines much of the work we do at school in trying to empower our children to take personal responsibility and grab life by the horns.”

Finally, healthy countries need a balance of self-criticism and self-confidence. Self-loathing is unattractive, but might also have bad practical consequences. People are often called on to do things for the greater good of the nation, from paying tax to fighting for their country.  If Britain is basically shameful, why bother?

Neo-puritans sometimes highlight important problems. But though there is more to do, the big picture is one of progress. Sexism is down, racist attitudes are declining and ethnic minorities are steadily getting better off. Neo-puritanism won’t accelerate that, but instead risk a whole set of new divisions.