Liberal Reactions To William Hagues 'Racism'

A Sun editorial approvingly quotes a Guardian pundit, who in turn echoes a consistent theme of Red Action’s articles and editorials. It might seem an unlikely watershed, but this is exactly what happened on December 19 when Hugo Young rounded on "the left for recklessly playing the race card and risking social cohesion for political advantage". Young accused Jack Straw and Bill Morris in particular of "instinctive exaggeration" in response to William Hague’s remarks on policing and MacPherson. Morris likened Hague’s mundane efforts to Enoch Powell’s infamous rivers of blood speech in 1968, while Straw employed terms like "disgusting" and "disgraceful" to milk any perceived advantage. If anything The Mirror editorial on the same day went even more over the top when in the interests of ‘democracy’ it called for Hague to resign. "It is now impossible" it continued "for any decent person to vote for the Tory Party under Mr Hague" while Blair and Straw were championed as "men whose boots he is not fit to lick". To his credit, Young found the whole performance "grotesquely irresponsible", commenting that it was "a lot more likely than Hague’s words to stir up antagonisms which many good people, including Bill Morris, have spent years working to reduce. On the whole it is the left by recklessly interpreting Hague as racist who have raised the temperature more than he did."

‘Wogs out!’ is one way to play the race card the other, and arguably more damaging way, is as Young points out "to accuse the other side of playing it when the card is so firmly face-down that hardly anyone would otherwise notice it."

Detecting unconscious racism while simultaneously dismissing in-your-face evidence of studied aggression is of course a balancing act British liberals have finessed to an art. For instance finding ways 'to ban racist thinking' was an idea that MacPherson toyed with, but when a Mori poll on October 23 explained that 66% of the population felt there were ‘too many immigrants in the country’, if remarked on at all, this was dismissed by liberalism as a blip. A successive Mori finding that ‘race relations were now worse most felt than five years ago’, which is to say pre-MacPherson, drew no comment either. Not even the warning from the Lawrence Family solicitor Imran Khan, that the near 100% rise in racial harassment is not in his experience "reflected" in victims being "more confident in reporting harassment" (Guardian, 22.11.00), which is what the CRE, when confronted with the Runnymeade Trust statistics, offered by way of explanation. What a remarkable gift for people whose job it is to see racism at every turn, to detect the positive in such a negative tale?

Further confronted by a British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey published toward the end of November which revealed that of the increasing number of those who describe themselves as English rather than British, 37% admitted openly to being "very or a little prejudiced against people of other races", uberliberal Polly Toynbee remained steadfastly up beat. "In the world of Goodness Gracious Me and Lenny Henry, Britain, says the Runnymeade Trust, is the least racist country in Europe." (In a Europe where the leader of a party that wanted to put ‘homosexuals on spikes’ took 30% of the national vote as in Romania recently ‘Britain as least racist’ (even if true) is not much of a boast.)

Of course for liberals like Toynbee, racism is absurdly irrational for the inexcusable error of applying to whole peoples, common and garden prejudices the enlightened British middle class properly reserve for their social inferiors. Only from such a standpoint could Toynbee maintain that only "to be liberal is to be free of superstition and irrational fear". Consequently as "people become more liberal the more educated they are" and "as graduates will soon be half the population… If we are the elite", she smugly concludes, "that is because we are winning." Such idiocy (if only the educated are progressive who votes Tory?) is not restricted to the ‘elite’. All to readily when provoked the ‘hard left’ subscribe to not dissimilar reactionary palliatives. Take the editor of the Weekly Worker, Peter Manson’s comment that the poor showing of the BNP in the Preston parliamentary by-election "ought to scotch once and for all the notion that extreme right wing groups" are worth even bothering about, Though no doubt stoutly maintaining his ‘internationalism’ he nonetheless seems to believe that as an ‘island race’ the same paternalism extolled by Toynbee that is failing all over Europe is working here. "For too long the left has spent too much time," he added, "chasing tiny bands of fascists, instead of putting forward our positive [Socialist Alliance] alternative."

Considering the overwhelming majority who make up the SA, took absolutely no political responsibility, and played no positive role in dealing with the far-right, how different their ‘positive alternative’ is from the thinking and sentiments of the likes of Toynbee bears investigation. In October Liverpool City Council announced that it would not take any more refugees because of unpaid debts owed to it by the Home Office. In November’s Searchlight, SWP member Dave Renton took the council to task, "What would you think of a hospital that tried to win an argument about funding by stopping operations? What would you feel about a school that raised school funds by excluding all of its students? The council is using refugees as the victims of its row with the government. The injustice of its action is clear. Asylum seekers should not be punished for a problem which they did not create." Tortured analogies aside, the logic is less than compelling. Liverpool Council should continue to take refugees regardless of what the government owes. Let the local working class foot the bill in reduced services, greater competition for housing, medical treatment and school places and to hell with the social and political consequences. Under no circumstances should the government’s failure to meet its commitments, much less the demand ‘for extra resources to help grease integration’ be raised for fear of polluting the anti-racist ‘ideal’ with criminal materialism. If the rights of the working classes were considered on this issue who knows where it would end?

It therefore follows the working class must continue to be punished, (and ‘recklessly’ denounced as racist for uttering the mildest of protests) for a problem deliberately created by the state. Rather than advance toward a genuinely independent working class position, there is this constipated funk. With the upshot that it falls to Michael Heseltine, a Tory ‘wet’, to be the first to even raise the question (albeit negatively) of working class communities paying the price, for commitments reneged on by New Labour.

Plainly not prepared to break with the liberal consensus strategically, when pushed, the case for ‘refugees welcome here’ is even made for the boost provided by immigration to the economy, the ‘black economy’ that is. This remarkable line of argument was advanced by London Socialist Alliance candidate Mark Steel in an article in The Independent on August 3. "For example farm-owners in Kent are currently complaining that tons of strawberries are rotting in the fields because of a shortage of people willing to pick the things. This is the same Kent which we are told ‘can’t take any more of them we’re full up as it is’. This is why most people find economics so confusing. If the problem involves a field of desperately unpicked strawberries and a group of people desperate for work, some might suggest the solution is for the potential workers to pick the strawberries. But they’d be stupid." Of course not. In the liberal world of the Toynbee’s, Renton’s, Manson’s and Steel’s the really "stupid" would be the potential workers who resented being forced to take less than the market rate. A crime for which they would in turn be condemned as "racist", "uneducated" and "irrational" in short order. This is why most people find socialism so confusing. This is why Hague is not racist but opportunist. The Sun knows this. Hugo Young now knows. Red Action do too. The final recruit to this otherwise extraordinary alliance was, to the utter dismay of Socialist Worker and company, William MacPherson himself.

Strategical disarray of such magnitude promises profound political upheaval, possibly as early as May 3. If that happens - remember - you read it here first.

(For further reading see, Race and Class section)

Reproduced from RA Bulletin Volume 4, Issue 10, March/April '01