“Part of what it is to be courageous is to see reality accurately and to respond well in the face of it." ~ Jonathan Lear

24 June 2015

Sadiq Khan – playing the politics of race again

Sadiq Khan is playing the race card again, this time in his campaign to be Labour’s candidate for London Mayor.

Khan, who managed Ed Miliband’s successful Labour leadership campaign in 2010, was talking to George Eaton of the New Statesman about fellow candidate Tessa Jowell, and said:

“I don’t think [Jowell’s] got the answers for the 2020s, the future business, we’re a modern city, we’re young, we’re diverse.”

Sadiq Khan, MP for Tooting.
We can see here that Khan thinks Tessa Jowell hasn’t got the answers and shouldn’t be Major in part because she isn't 'diverse'. He contrasts her to a ‘we’ which is ‘diverse’, as well as modern, young and of the future. It illustrates once more how this notion of diversity in the hands of left-wingers actually often excludes white people. On the left it's one of those words that actually means something different from its literal meaning; often only those who are attuned to the language can pick up the difference - but here it's quite clear.

Khan’s view that being white is a reason that someone shouldn’t be Mayor in Britain’s capital city will perhaps not affect him negatively in the upcoming primary election involving Labour members and supporters in London. So ingrained is this ideology that white members of the London Labour Establishment routinely use the same sort of language and in the same way. Margaret Hodge has repeatedly said she thinks someone of coloured skin should be Mayor this time due to London’s diversity, invoking that justification for supporting Khan. Jowell herself boasted after the 2014 European and local elections that “These results [in London] show London to be an open, tolerant and diverse city” – in contrast to the country as a whole, in which UKIP topped the European poll.

But beyond Labour and left-wing tribalist circles, and probably, to an extent, the white-skinned population of London – this sort of message will go down like a lead balloon.

It is also surely not a good thing sending messages that white British, and especially older white British, don’t count as diverse and should not be representing diverse places – not least the capital city of what remains a majority-white country. This seems rather divisive.

Khan has form in pushing the politics of race though.

In a speech to Operation Black Vote last year, he used some pretty aggressive divide-and-rule language while playing rather fast and loose with the evidence. He said:

“The fact is that if you are black or Asian in Britain today:
You are significantly more likely to be unemployed.
You will earn less
And you will live a shorter life than your white neighbours.”

In actual fact, British Hindus, Sikhs and Chinese are doing much better than white Britons on average these days; it is specifically the Muslim and black populations that are not doing so well, and we know with the former that this is largely because so many of them (specifically Sylheti Bangladeshis and Mirpuri Pakistanis) come from poor rural areas, have poor educational backgrounds and routinely import spouses which helps entrench their separation. Khan also fails to recognise that it is unrealistic to expect many recent immigrants to be taking top jobs in the professions like law and the civil service, not least those with poor English and qualifications.  

Nevertheless, Khan claimed that the statistics represent “an injustice that causes untold economic and social damage to our country”, skating over how keen many black and Asian people are to swap their former countries and come to Britain to face this terrible situation.

Meanwhile, on the judiciary, he said: “It’s crucial our judges and magistrates look like and have similar backgrounds to those they preside over.”

So, if you thought the crucial point of being a magistrate or judge was impartially implementing the law without fear or favour, think again. Instead of being impartial, in the charge of Khan judges and magistrates would be expected to provide representation, to look like and have similar backgrounds to those they are judging. Given that they are presiding over those accused of crime I’m not sure this is a great idea, but the logic seems to be more along the lines of having British Bangladeshi plaintiffs being represented by British Bangladeshi judges - basically establishing communal affiliation as the basis of justice.

I don’t deny there are issues in these areas and others that Khan has talked about, but his treatment of them is consistently misleading and unnecessarily divisive. They will surely prove politically toxic if exposed to the wider public. Maybe he is banking on the minority ethnic vote getting him over the line, but I don’t see a strategy like that working – those you alienate will surely be much more motivated.

We shall see, but it was notable to see Len Duvall, leader of the Labour group in the London Assembly, pointedly backing Jowell. Duvall said:

“People have got to think carefully about any other candidate in terms of their skills and also how they would attract those second preference votes.”

The original version of this story had Duvall warning against candidates picking up bloc votes from unions and mosques, but the wording was later changed so that it was the journalist who put that possibility to him. Nevertheless the Standard published a response from a spokesman for Khan: “It is deeply offensive to all Londoners that Len Duvall has singled out the Muslim community in his endorsement of Tessa Jowell. We would hope that Tessa distances herself from these comments immediately. You can't become Mayor by dividing London and Londoners.”

Dividing London and Londoners is what Khan himself is doing though, and he has a track record of it. More generally though, this is just how the politics of identity works - and by the looks of it we're going to continue tying ourselves in awful knots with it.

For more on not dissimilar topics, see Identity Politics and the left page, and The Labour Party and other Party Politics page.

22 June 2015

The left’s problem, distilled

At its most basic level, the left’s core problem when it gets into trouble (as now) is falling into expecting those who don’t take responsibility for themselves to be the responsibility of those who do take responsibility for themselves. This is rather than expecting people who don’t take responsibility for themselves to start taking responsibility for themselves.

You can broaden this out to cover countries and societies: that on the left we expect that those who don’t govern themselves decently and effectively should be the responsibility of those who do take responsibility for themselves. (Our version of colonialism there, and with the irony that we then blame those who do take responsibility for themselves for being indecent and immoral when they don’t take it on for others).  

The victim mentality is an offshoot of this more basic stance, with victim status putting you under the responsibility (again, ironically) of those who are apparently making you the victim.

These relationships are one-way relationships: with one party taking on responsibility for the other, making a choice to do so while the other party theoretically gives way and lets the first step in for them. When the left gets into trouble, as now (seemingly all over Europe and beyond), we take on this role of patron for ourselves, seeing those who will benefit from our beneficence as ‘our people’ who need us.

This assumption is doubtful but has a basic goodness about it and good effects in some of our social programmes. During the last Labour governments I would point to SureStart children’s centres as perhaps the best of these because they are people-centred rather than purely transactional. (You can become a better parent by learning off other parents and care workers; that doesn’t happen automatically from sitting at home receiving a wodge of money every month).

But we make the political error in expecting that the whole of the political community should take the same stance as us by taking responsibility for others in this one-way relationship via the state; and what’s more we claim moral superiority for expecting it. This is unrealistic and a mistake, not least because people have now grown accustomed to the way the welfare state doesn’t pay much attention to whether someone deserves their wodge of cash or not (Abu Qatada anyone?).

For a start we might question rather more whether we are actually taking something essential in what it means to be human away from others by supporting them unconditionally through the welfare system: that we are disburdening them of the necessary burdens of being human and being part of society. Of course any decent civilised society looks after those going through difficult times or who have tangible difficulties acting for themselves, like many disabled. Also, I believe strongly we should address inequality through significant redistribution of wealth – but crucially, not by giving the impression of punishing people for achievement and rewarding them for non-achievement and inaction. That is why I am sympathetic to the Green Party’s idea of a ‘citizen’s income’ (which would have to be tied closely to national citizenship).

But responsibilities don’t and shouldn’t just go one way. We all have a responsibility to each other and to the state as the state does to us – to act within the law and not abuse the system. Unconditional support in one direction without basic reciprocity integrated into the system as fundamental doesn’t seem to me a marker of civilisation but rather one of nihilism.

On the left and within Labour we habitually treat poorer people and certain favoured ‘disadvantaged groups’ as clients of ours who need us. This is a complacent attitude, as if we have the answers to the problems of their lives, which we don’t – and neither should we expect to. People who are struggling need themselves more than they do 'us', and that is no bad thing.

See also article: Food Banks: Of community and polarised politics and The Labour Party and other party politics page for more on similar themes.

13 June 2015

The stark contradiction at the heart of identity politics

For ideologues of identity, a racist is someone who does not share a whole, approved and totalised view of race, racism and how to combat it; likewise with sexism and gender. Their arguments come down to an assumption that, since they are ‘fighting’ racism or sexism or both, then anyone who criticises anything about them or their approach is by definition racist or sexist.

We can see here a stark contradiction, that you can be defined as (and therefore known to be) racist or sexist without having expressed a single racist or sexist thought, indeed for just sitting at home watching TV and not joining the struggle.

This approach is based on the assumption of higher knowledge and understanding; in seeing that terms like ‘racist’ and ‘sexist’ have a broader meaning in relation to the status of society as a whole rather than the person who is being judged and condemned. We might see it as an example of  a sort of ‘social justice’ trumping personalised ideas of justice and ethics: whether you are a racist or not does not matter if you are a racist on a structural level which those of superior understanding can see. 

As a form of moralistic judgement this negates morality itself and places knowledge – of the ‘real’ situation - in its place. It negates factual reality for a higher plain which most of us do not have access to. Alas, we poor souls are stuck in a version of the old Marxist ‘false consciousness’, failing to see reality as it really is beneath the false sheen of...reality.

For more on similar themes, see Identity politics and the left page.

9 June 2015

“I will never, ever, vote Tory.” Except now maybe I might...

“I will never, ever, vote Tory.”

I’ve said this rather a lot over the years, but next year’s London Mayoral election poses a conundrum. Zac Goldsmith, the independent-minded, environmentalist Conservative MP for Richmond Park has thrown his hat into the ring for the Tory nomination. He ticks a lot of boxes for me that the Labour candidates don’t.

I’ll be blunt: if I had to choose tomorrow between Goldsmith and any of the hopefuls from my own Labour Party, I’d go for Goldsmith without hesitation.
Zac Goldsmith - hat now in the ring for London Mayor

So, why?

There are a few reasons. I would certainly never vote for a tribal Tory nor for one I had never heard of, but Goldsmith is neither.

First and foremost I like and respect his staunch opposition to the expansion of the sprawling monster that is Heathrow Airport (he has said he will resign the Tory whip and call a by-election if the government decides to go ahead). I was born and grew up under the Heathrow flight-path and have had respiratory problems ever since. Maybe they are not linked, but having an aircraft going over my head spewing aviation fumes every two minutes for eight or nine hours every day can’t have helped. Now where I live is under where Heathrow-bound aircraft sit in their holding patterns, often screeching over until past 11.30 at night - not great in summer when you've got your windows open. If this situation is not going to get better, at least let us not make it worse for many more people.

More generally, Goldsmith is a committed environmentalist. Now, detached from my distaste for the identity politics which dominates Labour politics, the environment is the biggest issue out there for me. We are progressively eating up our planet in the pursuit of more growth. Species are going extinct left, right and centre. It is about time we had someone somewhere in a major political position who gives a damn and can start to wield some influence against it. Goldsmith should do that; Labour’s candidates will say a few nice words but will continue the expansion of London into its surrounding environment as the population continues to explode. More urban sprawl is the only serious prospect they offer.

I’ve also admired Goldsmith's general independence of mind and respect for democracy, which is another issue on which Labour is weak (though the Collins reforms which let members of the public vote for leaders and Mayoral candidates for a fee of £3, is a big step forward).

As for Labour, what about the current candidates? I think the line-up is looking better than the leadership line-up, mostly down to the presence of David Lammy, who is the most impressive and convincing option for me. He is intelligent, thoughtful and independent-minded enough to appeal widely and do a decent job once in position. He has also been upfront about Labour’s need to appeal beyond inner London and areas with high ethnic minority concentration. But on the negative side he supports Heathrow expansion, continuing indefinite mass immigration and concreting over the Green Belt to provide enough homes for our rapidly expanding population to live in.

David Lammy - standing to be Labour's candidate
So, I find that on what are the touchstone issues for me personally, the potential Tory candidate holds more or less the same views as me (check out this on immigration for example) while even my favourite Labour candidate differs quite strongly.
[N.B. 10th June: In perhaps what is a harbinger of what is to come, Goldsmith's very sensible views on immigration have now been removed from his website. Thanks to Philip Duval for pointing out in comment below]

As for the other Labour candidates, Tessa Jowell as the female choice and Sadiq Khan as the male one have won most nominations from local parties so they must be the frontrunners.

Of these two I would favour Jowell above Khan, not least because of the latter’s staunch support for ethnic-based identity politics and his clear position as the candidate of Labour’s ‘machine’. He also doesn’t come across as particularly charismatic and I can't see him appealing much beyond Labour tribalists and client groups if put up against a decent Tory candidate. Jowell has many qualities and you would do well to find a nicer person in politics, but I can't help but feel that she is a voice from the past at a time when Labour needs to go somewhere new. (I do stand to be corrected on these points though).

Goldsmith is different and a much more interesting prospect. He has an opportunity to make an argument for quality of life over indefinite intensification, one which will not be easy to make. There will be plenty of pressure on him to dilute what he might want to say and do, not least from within his own Tory ranks and traditional Tory support in the City, from foreign zillionaires and the property industry. It cannot be a given that he will even win the nomination if these tensions come out in full view.

But he would be a powerful crossover candidate with potentially broad appeal. I hope he prevails and can at least make his case.