Monday, June 23, 2008 

Taking your ball while sending someone else home.

You're fired!

The sacking of James McGrath, Boris Johnson's chief political adviser, probably tells us less about whether he's racist, whether Boris is racist or whether it was a politically correct decision made out of blind panic than it does about Johnson's determination to not go down the route that did damage over time to Ken Livingstone - his tendency to make off the cuff remarks which he then refused to apologise for.

As to whether it was racist, to begin with, my immediate thought was that no, it wasn't, and that it was a ridiculous decision to force him out over it. However, as Sunny reminds us, the remark which McGrath came back with in response to Darcus Howe's own daft comment that some from Caribbean nations might return following Johnson's election, was the old response to any complaint from an ethnic minority - if you don't like it, you can always get out and go back home, as if here wasn't their home. With McGrath himself hailing from Australia, it's quite possible that he isn't aware of this sort of legacy, and that it was a simple off the cuff response to what was a hardly a penetrating critique of Johnson. I still don't believe it was racist, but I can quite understand why some have been offended or at the least perturbed by it.

It's curious then as to why Johnson, McGrath and David Cameron, whom Johnson apparently personally consulted before acting didn't just do what his predecessor Ken notoriously serially failed to do - to simply apologise and make clear that no offence was intended. Instead, what they did to begin with was to shoot the messenger, McGrath firing off a response to and Marc Wadsworth's piece that objects to the title of the piece, "Blacks should 'go home if they don't like Mayor', and which is probably warranted, as it doesn't provide the context that the actual text does. Doubtless the Johnson campaign didn't object so fiercely however when the Evening Standard did this on a number of occassions during the contest itself. The next step was to legally threaten the Guardian, and then finally once McGrath was history, Johnson's own statement said that his comment "was taken out of context and distorted."

The whole incident is reminisicent of Cameron swiftly moving to sack Patrick Mercer after he made similarly misjudged but also not racist comments about what routinely happens in the army. More offensive in that was what was not so well covered: that Mercer also said that ethnic minority soldiers sometimes covered up for their own laziness by claiming that they were discriminated against. It's not so much the merits of each case however but the ruthlessness with which Cameron acted in both cases - Mercer was out before anyone could defend him, and so it was also with McGrath. This certainly doesn't seem to be because Cameron was worried about the impact of being accused of giving succour to racism, no matter how relatively benign, but because it affects what he's really after: power.

It's not a new revelation that the Conservatives were terrified that Boris was going to do what Boris does best and make a huge cock-up during his campaign for Mayor, hence why he was so careful and covered by his advisers and spin doctors during it. With him now Mayor, they're similarly worried that in the two years to the next election that he's going to do something that will allow Labour to paint the entire Cameron revolution as either a sham or as incompetent; what they didn't expect was that one of his own advisers would make it, or do it so quickly. Hence his almost immediate ejection, even if it would raise the Tory roots in short-lived anger over "politicial correctness". Much was the same over Patrick Mercer, but it was quickly forgotten. Johnson and Cameron's thinking and hope is that it will be the same this time round, and there's nothing to suggest that anything else will be the case.

McGrath's "crime" is probably far less inciteful that another of Livingstone's jibes, which is actually remarkably similar, when he said of the Reuben brothers, "[P]erhaps if they’re not happy here they can go back to Iran and try their luck with ayatollahs, if they don’t like the planning regime or my approach." Some at the time suggested that was another of Livingstone's antisemitic remarks, as the Reubens were Jewish, which was slightly far fetched. As far as I'm aware, Livingstone again didn't apologise. In both cases, a simple "sorry" and a clarification would have sufficed rather than a instant dismissal. What is apparent however is that Cameron and Johnson don't really care that much about racism; what they care most about is their own political careers. Anything that threatens them must be liquated post haste.

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Friday, February 29, 2008 

Political correctness goes back to school.

You can always rely on the Sun to pick out the most important parts of the various documents it chooses to report on. "Kid flag ban by PC teachers" it screams, referring to a research document published by the government on Childhood Wellbeing.

It took me a while to track down the actual report, but I did finally find it on the dedicated research website for the Department for Children, Schools and Families (PDF). This is a 78 page document, presumably commissioned in the aftermath of the damning UNICEF report which found childhood wellbeing in the UK as the worst in Europe. The section where it discusses political correctness is on the key issues undermining a good/content childhood, and is the sixth out of eight entries. The entirety of the research is presented as is; exactly what the parents they interviewed said is provided, and it isn't questioned or investigated further to actually find whether it's true or not.

Hence the first half of the political correctness section is mainly on complaints that the latest group of immigrants are getting the most help, a familiar complaint and one that doesn't really have much evidence to support it. It also explains that claims of racism come from all sides, whether white or from established ethnic minority communities. They also seem united though in denouncing the latest to arrive, this being one of the choice quotes the document provides:

“If people from [a country cited] bring their fights here we’ve no hope. There was that story in the papers about someone from [one European country] stabbing someone from ... I think it was [another European country] (Mothers, 35-45, eldest child in KS 3/4, C2D(E), Worcester Pk)

Not that all of them do rely on the tabloids for their views, as the opening says that most who talked to them opened their conversations with the statement, "I don't want to sound like the front page of the Daily Mail but...". This is the part about the banning of the flag, which the Sun does quote reasonably accurately:

Many of the groups, both upmarket and downmarket, those who contained only white English, and those who contained BMEs, felt that it was not longer permitted to be proud to be English. There were many stories told of how their children had been sent home for wearing clothing containing the Cross of St George, or being reprimanded for having a English flag on their van. The general perception amongst respondents (parents and carers in particular) was that it was no longer acceptable to be proud to be English.

“[His employer] had a go at me and made me take it in, during the World Cup, I ask you. Every single other nation was proud to be flying their flag, and they made us take ours down. What does that tell you about England nowadays?” (Father, Family Depth, eldest child in KS3, Ripley)

It doesn't then suggest that the flag being "banned" had anything to do with political correctness on the part of teachers. Indeed, it's probably quite possible that those that were sent home for wearing the flag were because they were breaching the school's code on uniform, however unfair or stupid that seems when they're only supporting their country and national football competitions happen every 2 years. The quote the report uses isn't even about a school reprimanding someone for flying a flag from his van; it was his employer who objected, meaning the Sun's claim that schools were discipling children simply for being dropped off in vehicles flying the flag is utter nonsense.

As is often the case, the more interesting parts of the document are the ones that aren't instant hackle-raisers. The last part of the "political correctness" section deals with the complaints of parents whose children, for various reasons, had failed to excel in the academic subjects, but who felt their children were being held back because sports days had been reduced to non-competitive events and that drama, dance and music classes were ruined because everyone, regardless of ability, had to be involved. Not of all this is either down to political correctness or the familiar complaints of health 'n' safety, but this is of far more importance than whether your child can wear the England flag or not during the World Cup. This is children's lives, and their future, and it's ignored by a sensationalist press more interested in pressing the reactionary buttons. Similarly, the next section, neatly headlined 'It's our culture, we don't like children' is damning of how children are stigmatised and made to feel like second class citizens simply for existing, with families being dismissed also. Presumably the Sun didn't feel the need to mention this because of its constant demonisation of all youth as either yobs or potential yobs.

Fact is, these reports are used by all sides to confirm their own prejudices. Our children are being ruled over by politically correct lunatics! You can't be proud to be English any more! Our kids are the most materialistic ever! And so on. They can only be ever viewed as a snapshot, a simulacrum, and acted upon accordingly, but that makes no difference to the press with their file to copy and the editor screaming down their neck. It's getting the proper perspective that as ever remains so difficult.

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