Alphen, the Netherlands. 17 November. Racism exists. Racism is wrong. It must be confronted and eradicated. However, dealing with racism should not be at the expense of fundamental civil liberties or freedom of speech. That is what is happening in Britain as hitherto irritating political correctness tips over into something much more sinister. There was once a time when English law distinguished the criminal from the stupid. No more it would appear.
This week alone a series of media frenzies on race illustrate just how out of balance the British elite have become on this subject (the media ‘luvvies’ in the BBC are forever lecturing the country about racism and it is utterly nauseating). The England football captain John Terry is under criminal investigation (yes, a criminal investigation) for an alleged racist remark made during a football match against Anton Ferdinand, even though Mr Ferdinand himself did not bring any charge. Yesterday, the Football Association brought charges against Luiz Suarez of Liverpool for an alleged racist slur against Manchester United’s Patrice Evra. At the other end of the spectrum Sepp Blatter, the Silvio Berlusconi of FIFA, suggested there was no problem at all with racism in football when clearly there is. And, much more seriously two men are on trial in London for their alleged part in the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence, a young black man back in 1993.
Racism clearly is a problem in Britain. However, seen from the Dutch side of the North Sea the obsession of the British elite with racism seems unbalanced and dangerous. The Dutch take a much more common sense approach to it and whatever the insinuations of right-winger Geert Wilders, Dutch society seems far more balanced in the way it deals with racism. The tragedy for me as an Englishman is that the tipping of political correctness into legal repression will not make British society any happier. Indeed, attempts to use the law to mask a failure of policy will simply drive racism underground. And, in some respects reinforce the sense amongst the decent but squeezed middle that they are now part of an oppressed majority in which their legitimate concerns about mass immigration and the failure of government to deal with it is somehow racist. I travel regularly to Britain and each time I hear basically the same message; political correctness is getting worse, minorities are being favoured at the expense of the majority, freedom of speech is being crushed by draconian laws.
Now, I write this as someone who has been at the sharp and wrong end of prejudice and discrimination. I know what it feels like and, believe me, my life today is still blighted by it. However, a fairer society will not be achieved by trying to legislate racism away. Racism is driven by fear and at this time of acute economic stress the resort to law is simply another example of a failure by the political class across the political spectrum to serve the interests of the people of Britain as a whole, irrespective of colour and/or creed.
The Left experimented with mass immigration on the British people in pursuit of a multicultural fantasy. All they did was to create yet more ghettos. The Right experiments with notions of economic liberalism to drive down employment costs whatever the human cost. Meanwhile the so-called UK Border Force is in the headlines for suspending passport checks and thus failing to properly control immigration. The result? Britain is fast becoming a country divided utterly against itself.
There is no silver bullet for racism. The only way for government to address racism is to establish a bipartisan, long-term policy that progressively removes the fear and mistrust that is driving it. First, properly re-establish border controls based on an immigration policy that is seen to work. This government is failing that test badly. Second, move away from the multiculturalism which has exacerbated the problem towards a long-term process of integration. That will mean on occasions confronting some practices which challenge the very foundations of Britain’s legal philosophy and culture, such as the informal use of Sharia Law and forced marriage. They have no place in Britain and cannot be justified on the basis of culture. The role of education has a critical role to play. Third, when racism is openly stated with a clear intent to incite race hatred and violence then and only then apply the full force of the law.
Above all, re-establish the faith of the majority that there is some semblance of balance. The playing of the race card is ever more evident. Last night I happened to be watching a programme on a Dutch TV channel about policing in my home town Sheffield. A policeman stopped a car because its driver was uninsured. The driver was an African immigrant who immediately produced a newspaper that alleged police racism as a defence. Thankfully, the police officer was himself black and was having none of it but too often the mere suggestion of racism is enough to deter the authorities. This simply leaves the majority angry and bitter stoking racism where it may not otherwise exist.
I am no nostalgist. I have no sense that the past was somehow better. All I want is for British society to function on the basis of mutual respect and tolerance. That is not happening. And, until the British elite restore some balance to how they deal with racism it will only get worse.