As the Clintons play the race card against Barack Obama, the young senator from Illinois has many outraged supporters rallying to his cause, but not Britain’s most prominent opponent of racism.
Trevor Phillips is wary for good reasons. He suspects Obama is ‘helping to postpone the arrival of a post-racial America’ by offering white Americans a deal: vote for me and I’ll stop you feeling guilty by keeping quiet about racism.
In the US, with its vast black prison population, it is easy to see how soaring words about a new generation building a new country can divert attention from a gross injustice. Less so in Britain, where bureaucrats across the public sector assure us that they are moving us towards Martin Luther King’s dream of a country where the colour of a man’s skin matters less than the content of his character.
Take Andrea Callender, BBC’s head of diversity. She is not only concerned with colour prejudice, but she also promises to tackle an apparently definitive list of bigotries about ‘age, gender, race, ethnic origin, religion, disability, marital status, sexual orientation and number of dependents’. Yet she does not mention the most glaring inequality in modern Britain, although she must encounter it every day.
In Whitehall, the Civil Service says it will tackle the under-representation of women and members of ethnic minorities among its upper ranks. If the radical mandarins are serious about eliminating inequality, shouldn’t they be more specific? Which women and which blacks and Asians do they want to recruit in the name of social justice? Rich or poor? State educated or private? They won’t say because the orthodoxy is that it’s right to discriminate in favour of an Indian steel magnate’s daughter at the expense of the son of a white single mother and feel proud of yourself while you do it.
Meanwhile, the NHS announces that its ambition isn’t merely to care for the sick. It wants ‘a fairer society in which everyone has the opportunity to fulfil their potential’. Again, its mission statement seems admirable, but again it does not mention the people who most need the opportunity to fulfil their potential.
I could go on. The pseudo-egalitarian style dominates every public institution. Human-resources managers make good money out of a career in leftism as long as they never talk about the old left’s central concern: class.
At first glance, the silence of progressive professionals is baffling. There is little conflict between class and race. You do not have to decide to concentrate on one to the exclusion of the other because most people from the ethnic minorities are from humble backgrounds.
But a moment’s thought about the racket of the British education system explains why the BBC, Civil Service and NHS have so little to say to the disadvantaged. Access to good schools is dependent on parents’ wealth – their ability to pay for private education or a house in a middle-class catchment area. Professional employers who declared that they believed in ‘positively encouraging inquiries from working-class applicants’ would have to spend money on training to overcome the effects of sink schools.
They feel embarrassed to say it, so frank conversations about the public sector are always in private. A contact who runs a government organisation – I can’t say which – tells me he once had to satisfy a few non-executive directors, trained by the trade union and housing association movements to ask awkward questions. Now he has middle-class board members of minority communities. They can’t make every meeting because they’re busy people. He won’t fire them because he’ll be accused of racism. In any case, he doesn’t want to fire them because they make his life easier.
A contact at the BBC says that when the workers were the repository of radical liberal hopes in the Sixties, his predecessors encouraged working-class writers and directors. Now women and members of ethnic minorities have unparalleled opportunities, and that is a welcome advance, but the beneficiaries of the new order are always from the upper middle class. In the name of diversity, everyone is the same.
High cultural institutions that once dreamt of a proletarian uprising now treat the white working class as racists or squares. As Michael Collins, a rare modern example of a working-class intellectual, put it in The Likes of Us: ‘The vision of a multi-cultural Utopia needed its common enemy, and it was increasingly the tribe that played a major role in previous Utopian fantasies.’
The political gulf is as great. On crime, immigration, social security scrounging, Europe and green taxes, the working and liberal middle classes don’t talk to each other. In last week’s budget, Gordon Brown and his puppet Chancellor exacerbated the conflict by increasing taxation on workers earning between £5,200 and £18,500 to fund tax cuts for voters in swing seats. There was no fuss about Labour’s leadership betraying the people their party was founded to represent because the interests of the working class no longer feature in debate. In Disraeli’s time as in ours, there are: ‘Two nations between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are as ignorant of each other’s habits, thoughts, and feelings, as if they were dwellers in different zones, or inhabitants of different planets.’
The emphasis on diversity can’t last because diversity is becoming more diverse. In Britain, ‘ethnic minority’ no longer means people descended from West Africans, Indians, Bangladeshis and Pakistanis, but also Hungarians, Poles, Bosnians, Albanians, Lithuanians, Latvians, Ethiopians, Somalians, South Africans, Kurds, Iraqis, Peruvians… to name but a few. A public body that tried to represent every minority in Britain would be crushed by the bureaucratic effort.
While we wait for the inevitable collapse, perhaps we should ask New Labour, the BBC and the Civil Service when they expect the public to get a return on its money. When will the corporate-responsibility co-ordinators and diversity-awareness trainers be able to show some success in moving us to a post-racial, post-misogynist, post-ageist, post-homophobic society?
Because it is only when they pick up their laptops and leave the building that we can concentrate on the real question of how to move to a less class-ridden one.