Getting carried away

The London Mayor goes for the school run; and the Commission for Racial Equality shows its obsession with colour.

Patrick West

Patrick West

Topics Politics

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  • Too much awareness

The race for top spot in the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) was, as usual, an undignified spectacle, given the kind of interracial squabbling we have come to expect from this institution.

That no Asian candidates featured on the final, all-black shortlist, caused grief among Asian ‘anti-racists’. ‘We don’t want to be divided into groups and races, but it would have been much preferred to have had an Asian candidate on the shortlist’, said Lord Ahmed, the Labour peer. ‘There are many Asian figures with great ability who seem to have been overlooked.’

Elsewhere, Dr Raj Chandran believes the new head should not have been black. ‘It is the only way discrimination can be fought’, Chandran said. ‘There are too many racists in the ethnic community. If a black person is chosen, Asians feel they get a raw deal and vice versa. A white chairman would have been more impartial.’

Not to be outdone, ‘radical’ black ‘anti-racists’, reports attest, are furious that more radical figures weren’t put up for the job. ‘The future of race relations is in the balance. Anyone who takes the helm of the Commission for Racial Equality must fight tooth and nail to help it maintain an independent voice’, articulated Simon Woolley, head of Operation Black Vote. ‘We need a strong leader who will be free from the shackles of interfering government.’

That Trevor Phillips got the job in the end is unlikely to please. To radicals he may appear as an ‘Uncle Tom’; democrats have sighed already that another of ‘Tony’s Cronies’ has been ennobled; meanwhile, others seem to assume that one has to be from an ethnic minority to get this job. Not since 1993 has a member of the ‘white community’ headed the CRE. Surely, the organisation is flouting its core principle of non-racism in its own back garden?

The CRE has for years reportedly been a viper’s nest of intra-racial tension, between whites, Afro-Caribbeans, Hindu-Asians, Muslim-Asians, and so on. This is no surprise. The internal petty politics of this organisation are the very symptoms of its malign philosophy, which is not so much to diminish racial awareness, but to heighten it. The fetishisation of ‘race’ and ‘identity politics’ leads us not to the Notting Hill Carnival and ‘strength in diversity’, but instead encourages avarice and ethnic tension. The result of ‘raising racial awareness’ is the reduction of people from ethnic minorities to the status of mutually antagonistic serfs, pleading pitifully for alms from the white man.

Rather than being colour-blind the CRE has been colour-obsessed. It reaps what it sows.

  • Childish attachments

Two things people are prone to be precious about are their cars and their kids. When Ken Livingstone questions Londoners’ attitude to both, you know he is a brave man.

According to the statistics, since 1986 the number of schoolchildren who are driven to school has almost doubled, while only 10 percent of those aged five to 10 now travel alone to school, a figure that has halved since 1986. ‘If we had not had the development of the school run in the last 20 years we might not have needed the congestion charge’, said the Mayor, exhorting parents to let their children walk or take the bus to school.

Ken faces a tough task if he seeks to break bad habits. The ‘kids’ are sacrosanct. They must be placed under no imagined risk whatsoever, whether it be paedophiles, mobile phone-pinching bullies or the Abominable Snowman.

The hideous attachment to the automobile is the symptom of the same neurosis: to lock oneself away from the ‘dangerous’ world in the safety of one’s own metallic cocoon. And like the sacred ‘kids’, then throw a tantrum when everyone else does the same.

  • Better than a slap on the wrist

There’s been much talk about the efficacy of the prison system recently in the wake of comments by Lord Irvine and Lord Woolf, who intimate that jail is often not the best place to send burglars.

Statistics seem to justify their stance. According to the Prison Reform Trust, 58 percent of prisoners are reconvicted within two years. Similarly, most burglars sentenced to prison return to incarceration within the same period. On the other hand, of every 100 people who serve a community sentence, 11 fewer are reconvicted within two years. What’s more, community sentences cost one-tenth the amount of keeping someone behind bars.

In 1975 the philosopher Michel Foucault wrote a book called Surveiller et Punir (or Discipline and Punish), which charted the shortcomings of modern prisons – which he thought were less inclined to correct criminals than to maintain delinquency, encourage recidivism and convert occasional offenders into habitual criminals. Prisons, to use a modern phrase, are nothing but ‘universities of crime’.

Prior to the Enlightenment, he wrote, punishment had been less about correction than about spectacle and carnival. The book retells a particularly grisly example from 1757, when the would-be assassin of Louis XV, in front of a Parisian crowd, had his flesh torn from breast and limbs with red-hot pincers, then his body quartered by four horses and his remains thrown into a fire.

This strategy did often backfire; public executions often roused the crowd in favour of the condemned in protest against the state. Yet at the same time, when it was only corporal punishment, they could prove for non-threatening and highly enjoyable family days out.

This seems an obvious solution. If Lord Woolf is worried about full-up prisons, this is the way forward. If the Prison Reform Trust is looking for value for money, they need look no further. Televised, corporal punishment could emulate the money-spinning success of ‘reality shows’. As a live event, it could provide people with that collective sense of community so cherished today; it could even put people off from going on, say, paedophile hunts, political protests, celebrity funerals, and so on. It would certainly be cheaper than going to Premier League football games.

Patrick West is the author of Conspicuous Compassion: Why Sometimes it Really is Cruel to be Kind, Civitas, 2004. Buy this book from Amazon (UK).

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Topics Politics


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