Monday, 9 July 2007

Racial Politics: Double Standards

Over the last couple of days, I've been following the progress of the Ealing Southall by-election, mainly via Pub Philosopher. The seat was left vacant by the recent death of Britain's oldest MP, Piara Khabra, and the behaviour of the various parties has been a joy to witness. These two posts are good for background information, if you aren't aware of all the shenanigans that have been taking place.

Anyway, I was reading the latest update on the by-election, and I came across the list (pdf) of candidates. As Steve points out's looking very much like the middle-aged Asian blokes' election. Even the Christian Party and the English Democrats have found chaps with Indian names to contest the constituency.
Indeed, of twelve candidates standing, ten appear to be Indian, while only the Green Party and the Official Monster Raving Loony Party are fielding white-sounding candidates. Incidentally, I think it would be the Loonies who'd have my vote, were I a resident of Ealing Southall. At least they're honest about it...

But seeing how very undiverse the list of candidates is set me thinking: why are all the main parties, and most of the minor ones, so desperate to field an Indian candidate? And they really are desperate: the Tory candidate is Tony Lit, who only joined the party ten days before being selected, while UKIP had to go to Cardiff, and the Christian Party to Huddersfield, in order to find Indian candidates.

There are, so far as I can see, two reasons for this desperate search for Indians: first, voting on racial lines; and second, the idea that an MP should be "representative" of the community he serves. Neither of these things is necessarily bad in itself, but the double standards surrounding them are indicative of the hypocrisy with which our political class, and the race relations industry, treat issues of race in our society.

As for voting on racial lines, the point seems clear: the greatest practical reason why the parties are selecting Indian candidates is that Indians are more likely to vote for other Indians. Since Ealing Southall is 28% Indian, and 53% non-white (according to the 2001 census; The Times says 62% non-white), selecting an Indian candidate makes electoral sense. Indeed, not to do so would probably substantially reduce a party's share of the vote.
I don't object to Indians voting on racial grounds. After all, someone of a voter's own race is usually (although not always) more likely to share the voter's views and concerns, and to both be representative of, and be a sincere representative of, the voter. But I would point out, that voting on racial grounds is something that whites appear much less likely to do than other races: after all, the 92% white (pdf) people of Windsor had no problem electing Adam Afriyie to be Britain's first black Tory MP. Make of that what you will. However, I would also point out that when, in 1992, the black Tory lawyer, and notorious whinger, John (now Lord) Taylor, failed to win the supposedly safe (and 97% white) constituency of Cheltenham, he cried racism against the voters, a claim which has been repeated ever since. So, if Indians vote along racial lines, no one minds, but if whites are even suspected of doing it, even if that suspicion exists only in the mind of a bitter defeated candidate, then the cry of "racism! Burn the witches" goes up, and never ceases to echo.

The notion of representation is also perfectly reasonable, if applied generally: it simply suggests that an MP should have things in common with his constituents, and that race can sometimes (but need not always) be a part of that. But, of course, it isn't applied equally. Rather, it is applied in a manner which says that if a constituency is less than about 80% white, then it should have a non-white MP, 'in order to represent the diversity of the constituency', but that no matter how high the percentage of whites in a constituency, they should never be guaranteed representation by someone of their own race (because that would be racist).
Thus we see Sadiq Khan, the Muslim MP for Tooting (72% white - is he representative of his constituents?), backed by the racists of Operation Black Vote, calling for Streatham (65% white) to have a non-white MP, on the grounds of "representation". Equally, the racists at BLINK regard it as scandalous that Vauxhall (60% white) is represented by a white MP, particularly one who - the horror! - sympathises with persecuted white farmers in Zimbabwe. The creatures at BLINK weren't best pleased when Labour selected a white candidate to contest 77% white Wood Green, either. And, in a Guardian article on the occasion of David Lammy's selection as Labour candidate for Tottenham (55% devils) in 2000, I find the following lines:
Mr Lammy's success was welcomed by some black activists, who felt that Tottenham should continue to be represented by a black MP.
Now, imagine the outcry if 'white' was inserted for 'black' in this sentence. No doubt Sadiq Khan, Operation Black Vote, and BLINK would be among those screaming "racism!" until their voices were hoarse. Indeed, they would scream it just as loudly if some of the white people who make up the vast majority of voters in the new seat of Chippenham objected to having the "Black Farmer", Wilfrid Emannuel-Jones, foisted upon them as the Tory candidate for the next election.

So, it seems that white people don't enjoy the same right to "representation" by someone of their own race that Asians and blacks apparently enjoy. If white people in Chippenham, or Windsor, are represented by a black person, then there's nothing wrong with that. Indeed if, as in Cheltenham, they dare to vote for a white candidate against a black candidate, they will be branded "racist" for doing so. But if the 45% of non-whites in Tottenham, the 40% in Vauxhall, the 35% in Streatham, have a white MP, then that is "unrepresentative", and, by implication, racist. As for the white majorities in those seats: they don't count. It seems that the right to "representation" of the kind Sadiq Khan and friends speak of only applies to those who are more equal than others.

Double standards? Absolutely. Surprising? Absolutely not.


Steve said...

Thanks for the link.

The drama continues:

Guardian apostate said...

Congratulations on a well researched post. Double standards indeed. I really wish there was a way to bring posts like this to a wider audience.