Sunday, March 16, 2008

What The Hell Is Nick On About Now? Part 89

Nick has mentioned Trevor Phillips before when discussing Obama in his Pajamas Media piece.

From personal experience I can say that black Britons are moved by Obama's success, but Trevor Phillips, the most prominent black public official and a clear-eyed thinker, warned them that Obama may be "helping to postpone the arrival of a post-racial America and I think he knows it." The deal with white America runs like this, he argued. Obama promises not to make a fuss about racism and the hundreds of thousands of blacks in jail. Whites are grateful to have their guilt absolved and vote for him. Their support rebounds "to Obama's political advantage without having any impact on racial inequality."

He repeats this point in today's Sunday Grauniad, made even less clear by some periphrasis. It makes sense to call Trevor Phillips "the most prominent black public official"; it makes none to call him "Britain's most prominent opponent of racism". I thought "Britain's most prominent opponent[s] of racism" were the signatories of the Euston Manifesto. No really.

Suffice to say, I still don't understand the argument. I don't know if Obama has "promise[d] not to make a fuss about racism" or will do so in the future. It seems to me that just by his running, a fuss is being made about racism.

Via Lawyers, Guns and Money.

So, according to Phillips, Obama doesn't run, we have a choice of McCain and Clinton, and the prisons don't empty. This is good how? Oh, I get it - it's the old SWP trick; keep the status quo until the revolution comes. Well, I can't see any other justification for the "it's better to do nothing than something" position. I also note that Nick's term "gross injustice" may play into the hands of those 'anti-Americans' (all conservatives no doubt) who may sometimes voice the suspicion that the US of A is not in fact Utopia.

I never quite understand how the Clintons' initial exploitation of racism was overlooked the first time around and has been airbrushed from the record since. After falling behind in the New Hampshire primary in 1992, and after being caught lying about the affair with Gennifer Flowers to which he later confessed under oath, Clinton left the campaign trail and flew home to Arkansas to give the maximum publicity to his decision to sign a death warrant for Ricky Ray Rector. Rector was a black inmate on death row who had shot himself in the head after committing a double murder and, instead of dying as a result, had achieved the same effect as a lobotomy would have done. He never understood the charge against him or the sentence. After being served his last meal, he left the pecan pie on the side of the tray, as he told the guards who came to take him to the execution chamber, "for later." Several police and prison-officer witnesses expressed extreme queasiness at this execution of a gravely impaired man, and the prison chaplain, Dennis Pigman, later resigned from the prison service. The whole dismal and cruel and pathetic story was told by Marshall Frady in a long essay in The New Yorker in 1993 and is also recounted in a chapter titled "Chameleon in Black and White" by your humble servant in his book No One Left To Lie To.For now, I just ask you to imagine what would have been said if a Republican governor, falling in the polls, had gone out of his way to execute a mentally incompetent African-American prisoner.

That was 'the finest leftist writer of his generation' (according to our favourite comment leaver, Justin) aka Christopher Hitchens. Shorter me: however bad Obama may be on this issue, he couldn't possibly be any worse than his opponents.

Back to our boy. One paragraph after mentioning Trevor Phillips, Nick assures that British "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." He does realise that Trevor Phillips as chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission is the bureaucrat he's talking about. Doesn't he?

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?

I've applied for entry into the Civil Service twice; there is an exam. I passed it both times and failed the interview both times. An exam seems about as fair and class-blind of recruiting the smart and rejecting the stupid. They've been doing this for decades.

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.

No, those blinkered people in the NHS never think about middle-classes scraping by on 6 figure salaries and wondering which schools to send their kids to, like Nick.

One of ten children, [he] did poorly at school and his academic performance was so bad that his headmaster made him repeat a year. At the age of thirteen [he] left school and began working in the local Tytryst Colliery. [His father] had been a supporter of the Liberal Party in his youth, but was converted to socialism by the writings of Robert Blatchford in the Clarion and joined the Independent Labour Party.

Damnit, why did no one ever tell the founder of the NHS about class?

I mean, are 'the BBC, Civil Service and NHS' really run by the privately educated? Maybe I get a different picture, stuck in the provinces as I am, where the BBC gives jobs to the Comprehensively educated and then bury their programmes at seven pm on Christmas Day. It's a conspiracy, clearly. And the best thing on radio 4 went to a grammar school. Oh curses, the privilege. He left at 15.

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.

Oh, I don't know. I left the People's Party ages ago. I think it was when this stopped being a fairy story.

The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.

There was less fuss than there ought to have been in the Grauniad, but that's because entry to journalism is a hell of a lot less egalitarian than entry to the Civil Service, the NHS, or the BBC.

I don't think we're there yet, but we're going in the right direction. I honestly think the UK has one of the best societies on the planet. We've had two working class PMs (Major, Callaghan), a woman (Thatcher) and confirmed bachelor (Heath). And all but one of those are Tories. No wonder I left Labour.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think having an unmarried man as Prime Minister is any kind of indication of modernity or tolerance. There have been four unmarried Prime Ministers: Spencer Compton, William Pitt the Younger, Arthur Balfour, and Heath. I think it's more of an indication that Prime Ministers are not expected to be role models, or at least not to the same extent as U.S. Presidents.

3/16/2008 10:57:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This post is rather unconvincing. The BBC, and in particular its journalism, is utterly dominated by the minute section of the population who were educated at Oxbridge. Citing one prominent gramar school educated journalist doesn't invalidate that reality.

As someone who has spent years living in some of the most deprived parts of London and Glasgow I can tell you that class is utterly fundamental to every aspect of your life chances.

We still live in a horribly stratified society which massively blights the lives of wide swathes of the population. Pointing to backgrounds of a few former PMs is no kind of counter-argument.

3/16/2008 11:36:00 AM  
Blogger cian said...

Last time I checked, the higher echelons of the civil service were largely Oxbridge graduates. So even assuming that there wasn't a deliberate bias among the privately educated civil servants interviewing their replacements for the fast track, in practice that gives private school students a significant advantage.

3/16/2008 12:38:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Oh, I get it - it's the old SWP trick; keep the status quo until the revolution comes" - err, when was that an SWP trick ? I don't think I have ever seen a Socialist Worker placard saying that .

3/16/2008 12:49:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Funnily enough I was about to make much the same point.

3/17/2008 08:01:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

I don't think we're there yet, but we're going in the right direction.

In order for this to be true, I think social mobility would need to be increasing rather the opposite. It's not, not least because inequality is increasing and that tends to play the largest role, whatever initiatives are undertaken, in affecting (and evn determining) the future of the young. I think bubby's post is throughly pertinent and accurate in this respect.

It can't be overstated that you don't have to discriminate in order to skew a race: you just have to give somebody a head start. Give me 50m start in a 100m race and I'll beat Dwain Chambers. And expensive schooling , comfortable bacgrounds, trust funds as well as friends in relatives in banking and the professions do tend to make sure that the same old people - as well as, sure ,a sprinkling of the "best and brightest" from the among the proletariat - occupy the same spaces in the next generation.

Now it maye be that people are prepared to accept that, and that people will play against the odds provided that they're not playing against a stacked deck. I think that during times of economic prosperity this is very likely so. But nevertheless the effects of economic inequality shouldn't be underestimated because a few people manage to climb thae ladder. I went to Oxbridge from a comprehensive school in 1983. There were quite a few like me (and probably more then than there are now.) But we were pretty heavily outnumbered by the privately-educated and the grammar-school mob.

Incidentally, I've always felt that a good indicator of the size of the advanatage enjoyed by the privately-educated can be given by comparing their sports facilities with those, ah, "enjoyed" at ordinary schools. Make the comparison and reflect that it's like that in other fields too...

3/17/2008 08:24:00 AM  

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