Some brief thoughts about ‘the Jew’ comment:
Yesterday, while pretending to be working, I glanced at Twitter and saw a tweet about a ‘Conservative candidate’ who had said they wouldn’t vote for “the Jew” Ed Miliband. I didn’t have time to look further but simply thought ‘wow, this will be big’, such a remark would surely be manna from heaven for the Labour campaign. I, being a Tory, also felt a pang of disappointment for what this might mean for us but, overwhelmingly, I felt disgust and knew that regardless of which side of the political fence I stood this act deserved punishment, outrage, exposure, etc.
A few hours later, after my work was done, I returned to the internet to find… well, very little. I saw another tweet about it that said ‘Conservative council candidate’. Well OK, this isn’t a Parliamentary candidate and as such is lesser news. But still, so little reaction? Where was all the fuss? Surely this would be expected to be the centre of the news cycle?
My next thought was about Nigel Farage, he has claimed more than once that all parties have the odd poorly-vetted nutter (my words) that manages to become a candidate and who will say unfortunate things but that it is only when the candidate is from his party that the media chooses to make a fuss about it. I figured this story must be evidence suggesting he was actually right. This meant there was genuine unfairness against UKIP rather than Farage playing the victim. If it had been UKIP I would have expected the likes of Dan Hodges to yet again confirm they are a racist party etc. But then, he would for a Tory also. So, perplexed, I googled “Conservative-candiate-Jew-Miliband”. I found this.
The second paragraph began “Gulzabeen Afsar, the Tory candidate”. And that was it. I knew exactly why this was apparently no big deal. And it wasn’t because she was a Tory and nor did it support Farage. Yes it made the BBC website and some other newspapers, but there was no Twitter storm, no real political hay being made with it, very little concern at all really. The party quietly binned her and the story floated away. I knew it was no big deal because this was an ethnic minority, presumably Muslim candidate.
On some level I feel guilty, I have made an assumption about her ethnicity and then her behaviour, and that of others, based upon her name. A name belonging to somebody likely to be a Muslim. By doing this I may well be out of order but I don’t believe I have been stupid.
For what follows to be of any relevance and for it to be worth you continuing to read this, you have to share with me the following belief, there is a double standard at play here. Namely, that if a white, christian or atheist candidate had uttered the same sentiment then the reaction would be different. The reaction would be far louder and far stronger. This belief is obviously conjecture, I can’t objectively prove the counter-factual, but I put it to you that this is the case. I have found no senior Labour person running with this, Alex Andreou is yet to pen an angry screed.
Sidenote: This really isn’t an argument that white men are ‘under-privileged’ because they can’t get away with a racist comment that another person might. I understand that in debates on race and gender the reverse switch I have just done is instantly dismissed and is a cliche. I also understand why this is so and this is an equal right I am happy to live without. But this is not an argument based on my feeling aggrieved due to my own demographic niceties, I don’t, it isn’t a comparison based on a lack of ‘fairness’, I don’t care, I am only establishing that there is a double standard.
I think there are two separate points of interest to this double standard.
1: A relatively light reaction to the candidate The candidate is from an ethnic and religious minority. Specifically a Muslim. I think racism from such a person, especially antisemitism, is given lighter treatment. Perhaps this is because some people feel uncomfortable being seen to be attacking a minority. Mainly though I think this is the racism of low expectations. An awful condescending belief that this is just how ‘dem Muslims do and it isn’t for ‘us’ to change it.
Mehdi Hasan wrote a piece on his belief that the Muslim community in Britain suffered from endemic antisemitism. My question is, how is this to be resolved or left behind if the severe public disdain and humiliation that has worked elsewhere isn’t equally applied in all cases? Who does this condescension and double standard actually help? Surely equal treatment, like equal rights, must apply universally?
It’s not hard to dig up examples where people from a minority have been able to say something which if said by others would have finished a career yet in their case hasn’t. I understand, or at least try to understand, others who think in terms of privilege and power dynamics and who approve of a clearly racist case by case approach of subjectively applied standards, but I cannot see the way to removing racist behaviour from our society without the universalist approach. To me a universalist approach is important from both principle and utility.
2: Minimal blame given to the Tories
Even if one accepts that the candidate was treated lightly and even if you accept the above reasons why, I would posit that this doesn’t fully explain why the Tories haven’t endured greater wrath for fielding such a candidate. Why isn’t this being used against them more?
It could be that people reasonably assume that no vetting is reliable enough to render the party at fault. But since when have our politics allowed that as an excuse?
The thought I have, that I may well regret expressing, is that the same people that would most benefit from cashing in on this also realise that to some extent they are to blame. In that there is pressure applied to recruit candidates for reasons beyond normal judgments of suitability, ie. demographics. And therefore when they fail to perform at the expected level the blame on the selector is lessened.
Gulzabeen Afsar may absolutely have got to become a candidate through a gender/race/religion blind process. It could be 100% down to her abilities. I personally have zero knowledge of what she did to get there. But isn’t the point that one is reasonably, but unspokenly, liable to find this suspicious? Perhaps you don’t find it so. Perhaps it is just me and my own race-addled mind. But are we to deny people in politics are promoted for reasons, that are to an extent, beyond just their non-demographically based qualifications?
There is pressure to on all parties to reflect their society and its diversity etc. The pressure is not to have a process blind to all but ability but to produce results that better reflect demographics.
It may be that there are reasons completely separate from discrimination in the process to explain the apparently unsatisfactory level of reflection. Perhaps some communities, who for example do worse at school statistically, provide proportionally fewer qualified candidates. Perhaps some cultures show lower levels of civic engagement and lesser ambitions within party politics. Even if none of these are relevant factors, certainly by looking at ethnic minority voting trends it is statistically harder for the Tories in particular to find willing and qualified candidates from those ranks who support them than say, the Labour party.
I suspect that those that pressure the Tories to do this, those that think the Conservatives are the party of white, middle/upper-class men, even those that don’t care either way, also understand there is pressure on them to accept candidates that they could be less easily blamed for passing as fit if they were found wanting.
The tragedy in this is two fold, the first is that those candidates that are eminently suitable will have the taint of tokenism on them. The second is that, as expressed above, corrective behaviour pressures are less stringently applied.
I don’t want this suspicion. I would much rather that it never occured to me that say, Baroness Warsi is a Baroness, made Chairman of the Conservatives and the then youngest life peer for any reasons beyond her abilities. But I must confess I struggle to. In that particular case it sends such a positive message about the Tories as a party that I struggle to believe this had no weight at all in the decisions regarding her.
I therefore find myself forced to look at some people as their race and their religion and perhaps their gender. This is pernicious and wrong. But I reject the notion that it is unfounded or illogical. The losers in this situation are both those appointed purely through merit and suitability who might always be looked at sideways and their competence slightly mistrusted. And those that share their demographic designations in general life who may be tainted by reputation due to the increased levels of failure in the most public representations of them. That latter point is of course racist but then one can be expected to make judgments of that type if one is also able to call people role models on account of the same demographic similarities.
I don’t really care much about levels of representation and diversity. Which I think puts me in a minority these days. I do, however, very much care that people are not discriminated against due to their race/religion/gender etc. I believe more so that the pressure to promote people and shove them to the most visible positions on account of such attributes is counter-productive in eliminating discrimination. And disparity, per se, does not mean discrimination.
Side note: There is another cliche I am aware of here. What I call “ok, but I wish they’d shut up about it”. Somebody doesn’t like homosexuality, they didn’t want it made legal. It was, times changed and they then wanted it hidden away. It started appearing in public, they then say “I don’t care what people do to each other, I just wish they’d shut up about it”. This is the most homophobia they are allowed to get away with without too much backlash, so that is what they express. Well, I am not saying it is all ok now so therefore minorities or those seeking more diversity should ‘shut up about it’. I am arguing that the path I have described is counter-productive to the same goals and that we are basically at the stage now where to keep on about disparities and to assume that disparity equals discrimination is to embed discrimination in more subtle and harder to shift ways.
If we are to become actually ‘post-racial’ or other variants on that idea, then we do actually have to be, well, post-racial. There has to be a point where we stop the meddling and the judging of people by their identity. I feel this should come when we feel discrimination is minimal, not when the numbers of representation match up. That is an entirely false, and I think in terms of discrimination, utterly arbitrary measure which we will do a lot of damage trying to exactly meet.
A real weakness here is that I might have extrapolated too much from such an unclear incident. What started as a few thoughts is now a couple of thousand words. This subject will take a much more serious going over by me with more solid examples for sure. I will rest on my assertions that: Another person making those comments would have generated more of a reaction. That the pressure in politics to promote for reasons of identity will inevitably lead to people being put in situations they are not necessarily the most qualified for. And that this is damaging for the reasons I above stated.