Right, a quick report from Friday’s even at City Circle, where I was talking with Salma Yaqoob from Respect and Fiyaz Mughal (Libdem Cllr and from Faith Matters).
I started by pointing out that I was not going to play to the gallery. I knew Salma would do that anyway and frankly I prefer to put counter-arguments to an audience than try and appeal to them. In other words I hadn’t gone there to make friends.
I said there were three strands to tackling the BNP:
1) Continual demonisation and pointing out their past and present activities
2) Organising and mobilising against them – urged people to volunteer for Hope Not Hate.
3) Taking on the issue of identity and culture that the BNP use to win votes.
After mentioning first and second briefly I went on to focus on the third. I said the rise of the BNP was not merely down to economic inequality and lack of social housing, though that was also an integral issue. It is also down to the fact that an increasing number of white people that they have nothing in common with ethnic minorities. Much of this discomfort is down to immigration and globalisation and movement of peoples – but nevertheless it is a problem of a lack of a shared identity.
My view is that the left has to develop a response to this problem of shared identity. There has to be an inclusive narrative and language which binds people together. I used the example of Obama and pointed out that in his speech on race – he pointedly appreciated the concerns of white people as well as blacks, and yet gave them a narrative that appealed to the best of both. We have problems on both sides, in other words, but this doesn’t mean we should be reduced to fighting each other.
That was the gist of my argument. In between, I also had a go at the Respect party (which I got bogged down into and drew heckles from the audience) and accused it of communalism. Apparently that isn’t true! Some Respect lackey sitting in the audience accused me of pandering to the BNP and accused me of trying to smear the Respect party. No honestly, these people do still exist. The fact that Respect is now a burnt-out train crash has apparently escaped their notice. Oh well.
I also pointed out that the media jumped on isolated examples of asylum seekers being given council housing or that sometimes money was given to specific ethnic or religious groups, and all this fed the BNP. This is a statement of fact, except the Respect lackey took it as sign that I was echoing this view. I did however state that I think civic groups only belonging to one ethnic/religious minority, or that catered for only one ethnic/religious minority, should be not funded. I said this didn’t apply to the Southall Black Sisters. (I should also point out that I think this also means groups that end up catering for whites only should re-examine their procedures).
Anyway, my main point was about identity. Some guy stood up and said he regarded his British passport as a Blockbuster card. I said this was exactly my problem – that people didn’t feel they had any sort of affinity to this country or to each other as citizens.
I am no longer happy to accept that the problem of the BNP is merely an economic one. I’ve been arguing for the Britishness agenda for a while. And though this govt has totally failed to make a positive, inclusive case with that, it doesn’t mean its impossible. Unfortunately it seems some self-proclaimed defenders of minorities plan to stand in my way. Oh well – that’s their loss.
I’ll write more about the identity issue later. I’ve not covered everything in the debate obviously. But I made the points I wanted to make.
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Filed in: British Identity,Race politics