For me the most disturbing facet of the human experience is that suffering does not always engender a capacity for empathy. Another thing that baffles me is the unwillingness of many to view their fellow human beings as individuals, precious within themselves, rather than as clones of other members of whatever group they belong to. The articles I cited in this post contain examples of such flawed thinking.
This week in The Independent Yasmin Alibhai Brown deals with the allegations of racism that have been directed at HRH Prince Harry. I discussed that in the post cited above. It is the column that precedes it: ‘Spare Me No Tears for the White Working Classes’ that I intend to focus upon in this post.
From the outset the arguments in this column stand on shaky ground. Ms. Alibhai-Brown is basing her views on a survey of forty three self-declared white working-class people. She is incensed that ‘parliamentarians, the media, even people who claim to speak for immigrants – Baroness Warsi and Trevor Phillips – indulge the always wretched and complaining class’. Baroness Warsi has, apparently, been appointed ‘Shadow Minister for Social Cohesion’ by the Tory Party. ‘Social Cohesion’ and its absence affect every member of society. There is no indication that Baroness Warsi’s only role is to ‘speak up for immigrants’. The same assertion could be applied to Trevor Phillips who is the head of an organization known as the ‘Commission for Equality and Human Rights’. This organization incorporates ‘The Commission for Racial Equality’, ‘The Equal Opportunities Commission’ and ‘The Disability Rights Commission’. It also deals with gender equality and sexual orientation equality. There is nothing in the Commissioner’s remit that obliges him to focus solely upon immigrants. Phillips’s role is to promote equality in all areas of society. If he feels that there is evidence to show that members of ‘the white working class’ are not being treated fairly in comparison to other groups then he not only has the right but he also has the duty to highlight this. If he had failed to act then he would not have been doing his job.
In this piece Ms. Alibhai-Brown refers to the views of a writer called Liz Jones who describes ‘beer swigging blokes in working men’s clubs’ (which I imagine to be just like the Bullingdon Club without the champagne) who complain that immigrants are ‘overtaking them.’ She quotes the damning verdict of Liz Jones: ‘A snail with special needs could overtake this lot…it is patronizing and not remotely helpful to treat the white working class as they are all helpless toddlers in need of conservation.’ But surely if these people are as intellectually inept as Ms. Alibhai-Brown and Ms. Jones seem to believe then that is exactly how they should be treated. Isn’t the strong helping the weak a mark of a civilized society? And if they are innately inferior then they can’t really be expected to adhere to Ms. Alibhai-Brown’s elevated moral standards. Or maybe they are suggesting that we should wipe these people off the face of the planet. One thing is certain though: It is absurd in the extreme to assume that the views of the members of some obscure working mens’ club reflect those of an entire class.
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown proceeds to both unimaginatively and predictably introduce the biggest red-herring I have ever seen: the case of Karen Matthews. ‘And so it becomes a matter of honour for me to oppose them’. Yes, all forty three of them. Ms. Alibhai-Brown we salute you for you are clearly the very epitome of courage. You should really be The Patron Saint of Bravery. ‘A foolhardy step’. You got one thing right Yasmin. ‘You saw the rush to defend Karen Matthews when her daughter went missing’. Now, she has really lost me. Is she saying that kidnapping their own daughters is something members of the white working class do on a regular basis? Is she saying that Karen Matthews epitomizes working-class womanhood? One problem with this is that, by all accounts, Ms. Matthews has never actually worked. The working class are called the working class for a reason. And Karen Matthews may be many things but I don’t believe she has been accused of racism.
Ms. Alibhai-Brown goes on to allege that ‘the white working class’ supported Oswald Mosely and Enoch Powell. Here she fails to acknowledge that the two men were products of very different ideologies. I am more familiar with Mosley so I’d like to point out that he had supporters from all social classes, including some members of the aristocracy. Indeed he was embraced by the upper echelons of British society. In 1928 he married Lady Cynthia Curzan and when she died he married into that wretched, poverty stricken family – the Mitfords.
I would like to inform Ms. Alibhai-Brown that while there were most certainly white working class men who followed Mosley there were equal, if not greater, numbers from this group who opposed him. Nobby recollects that he frequently marched against them. Many young working class men fought in a war in which they had no personal stake – The Spanish Civil War. They fought a war that was not their own because they opposed fascism. They didn’t fight for any kind of material gain. They died fighting an ideology they despised.
Ms. Alibhai-Brown, quite rightly, points out that ‘We ordinary immigrants did not cause the credit crunch’. This is true but then neither did the ‘white working class’ she disparages. She manages to slip in a dig at benefit claimants: ‘We didn’t make the British choose benefits over work’. No, chronic disabilities and mental illnesses made many ‘choose benefits over work’. Is she suggesting that only members of ‘the white working class’ claim benefits? You really can’t let a bandwagon go by without jumping on it can you, Yasmin?
In the final paragraph Ms. Alibhai-Brown expresses hope that ‘perhaps there will be a respite when Britain will not blame outsiders for its woes’. It will probably blame ‘benefit scrounging scum’ because they are the most despised outsiders of them all.
Addendum: Ms Alibhai-Brown’s contempt for those she regards as her social inferiors is clearly illustrated in this column. In it she claims that ‘Two fit white British men loiter outside my local bank. They beg. I asked if they wanted to clear out my back garden for a fair wage. They said I was one crazy lady. Polish Andrew* did the job cheerfully and efficiently. God bless bloody foreigners who do our dirty work and are then damned by an ungrateful, obtuse nation.’ (‘One crazy lady’? Who talks like that?) I would have imagined that an intellectual ubermensch like Yasmin Alibhai-Brown would be sophisticated enough to realize that just because someone appears fit and healthy it doesn’t mean that they are. Is she unaware of the existence of mental illness or hidden physical disorders? I also wonder if she is aware that many male ‘beggars’ are ex-servicemen. Hypocritical, ignorant and shallow – what a pleasant combination. Now, bring on the Phenobarbital.
*I think she meant Andrzej