Tuesday, May 15, 2007

British "diversity" dogma in trouble

Since Macpherson, few institutions in British society have escaped the charge of institutional racism, with some even revelling in the charge as a kind of mea culpa. The former head of the BBC, Greg Dyke, famously declared the BBC to be `hideously white'. New Labour arts minister, David Lammy MP, has accused museums and galleries of being `too white'. Lord Patel recently accused the mental health sector of institutional racism, while the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) is currently investigating the Department of Health to see whether it is institutionally racist.

Official anti-racism has been implemented with full legal force. The Race Relations Act 1976 outlawed direct and indirect discrimination and victimisation in a range of areas such as education, housing and employment. Over 20 years later, the Race Relations Amendment Act 2000, which extended the law to cover 43,000 public authorities, was significant in that it placed a general duty on them to `have due regard to the need to eliminate unlawful discrimination, and to promote equality of opportunity and good relations between persons of different racial groups'. The main significance is that the duty requires bodies to take action to prevent acts of racial discrimination before they occur, meaning pre-emptive measures or racialisation have proliferated throughout public life.

Under New Labour, diversity management has flourished to become an effective strategy of behaviour management. The seemingly innocuous injunction to `respect diversity' has become common in workplaces, schools and hospitals, voluntary organisations and civic venues such as churches, charities and local neighbourhood associations. Most organisations in the public sector have a diversity manager in place, as do large private sector firms. Targets for making workforces more `diverse' have become accepted norms, despite the obvious drawbacks of positive discrimination. At the micro-level of workplace interaction, people have acquiesced to the regulation of their speech and behaviour towards others with little resistance, because it has been done in the name of tolerance. Diversity training - once viewed as a bizarre and probably inappropriate import from America - has now become a growth industry.

The thrust of identity politics was already strong prior to New Labour taking power in 1997, coming as it did off the back of social fragmentation and the weakening of older political and collective identities. Lobby groups and `community leaders' representing religious, ethnic and minority communities were already entering the political domain and vying against each other for resources. In 2001, the Cantle report into the northern mill town riots in Oldham, Bradford and Burnley pointed to the way in which local authorities' policies had deepened segregation in parts of Britain.

New Labour further institutionalised this trend and turned identity into the cornerstone of political engagement. Local and national state institutions developed `partnerships' with community groups and leaders, offering recognition of their supposedly different needs. This process has encouraged a demand amongst groups for recognition of their difference, and in some cases, the protection of difference.

The most obvious case is that of the Muslim lobby in the guise of the Muslim Council of Britain, which gained significant encouragement by New Labour in its early years and particularly after the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001. From being marginal players, the MCB leaders began to assert their importance, claiming to hold the votes of Muslims in the palm of their hands. MCB head Iqbal Sacranie was rumoured to have turned down requests to meet with lower level ministers, insisting instead on meeting with the prime minister himself.

The MCB has since fallen out of favour, but its shortlived success reflected the strategic importance of `community leaders' under New Labour, as a way to engage the citizenry. In the case of Muslims, this engagement has not led to a rise in political engagement but an exacerbation of their political alienation. Like most young people, Muslims are disillusioned with the political elite. But their cynicism has grown exponentially due to the government's engagement with unelected, and largely irrelevant community leaders who are themselves out of touch. This cynicism no doubt fuels the aggressive anti-politics of some younger Muslims.

Of course, identity politics is something that exists far beyond young Muslims - most other ethnic groups have joined the fray and demanded their own recognition and protection. New Labour's Religious Hatred Bill was supported by an alliance of religious groups who share only their sense of vulnerability and victimhood in common. These momentary alliances coexist with the moments of heated conflict, most recently between gay groups and the Catholic Church over the sexual orientation law and adoption agencies - begging the question of whose identity required the greatest protection. As the state has gradually intervened into the private world of belief and identity, so now it is called in to manage those differences and act as the arbiter.

Many of the trends discussed so far will no doubt inform the work of the new Commission for Equality and Human Rights (as the CRE is renaming itself), which starts operating this autumn. Its extended powers to bring cases and enforce anti-discrimination measures will encourage even greater regulation between individuals and groups, possibly exacerbating rather than ameliorating tensions.

More broadly, recent criticisms of multiculturalism and fears of social fragmentation have led to a new phase in New Labour's approach, already being nurtured by prime-minister-in-waiting, Gordon Brown - the call for a new national identity. But lacking any political vision and burdened with the obligation to protect its own cherished diversity policies, New Labour has struggled to show what this identity might look like. No doubt we can look forward in the coming years to various contrived measures such as `Britishness Day', the rebranding of bank notes, or the celebrations for the 2012 Olympics, in the hope of bringing national identity to life.

The word `multiculturalism' may be increasingly unpopular these days but all the things it gave rise to - as outlined above - are still in place. They need to be tackled with a more universalist approach.

More here


The Optimum Population Trust's claim that having a large family is an eco-crime exposes the anti-human streak in green politics

Having large families is an eco-crime according to the Optimum Population Trust (OPT). 'The greatest thing anyone in Britain could do to help the future of the planet is have one less child', the Trust says. It is actually modest compared to the more extreme versions of environmentalist hostility to humankind. 'Wildlife has more right to live on the earth than humans do', according to one group, which goes on to say: 'Humans are too great a threat to life on earth: they should be phased out.' At least that is the view of the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement, which hopes our will be the last generation of humans

Then there is the Church of Euthanasia, with its snappy slogan: Save the Planet, Kill Yourself. Moderate environmentalists might object that the deep ecologists are on the fringes, and not typical of the movement. But if the Church of Euthanasia is off in the sidelines, egging on lonely teenagers to top themselves while it trolls suicide websites, the OPT's message that we are the problem is mainstream. The OPT's trustees include the Green Party veterans Jonathan Porritt and Sara Parkin, the climate change diplomacy veteran Sir Crispin Tickell as well as the actress Susan Hampshire.

As the chattering classes' preoccupation with climate change reaches fever pitch, the extremists feel more confident to draw conclusions that others baulk from. That is because the extremists are only drawing out the underlying philosophy of environmentalism to make it more explicit. Indeed, the deep ecologists pre-date the more contemporary environmentalists. The current philosophy of 'sustainable development' was framed precisely because it was thought that the original aim of zero growth was too much for people to get their heads around. The underlying philosophy is that mankind is the pathological species, the scourge of the planet. Since James Lovelock coined the deeply mystical concept of Gaia - of a natural balance - mankind has been cast in the role of the disturber of the balance. At its most extreme, the misanthropism of a John Gray or a Jared Diamond looks forward to 'nature's revenge', the point where the laws of nature reassert themselves in the mass extinction of the human race.

Lots of lazily left-wing people think that they can reconcile their ambition to improve the lot of the poor with the goal of carbon reduction. South African academic and activist Patrick Bond thinks of himself as an environmentalist - though in his commitment to social redress he imagines that we can reduce world greenhouse gas emissions and get electricity supply to two billion people who currently do not get it (apparently there are some savings to be made in aluminium smelting which will help). Even American leftists imagine that they can rally to the cause of the working class and still cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Most environmentalists do not agree, thinking that any answer must involve 'horrendous costs to American industry and lifestyle'. There is a default to extremism that is written into environmentalism. And that is not surprising. If you hold that human life is worth less than the natural order, then you will have less respect for its sanctity.

The ecological outlook is an expression of middle-class rage at the masses, which from time to time becomes explicit. One example is Jon Ablewhite, currently serving time at Her Majesty's Prison Lowdham Grange for disinterring the corpse of Gladys Hammond, whose son-in-law owned Darley Oaks Farm where guinea pigs were bred. Ablewhite and his friends' six-year long hate campaign knew few restraints because the animal rights activists started with the assumption that people's interests were inferior. 'Jon is driven by the desire to right a wrong', said his mother, widow to a vicar and missionary.

Unabomber Ted Kaczynski campaigned for years against the technocratic society, posting bombs to electronics companies, while hiding out in a shack in the woods until he was arrested in the late 1990s. Environmentalism, like all political discourses that take shortage as their starting point, will tend towards misanthropic solutions. Any movement that begins with the view that mankind must be curtailed to reduce the pressure on the environment will have to start thinking how it will select those who must make sacrifices.



Cancer patients are being systematically let down by the radiotherapy services in England, a damning government report concludes. Lengthy waits and huge variations in service from place to place mean that tens of thousands of patients every year are receiving substandard service, reducing their chances of survival. The report to ministers from a top-level committee, whose broad conclusions were first revealed in The Times last month, calls for urgent action. "Unless action is taken without delay, the Government will lose the opportunity to save lives, and services in this country will fall further behind those of other comparable countries" the National Radiotherapy Advisory Group says.

The NHS delivers 1.5 million courses of treatment every year, when the optimum would be 2.5 million, the report says. Variations between areas are said to be "unacceptable", with the best-served areas delivering two and a half times as many courses as the worst. But it does not specify which areas are bad and which less bad.

Karol Sikora, a cancer specialist, said: "The report shows how bad things really are, but disguises just how bad the local gaps in services are. These areas which have fallen behind must be named too in order to target improvements." Since 1997 the Government has invested more money in radiotherapy, but even this increase has fallen far short. The problems arise from miscalculations made 15 to 20 years ago, when the need for radiotherapy was significantly underestimated.

It was wrongly believed that radiotherapy would not have a key role to play in future cancer treatments and that demand for it would fall. This was a gross misjudgment, as demand has increased and will continue to increase as the population ages. Radiation treatments involve large doses given by linear accelerators, given in a series of smaller doses to reduce injury to healthy tissue. Typically, an entire course might comprise 15 to 40 treatments. The most productive centres deliver more than 10,000 courses per linear accelerator (linac) per year, the least productive only about 5,000.

The report calls for a target of at least 8,000 courses a year immediately, and 8,300 a year by 2010-11. Linacs should be kept running nine hours a day on average, with some running for as long as 11.5 hours a day. They should be operated year-round, including Bank Holidays (with the exception of Christmas Day, Boxing Day, and one day at Easter), and include some treatments on Saturdays. But the report rules out seven-day working because there are insufficient staff and patients may be reluctant.

Michael Williams, Vice-President of the Royal College of Radiologists, and co-chair-man of the advisory group, said: "Radiotherapy is one of the most effective cancer treatments available, but the UK has fallen short in its provision. "This is the main finding of a second report published in the current issue of the journal Clinical Oncology. The research confirms that substantially less radiotherapy is given in the UK than is standard practice elsewhere in Europe and the USA."

Professor Janet Husband, president of the college, said, "The report will be extremely valuable in determining future development and in building on the substantial investment in modern equipment achieved as part of the Cancer Plan."



An emergency review of the appointments system for junior doctors is being dominated by government apparatchiks, leading doctors claim in a letter to The Times today. The system and attempts to rescue it are a fiasco, write Morris Brown, Professor of Clinical Pharmacology at Cambridge, and more than a dozen leading specialists, as doctors prepare to challenge the outcome of the review in court. The hearing, which begins on Wednesday, will seek to have the computer-based Medical Training Application System (MTAS) declared so unfair as to be an abuse of power. It is expected to take two days. Victory for the doctors would leave the Department of Health, which has apologised for the debacle, in confusion.

In their letter to The Times, Professor Brown and colleagues say that MTAS has so far failed every task, and the review set up to rescue it “has become top-heavy with DoH apparatchiks”. The issue, in the Times letter and later today in court, is whether it is fair to allow doctors in England, who have already spent ten years training, a single interview to determine their futures. There are about 32,000 junior doctors applying for about 20,000 posts, which they will take up in August. Nobody knows the exact figures, nor how many of the applicants come from outside the UK. The doctors are mostly in their mid to late20s, and are applying for “run-through” training posts lasting five years, which would end with them ready to apply for jobs as consultants. Hospitals that pick the wrong applicants will be stuck with them for five years, so finding the right ones is crucial.

Applicants who fail to get a run-through post will not necessarily be unemployed but their careers will stall. To get a doctor to this stage costs the state 250,000 pounds in education and training costs. The potential losses would easily exceed 1 billion if, say, 5,000 UK-trained applicants gave up medicine or decided to go abroad. One official, who did wish to be named, blamed the department for a failure to match the expansion of medical schools to an equivalent growth in training posts.

This year, the difficulties are compounded by a failed attempt by the department to exclude foreign graduates. Under European law it cannot exclude EU graduates, but relatively few of them apply. The key is graduates from outside the EU, traditionally one of the mainstays of the NHS. The department attempted to cut off these applicants by saying they would need work permits. A challenge in court by the British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (BAPIO) was rejected, but leave to appeal was granted. Pending the result of that appeal, the department was forced to allow nonEU doctors to apply in the first round of selection.

Thousands more found another way round, by joining the “highly skilled migrant” programme. They qualified for that by virtue of already working in the NHS as, for example, senior house officers. As a result, it is estimated that between 10,000 and 11,000 of the applicants for the 20,000 posts originate from outside the UK and Europe, maybe half of them through the highly skilled migrants programme. Nobody knows quite how many, nor do the application forms enable hospitals to distinguish home from foreign applicants.

So who is in charge? “Nobody is,” said the official who spoke to The Times. “The system was developed in isolation from workforce planning. So it was impossible to find any one person who would ask: ‘Will this work?’ .” RemedyUK, the pressure group bringing the action, hopes the court will say the process is unlawful, but expects a solution to require negotiation.


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