Friday, May 23, 2008

Class and politics in Britain

Comment on the Crewe & Nantwich by-election:

Labour has sent up a couple of young men dressed as toffs to follow the Conservative candidate around. It has not boosted its opinion rating either. And now it seems as if one of these men went to an expensive public school himself (not the same posh school as Ed Balls, a different posh school). You have to hand it to Gordon Brown's crack team. I didn't think it was possible, but they've done it. To this the toffs stunt, personally approved by Gordon Brown, adds another dimension - it is an abandonment of one of the party's most attractive features.

I know where Labour got the idea that campaigning against David Cameron's class might work. It came from a group of pundits I call the ChipOx Club. These are journalists who went to Oxford from middle-class homes. On their way back from the library to their college rooms in Michaelmas term, carrying a cup of cocoa and determined to finish their essay on the Battle of Naseby, they had champagne spilt on them by the drunk younger son of an earl who was fleeing a shaving foam fight. They have hated toffs ever since. And they are convinced that everyone else shares their dislike.

As a Jewish suburbanite and the son of immigrants, I have always found such class prejudice baffling. But as a political analyst I have this further observation - if you are going to campaign in Crewe on class, the toffs are the wrong class to campaign against.

Since the days of the industrial revolution there has always been something of an alliance between the working class and the aristocracy, united against the common enemy - the mill owners. When the fighting broke out in the streets of Leeds over the amelioration of factory conditions, radicals and workers' leaders such as Richard Oastler saw themselves as allies of Tories such as the Earl of Shaftesbury.

To be portrayed as a top-hatted toff actually represents an improvement in the Tory image. Being seen as pinstripe-suited bosses, estate agents and spivs was far more devastating. Consider the brilliant salvo fired at the US presidential candidate and businessman Mitt Romney by his opponent Mike Huckabee: "People would rather elect a president who reminds them of the guy they work with, not that guy who laid them off." This is the sort of sentiment that has the ability to damage the Tories. Toffs are benign and reassuring by comparison.

If Labour is baffled by its failure to make class work against Mr Cameron, I think this is part of the reason. His class background is actually helping him to change the way people see his party in a positive way.

There is, however, another reason that it isn't working. Voters do not use Labour's campaign to help them to understand the Tory party. They understand that one party isn't likely to give them an honest picture of the other. They use Labour's campaign to help them to understand the Labour Party. And what the Crewe campaign is doing is signalling that Tony Blair's Labour Party is dead and another, much less attractive, organisation has replaced it.

In 1976 Labour ran a party political broadcast attacking the "honourable Algernon" who was born "with a silver spoon in his mouth". Even at the time, more than 30 years ago, this was regarded as disreputable. Jim Callaghan, then party leader, disowned it. But some in the party hierarchy regarded the broadcast as a masterstroke. Mr Blair built his career on an understanding that these people were wrong.

Class warfare, even if waged against someone else's class, is spectacularly unattractive. It makes Labour seem aggressive, prejudiced, an exclusive sect more interested in your background than your ideas. Mr Blair wanted his party to be a big tent, welcoming everyone. This idea, this powerful political idea, which brought the Tory party to the edge of extinction, which brought landslide Labour majorities, is now over. And with it Labour's political hegemony.

New Labour is dead. Gordon Brown has killed it. And at the funeral, the undertakers will be wearing the top hats from the Crewe & Nantwich by-election campaign.


Number of new British citizens under Labour Party rule hits 1.2m mark

A record number of foreigners became British citizens last year, bringing the total since Labour came to power to almost 1.2 million, according to figures published yesterday. Three quarters of those getting a British passport came from Asia and Africa with the main nationalities being Indian, Philippine, Afghan, South African and Pakistani. The figure is 7 per cent up on the previous year and was the highest number ever granted in any year.

A series of reports released in Whitehall showed that 164,635 foreigners became British citizens last year, which followed a slump in numbers in 2006. The increase in the number of immigrants obtaining citizenship comes despite a drive by the Government to make it more difficult for people to become British. In 2005 a Britishness test was introduced that makes foreigners take a multiple-choice test before being granted citizenship.

The Home Office said that reasons for the increase in 2007 were not clear but suggested that speedier decision making had reduced the backlog of applicants. More than 2,300 applicants were refused a passport because they had insufficient knowledge of English or failed the test on life in Britain.

Damien Green, the Tory immigration spokesman, said: "These figures are extraordinary. Given the Government's proven record at granting passports to people like Muktar Ibrahim Said - ringleader of the July 21 plot - the public will be alarmed that passports are being handed out at such a rate. Given the Government's ineptitude, how can they guarantee they are being granted to suitable people? This shows why it is essential our border controls are tightened."

Nationalities with the largest number of citizens were Indian with 14,490, Philippine 10,840, South African 8,150, Afghan 10,555 and Pakistani 8,140.

While record numbers of people took citizenship, separate figures showed that the number of people who left the country in 2006 hit a record of 400,000. More than half were British citizens, of whom almost one third went to live in Australia and New Zealand, a quarter to Spain or France and about one in twelve to the US.

An estimated 591,000 people came to Britain, resulting in net immigration in 2006 running at 191,000. Net immigration of New Commonwealth citizens was 115,000 and was the highest of all foreign citizenship groups coming to the country. Citizens from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka made up 80 per cent of net migrants. By comparison net immigration from the Old Commonwealth - Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa - fell to 20,000 and from other countries dropped to 81,000.

London was the most common destination for immigrants with almost 30 per cent saying that the capital was where they intended to stay. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) admitted: "However, immigration has become increasingly dispersed across the UK compared with previous years."

Two other sets of figures produced by the ONS highlighted the changes caused by the scale of immigration since Labour came to power. Figures for people coming to the country for less than a year have been dramatically revised upwards by 23 per cent for 2003-04 and by 22 per cent in 2004-05. An estimated 1.1 million short-term migrants came to Britain in 2004 and 1.2 million in 2005. This means that estimated immigration including both short and long-term migration was almost 1.5 million in 2004 and 1,750,00 in 2005.

The ONS also produced figures showing that 12.5 per cent of total employment is made up of non-British-born workers. The figures showed that in the first three months of 1997 the workforce comprised 24.3 million UK-born people and 1.9 million non-UK-born compared with the same period this year of 25.8 million and 3.7 million respectively.


Britain: Fewer failed asylum-seekers sent home

Asylum applications rose in the first three months of the year and the number of failed applicants removed from the country fell, government figures published yesterday show. Britain received the largest number of asylum applications in Europe during the same period. Applications increased by 16 per cent to 6,595 in the first quarter of the year, compared with 5,680 in the same period last year. The number of failed applicants removed from the country fell by 13 per cent. The number of applications in the whole of 2007-08 was higher than for the previous year and the number of removals was lower.

The figures are a blow to the Government and indicate that the drive to remove foreign prisoners who have served their sentence has been at the expense of removing failed asylum applicants. Liam Byrne, the Immigration Minister, said that an overhaul of border security was producing results with "asylum applications falling again". He was referring to a 1 per cent fall in the first quarter of this year compared with the final quarter of last year. When compared with the same quarter of last year, there is a 16 per cent rise.

Damian Green, the Tory immigration spokesman, said: "This undermines the Government's pledge to remove more failed asylum-seekers than arrive, let alone to make inroads into the massive backlog." A separate set of figures showed that the number of migrants from eight Eastern European states was slowing down.


British teenager faces prosecution for calling Scientology 'cult'

We read:
"A teenager is facing prosecution for using the word "cult" to describe the Church of Scientology. The unnamed 15-year-old was served the summons by City of London police when he took part in a peaceful demonstration opposite the London headquarters of the controversial religion. Officers confiscated a placard with the word "cult" on it from the youth, who is under 18, and a case file has been sent to the Crown Prosecution Service.

The decision to issue the summons has angered human rights activists and support groups for the victims of cults. The incident happened during a protest against the Church of Scientology on May 10. Demonstrators from the anti-Scientology group, Anonymous, who were outside the church's œ23m headquarters near St Paul's cathedral, were banned by police from describing Scientology as a cult by police because it was "abusive and insulting".

Writing on an anti-Scientology website, the teenager facing court said: "I brought a sign to the May 10th protest that said: 'Scientology is not a religion, it is a dangerous cult.' "'Within five minutes of arriving I was told by a member of the police that I was not allowed to use that word, and that the final decision would be made by the inspector." A policewoman later read him section five of the Public Order Act and "strongly advised" him to remove the sign. The section prohibits signs which have representations or words which are threatening, abusive or insulting.

The teenager refused to back down, quoting a 1984 high court ruling from Mr Justice Latey, in which he described the Church of Scientology as a "cult" which was "corrupt, sinister and dangerous". After the exchange, a policewoman handed him a court summons and removed his sign....

Liberty director, Shami Chakrabarti, said: "This barmy prosecution makes a mockery of Britain's free speech traditions. "After criminalising the use of the word 'cult', perhaps the next step is to ban the words 'war' and 'tax' from peaceful demonstrations?"

Ian Haworth, from the Cult Information Centre which provides advice for victims of cults and their families, said: "This is an extraordinary situation. If it wasn't so serious it would be farcical. The police's job is to protect and serve. Who is being served and who is being protected in this situation? I find it very worrying.

The City of London police came under fire two years ago when it emerged that more than 20 officers, ranging from constable to chief superintendent, had accepted gifts worth thousands of pounds from the Church of Scientology. The City of London Chief Superintendent, Kevin Hurley, praised Scientology for "raising the spiritual wealth of society" during the opening of its headquarters in 2006.


British student union rejects academic's IQ claims

The response from the Left has been a little more muted this time. No attempt to dispute the facts -- which have been well publicised at least since the work of Jensen in 1969, not to mention the big monograph by Herrnstein & Murray

Elite universities are failing to recruit working-class students because IQ is, on average, determined by social class, according to an academic. Bruce Charlton, a reader in evolutionary psychiatry at Newcastle University, claims that the greater proportion of students from higher social classes at highly selective universities is not a sign of admissions prejudice but rather the result of simple meritocracy.

Student union leaders responded angrily to his claim, which was also dismissed by a minister. Charlton's paper, reported today in Times Higher Education, says: "The UK government has spent a great deal of time and effort in asserting that universities, especially Oxford and Cambridge, are unfairly excluding people from low social-class backgrounds and privileging those from higher social classes. "Evidence to support the allegation of systematic unfairness has never been presented. Nevertheless, the accusation has been used to fuel a populist 'class war' agenda. Yet in all this debate a simple and vital fact has been missed: higher social classes have a significantly higher average IQ than lower social classes."

He argues: "The highly unequal class distributions seen in elite universities compared with the general population are unlikely to be due to prejudice or corruption in the admissions process. On the contrary, the observed pattern is a natural outcome of meritocracy. Indeed, anything other than very unequal outcomes would need to be a consequence of non-merit-based selection methods."

The National Union of Students described the paper as "wrong-headed, irresponsible and insulting". Gemma Tumelty, NUS president, said: "Of course, social inequality shapes people's lives long before they leave school, but the higher education sector cannot be absolved of its responsibility to ensure that students from all social backgrounds are given the opportunity to fulfil their potential ... many talented individuals from poor backgrounds are currently not given the same opportunities as those from more privileged backgrounds. This problem will not be addressed as long as academics such as Bruce Charlton are content to accept the status quo and do nothing to challenge the inherent class bias in education."

Sally Hunt, of the University and College Union for acedemic staff, said: "It should come as little surprise that people who enjoy a more privileged upbringing have a better start in life. However, research has shown that students from state schools outperform their independent contemporaries when they reach university." Bill Rammell, the higher education minister, told the Times Higher Education that Charlton's arguments had a definite tone of "people should know their place".

Source. Another comment here

Belmont Club has a look at the unending revisionist argument that WWII was a mistake and that the USA and the UK should have stayed out of it. The argument is now a very old one and one that I have been involved with for many years but I think in the end that Churchill was right. I am quite firm that the USA and the UK should have stayed out of WWI, though. That was the big mistake that gave us both Stalin and Hitler. Neither the UK nor the USA had any quarrel with the Kaiser's Germany. It was all done to rescue the ungrateful French!

The new Tory mayor of London is a Latinist! How marvellous!: "The best question time in town yesterday was not at the House of Commons but at City Hall. There, the most powerful Tory in the land, Boris Johnson, was facing his first grilling or, as he put it to London Assembly members: "I now submit to your catechism." Catechism? This caused a few titters, not least as most of us thought it was something to do with religion. But now, driven to the dictionary, I find a second meaning: "Rigorous and persistent questioning." Hmmm... And now for the Latin bit. Boris was being hammered by some Labour members about not following the correct process for appointments to his financial audit board. "Non tali auxilio nec defensoribus!" cried Mr Mayor (an incomplete quote from the Aeneid, which means something like, as Hecuba would confirm, "this is ridiculous".) "Speak English!" the member shouted back. Mr Mayor didn't like that. After all, no one ever said that to Virgil."

Disgraceful British police action reversed: "A former jihadist recruiter who now seeks to deradicalise young Muslims was released without charge yesterday after being held for 12 days under the Terrorism Act. Hassan Butt, 28, who has been offered Home Office funding to support his work, was arrested by officers from Greater Manchester Police (GMP) on May 9 as he prepared to board a flight to Pakistan. His release came as lawyers for the police appeared at the High Court to defend an attempt to force journalists to hand over materials relating to Mr Butt." [See previous post of 20th]

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