Monday, 19 April 2010

Sorry ... what?

According to popular consensus, Nick Clegg won the leader's debate. This came as no surprise. Labour's hold on power over the past thirteen years has disillusioned many on the left. The Tories can't disguise the fact that they're still the same vicious, anti-working class party that spawned Thatcher. And the fact that the Lib Dems are more of the same has hardly spread like wildfire.

Also unsurprising was that Clegg's "victory" led to a concerted attack from the other two parties and the right-wing press. The fact that the Daily Mail managed to drag an entire article out of the fact that Clegg fell asleep when his wife went into kabour was particularly amusing. As was the fact that they invoked class, of all things, in another piece of contrived nonsense on the same day. But gutter politics and sheer hypocrisy are exactly what you expect from that paper.

So is racism.

But what did take me aback was the fact that the Mail chose Clegg as a vehicle to promote a race-based theory of who is British that would make fascists like the BNP proud. Whilst attacking Clegg for being posh, which is of course unacceptable if Cameron is the victim, the paper offered this gem;
Despite his Anglo-Saxon name, Nick Clegg is by blood the least British leader of a British political party, the son of a Dutch mother and a half-Russian merchant banker father.
But they weren't done there. They follow this up a day later with "Revealed: The United Nations that make up Nick Clegg." In the print edition, strangely not on offer for the online version, is this question;
His wife is Spanish, his mother Dutch, his father half-Russian and his spin doctor German. Is there ANYTHING British about LibDem leader?
I'll let Sunder Katwala of Next Left respond to this;
Last year, the Daily Mail apologised for their mistake and published my letter, by way of correction, when I challenged their news report criticising the official classification of the British-born children and grandchildren of immigrants as British in immigration statistics.
Today's Mail on Sunday news report suggests some vague sense that English ethnic origins and being British are different things, in reporting Clegg's sensible response to a silly question.
When it was pointed out that he was only a quarter English, he said: ‘Well, biologically...yeah. But I was born here, brought up here, went to school here, and I feel very proud to be British. I have been very fortunate to have different bits to my identity. That’s enriched me.’
Yet Paul Dacre's newspapers have now raised the bar signficantly with today's new Britishness test, in which you are less British if you:
  • were born to parents who were born abroad;
  • marry somebody from abroad;
  • work abroad
  • work with anybody from abroad;
Never mind being born abroad yourself. It may be some small sign of progress that I can not imagine the Mail explicitly applying this British "by blood" theory to individual black, Asian or mixed race politicians, like Sayeeda Warsi, Shaun Bailey or Sadiq Khan, to challenge their citizenship or patriotism - though they would all fail it. The fact remains that, among over 4 million non-white British citizens, barely a single one of us could hope to pass the Britishness test which the Mail applies to Mr Clegg, though we are far from alone in that.
He hammers the point home by using the above criteria to question the "Britishness" of everyone from Winston Churchill to Oliver Cromwell.

Frankly, this is overkill. The Mail is a hotbed of vitriolic racism, snobbery, and hypocrisy, and everybody knows that. Whilst they're not openly proclaiming "Hurrah for the Blackshirts" today, they will use slightly more subtle methods to spread much the same message as they did then.

But most people know this, and most people are sensible enough to realise that who you are "by blood" is irrelevant. The only sane response to these articles is "who cares?" But it must be a collective response, because as long as there are people paying attention to this bullshit, there are people utterly distracted from things that actually matter.

I suspect that, rather than smearing a political leader, is the point.