Not racist to discuss immigration

Nigel Hastilow’s article in fullNigel Hastilow makes for a poor man’s Enoch Powell. The article that got the Conservative candidate sacked has many knowing references to Powell’s Rivers of Blood. But unlike Enoch he’ll be quickly forgotten.

Both claim to report the fears of a racist, but representative, constituent to peddle an ‘I’m not racist, but my people are’ line. Enoch Powell’s man believed that by the mid-1980s ‘the black man will have the whip hand over the white man’ and Enoch was ‘filled with foreboding; like the Roman, I seem to see “the River Tiber foaming with much blood.”’

Both are careful to avoid attributing racist views to themselves and make plays for reasonableness. Powell praises the work of ‘Commonwealth doctors who, to the advantage of their own countries, have enabled our hospital service to be expanded faster…’ while Hastilow claims ‘it’s right that we share the international burden of caring for genuine refugees’. In the language of the BNP, who also deny racism, they are ‘racial realists’ not bigots.

Yet the ploy fails, because in both cases their ultimate argument relies on the anonymous racist constituent being a speaker of truths. If Enoch Powell had believed his ‘middle-aged, quite ordinary working man employed in one of our nationalised industries’ was wrong, he would not have felt such foreboding. If Hastilow didn’t accept granny’s claim that all the council houses had gone to immigrants, he wouldn’t conclude that we ‘roll out the red carpet for foreigners while leaving the locals to fend for themselves’. If Hastilow didn’t believe the anonymous others, he wouldn’t agree that Enoch Powell was right.

Sadly immigration is something we should talk about, but racist interventions like this and silly attempts by this Labour government to make immigrants more British only make that more difficult.

While Trevor Phillips, chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, has praised Cameron’s approach, many prominent Conservatives still don’t know racism when they see it and so are unable to participate in reasoned debate.

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