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Identity politics… March 15, 2017

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

I really like this post from Phil at Workers’ Playtime in response to an article in the FT on the white ‘majority’ in the UK by a name not unfamiliar to some of us. Not least this…

Why don’t we (liberals) recognise the rights of the majority, or (more broadly) attend to the safeguarding of the majority’s traditions and ways of life? It’s actually not a hard question; the answer is “because it’s the majority and doesn’t need it”. Whatever you may have heard about unaccountable elites, we’re not in Norman England – the ruling class comes from the majority group, speaks its language and shares its culture (give or take). A maj-ority and a min-ority are not just two different kinds of ority, they have fundamentally different positions, needs, vulnerabilities – a superior and more powerful position in the case of the majority, and fewer needs and vulnerabilities.

But it’s depressing how the need to say this stuff is now a characteristic of the contemporary era. And isn’t it even more depressing that David Goodhart, whose words inspired the piece by Phil has – it would seem – no clear understanding of these matters?

And Phil writes about something that struck me too, something that is – at the least – evasionary in that original piece:

(You may be surprised to hear that Whites are an ethnic minority in “several UK cities” – and so you should be. Part of the trick is using the phrase “White British”; the White British population is defined considerably more tightly than the non-Hispanic White population of the US, as it excludes people of Eastern European and Irish origin, among others. The other part of the trick is a creative interpretation of the words “several” and “cities”. Although the statement in question is backed with a link to a blog post, the post only lists one city (Leicester), two towns (Luton and Slough) and five London boroughs in which White British people account for less than half of the population. In Leicester, Luton and Slough the White British population accounts for 45%, 45% and 35% of the total respectively – a minority, although by far the largest single population group in all three cases. (It would also be true to say that the Conservatives received a minority of votes cast in 2015, and that more than half of the MPs elected received a minority of votes cast in their constituency.) In short, it would be true to say that White British people are a minority in a handful of UK towns, although it would be grossly misleading. Saying that they’re a minority in “several UK cities” is straightforwardly false.)

It reminds of the sad bitter days on Politics.ie where one contributor, actually more than one, would complain about the lack of non-white faces around the GPO of an afternoon. I never quite understood this because being a regular enough passer-by there that was not a phenomenon I had noticed, but more to the point was not one that seemed of any particular interest or importance.

There was a time when Goodhart had some interesting things to say about multiculturalism and so on. But I long ago felt that he had slipped into a comfortable monomania on the subject and one that was leading him – in all his middle class centre-left respectability, whether he knew it or not, in rather problematic directions.

And really when Goodhart is using terms like ‘grievances’ (and in an earlier sentence ‘threat’) in the following:

The liberal reflex to tar legitimate majority grievances with the brush of racism risks deepening western societies’ cultural divides.

…well, one knows one is in trouble. For his whole article is predicated on the discomfort of those who happen to live in an area where there might be more of one group than another (no reflection on the reverse aspects of this and how that has impacted on lives over the years in less enlightened times in regard to policing or social services or so on). And no need to say which group’s discomfort is reified.

Of course not for Goodhart such issues as class – so passé. But because of that like all those who make this and similar arguments he falls straight into the trap of that which he seeks to criticise – indeed here explicitly so, by ultimately basing his arguments in – yes – identity politics and of the most unvarnished kind. Citizenship, equality under the law, pshaw, the new way is, it would appear, the old way.


1. You’ve got ventriloquists « Workers’ Playtime - March 16, 2017

[…] Jukes and Jonathan Portes, as well as being mentioned favourably on Stumbling and Mumbling and the Cedar Lounge. (Not a peep out of Wren-Lewis, though. Maybe another time.) I didn’t link to the column I […]


2. ivorthorne - March 16, 2017

“You may be surprised to hear that Whites are an ethnic minority in “several UK cities” – and so you should be. Part of the trick is using the phrase “White British”; the White British population is defined considerably more tightly than the non-Hispanic White population of the US, as it excludes people of Eastern European and Irish origin, among others”

This is an interesting point. But I think that in many respects the worried members of the white British middle classes would take little comfort from the fact that there is a significant number of Polish or Romanian people living close to them. Including “White Irish” with “White British” is less problematic but are there really many places within the UK where that would tilt the balance one way or another?

The anxiety around “foreigners” and people from different backgrounds is irrational but understandable. If you look at somewhere like Harrow in London, it’s 31% White British, 3% White Irish, 26.5% of Indian origin and about 64% BME overall. But within the borough, the breakdown in electoral wards can be quite different with some having white majorities and others may have non-white majorities or particular minority groups having majorities in some wards.


I guess for older white British people who would have grown up in less diverse times, it is a strange experience wandering 1km down the road to the park you went to as a kid to find that it’s busy and there are no white people there. Part of the problem is that there are limited opportunities for people to integrate. Kids go to school and will always end up interacting to a decent extent but many industries are not very diverse, different religions mean that they don’t interact in churches etc. and sometimes even interests in sports differ. It doesn’t help when every time you go to the shop you encounter a Daily Mail headline telling you how Immigrants are stealing your jobs, healthcare, children and the change that fell down the back of your couch.


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