Imperial irony

Interesting comment from CRE head Trevor Phillips in Cardiff today.

"I think it may be rather easier for people to be Asian and Welsh or Black and Welsh than Asian and English or Black and English," he said.

"The Welsh have always identified with two things, with being a minority and not being English."

The fact that studies show that Black and Asian people are more likely to regard themselves as British rather than English/Scottish/Welsh has recently been regarded as one of the stongest arguments in favour of British identity.

Phillips himself has long been a staunch supporter of New Labour’s vision of Britain, calling last year for ethnic minorities to assert a core of Britishness.

This drew some interesting responses that perhaps show that the relationship of ethnic minorities to British identity is not a straightforward as the polls suggest:

Robina Qureshi, director of a Glasgow-based anti-racism pressure group, said she was “disgusted” by Phillips’s comments and questioned what “Britishness” meant to Scots, Irish and Welsh as well as Asians.

Gordon Brown’s recent statements on the British Empire drew a similarly strong response from Labour peer Bhiku Parekh.

"For Gordon Brown to say we have nothing to apologise for, that’s too rosy, one-sided a view of empire which is false and rather insulting to people who are its victims because these people who felt pain and tragedy are brushed aside. In the case of Mau Mau, for example, we set up concentration camps, people were tortured."

Phillips’ latest remarks in Cardiff chime remarkably well with the imperatives of New Labour’s devolution non-settlement. A Welsh or Scottish civic identity is conceivable because those nations have been conceded civic institutions. New Labour is not prepared to consider real devolution for England and so English identity must remain suspect, racialised, and subordinated to Britishness.

The apogee of this tendency was Jack Straw’s statement that the English are "potentially very aggressive, very violent."

In reality, imperialism is an institution produced by definite historical circumstances, not some metaphysical defect of national character.

The irony is that in order to preserve the remnants of the British Empire in the form of the UK state, the establishment is prepared to stigmatise the broad mass of the English people as congenital imperialists.

It is a remarkably cynical exercise.



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4 responses to “Imperial irony”

  1. irry avatar

    I have just looked at the item and it doesn’t supply enough meaningful information. It wouldn’t be the first time that the ONS has got it’s figures seriously wrong. Where I think the ONS screwed up is in the interpretation of what being “British” means.
    Second generation ethnic minorities usually mean ‘Britishness’ in a sense other to that of the white majority population. It is more of a political statement saying “I have equal right to anyone else to British Citizenship”.
    Consequently I suspect Phillips is more accurate than you think. For example, apart from those of an Ulster Loyalist slant in Glasgow, most non-English people in Scotland most people consider Britishness as something between Tories and paedophiles.

  2. Tom Griffin avatar

    I take your point Irry.
    I agree the ONS figures may not catch the full story around ethnic minority attitudes to Britishness, hence the Qureshi and Parekh quotes.
    What was interesting about Phillips comments in Cardiff was that rather than addressing the relationship between Welsh and British identity, he seemed to suggest that Welsh identity was more acceptable than English identity.
    This, of course, happens to coincide neatly with New Labour’s interests in relation to the current devolution settlement.
    In effect, you can emphasisise being Scottish, Welsh or British, but not being English.
    It may be true that ethnic minorities are more resistant to English identity. If so, that is something that English nationalists will need to address.
    However, I think the emergence of a civic English institutions would be far better for ethnic minorities than effectively driving Englishness underground.
    In that respect, dare I say it, I think David Blunkett’s political antennae may have caught the mood, although he seems no more willing than the rest of New Labour to addrsss the logical political consequences.

  3. tally avatar

    Philips is selective in who is racist in the UK.
    The Welsh Assembly is institutionally racist but he ignores it. Is there any black faces in the Welsh Assembly? No, and there is perhaps one English person elected only. Does the Welsh or Scottish Parliaments reflect multi- culturism ? NO. His statement that being black and Welsh
    is easier than being black and English is a racist statement in its self. He has nothing to offer the English except insults. Time he was gone.

  4. Trevor "sell out" Phillips avatar
    Trevor “sell out” Phillips

    Trevor Phillips would be called an UNCLE TOM by some people.

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