Friday, 21 May 2010

Zadie Smith for Home Secretary

During the recent election, a lot of ideologues were blurting out a lot of shouty nonsense about "multiculturalism" - both for and against. The volume of propagandistic waffle coming out of the radio was so loud that I eventually had to turn it off to prevent a torrent of verbal candy floss being forced into my ears and pushing useful stuff out of my brain.

I was, therefore, charmed to hear Zadie Smith being interviewed on the "Today" programme this morning - her thoughts on the subject were refreshingly calm, brief and sane. Multiculturalism, she said, wasn't something she was either for or against. People travel the world and settle in different places, as they always have done. Being "for" or "against" multiculturalism is as irrelevant as being "for" for or "against" having arms. It's the way things are. It's just a fact of life.

In a better world, there would be somebody like Zadie Smith in the Home Office, being listened to with attention.

In the world we've got, there's generally a cretinous tug of war. On one side, we've got power-hungry politicians reducing groups of people to sub-human blocks of homogeneous constituents whose collective votes can be delivered by cutting deals with self-appointed "community leaders" who nobody ever voted for, but whose thin-skinned prejudices we're all commanded to "respect".

Heaving away on the other end of the rope, we have other power-hungry politicians and newspaper proprietors not-very-discreetly courting a block of angry blockheads who want to exterminate "political correctness*" and reclaim the freedom to be spiteful to people for the atrocious crime of being different, so we can return to a lost golden age, full of queer-bashing, racial purity and those creepy golliwogs that people used to collect with jam jar tokens.

Putting all that nonsense to one side, I think the basic principles governing people living together in a fair and decent society are, as the US Declaration of Independence puts it, self-evident. In terms of rights, all people - regardless of race, gender, disability, sexuality, background, religion, lack of religion or any other distinction you choose to make - are equal. What those rights are is slightly more complicated, although life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness will do for starters.

Where those rights end is also a little more complex, although the Golden Rule is a good place to start - your right to do as you damn well please ends when what you damn well please involves trampling all over somebody else's freedom (extremist libertarians, please note).

The only other major constraint is that some individuals don't have the capacity to exercise the full range of adult rights. For example, the law takes a dim view of eight year old kids knocking back bottles of alcopop and having sex. I heartily agree with this constraint on freedom - of course kids are not mentally, physically or emotionally ready for some of the freedoms that are an adult's right.

Treating children like adults and adults as children is simply a category error, but one that happens all too often. The last Labour administration was certainly guilty of that one - I'm just hoping that in opposition, they'll decide that prosperity, freedom and social justice are the things worth getting back into power to deliver, rather than dicking around with a stupidly intrusive, all-seeing ID-checking, DNA-retaining, mummy-knows best database state. We're free adults, not children. Children are those little people who are not yet quite mature enough to drink alcohol, have sex, or sit on panels interviewing teachers:

A teacher failed to get a job after being labelled as Humpty Dumpty by a pupil allowed to sit on his interview panel.

It almost sounds like a late April Fool joke.

But teachers union NASUWT says that Student Voice, a government scheme to allow students a greater say in their education, has led to pupils abusing their powers to humiliate teachers....

NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates (correct) said that the scheme had resulted in many teachers being demeaned and embarrassed.

She cited examples from a 200-case dossier compiled by the union including how one teacher was told to sing their favourite song while another was asked by students on an interview panel how they would impress the judges of Britain’s Got Talent.

With ideas like that corker (presumably from the late-unlamented "Department for Children, Schools and Families" AKA "Department of Curtains and Soft Furnishings" - h/t Meridian), undermining state school teachers before they even set foot in the classroom, it's no wonder that pupils from micro-managed and mis-manged state schools are hitting a glass ceiling. A glass ceiling that's no barrier to the unstoppable rise of loftier beings like the mighty Eton/Westminster-educated Cleggeron, currently straddling our body politic like a two-headed, silver-spoon-sucking colossus with balls of purest gold.

Well, we haven't got Zadie Smith in the Home Office, but it could be worse - at least they didn't shove another public-school-educated hooray Henry in there, but Theresa May, who attended a reassuringly normal-sounding school (then called Holton Park Girls' Grammar, currently Wheatley Park Comprehensive).

Theresa May (who's also Minister for Women and Equality) has a mixed voting record - she's previously voted (moderately, according to They Vote for You), against ID cards, for a stricter asylum system, against equal gay rights and against Labour's anti-terrorism laws. Time will tell how she does in her new posts, but I just hope that she had Radio 4 on this morning and paid attention to the relevant minute or so of what Zadie Smith was saying. It's a long shot, but if she heard and inwardly digested the crucial words one of our rulers might - just might - realise that multiculturalism is just a description of the way the world is, not a machine politician's mechanism for delivering block votes or a scapegoat to placate the seething discontent of furious racist half-wits.

*otherwise known as basic good manners


Meridian said...

No, no; the Golden Rule is: "He who has the gold makes the rules".