FLC048, William Hague and the Race Relations Industry: A Few Words of Pity, 30th April 2001

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Free Life Commentary,
an independent journal of comment
published on the Internet
Issue Number 48
30th April 2001

William Hague and the Race Relations Industry:
A Few Words of Pity
Sean Gabb

For the first time in three years, I feel sorry for William Hague. Immediately before a general election, he has suffered a direct hit by the pro-Labour Commission for Racial Equality. Earlier this month, it sent him a declaration to sign—some long promise not to say anything in the campaign about race or immigration or asylum, or about any other associated issue. It seems that Mr Hague did not read this declaration at all closely, but just signed it and sent it back. Doubtless, he thought he was signing on behalf of his entire party and to a set of uncontroversial sentiments. The Commission, however - in a move that I firmly believe was imitated from my own Candidlist project—tendered its declaration to every Conservative Member of Parliament, and published the names of those refusing to sign on its website. Of course, many did refuse to sign, and Mr Hague's various personal and political enemies have been able to cry this up —in addition to the row about John Townend—as evidence of a party split, or of Conservative "racism", or simply of his own unfitness to lead a major political party.

In retrospect, Mr Hague should have seen this ambush and walked away from it. He might even have turned it to his own advantage. He could have issued a statement denouncing the Commission. After all, it is a state-funded body, and is supposed as such not to take sides in electoral politics. It is also stuffed with Labour supporters, which raises a fair presumption that any taking of sides will not be according to any objective criterion. Moreover, it is plainly wrong for anyone to demand that one of the main parties should promise not to discuss any issue that might be of public interest. (I will add here that the difference between this and the Candidlist project is that I am trying not to suppress discussion, but to encourage it.) This done, Mr Hague could have exposed the New Labour Establishment as the sanctimonious pack of race-obsessed bigots that it is. Sadly, he did none of this, and has let all discussion of the Conservative Party this month be about its views on race—real or alleged—to the exclusion of other issues.

Had this happened last month, I might have exploded with contempt for Mr Hague and written another savage attack on his inability to campaign his way out a brown paper bag. But this month, my dear readers, I come before you a chastened observer of politics—only temporarily chastened, I suspect, but at the moment most certainly chastened. Let me explain.

A month ago, I extended the Candidlist project to include a "Roll of Shame"—that is, a list of companies that support British entry into the Euro. I put together a preliminary list and uploaded it with an introduction encouraging patriots to boycott the products of these companies and write to the directors to express their disgust and anger. At first, I decided to give only the corporate addresses of directors. Then, however, I reflected that letters sent to a corporate address might come to nothing once they the hit the palisade of personal assistants and public affairs advisers with whom business leaders nowadays surround themselves. So I decided to give personal addresses. This is not illegal—indeed, annual reports must by law give the home addresses of directors. Even so, it was a bad idea. A contact at The Times suggested I should rethink the decision around the end of last March. Brian Micklethwait was insistent that I should rethink it, and asked me what reply I could give if some director woke up one morning to find his front lawn dug up and all his garden gnomes suggestively vandelised.

This was an unanswerable argument. I immediately changed my intention back to giving only corporate addresses. As I had not posted any home addresses—as I had not made the slightest effort to find any—and as I assumed that no one hostile to the Candidlist project had been paying any attention to me, I changed the explanatory material on the Candidlist website and neglected to put out an explicit notice of my changed intention.

That was a very stupid assumption. Several weeks later, I found that Attention had been paid. I was got out of bed on Easter Monday by the BBC asking for a comment on a damning article in The Daily Telegraph. This had got hold of my unwithdrawn promise and linked it with some Government condemnation of animal rights activism. It had then telephoned the Institute of Directors and a Labour Member of Parliament to source some juicy quotes about "threats" and "intimidation".

The article was unfair, so far as it did not report but rather fabricate a story. Its true cause was not that I had promised to list the home addresses of directors, but that I had made a laughing stock of Boris Johnson, who edits The Spectator, a sister publication of The Daily Telegraph . I had called his bluff as a Eurosceptic, by tendering the Candidlist questions. When he refused to give straight answers to them, I downgraded him from a sceptic to a don't know. This led to what he must have found a very hurtful gloat in The Times and perhaps a still more hurtful sneer in Private Eye. It may also have encouraged the UK Independence Party to make life difficult for him in the constituency where he is standing as a Conservative. I think it entirely reasonable to suppose that the Telegraph article was motivated by personal rancour.

I cannot complain about that article. On the one hand, it did not have the intended result. It would once have been sufficient to damage if not ruin my reputation—and the fact that the Telegraph published three denigratory items on me that week and had steadfastly refused to publish any letter from me is full proof for me of that intention. In the age of the Internet, however, the publicity simply drove thousands of the curious to the Candidlist web site, from whom I received a couple of financial donations. On the other hand, though unfair, the article had only taken advantage of my own carelessness. Since it brought me less harm than benefit, I should be grateful for the lesson I had from it. The lesson is that anyone who gets involved in politics, as opposed simply to writing about politics, makes enemies who will look for and ruthlessly use any advantage in debate.

This is why I feel sorry for Mr Hague. I know that he has been in real politics at least 25 years longer than I have, and that he is surrounded by people whose sole employment is to predict and where possible manipulate media coverage of his actions. But anyone can make a mistake. Like me with my assumption that no one would notice my vacillation over those addresses, I can easily imagine that he thought nothing would come of that declaration and that he signed it and gave it not a second thought.

I do much condemn his general behaviour as Leader of the Conservative Party. Some observers excuse him on the grounds that Labour in government has been too competent or too lucky to give him proper grounds for opposition. In fact, Labour has been both incompetent and unlucky in its policies. Its foreign policy has involved it in wars of military aggression and atrocities against civilian populations that may amount to genocide. In domestic policy, it has continued the drift to a police state that has alienated much of its traditional support. Its European policy has been a mass of federalist surrenders ill-concealed by lies. Faced with this, any other Conservative leader would by now have Labour somewhere between level and seriously trailing in the opinion polls. That Labour is at least 20 points ahead is entirely due to Mr Hague's failure to do what he was elected to do. This being said, the present mistake is one that could have been made by anyone, and I do not blame him for it as much as I do for everything else he has done and failed to do.

I could end here, but I will continue with a brief discussion of the anti-racist witch-hunt we are now living through. As a libertarian, I have a settled preference for seeing people as individuals and not as interchangeable units of some ethnic group - often an arbitrarily defined ethnic group. I would like to live in a world where freedom was the valued possession of all mankind, and where goods, money, ideas and people could move about unconstrained by governments and therefore unconstrained by political borders. If this is anti-racism, I am an anti-racist.

But this is not "anti-racism", and I do expect that one day I shall be smeared as a racist. As currently defined, racism is not a belief about intellectual or moral differences grounded in biological difference, or advocacy of legal discrimination grounded in these differences. It is instead an excuse for imposing a set of thought and speech codes that make it dangerous to express virtually all conservative and many libertarian points of view. Do you oppose membership of the European Union? You are a "xenophobe". Do you believe in freedom of speech and contract, and oppose the race laws because they abridge this freedom? You are a "sophisticated racist". Do you take pride in the history of this country? You are defending slavery and imperialism? Do you talk about the ancestral rights of Englishmen? You are "excluding" those whose origins lie outside these islands. Do you believe in the Monarchy? Because of what Her Majesty is, you are a white, Anglo-Saxon protestant supremacist. Do you ever talk about "us" as a nation? You are guilty of all the above, and possibly much else beside. With very little effort, this approach can be used to delegitimise any opposition to the New World Order police state being constructed around us.

Moreover, the evidential rule appears to be that any accusation can be made, no matter how malevolent or frivolous, at no danger to the accuser, and the whole burden of proof falls on the accused; and even a complete acquittal under these rules may not be enough to save the reputation of the accused. And this being the approach accepted by nine tenths of media, and not seriously disputed by the other tenth, it places everyone on the political "right" under suspended execution of judgment.

The witch-hunt will eventually pass—these things never continue at full strength more than a generation. But it may cause irreversible damage to the still generally free spirit of our laws. And it will produce the breakdown of harmonious race relations that its alleged intention is to prevent. I predict a time when racial prejudice will be as fashionable and its punishments as artfully evaded as irreligion was in 18th century France. Looking further ahead, I see a terrible collapse of order in which the victims will be everyone except the leaders of the smugly corrupt race relations industry who are now working so hard to produce it. 

In short, no good can come of what is being done, and many now joining in the laughter at William Hague's discomfiture may live to regret there was ever a Commission for Racial Equality.

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