18 June 2020
View from the Cotswolds
The Heart of the Matter
By Paul Branch
Those who can look at an issue and instantly spot a solution or form a decision, no matter how complicated the subject matter, have my deepest admiration. Take abortion as an example. In this enlightened country of ours, the rights of the woman must obviously be respected regardless of the cause of the pregnancy or its likely outcome. In other countries and for many religions it is the rights of the unborn child that reign supreme. Each viewpoint has its sincerely fervent supporters who go to many and varied lengths, sometimes aggressively, to get their point decisively across. No ifs, no buts – they are completely in the right, the others totally wrong.
I just look on in wonder, sometimes ashamed of my inability to take a firm stand on one side or the other. All I can see are ifs and buts … on the one hand but then again on the other …yes of course you have a good point but what about in this or that particular circumstance … and so on and so interminably forth. Not much Wisdom of Solomon there I’m afraid.
So it has been with this week’s barney about historical statues of white men who held unacceptable views and did some very disgusting things. And again I dither about what the answer should be: drown the statues, or append an updated explanatory plaque, or stick them in a museum with an updated explanatory plaque?
The opposing groups on public show give me no help, as of course for them the issue is very much black or white (no pun intended, really). I notice that the BLM group themselves seem to be less than united on what to do with the artefacts: some want them kept as a reminder of this country’s real history, others can’t abide the sight of them but also reasonably enough want our history curriculum changed to reflect what we should be teaching our children.
The other, more extreme group shall we say, with the benefit of erudite reflection and 16 pints of lager the night before, conclude en masse that they will willingly fight anyone who tries to lay a finger on these sacred monuments, and will if sufficiently moved to do so pick a fight to prove it, even with the police.
My sympathies of course lie with the BLMists, who are at least well-intentioned and pleasingly multi-coloured. The least said about the monochromatic white yobs the better, and who better to warn them sternly as to their future behaviour than our Prime Minister (at his most Churchillian) and our Home Secretary, bravely threatening at a secure social distance to bring down upon them the Full Force of the Law in defence of public order. And of course even-handedly threatening FFL on the BLM group if any more beloved statues get defaced (especially Churchill’s). There is I understand another group, perhaps part of the BLM movement, keen to de-fund our police forces and give money instead to other organisations as a way of removing any systemic racism in that part of our society, and I wonder how well that’s been thought through. Such actions may work well in parts of the USA whose Justice and Law systems are structured somewhat differently to ours, but if that were to happen here, who would be keeping the lager-fuelled yobs at bay?
So, Priti gets all defensive in the Commons when asked perfectly reasonably what she and her colleagues in government intend to do about our current problem of racism which everyone agrees has gone on now for far too long. Mrs Patel’s riposte citing her own bad experiences as a child and in young adulthood made for uncomfortable listening, but she managd to miss the main point entirely. Brave Boris has promised yet another wide-ranging Commission of Inquiry into our culture of endemic racism (presumably recent similar exercises regarding the Grenfell catastrophe and Windrush disgrace need additional amplification), with no detail as to purpose, composition or duration, but sandwiched between incessant twitterings about the sacred statues. Between them then, two of our more senior ministers of state chose to focus on statues, rather than gratefully accepting a heaven-sent opportunity to seize the day (or Carpe diem as Boris and Jacob might better understand) and capture the global sense of abhorrence to address in a meaningful way the root cause of our racist culture.
Boris is very good at speaking in parables when he thinks it looks good to emulate Mr Average Man In the Street: on dealing with Covid-19 it’s “whack-a-mole” time, when urging the EU to get on with completing our tortuous Brexit trade agreement it’s time to “put a tiger in the tank” … so that’s what you get from an enormously expensive education.
As a country we seem to be unbelievably prone to heaping social injustice on anyone who doesn’t fit our white “British” template, assuming that there really is such a thing which accommodates our diverse character, culture and history. There are many social groups who suffer today: those in poverty, those with severe medical or social needs, different religions and races, those subject to gender bias, and of course it would be naïve to try to address them all in one fell swoop – we just don’t have the capacity right now, although we do need to find it pretty soon. But well done indeed to young Marcus Rashford on getting the government to execute yet another staggering U-turn and agree to free school meals throughout the summer.
On racism however we have shedloads of experience and recommendations from the many previous inquiries, all languishing in dark filing cabinets or in someone’s “Too Difficult” in-box. The least Boris could do, right now, is revisit them quickly and start actually implementing them. He has an army of civil servants to help do this (they can’t all be working on viral issues or trade agreements, surely) and at last we might see some proper leadership and progress instead of the wearying bluster, obfuscation and testiculation.
Getting to the real heart of this matter might well spark a sense of unity in our fractured society, as well as demonstrating that this government does indeed have a heart and actually cares about the job it’s been elected and paid to do. It might also help the cynics among us stop wondering why oh why such people chose to enter politics in the first place.