Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: When will we be able to take it for granted that this is our country too?

'Labour falls face first into chicken tikka masala when it claims to be better than the Tories on asylum-seekers'
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The Independent Online

Very unusually for me, I have refused all radio and television interviews on race in the past few days. I feel exhausted and miserable at the thought of yet another round of arguments over race, racism, racists, racist politicians, the Commission for Racial Equality, and the endless fight over our presence on this soil which started even before the Windrush had landed in Tilbury in June 1948. By that time, 11 Labour politicians had already complained to Clement Attlee, expressing their disquiet that "an influx of coloured people domiciled here is likely to impair the harmony, strength and cohesion of our public life and cause discord and unhappiness among all concerned."

Since those days, we have been the playthings of politicians. We have had a chain of punitive immigration acts justified by ruthless politicians who incite antagonism towards certain groups in order to please those who are so paranoid that they would detain foreign-grown asparagus in Group 4-run prisons. But since the death of Stephen Lawrence, it has become unseemly to be too obviously prejudiced, and so politicians in the main parties have developed wondrous forked tongues.

They can make your eyes flood with beautiful words about beacons lighting up this colourful land; they know all about equality targets and policies. Many of the same people also rant intemperately about the cargo of vermin ­ devious and dirty asylum-seekers ­ who are creeping in and stealing our good lives. Take that smooth Michael Howard, whose speeches in temples and mosques I have on file. Nelson Mandela could not match the inspirational quality of some of these. Yet this same MP's constituency party last week ran an advert in a Folkestone newspaper exploiting local fears about asylum-seekers. Scotland Yard has just reported a direct connection between bigotry expressed in political speeches and racial attacks. Jack Straw, too, excels at this game.

I admire the tough and passionate Gurbux Singh, the new CRE chairman, but the CRE pledge only encouraged this duplicity. We need to know the parties for what they are, not for how good their PR is. And so, though it is very hard to live through these moments (when will we ever be able to take for granted that this is our country too?), I feel a perverse sense of satisfaction that all the gloss has exploded away to expose both main parties. The unintended consequences of the CRE sign-up have been brilliantly revealing.

Black and Asian Tories (fools and knaves who are despised and used by the leadership) may be wheeled in to confuse punters, but the only reason to vote for the Tories is that they are phobic about "coloured" immigrants and Europe. This is the party, after all, that gave us Peter Griffiths (slogan: "If you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Labour", 1964), Powell, Thatcher, Nick Budgen, Winston Churchill, Norman Tebbit, Alan Clark, John Townend, and the Monday Club. Their economic and law-and-order policies have been stolen by New Labour. Barely anyone trusts their shambolic ideas on education and health.

There are people in the country who want to vote for a party which shamelessly supports the little white islander (I should know ­ I get enough vile letters from them), and a democracy must allow that choice.

And those who would vote Labour must do so with an equally clear idea of their record on race and immigration, and not because they all signed a piece of paper waved at them by the CRE. New Labour tightened the race-relations legislation, and have brought home human-rights laws and concepts. Policies are in place to get non-white Britons into the civil service, and several more peers and ministers have been appointed. The party has not produced a line of bigots who periodically arise to make non-white Britons feel insulted and insecure.

But New Labour falls face first into chicken tikka masala (indelibly red faces all round ­ that food colour sticks) when it claims that the party is better than the Tories on asylum-seekers, immigration or entry into the top levels of the party. Jack Straw and Barbara Roche use the same language as the Tories, only they deliver their words with sticky piety. And while the Lib Dems have never demonised asylum-seekers and have an Asian president, their selection record for prospective MPs is abysmal.

This clarity is what the CRE should be demanding and putting before the electorate. Too much these days is spun or concealed behind a photo opportunity, and that is no way to run a mature democracy. There are other areas, too, where light and air need to be let in. I am tired of living in a world of managed pretence.

In Oldham, it appears that some young Asians are now running an apartheid policy in certain areas and are physically assaulting white residents. White racism has long been a problem in the locality, which is also poor, without hope, run down and now drug-ridden. None of this excuses what the young men are doing. Damilola's killers remain at large because of a conspiracy of silence.

Hindus were targeted by some Muslim youths in Bradford last week too, and new evidence shows that rifts are appearing between young black and Asian men, Bangladeshis and Pakistanis, Scottish and English youth too. And it is not only the young and under-educated who are manifesting new depths of intolerance.

According to Herman Ouseley, the ex-chairman of the CRE, Asians are more and more getting into places that Afro-Caribbeans cannot reach. Asians are taken more seriously by politicians than black Britons, mainly because we are rich.

What rubbish. In terms of numbers, there are three times as many Asians in this country as Afro-Caribbeans. Baroness Scotland and Paul Boateng are ministers; Valerie Amos, a whip, and Trevor Phillips are New Labour darlings, in the same league as Lord Alli. But again, I think it is important that these views are coming out and that it is harder and harder to airbrush them out of the picture.

Race and ethnicity are now key election issues. Instead of scuttling around trying to prevent open debates, maybe the CRE should insist on public meetings where the three party leaders can be questioned, in an informed way, about their record and policies.

The Commission would also gain more respect if it were to condemn anti-white violence and the other destructive ethnic divisions that are in danger of destroying much of what the modern Britain now stands for.

y.alibhai-brown@independent.co.uk

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