Welcome to the new Independent website. We hope you enjoy it and we value your feedback. Please contact us here.

The Agreeable World of Wallace Arnold: The least racist nation

MAY I be the first to leap into print to condemn in the strongest possible terms - 'most unsavoury', 'highly disagreeable', 'frankly regrettable', 'dreadfully inappropriate' - the election of a member of the so-called British National Party to represent the plucky if beleaguered folk of the Isle of Dogs?

Like everyone else who counts himself civilised, I abhor racist behaviour in all its forms - whether directed by black immigrant against fully-fledged white Briton, or - if such exceptional cases do exist, from time to time - the reverse. There is no place in our society for racial hatred, and I do so long for the day when the indigenous population of the Isle of Dogs feels secure enough in itself not to need to run to the dubious if wholly sincere Mr Derek Beackon for help.

I wonder if you caught my performance on Question Time on the dread gogglebox the other day? I used the occasion roundly to attack racial hatred on all sides of the community. 'If you would just let me finish, Peter,' I said, 'let me say this, loud and clear. I have no time whatsoever for the pernicious doctrines of the British National Party - many of which, I might add, are not remotely original, but have been stolen, lock, stock and barrel from we in the Conservative Party. But my sympathy also goes out to many of those ordinary, decent, and completely and utterly British people who found themselves, against their better judgement, voting for it.

'Most of us sitting here tonight - if I may just finish please, Peter - are pretty comfortably off. We do not have to live next to people who cook up highly pungent Madras curries morning, noon and night. We do not have to listen to what I believe is known as 'Reggie Music' pouring through our windows at all hours. We do not have to slog our guts out while thousands of coloured persons living illegally in an attic next door take sunshine holidays in Monte Carlo at the taxpayer's expense] Let me add that I am in no way attempting to excuse the behaviour of the British National Party, merely to explain it. In conclusion, then, I hope I have made my abhorrence of racism abundantly clear. Next question, please, Peter.'

The audience was suitably hushed. Rarely, I fancy, had they heard such a ringing condemnation of racist attitudes from a leading member of the Conservative Party. It must have reminded them, in many ways, of similarly historic speeches by Dr Martin Luther King and Mr Nelson Mandela, doughty fighters both, though of course a word of mine would carry rather more weight than any word of theirs, as I am - how shall I put it? - pure-bred English, and public-school educated to boot.

It all goes to show that we British are the least 'racist' nation in the world - far less racist than the Wops and Krauts, for instance, and infinitely less than all those Chinky Chinese and smelly Arabs. Often our ribald good humour towards those of lesser races can be misinterpreted by them as condescension - but that just goes to show how unsophisticated they are. As my old friend and quaffing partner Perry Worsthorne has been brave enough to point out, the terms 'pig-faced coon' and 'skin-flint Jew-boy' are phrases of great affection, to be treasured by those to whom they are offered.

On a more personal note, I can honestly say that I have never felt an inkling of racism within myself over the course of a long and - my friends tell me - dignified life. Frankly, I delight in communicating on equal terms with foreign folk of every conceivable hue. Two recent conversations may serve as proof. 'Ticket please,' a (pitchblack]) ticket-collector said to me the other day. 'Here we are,' I said. 'Thank you, sir,' he replied before moving on. A perfectly amicable discussion.

And only yesterday, I had reason to purchase a copy of the Spectator (still going, I gather]) from a newsagent of unashamedly Asian appearance. 'Thank you,' he said as I handed him the requisite sum, and I would most certainly have said 'thank you' myself if my eye had not been caught by a characteristically forthright piece by Paul Johnson on 'The Menace Within'. Suffice it to say that these two happy incidents show that people of different races can co-exist perfectly happily together - just so long as the outsiders never forget their manners.