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May 4, 2001

Not so merry Old England


Diana West

     There is something very squeamish-making in the news coming out of England these days not about foot and mouth disease and little lost lambs, but about foot in mouth disease and little lost Tories.
      The offending subject is multiculturalism, but not as the term is most commonly used to describe the inclusion of non-Western works for study as a method of redressing assorted social injustices. In this British political season, the subject relates more literally to Great Britain and its relatively recent transformation, mainly through the influx of large numbers of asylum seekers, into a country of many, not necessarily assimilating, cultures. This fact of British life and policy of the Labor Party would seem to make asylum issues an obvious centerpiece of the political campaign, would it not? One of those matters of vital public debate every bit as essential as the topic of British sovereignty in the European community, no?
      No. There is a veritable gag order on the subject that all the major parties have actually signed under no duress or, at least, no more than usual. This agreement, brokered by the august-sounding Commission for Racial Equality, calls for "robust political debate" on every topic under the political sun with just one catch: The debate must be conducted without using any language that might "stir up racial or religious hatred or lead to prejudice on grounds of race, nationality or religion."
      Which sounds lovely. But means what? Hereīs an example: When the Tory party pledged last month to make asylum issues a high priority in the campaign by, for one, ending the racketeering that floods the country with "foul, charging Tory leader William Hague with breaking his partyīs commitment," as the Telegraph put it, "not to stir up prejudice with inflammatory language on asylum issues."
      Inflammatory language? Apparently, the very mention of the subject is verboten. The British Refugee Council was even more intemperate in its condemnation of the Tories, declaring that it was "extremely dangerous" for political parties "to use this issue in an attempt to get votes." Without bothering to speculate about what they see in a chilly, new light.
      Then thereīs the case of "the Tory race rebel." Thatīs the newspaper moniker for John Townsend, a retiring Tory member of parliament who was practically sent off to re-education camp for initially refusing to apologize for saying that Britainīs once "homogenous Anglo-Saxon society has been seriously undermined" by massive legal immigration, which, now barred by law, has given way to equally massive asylum-seeking. This, he went on to say, may help Labor in its quest to weaken the nationalist resistance to total incorporation by the European system, but also gives rise to various social problems associated with relating to different ethnic groups from lands without a tradition of tolerance or the rule of law.
      One manīs opinion? Not in Tony Blairīs or William Hagueīs Great Britain. Perhaps more than anything, it was the MPīs less than euphoric reaction to the population shift that put his head on the block. Leaving Mr. Townsend aside, to say that Britainīs Anglo-Saxon society hasnīt been transformed by immigration is ridiculous; but to say that the transformation isnīt an unameliorated cause for rejoicing and may in fact have created thorny political issues that require serious debate, is apparently impermissible. And this is a great shame. In shunning open debate, Western cultures are ignoring, even suppressing, crucial questions. Is it evil incarnate to note, mourn or balk at the passing of one historic culture as it gives rise to another?
      But, as a Tory official told the Telegraph, Mr. Townsend was "told in the simplest terms: Be quiet or else." And he agreed, eventually, but not before the hub-bub had escalated, with one hapless Tory having to issue an abjectly effusive apology for supporting the remarks in question, and another Tory, the partyīs senior black figure, Lord Taylor of Warwick, publicly threatening to quit the party over the whole brouhaha.
      End of story? Hardly. The Telegraph reported this week that Lord Warwick may have been collaborating with Labor all along to embarrass the Tories with racial fireworks, while a former official of the Commission for Racial Equality has charged that the organization itself has "turned into a political arm of the Labor Party" to make race an issue in the forthcoming general election. If thatīs true, of course, itīs fair to say that nobody will talk about it.
    

Diana West is an editorial writer and columnist for The Washington Times.

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