New Statesman | What the story of the niqab-wearing Welsh speaker tells us about what we want to hear


You know this story because you’ve seen it on Facebook. Maybe you’re one of the 20,000-some people to have shared it. Or if it missed your wall, you saw it today in the Metro or the Times or the Welsh local press. It’s an irresistible one, seen through the eyes of a man on the replacement rail service between Newport and Cwmbran, though he doesn’t participate – he’s not the hero here, just the storyteller.

There’s a woman in a niqab, talking to her son in a non-English language. On the seat in front of them: a white man, who turns around and tells the woman that she’s in the UK and should be speaking English. On the seat in front of the white man, an elderly white woman who now says to him: “She’s in Wales. And she’s speaking Welsh.” How delicious. And how unlikely, if you care about things like that.

Read the full post at the New Statesman

The political myth kitty

Criticising the media gets boring. Even Chris Morris – who did it better than anyone with The Day Today and Brass Eye – found that he couldn’t bear to do it anymore when he came to work out his response to the war on terror: “I did formalise some ideas,” he told the Guardian, “but the jokes were all concerned with media coverage and perception, rather than the issue itself. And when you’ve already had a crack at media language, you can only do it a few times before you know how it works.” Continue reading

Everything red

This post was edited on 12 June 2010 – a commenter on Liberal Conspiracy pointed out that I used “civil” rather than “civic”, and I’ve now put that right.

Things are looking rosy for ResPublica, the Conservative think tank led by official enemy of Paperhouse and original Red Tory Phillip Blond. There’s now a government that’s broadly sympathetic to ResPublica’s aims (Red Toryism occupies the same sort of self-help space as Compassionate Conservatism), and it’s received a hefty injection of support – enough to be recruiting for six new positions offering “competitive + bonus” salaries.

One of the roles it’s looking to fill is “head of the security and civic cohesion unit“. Wait, what? Why does “security” go with “civic cohesion”? I know I’m approaching this from my standard fuzzy left position, but doesn’t “security” mean “people with guns and things that go bang”? And isn’t that a bit of an awkward fit with “community cohesion”, which seems to mean… Well, I don’t really know what it means. People rubbing along together, I guess. Municipal halls. That sort of thing.

Actually, I can have a pretty good guess at what it means in Blond-world. There’s his insidious insistence that the “indigenous white working class” have been “marginalised and ignored” (by whom?); he has a “sense” that “racism is returning”, but he treats racism as a rational response to barely-defined social conditions, rather than a repellent attitude that ought to be publically thrashed.

Blond is not keen on difference. He writes about the “ruinous consequences of state sanctioned multi-culturalism and the lazy moral and social relativism of the liberal middle class” as though those ruinous consequences are absolute and their cause confirmed. Whatever the ruinous consequences are, they were caused by multiculturalism, whatever that is. Clear? Good.

It’s that sort of floppy logic that makes sense of ResPublica’s decision to class civil cohesion with security issues. Things were nicer, in Blond’s view, before the 1940s – and maybe it’s not a perfect coincidence that his British Eden pre-dates Windrush. In Blond-world, security comes from sameness and pockets of otherness mean danger. And that, presumably, is why ResPublica puts “civic cohesion” under the same remit as spies, terror and invasions: because if you’re  not like Blond, then you’re against his nebulous, homogenous little idea of Britain.

Text © Sarah Ditum, 2010; photo by Kudomomo, used under Creative Commons

[Infographic] Where are the BNP’s voters?

BNP sympathies are a reaction to immigration and a sense of cultural endangerment in the white working class, right? Not exactly, according to this infographic from Information Is Beautiful, which shows many areas of relatively high BNP support (well, over 0.04% of the population) are remote from the largest non-white populations:

BNP membership vs ethnic minority population

It’s possible for voters to live at great distance from ethnic minority communities, and still think there are too many of them over here, apparently – but conversely, it also looks as though support for racist politics largely fades out where non-white faces are most visible. For the very small minority who actively support the BNP, it seems that beliefs about immigration are unlikely to have been formed by direct experience of it.

(Some caveats: the National Institute Of Statistics information is pretty old, and shows ethnic make-up rather than immigrant populations. If anyone has a more recent analysis they think is relevant, stick it in the comments.)

Text © Sarah Ditum, 2009. Image © David McCandless, used under Creative Commons. Spotted by @UAF.