IN CARF 48 we analysed the limits of the new agenda of middle England on race, as exemplified by the Daily Mail in its championing of the Lawrence case.
The Daily Mail made the murder of Stephen Lawrence a cause célèbre while also campaigning viciously against asylum-seekers. In this way middle England was proving that it could care for a black victim of crime while still preserving most of its old prejudices. But the biggest concern of the Mail, the Telegraph and the other opinion-leaders for middle England, has been to reject the idea of institutional racism. When news leaked that Macpherson would accuse the police of institutional racism, the Mail felt that the Inquiry had gone too far. A barrage of columns and editorials in the week following the report’s publication sought to break the link established by Macpherson between the Lawrence case and the concept of institutional racism.
This concept was repeatedly taken to mean that every police officer must be a racist, thereby refusing to take seriously the distinction between individual and institutional racism.
The refusal to accept ‘institutional racism’
According to the Mail editorial for 24 February, the words ‘institutional racism’ could ‘hardly be more chilling they must damn every member of the Force It is precisely the kind of prejudiced blanket condemnation in which genuine racists like to indulge ‘ Elsewhere, Lynda Lee-Potter wrote that institutional racism is ‘an inept, woolly and dangerous phrase which everyone ought to stop using’. Spelling out the Mail‘s worries in more detail, columnist Stephen Glover feared that the government had effectively said that ‘white Britons are a nation of racists ‘ Glover criticises Macpherson for moving ‘from the dreadful circumstances of Stephen Lawrence’s murder to a condemnation of all 26,000 officers of the Metropolitan Police and to a wider critique of white Britain’. Macpherson, he says, should have concentrated on ‘the Metropolitan Police, and in particular the officers involved’. What the Mail fears is that once the concept of institutional racism is accepted, the debate would expand to look at systematic racism across society, rather than just individual cases of violent racism and rotten apples in the police.
Elsewhere, the Telegraph also baulked at the concept of institutional racism. It claimed that ‘the idea of institutional racism makes policing unworkable’. In another article, institutional racism was rejected as unprovable. Meanwhile in Alasdair Palmer’s column we were told that institutional racism ‘is an ominous phrase, one that automatically damns everyone in the “institution”, irrespective of their individual attitude’. And there was no shortage of columnists in other papers, such as Peter Hitchens in the Express, willing to repeat the same basic point that the idea of institutional racism was ‘a wild over-reaction’.
Revival for British Stalinism
For the Mail and the Telegraph there could only be one explanation for judges and ministers backing the institutional racism argument. The real problem with British society is not racism, but political correctness, a disease which, they fear, has now infected the highest levels of the establishment.
Even before the publication of Macpherson, the Telegraph had argued in an editorial that political correctness is a more serious problem for the police than racism: ‘This condition, unlike racism, really is “institutional” The number of people who have actually experienced police racism is almost certainly smaller than the number who have suffered from crimes while local policemen were attending racism awareness courses.’ Leo McKinstry, under the heading ‘final triumph for town hall political correctness’, warned that Macpherson had given a ‘sub-marxist analysis of the institutions of contemporary Britain’.
As for the Mail, it seemed to be compulsory for anyone writing in the paper to use the phrase ‘politically correct’ at least three times in any article on the issue, while the paper struggled to decide whether Macpherson had drawn his inspiration from Washington or Moscow. Their main editorial on the publication of the report contended that Macpherson had made ‘the politically correct mistakes which the Americans are now trying to undo’. The next day’s editorial had it that the Lawrence case ‘may now be overtaken by a kind of politically correct McCarthyism political correctness gone mad rampant political correctness ‘ According to Lynda Lee-Potter, it was not the police but ‘Stalinist bullies’ who through ‘politically correct behaviour’ intimidate and frighten. Stephen Glover argued that the report was written in ‘the language of Soviet Russia’ (isn’t that called ‘Russian’?). Other columnists spoke of a ‘politically correct purge’ of British society while Andrew Alexander feared that ‘beneath the benign face of do-gooders may lurk sinister totalitarian instincts of the sort normally associated with Stalin and Hitler’.
England – home of tolerance?
But any good story needs a hero as well as a villain. Accordingly a hero was found the ‘ordinary’ people of England with their innate sense of tolerance and fairness. They were the ones who were being sold out by a dangerous establishment which was foisting a top-down anti-racism onto them when they were better off without it.
As Stephen Glover put it in the Mail, ‘we British are not racists the British are marked by a tolerance and moderateness that don’t lie easily with racial bullying.’ Similarly, Stewart Steven in the Mail on Sunday asked ‘don’t they know we’re no longer a racist society?’ Jumping on the same bandwagon, the Telegraph suggested that ‘the British are much too hard on themselves England has rightly been famous for its sense of tolerance, including on questions of race. Now that is to be put in danger.’
Meanwhile the same line was being wheeled out by columnists in the tabloids such as Tony Parsons in the Mirror and Michael Winner in the News of the World. In the Sun Richard Littlejohn echoed middle England’s fears of political correctness with a populist rallying cry of English flag-waving. For Littlejohn, those who criticise the police simply hate all English institutions. They are part of a ‘Stephen Lawrence roadshow’ organising a ‘McCarthyite witch-hunt spawned by Stephen’s death’. Asking whether Tony Blair’s attacks on racism in Britain meant that Tony Blair had ‘become our first black Prime Minister’, Littlejohn argued that instead of attacking racism in Britain, Blair should have said that ‘the British, particularly the English, are the most tolerant race on earth’. And, for all Blair’s talk of ‘the people’ he actually ‘loathes the English It has become clear that Blair’s mission is to eradicate, denigrate or undermine every quintessentially English institution from the Metropolitan Police downwards.’
A few days later, following a piece in the Guardian in which Polly Toynbee criticised media racism, Littlejohn launched a renewed attack against what he saw as the new establishment: ‘Toynbee represents an entire class of people who run this country from day to day.’ These people have ‘a hatred of all British institutions, especially the police’. They are ‘enemies of the people’ who are ‘ashamed of [their] own nationality’. In a remarkably similar piece in the Telegraph, Minette Marrin had it that ‘Toynbee’s attitude is typical of the views of a large class of important and influential people in this country’ who seem ‘positively to enjoy despising the police, and British institutions generally why is their attitude to their own British heritage so dismissive?’
The end result of this line of argument is the view that anti-racism is not needed in England; it is a foreign solution to a foreign problem. Simply to be against racism can only mean that one is against England and so loyalty to race and loyalty to nation merge into one.
Policing now ‘impossible’
As well as being forced into a false choice between England and anti-racism, newspaper readers were also forced into a false notion that there is no difference between criticising police racism and criticising the police full stop.
Law and order nutter Michael Winner was at the forefront: ‘policing will grind to a halt,’ he warned, if forces were to record stop and search incidents. He went on to threaten that the police, in response to ‘the current over-reaction to racism’, will now turn a blind eye to black crime. In the Telegraph, an editorial under the headline ‘The lynch mob’ (not the killers of Stephen Lawrence that is, but the critics of the police) offered a long defence of the police, concluding that criticisms of the police ‘represent an attempt, inspired by the worst excesses of American academe, to make life intolerable for the defenders of bourgeois democracy’. Again the argument was made that officers would now think twice about arresting black suspects. Alongside these opinion pieces, the Mail and Telegraph both printed a series of sympathetic profile pieces of individual police chiefs and police stations to underline their support for the police, against the critics. So we were told by senior officers about the ‘terrible effect on morale’ and the ‘sense of injustice ordinary officers feel’. These reports seem to have been set-pieces straight out of the Met’s press office, without any original investigation. And interviews with specially selected ethnic minority recruits at Hendon police training college have been arranged to paint a rosy picture of life inside the force. Reporters were told that the interviews would only be given on the condition that they were published or screened to coincide with the publication of Macpherson’s report.
Then on the day of the report’s publication, the Met’s spin doctors ensured that black officers were seen to be guarding the Home Office, New Scotland Yard and Downing Street. Press photographers looking for snaps of coppers to go with the day’s top story were provided with a false image of a multi-racial police force. The following day white officers were returned to these posts, once the news story had passed.