A leaflet from UKIP drops through my door. The first thing to catch my eye is the call for a curb on immigration. Then there’s the reference to ending “political correctness”.

That makes me feel uneasy.

Then I hear liberal commentators comparing Michael Howard to Enoch Powell because he raises the subject of asylum and immigration.

They make me feel uneasy too.

Can I have it both ways? I’m trying to put my thoughts in order. I know what I think about the race issue in this election, but it’s hard to find a way of expressing it.

Here’s what Daniel Finkelstein had to say in the column I linked to recently:

“My experiences of raising the immigration issue have not been good ones. When I worked with William Hague on a very carefully worded speech on asylum policy a few years ago, The Independent ran a cartoon with William’s face on the front of a train going to Auschwitz.”

Daniel made a point of prefacing his comments with details about his own immigrant roots. I know why he did that. As I’ve mentioned before, my father came to Britain from Jamaica during World War Two; my wife, who is Indian, came here from Kenya in the late 1960s. We both grew up in working-class neighbourhoods. If you have our kind of background, you feel extra nervous about discussing race.

Twenty years ago, I was punched in the face by a complete stranger as I was walking near Oxford Street early one evening. Ten years ago I was head-butted by a yob who was strolling through the peaceful little backwater where I live. One night, just after 9/11, we had an idiot on our doorstep, calling us “Pakis” and accusing us of belonging to “Bin Laden’s lot”. I tried not to assume there was a racial element in the first two incidents, but I’m pretty certain it was lurking underneath. (Once you’ve been involved in that kind of thing, it’s very hard to accept the calm conservative view that the criminal law should be colour-blind when it comes to motive.)

An old friend came for lunch a couple of weeks ago. He has spent virtually his whole life in a poor inner London borough. His parents are hard-working Jamaicans of the old school. He and I don’t often have a chance to discuss politics (I think he may be scared I’ll try to sell him membership of the George Bush Appreciation Society.) This time, though, he seemed keen to talk about what he sees in the area where he lives on a modest, non-yuppie salary. He worries that the neighbourhood is deteriorating fast, partly because the population is too transient to care much about the social fabric. He thinks the welfare system makes it more difficult for newcomers to be assimilated. Many people are exploiting it. Because he is involved in council work, he gets to see close-up how the committee system works. Lots of central government cash is coming into the area, but much of it, he reckons, goes to waste on worthy, race-related projects. My friend calls it “conscience money”, designed to help the middle-class activists and their sympathisers sleep easily at night.

Am I wrong in mentioning our conversation? I’ve been wondering whether it’s a mistake to post on this. Utimately, I don’t think so, even if there’s a risk it will be seized on by the likes of the BNP. Is it ever a good idea to allow bigots to muzzle debate?

We need to air all this. Michael Howard should be bringing more ethnic minority candidates into the debate. (I haven’t seen one addressing this issue on TV. Have I been watching the wrong programmes?) And Labour and the thinking classes should stop pretending that a multiracial country is just about having lots of nice restaurants to choose from.
|||Clive|||http://clivedavis.blogspot.com/2005/04/thinking-what-theyre-thinking-leaflet.html|||4/22/2005 12:40:00 pm|||||||||