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The ‘acceptable’ face of racism in Britain

As elites wring their hands over a moribund far right, surging middle-class anti-Semitism gets a free pass.

Neil Davenport

Topics Politics UK

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Former Tory PM David Cameron, aka Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton, has gone on the offensive against Nigel Farage and Reform UK.

In an interview with The Times last week, Cameron accused Farage of using ‘inflammatory language’ and promoting ‘divisive policies’. Citing the Reform leader’s claim that Tory leader Rishi Sunak ‘doesn’t understand our culture’ after he left the 80th anniversary D-Day commemorations early, Cameron claimed Farage was deploying ‘dog whistle’ politics designed to appeal, presumably, to Britain’s racist masses. Apparently, Reform-curious, working-class voters are only a Farage quip away from beating up British Asians. (Cameron launched this attack despite Farage making it abundantly clear at the time he made them that his comments had nothing to do with race.)

Cameron’s prejudices about Farage supporters are shared by many among the British political and media class. Times columnist Matthew Parris wrote disparagingly last week of Clacton, where Farage is campaigning to be an MP. Its residents, Parris said, are people who eat ‘bumper packs of crisps’ and drink lager in Wetherspoons (the horror!). These are the supposedly uneducated types who respond all-too-easily to Reform’s so-called dog whistles.

What’s odd is that aside from there being no evidence that Farage was making a racist statement, there is also no evidence that Britain’s working classes are gravitating towards racism or white nationalism. Quite the opposite. The National Front is long gone, and the British National Party is to all intents and purposes defunct, having seen its membership virtually disappear during the early 2010s. The explicitly anti-Islam English Defence League is also considered to be defunct, although founder Tommy Robinson can sometimes draw crowds to his rallies. Put simply, far-right, racist politics is simply not a meaningful force in Britain today.

But snobs like Cameron and Parris don’t seem to have noticed. They seem stuck in a Britain that hasn’t really existed since the 1970s. A Britain in which a skinhead, boot-boy subculture still thrives in white working-class communities and racial hatred is an everyday fixture. This caricature of working-class Brits as a racist mob in the making is a grossly misleading fantasy. It’s a slur designed to discredit the populist challenge to the political status quo, rather than an expression of genuine concern about racism. And these prejudices aren’t just held by ‘liberal’ Tories, but also by the supposedly progressive cultural establishment.

Well, if our woke elites were really so concerned about the racist abuse of minorities, why do they have so little to say about anti-Semitism? Vast swathes of our political and media class love to fantasise that Farage’s language is whipping up violent hatred against minorities. But they largely turn a blind eye to those who are actually whipping up hatred of Britain’s Jewish minority. They look the other way when ‘pro-Palestine’ activists project the genocidal ‘From the river to the sea’ slogan on to the House of Commons, or intimidate Jewish students across Britain’s university campuses.

The reason for this blind spot is not hard to fathom. Many of the anti-Israel obsessives come from the right side of the tracks. They’re seen as a largely middle-class constituency indulging in a more ‘acceptable’ form of racism. Or they are Islamists, who can deploy accusations of ‘Islamophobia’ to shield themselves from criticism.

The double standards are not just limited to our politicians and journalists. The justice system also seems to treat anti-Semitism differently to other forms of racism. This month, a knife-wielding anti-Semite who terrorised Jewish shop owners in Golders Green received only a suspended sentence, while two men who threw bacon at a mosque in 2016 were sentenced to 12 months in prison. For the authorities, some hate crimes are worse than others.

We have been here before, of course. In 1930s Germany, it was the gentile middle classes who gave anti-Semitism an aura of respectability. As historian Lucy Dawidowicz notes in The War Against the Jews: 1933-45, ‘back-to-nature advocates, food faddists, occultists… all found a place in the anti-Semitic movement’. Today, it seems, Britain’s middle classes have given anti-Semitic Israelophobia its own aura of respectability.

As a result, the political class can falsely imply that voters attracted to Nigel Farage and Reform UK are fuelled by racist, dog-whistled sentiments while having far less to say about the very real eruption of openly anti-Semitic bigotry on the streets of the UK. It seems the political class is no longer able to recognise where the real threat to race relations in Britain is coming from.

Neil Davenport is a writer based in London.

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Melanie Phillips and Brendan O’Neill – live and in conversation

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Topics Politics UK

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