This is a claim made today by Labour’s shadow business Secretary Chuka Umunna, a man I admire and who was I think unreasonably attacked a few years ago by my MP Chris Heaton Harris for criticising so-called celebrities posturing in the West End. I should clarify reasons for my admiration because he is not a natural bed-fellow. I was particularly impressed with the way he handled a recent Sky interview- on a subject, about Eric Pickles’ letter to muslim leaders which I felt was misguided and which I have already discussed: here is Chuka’s response to the Sky bullying.
Today, he speaks in response to Mrs Rozanne Duncan’s absurd comments today about the “problems” she faces sitting next to black people. The lady’s problems are astonishing, of course, and the biggest problem she has- quite apart from her inability to recognise racism- is her apparent inability to filter things that emerge as thoughts in her brain and then pop unaccountably into her gaping mouth. Fish would have more common-sense. Now here is the warning- because what she says is deeply offensive, but – Do listen to her comments if you are brave enough to do so- because, once she starts, she seems unable to stop. Pity is really my first response for her and for anyone who is forced to listen to her. Is it a form of Tourette’s syndrome or is it simply rank stupidity? I don’t think she intended harm, and I suppose that is why she is so astonished anyone would accuse her of racism, but she caused harm because (a) she did not take care over what she said and (b) what she said and how she justified it was simply obnoxious. When one reflects that she is an elected Councillor, then pity must turn to rage that this is someone who wields power in our name.
Would I sit next to her? Oh, most certainly I would, and I would tell her very clearly that she is a stupid bigoted woman who should immediately resign her office. I certainly trust she will be replaced in May. Mr Farage is right to expel her without any further pause.
She says she does not regret saying anything.
She went on: “I used the word ‘negroes’ as you would do Asians, Chinese, Muslims, Jews. It’s a description, it’s not an insult – in the same way as you would say, ‘What do you mean by Jewish? Well, they belong to a community, they have got a certain faith, they have usually got noses that have got a bit of a curve to them, married women – if they are orthodox Jews – wear wigs.’ It’s description.” No, this is the sort of thing said by the Nazi authorities at the height of the Shoah. It just gets worse. And as for the word “negro”, it is worth taking a moment to reflect- this is not an innocent word. It comes from Spanish or Portuguese and was used specifically to describe slaves being transported across the Atlantic. It is a word imbued with prejudice. And to refer to the Latin word for black is again to get into a linguistic muddle, because the Romans had a word for “African”. It was “Afer”. So Mrs Duncan, the word used is not “a description.” It is definitely “an insult”. She understands neither english nor history.
Then she complained she had been expelled “without being offered the courtesy of a right to reply via a disciplinary hearing”.
So much for Mrs Duncan.
But what Chuka Umunna says is more worrying. I think there are a number of loonie activists in UKIP as in any party, and the focus of the media is on them. Certainly, the moment UKIP knew of Duncan’s outburst, they seem to have hurried to expel her, which was the right thing to do. But I would like to think this is more than damage limitation- this is because UKIP is not racist at all. After all, Stephen Woolfe, Winston McKenzie, the current Commonwealth spokesman, and even Amjad Bashir who has now gone over to the Conservatives, have all stood under the UKIP banner and Winston McKenzie even stood for leadership of the Party. This is what Stephen Woolfe said, “I am a proud Englishman, I am a proud Briton, I am a proud mixed race person and I am a proud member of Ukip.”
But there must be racists in UKIP. As indeed there have been stories of racist slips in the labour camp (remember Mr Lavery’s son? or more recently there was a so-called Labour twitterer who claimed UKIP was full of “evil money grabbing Jews” and then another twit who accused Mandy Boylett, who is herself Jewish and a prospective candidate for Stockton North, of being anti-semitic) and probably also in the Conservatives. Some of this is historical but much of this is simply a result of stupidity and narrow-mindedness. Not right at all, but I think it can be corrected.
Just think how far we have come in the last 50 years!
And that really is the point. I salute the fact that UKIP is exposing instances of racism today and bringing up a national debate about racism and how unacceptable it is. Because, if that debate is ever silenced or forgotten, there is a chance that our children will think it is right to make racist comments and that such comments are wholly innocent. They are not. They cause offence. They betray gross ignorance and they cheapen our society.
We are a society of individuals, each of us worthy in our own right of proper consideration. We are not defined by our race, colour, religion, gender, age, or our disability. That said, we might also elect to celebrate all of these features. But that is our decision and should not be imposed on us. We are not ciphers.
The Musical South Pacific put forward the idea that racism is something that is “taught” by an abusive society, “A mean little world”. I am not so sure, but certainly we need to be reminded and taught that racism is wrong.
So the debate about racism must be stirred up occasionally and I wrote to Mr Umunna to see what more we can do. This is not a subject about which anyone can afford to be complacent.