Friday, 13 April 2012

Diane Abbott and her odd generalisations

I know a little time has gone by, but just found this little gem. A rather good article was written by David Goodhard at Demos on the possible causes of the Galloway win in Bradford West. While the reasons are many and varied, it made a good fist of arguing that sectarian politics had had an effect, and made a quite convincing argument.

At the same time, it was perhaps not surprising that such a think-tank might find itself at odds with the good offices of Diane Abbott MP (who had, incidentally, been quoted as saying that day that – doh, silly me! – the win was clearly nothing to do with sectarian politics).

Ok, fair enough, you might say – you might agree, you might disagree with him, and we’re all entitled to our say. No, what was fascinating was the paragraph she posted in the comments, which bears repeating here:

What a shame it didn't occur to Demos to get someone from Bradford to write about this. Instead we have David Goodhart, who seems to have appointed himself BME people's sahib. Unburdened by any real understanding of our communities he just peddles some of his favourite theories e.g."ethnic grievance" or the notion that racism only exists in the addled heads of us BME persons. Can I recommend an excellent blog by an actual Muslim woman who lives in Bradford

Let’s leave on one side for a moment the lazy ad hominems to the apparently decent Mr Goodhart, and just look at that. Incidentally, BME, for those people who don’t move in our lefty circles, means Black and Minority Ethnic (sorry, you sometimes need a translator in the Labour Party).


First, she is essentially accusing Goodhart of denying that racism exists (which is a pretty difficult conclusion to draw). And such denial of the existence of racism, as history has shown, the idea that people are “making it up”, is clearly in itself, a form of racism. This is madness, there is nothing in the article which remotely suggests that Goodhart is capable of such racism.

Second, the idea that Galloway did not play sectarian politics, pitting one community against another, is simply risible. As has been widely reported, Galloway deliberately played on the fact that he did not drink, and was a “good Muslim”, and intimated that his Labour opponent was not. Not to mention basing his campaign on war in the Middle East rather than on the bread and butter issues which affect ordinary Bradfordians.

Finally, what seems to me utterly extraordinary is to suggest that somehow, Abbott’s BME status as a London-raised black woman of Jamaican parents somehow gave her a graphic insight into the mind of a Northern, Bradford voter of, say, Bengali extraction. Despite, as it were, the separation in culture, geography and religious views, that somehow there was a natural affinity there. But isn’t that bizarre? The implication is that, somehow, all non-white people are one similar demographic, who naturally have a lot in common.

I'm not sure the Bradford Bengali would agree, but hey. It must just be me. I obviously can’t understand these subtleties like Diane does.

21 comments:

  1. My sole meeting with Ms Abbott (Brixton, 1981) left me with the impression that racism goes both ways. Never have I seen whites treated so badly. Her attitude left much to be desired.

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  2. It was reported that Gallowayhad been considered for standing as an MP in West Belfast at the by election there last year but ended up not doing so which was a wise idea as I think he would have tried the same tactics there as he tried in West Belfast!

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  3. @Ciaran: used to be my MP, as it happens. Her Twitter comment "White people love playing divide and rule" was extremely telling, is all I can add.

    @Damien: Interesting. I guess one difference is that, at least, in Belfast young people have seen enough of sectarian politics to know that it is not the future. Also can't imagine Galloway getting on with Sinn Fein.

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  4. I recruited Ms Abbott's first PA when she became an MP back in the late 80s - she wanted a black female from London - I got her one that was also a single mother.

    Diane was delighted.

    I think that sums her up.

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    1. Plato@ this particular case (if it did happened) doesn't mean anything, not even as an addition to what was mentioned' it's just petty and thuggish.

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  5. and to think I felt bad for her after that twitt... well that just shows racism goes all ways

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  6. @Plato: 'nuff said.

    @Rainy: the tweet, I'm afraid, was not an aberration, if it were it could be forgiveable.

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  7. Didn't know about Belfast but anyone with a "Protestant" name won't go too far. As for young people...there is a new phrase in Belfast "Ceasefire Soldiers" which applies to paramilitaries born after 1994

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  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  9. It's been reported in the news that Lord Ahmed is alleged to have said in a speech in a Paki stan that a bounty should be placed on Barack Obama and his predecessor George W Bush for insulting Muslims whilst Tony Blair should be tried for war crimes! If true it seems to be that Nick Cohen's assertion that the media will start to expore these stories about extremism is starting to come true!

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    1. Lord Ahmed did not actually say that, although he did say some fairly abhorrent things. I have written a piece about it which will be out shortly at Labour Uncut.

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    2. It's now up here: http://labour-uncut.co.uk/2012/04/19/so-remind-me-why-lord-ahmed-should-be-a-labour-peer-again/

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  10. Goodhart's article is actually arguing that Labour, rather than Galloway/Respect, were playing sectarian politics.

    He argues that Labour got complacent in simply relying on community leaders to deliver mass votes for Labour, as they have traditionally done for decades.

    He argues that Respect broke that system and got young Muslims to break the tradition (of voting Labour) of their elders.

    Moreover, you, Rob, have repeated a smear about Galloway that has been in wide circulation – that Galloway made much of his ‘being a good Muslim’.

    As Galloway has repeatedly explained (to anyone who cares to listen – perhaps you’re one of those who prefers not to listen to what Galloway says), his remark about his ‘Islamic’ credentials was a *response* to the suggestion that he was on a losing wicket against Labour because they had a good Muslim candidate (Imran Hussain). Galloway’s response was that, if people wanted to play that game, then he could claim to be a far better ‘Muslim’ than Hussain for a number of reasons, e.g. he didn’t drink whereas Hussain did; and that he didn’t believe people voted for candidates based on their colour/religion, anyway, but on their policies.

    Galloway made exactly the same point w.r.t. Oona King when it was suggested to him that it was sad to see a black woman unseated from parliament when there are almost zero there anyway. He retorted that, if people wanted to focus on skin colour, then they should note that many of the people who voted for him were far blacker than Oona King; and, again, King was paying the price for her policies, e.g. supporting the Iraq invasion, not for his ‘pandering to Muslims’.

    Galloway has also dealt with another widespread misconception that you are repeating when you say: “Not to mention basing his campaign on war in the Middle East rather than on the bread and butter issues which affect ordinary Bradfordians.”

    Our collaboration in illegal wars is indeed a bread-and-butter issue for ordinary people, including Bradfordians. It is ordinary people who are being sent to pointless deaths, not the sons of the politicians who make those decisions.

    Youth unemployment – another bread-and-butter issue – is very high. Government spending is vital to job creation. Instead we are spending £12 million/day attacking Afghans (that’s equivalent to 100,000 murses + 150,000 care workers); see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X0Bkg8zgoYQ

    One fact that helps debunk the notion that it was all about carpet-bagging Muslim votes is that Galloway won a staggering 85% of the vote in the University ward. That demonstrates that another bread-and-butter issue was indeed at stake: the government’s attack on education.

    And another bread-and-butter, and specifically Bradford, issue was the overall neglect for the town by the incumbent regime, illustrated by, for example, the massive hole in the town centre where construction of a new shopping centre had been started but then abandoned. (Galloway said something along the lines, if I recall rightly, that heads should roll of the councillors who signed a contract that didn’t stipulate severe sanctions for works left uncompleted.)

    Basically, Rob, you seem to have fallen in the lazy journalism and complacency of mainstream media, all of whom are parroting and echoing the usual Galloway smears.

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  11. @Rippon: You seem to have entirely missed the point of the article. It is about Abbott's comments to Goodhart; Galloway is quite incidental.

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    1. Puzzling response, Rob.

      In your article, you have indeed addressed yourself to what Abbott has said.

      In my post, I have addressed myself to what you (and Goodhart) have said, not what Abbott said.

      You are saying, then, that, since I have not addressed myself to Abbott’s comments, I have “entirely missed the point”.

      But then that means that every comment on this thread, by your logic, has missed the point.

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  12. Not puzzling at all. Did you think Abbott's comments were correct and acceptable, or not? Why should a black Londoner have so much understanding of a Bradford Bengali?

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  13. This is what’s puzzling (I obviously didn’t explain clearly enough previously):

    When people comment on articles, they nearly always comment on what the author of that article has said. That is what I have done.

    I chose to focus on: the early bit of your article in which you outlined, according to your interpretation, what Goodhart had said; and on your para beginning “Second, the idea that Galloway did not play sectarian politics, pitting one community against another, is simply risible.”

    I argued that you had misinterpreted the meaning of Goodhart’s piece; that, in fact, Goodhart had effectively argued (probably unwittingly) that it was Labour, not Respect, who had tried to play the sectarian game. Goodhart says that Labour got lazy in simply relying on the traditional decades-old allegiance of Bradford Muslims, and, further, Labour thought that advancing a Muslim candidate, Imran Hussain, would strengthen that allegiance; whereas Respect actually managed to break that sectarian loyalty. Indeed, Goodhart is actually in agreement with Galloway because his analysis of Labour’s defeat concurs with Galloway’s analysis!

    Now, I have effectively commented on Abbott’s words in that I have basically agreed with her comment that sectarian politics does not explain Galloway’s victory.

    But let’s assume that I had made no comment relating to Abbott’s words, then this is what’s puzzling: you are then effectively asserting that *everyone* who has contributed to this thread has “entirely missed the point of [your] article”, because no one here has commented on Abbott’s words to Goodhart.

    Moreover, what’s also puzzling is that you don’t seem to appreciate that when people comment on articles, they nearly always focus on what the author of the article is saying rather than some third party (in this case, Abbott).

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  14. What you have not commented on is the point of the piece, I give up. Whatever.

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  15. Mmm, it seems you do accept, then, that I have commented on the *content* of your article (as explained in my previous post), but you feel I haven't commented on the *point* of the piece (just like, in fact, everyone else on this thread - but we'll leave that aside).

    But surely the whole point of an article *is* its content, so I think I have to give up too: whilst you apparently feel you can't get through to me, I feel it's very difficult to penetrate your skull with any sense.

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  16. I have accepted nothing of the sort.

    Do you or do you not agree with Diane Abbott's assertion that she has a special affinity with Bradford Muslims by virtue of them both being non-white?

    *That* is the point of the article. Your avoidance of the question indicates that you agree with her, but are too embarrassed to say so.

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  17. Oh dear, Rob, your powers of comprehension are even poorer than it first seemed.

    Nowhere, according to the *content* of your article, did Abbott assert that "she has a special affinity with Bradford Muslims by virtue of them both being non-white".

    This is clear from the content of your very own article, where you quote Abbott: "Can I recommend an excellent blog by an actual Muslim woman who lives in Bradford… "

    That is, Abbott is herself recommending that people go to a *Bradford Muslim* to gain insight into the Bradford Muslim perspective.

    Misconceptions such as yours (e.g. over the meaning of what both Goodhart *and* Abbott have written) is what happens when you are in a hurry to fit the meaning of words into your preconceived frame – stunting your intellectual ability to distinguish reality from ideology.

    You’ve done the same with me: hurriedly projecting your own preconceptions (that ‘I’m embarrassed to admit’ what I think) onto me, instead of exercising honest intellect to *understand* what others are saying.

    Nevertheless, since I have some insight into the teaching profession and the importance of working at the level of people of lower-ability rather than necessarily correcting them all the time, I will roll with it and work with your preconceived frame and answer your (low-ability) question anyway.

    Let’s assume you’re correct, that Abbott did indeed assert that she has better understanding than white people of Bradford Muslims because she, too, happens to be BME.

    Then I would say, yes, that is (would be) a tenable proposition by her – just like I would agree with the proposition that a disabled person would more likely have some affinity/insight into the challenges faced by some black people (e.g. in seeking employment).

    Now, as happens with low-ability children, the length of my post might have tried your patience again, and, again, you might feel moved to “give up” (with a Kevin-Perry-style “whatever”). But I would urge you to try, instead, to explain how I might be wrong when indicating the flaws in your arguments.

    If you fail to do so, then, unlike you, I won’t hurriedly conclude that it must be down to embarrassment (over your lack of ability to rise to the task); my guess is that it’s more down to time-constraints – too much other stuff to be getting on with.

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