Ignorance isn’t bliss

June 23, 2008 at 10:40 pm | Posted in British Politics, Conservative Party | 1 Comment
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Since I only heard the name yesterday, I’m happy to recuse myself from the argument over whether James McGrath is a racist. Regarding the comment he made, it’s true that there’s an unfortunate similarity with the kind of sewerage spewed by the far-right, but it’s still a bit of a stretch to ascribe a real racial malice to what he said. Rather, what the comment does reveal – which is perhaps even more damaging to Mayor Johnson – is a flippant dismissal of the serious concerns behind the question he was asked. It’s probably useful at this point to put his words in context:

I brought along to the meeting copies of the Black community Voice and New Nation weekly newspapers covering the fortnight since Boris Johnson was elected Mayor of London, and pointed out that Johnson was getting a bad press in these publications. I put this down to a ‘problem of perception’.

McGrath was far from politically correct, David-Cameron-new- cuddly-Conservative Party, when I pointed out to him a critical comment of Voice columnist Darcus Howe that the election of “Boris Johnson, a right-wing Conservative, might just trigger off a mass exodus of older Caribbean migrants back to our homelands”.

He retorted: “Well, let them go if they don’t like it here.” McGrath dismissed influential race commentator Howe as ‘shrill’.

He scoffed at the New Nation front page “Stabbings or stop and search? The choice is yours. Will new tough policing really stop the tragic murders or simply take community-police relations back 30 years?”

McGrath might well have said that City Hall’s new administration is not into this politically correct race relations stuff. He stated firmly: “Boris’s main priority is fighting crime.”

So the entire point behind the interviewer’s questioning was to make McGrath address the fear within minority communities that Mayor Johson has cloth ears when it comes to their concerns and only a half-hearted commitment to diversity, community and equality that his predecessor claimed to strive for. But instead of addressing this issue, McGrath just bulldozed over it with an insensitivity that’s hardly a positive attribute in an advisor to the Mayor of such a diverse city.

As much as his defenders on the right might hate that this is so, the man who reintroduced the word ‘picaninny‘ into political discourse has to take greater care than anyone to be seen as championing diversity and addressing minority issues. With that in mind, stopping the Rise festival from being branded as ‘anti-racist’ probably wasn’t a great idea, and with McGrath’s belligerent ‘we’re going to do what we want and don’t much  care what anyone else thinks’, a narrative is forming around Boris that could be electorally disastrous.

If he wants to get re-elected in four years time, Mayor Johnson simply cannot risk alienating ethnic minority groups, and in his apparent ignorance of their concerns, sacking McGrath was just about the only action Boris could’ve taken.

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  1. […] him over it. For all the right (wrongly) winced over Johnson’s lack of backbone in the James McGrath affair, this is actually a rather gutsy decision. If he gets it wrong, the consequences won’t […]


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