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Swiss prejudice crumbles when faced with PM McVitie

Attending an Eid reception at Number 10, Dr Rupa Huq uncovered a dietary discovery about our Prime Minister…

How do you make a Swiss roll? On the evidence of Sunday’s vote to ban the erecting of minarets on mosque buildings, scary images depicting nightmare scenarios that innocuous ecclesiastical architecture could lead to can cause your average Swiss national to roll over and vote for anti-Islamic proposals.

As the usually pro-Israel site Harry’s Place points out, it’s deeply depressing and will only feed the victimology that extremist Islam thrives on.

Meanwhile in the UK, a country where religious tolerance has always been viewed positively, Gordon Brown’s Eid reception held in 10 Downing Street last night could not have provided a starker contrast.

Although it’s not quite on the scale of the mystery glamorous couple who inveigled their way into the White House state dinner for the Indian premier I found myself at Number 10 for an Eid bash hosted by our esteemed PM. Halal canapés were served, soft drink flowed and a troupe of Syrian devotional singers who’d come by way of Birmingham sang.

On hand were a supporting cast of MPs: Shahid Malik, Sadiq Khan and the one billed as “Scotland’s most charismatic and popular politician”… Mohammad Sarwar.

The PM spoke powerfully, listing areas on which Britain had benefited from Muslim influence from culture to lobbying for increased overseas aid.

The tone was respectful; no-one commanded us to fight terrorism, as I remember Hazel Blears doing somewhat incongruously at the Foreign Office Eid celebration a year ago.

Having opened the doors of his official residence to women in hijabs, bearded and skull-capped chaps and the likes of me, Brown pretty much invited us to make ourselves at home; advising us to look round the Cabinet room via the staircase where Prime Ministers past are pictured with eyes that seemingly follow you around.

A key difference between Switzerland and blighty is that UK nationals of Commonwealth backgrounds have long had the vote, making them a segment of the electorate to woo rather than simply a population to vilify/ ostracise/ castigate.

As such the post-war post-colonial era has increasingly seen parties courting the “ethnic vote”, once presumed to be blindly Labour but now splitting many ways.

First there was a breakdown of the political category “Black” into “black and Asian”. Then came widespread recognition of internal diversity in this latter category too: in 2005 Labour seats were to lost to the Lib Dems and Respect because of the alliance of Muslim anti-war protestors and Guardian-reader museli belt types.

Those presenting themselves for election and also expanding in scope: the London mayoral candidates included five independents all of ethnic origin; labels included “Tamils against Genocide”. Even the BNP will now have to accept non-white membership applications by law.

Plus there’s the beguiling fact that Nick Griffin has repeatedly stated that there are Sikhs who vote for the party. Before he records a party political broadcast in Punjabi he’d do well to remember that the majority of Asians in this country are now British-born with English as their first and often only language.

No party should take any ethnic votes for granted. A pal of mine reported canvassing for Labour in 2006 to be met by Asian voters who’d begin “Concerning the Iraq war…”

The would-be councillor would prepare to defend Iraq policy only to be told “I’m a Hindu and it’s great how you’re going after those Muslims”.

An anti-establishment cynic might say that the British state has always followed a policy of divide and rule. New bogey-figures are appearing: the Polish plumber has become a running post-EU expansion target for the middlebrow tabloids.

New PR-based voting systems also change electoral arithmetic: the BNP now have representation on the London Assembly and European Parliament.

Interestingly when Richard Barnbrook took his seat at City Hall there was a big fuss about who’d sit next to him. The one person who agreed to do it was James Cleverly, the mixed race (Sierra Leone/English parentage) Assembly member for not-very-ethnically-diverse Bexley and Bromley.

Boris Johnson’s youth ambassador Cleverly got the highest vote for any GLA member. His private school, army officer background screams Tory even though once might once have assumed his pigmentation does not.

Anyway… about last night (again). As Brown circled the room, I told him I’d been asked to find out what biscuits he kept there. “Chocolate digestive”, he replied quick as a flash. Solid, dependable, wholesome; like the PM and his government. As for the Swiss… they’re taking the biscuit.

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