On Thursday morning, Jolyon Maugham QC accused the leaders of the Brexit campaign of racism in a tweet to Tim Montgomerie. When I challenged him to name those whom he thought were racist, he responded specifically by naming Nigel Farage. The following screenshot shows the exchange:
Although I asked him to say exactly what it was that Farage had done or said that proves him to be a racist, Jo Maugham did not reply. So at this point, we can assume that he was merely being insulting towards Farage. The right to insult anyone, especially a politician, in any freethinking and speaking society should be upheld. And Jo Maugham has exercised his right to be thus offensive and insulting. Fair enough.
The nature and impact of insults is worthy of study in its own right, but what interested me was that @breakfastlady joined in the conversation and, in the absence of further information from Jo Maugham, gave a couple of instances which she thought demonstrated that Nigel Farage is, in fact, a racist. Listed in the order they were mentioned, they are:
- He didn’t want Romanians living next door to him.
- Standing in front of a poster showing a long line of migrants walking into Europe.
The conversation between myself and @breakfastlady then went on to discuss cultural change and whether that is a good or a bad thing – which is really a separate subject from the central question posed above and so is not discussed below.
So what exactly is racism and do the instances cited above amount to racism? My dictionary (the New Oxford Dictionary of English) gives this: “racism n: (i) the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics, abilities or qualities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as superior or inferior to another race or races. (ii) Prejudice, discrimination or antagonism directed at someone of a different race based on such a belief.” A similar definition can be found in the Merriam Webster online dictionary:
First, we need to put the facts of the case into order and context.
We could argue about whether Romanians are a different race from ourselves. They are classified as White Caucasians – just the same as me, Jo Maugham and Nigel Farage. So that leaves Farage having made a distinction between nationalities, not races, and that some nationalities are (impliedly) more criminal than others. That would make him a “Nationalist” i.e. in this context: someone who dislikes another person because they were born in another country. This is a difficult charge to level at Mr Farage, because his wife is German. But in any case, the charge against Romanians is easily found, such as here. Or here. Or even here, from the House of Commons Briefing Paper: Prison Population Statistics dated 4th July 2016 and which details the number of Foreign Nationals in UK prisons:
Using these figures, the Romanian population of UK prisons is around 0.83% of the total. A more revealing statistic is to find the percentage of Romanian prisoners compared with the UK population of Romanians. Using the figure of 128,000 Romanians in the UK, this suggests that Romanian prisoners are 0.55% of their total UK population. This compares to the UK nationals in UK prisons at 0.12%. In other words, Romanians are 4.6 times more likely to wind up in a UK prison than a Brit. As a crude estimate of the probability of criminal behaviour, this is not a bad one.
My own family experience has involved two muggings, both committed by pairs of people from Eastern Europe. In the case of my 91 year old father, who was mugged in an Asda car park, the assailants were arrested, charged and imprisoned. They were Romanians. Apparently, a common modus operandi is for gangs of Romanians to arrive on the first flight in the morning, conduct their activity during the day, and return on the last flight of the same day, laden with someone else’s cash and credit cards. In the case of the pair who attacked my father, they were actually staying with some friends for a few days – which gave the police time to catch up and arrest them. That does not mean that all Romanians are criminal, but that an uncomfortably high percentage of the ones who arrive here seem to be. So in my view, Nigel Farage’s comment to James O’Brien of LBC radio about Romanians is perfectly justified on the grounds of accuracy and fair comment.
The second point concerns a poster which was unveiled by Nigel Farage in early June 2016:
Comparisons were quickly made in the media to Nazi propaganda. The photograph in question came from a Getty series of photographs which were reproduced in The Guardian seven months earlier on 26th October 2015. This was a report about migrants from the Middle East crossing the border between Slovenia and Croatia. Strangely, no-one accused The Guardian of being racist or Nazis, by comparing this photograph published in The Guardian:
With this pair of photographs from the New Statesman article:
But that is precisely the comparison that has been made by The New Statesman article when it was applied to Nigel Farage. In the 2015 Guardian article, there are several other photographs. One of them, showing children standing behind a wire fence, is this:
Which bears a passing resemblance to this:
And once again, no-one has accused The Guardian of racism or promoting Nazi propaganda. A cynic might suggest that if a highly emotive image is published in The Guardian, that makes it perfectly acceptable – perhaps even commendable. Whereas if the same image is published by UKIP or some other ‘Right Wing’ organisation, that image can be legitimately compared to other images depicting war crimes or genocide and thus proves that the publisher is offensive in some way.
So the test of whether anyone is racist or not must be rather more forensic than the simple juxtaposing of random images in order to prove a point. Anyone can do that with any pair of photographs and ‘prove’ anything they like, including that the Earth is flat or that the Moon is made of green cheese.
In the case of the migrant image, context is everything. The Breaking Point poster was unveiled in June 2016, just before the EU referendum. By that time, Europe had accepted over one and a half million migrants. The bulk of these migrants headed off to Germany, because it was Angela Merkel who invited them in. This act alone was extraordinary. Merkel made the announcement to the world on 5th September 2015, saying that there were no limits on the number of asylum seekers that Germany will take. She did so without any apparent consultation with other leaders within the EU. The result was pandemonium as migrants flowed unchecked and in vast numbers across open borders. Much of the rest of Europe has had to cope with the backwash from Merkel’s unilateral action. Germany now has massive increases in all sorts of crime, but especially rape. Malmö in Sweden has been accurately described as the rape capital of Europe – all caused by the influx of young, fit, male migrants with standards of behaviour which differ markedly from our own. Figures are difficult to find because the authorities are closing down the means of inquiry. But it is clear that throughout Europe, the problem is now vast and that the police have lost control of parts of many cities. The Schengen agreement is now almost dead in the water as borders have been closed and wire fences have been hurriedly erected.
With this background, Nigel Farage was perfectly correct to point out that this problem could also become ours if proper border controls are not instituted. And the only way of doing that is for the UK to leave the EU. He made the point with that poster. He also made the point that these were not, in the main, ‘refugees’ or ‘asylum seekers’ (although some of them were). He used the term ‘economic migrants’ to describe these long columns of fit young men and relatively few women, children and old people. This contradicts The Guardian article, which describes that same column as ‘Refugees’. So who is right, Nigel or The Guardian?
For those of us who have never seen a line of refugees, look carefully at the Nazi propaganda photo above. In that line, there are women, children and old people clearly visible. In addition, look at the following pictures of Darfur refugees in 2004:
It is obvious from these that the main victims of war and humanitarian disasters are women, children and old people. In the Darfur pictures there are no old people visible, perhaps because the old people are simply not fit enough and do not survive the journey. The picture below shows what happens when real disaster strikes (This picture is also from Darfur, taken in 2007).
Compare that to the well fed, fit, healthy young men crossing the Slovenia/Croatia border and you begin to see what Farage means. Few of these were genuine refugees, but most were economic migrants. So at this point, Nigel Farage’s only ‘crime’ has been that of accuracy and fair comment. This has upset the Liberal Left, but it does not amount to racism.
It seems to me that the only fair way to answer the question posed above is to subject Nigel Farage’s career in politics to a few tests which are based upon the definitions of racism given above and for which we have clear historical examples to draw upon.
Has he at any time during his political career, publicly espoused or promoted policies which:
- Advocated different laws to be applied to different races – e.g. segregated school buses, segregated classrooms or segregated public places?
- Advocated policies to prevent certain races from owning property, businesses, or working in banks?
- Suggested that racial minorities should be penalised in the workplace by ensuring that they should not be promoted and only occupy menial positions?
- Suggested that certain races should be excluded from the arts, science, medicine or education?
- Advocated the closure of any kind of religious places of worship, or a ban upon any religious beliefs?
- Advocated a special tax upon those who are members of any given religious, ethnic or racial minorities?
- Advocated any kind of ‘Final Solution’ towards any race or religious group; or that any religious, ethnic or racial group should be enslaved or treated badly?
- Does UKIP, the political party which he developed and led for many years, advocate policies which espouse any of the above?
This list is scarcely exhaustive, but gives a flavour of the kind of practical indicators of a racist, or someone who holds racist beliefs. As far as Nigel Farage is concerned, all of them can only be answered with an emphatic ‘No‘.
As a result, I find that there is no evidence at all to warrant describing Nigel Farage as a racist.
However, Jo Maugham’s tweet is worth a second look. Not only has he accused a politician of racism (a term which has become so over-used that it has almost lost its impact), but when challenged, he has not provided any evidence to back it up. He has relied upon the voluntary efforts of others to do his spadework for him. Further, he has fallen back upon the suggestion (‘…explicitly tapped into racist sentiments’) that the 17.4 million people who voted Leave are racists or closet racists. Once again, he has provided no evidence for that.
The act of lobbing a gratuitous insult into a conversation is all very well for many groups of people. Not just users of Twitter, but also for fishermen, fishmongers, taxi drivers, miners, football fans, draymen, roofers, scaffolders, dustmen, postmen and the like. Amongst many such people there may be expected to be a certain amount of robust ribaldry. There might be a regular trade in insults cheerfully given and equally cheerfully returned. And so it has been since the dawn of time. And so it should be to the end of time in a place of free speech and thought. But when those who elevate themselves as being a cut above the rest of us; as considering themselves to be in a position to lecture us on our behaviour or speech; as being better educated; of having opinions to which others are urged to consult (and even pay for); when these people resort to the same level of abuse and insults as the rest of us, then they should take care.
For example, if a Queen’s Counsel were to publicly demonstrate in a couple of tweets that not only is he of intemperate disposition, but also that he lacks the intellectual courage to justify his views, then there is a considerable likelihood of diminishing himself as well as his argument.