Blogroll: Lustig's Letter

I read blogs, as well as write one. The 'blogroll' on this site reproduces some posts from some of the people I enjoy reading. There are currently 8 posts from the blog 'Lustig's Letter.'

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What I want for Christmas

Fri, 14/12/2018 - 08:41

It’s a good few years since I stopped believing in Santa Claus, but after the events of the past week, I’ve decided to give him one more chance. So here’s my Christmas present wish list.
Dear Santa
What I really, really want for Christmas is a bunch of MPs who will vote according to what they think will be best for their country, not just best for their party.
Can I also have a prime minister who says what she believes, not just what she thinks will get her through one more crisis?
The thing is, Santa, I’d love to unwrap something on Christmas morning that will make me feel a bit better about the future. I’ve looked everywhere online for something called an UnBrexit, but I haven’t found anything at all. Perhaps you’ll have more luck.
How about a Make A New Prime Minister kit? I’ve never been much good at making things, but I’m sure I could do a lot better than whoever made the one we’ve got.
Can I have a Book of Spells as well? I’d love a Make People Disappear spell, because I’ve got a long list of people I want to try it on. I’d start with Boris Johnson (did you see that The Economist named him as this year’s ‘politician who has done most to let down his party and country’? They called him ‘a demagogue not a statesman’, and said ‘he is the most irresponsible politician the country has seen for many years.’ That’s why I want to make him disappear.)
If I can make the spell work, I’d also try it out on Nigel Farage, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Chris Grayling and Dominic Raab. I’m sure you’re familiar with Ko-Ko’s song in The Mikado by Gilbert and Sullivan: ‘They’d none of ‘em be missed, they’d none of ‘em be missed.’
I know you realise that I’m far too old to be writing letters to Santa: you know perfectly well that I know, deep down, that they are the stuff of fantasy. But fantasy seems to be all I’ve got left this Christmas – I’ve had a bellyful of reality and I’ve decided I don’t like it very much.
I particularly don’t like reading articles like this one, in which Brexit-obsessed Britain is mocked as ‘small, boring and stupid’. ‘It is Britain’s unique ignorance that makes Britain so boring. Ignorant about its leverage and ignorant about the EU, the U.K. is coming across as clumsy and caddish.’
Oh yes, one last thing. Could you tell people to stop asking me what’s going to happen next? Perhaps you could put a little note under every Christmas tree: ‘Robin Lustig wants you to know he’s a reporter, not a fortune teller.’ (I did try a bit of futurology last week, but it wasn’t a great success.)
On which note, happy Christmas to one and all.

Categories: Current Affairs

Is this how May will exit Brexit?

Fri, 07/12/2018 - 08:43
In the current political climate, only a total idiot would try to predict what’s likely to happen at Westminster next week.

So here is my prediction. (Warning: my crystal ball is badly cracked, covered in dust, and its operating system hasn’t been upgraded since the day before yesterday.)
Here goes:
Next Tuesday, the government’s EU Withdrawal Bill will be defeated in the House of Commons.
On Wednesday morning, after a steady stream of Cabinet ministers have been observed entering and leaving Number 10, Theresa May will make the following statement to reporters in Downing Street:
‘After last night’s vote in the House of Commons, I have consulted widely with colleagues and others to decide on how best to move forward. I have concluded that, in the national interest, I should now step down as leader of the Conservative party in order to allow a new person a chance to take our country into the next chapter of our glorious history. I shall continue to serve as prime minister until a new leader has been elected.
‘As I have said many times during the Brexit process, I have been guided throughout by what I have judged to be the best interests of our country and of our people. As it is now clear that my judgement is not shared by a majority of members of parliament, or by several members of my Cabinet, it is only right that I should make way for someone else to lead our party and our country.
‘It continues to be my view that it is the duty of government to carry out the wishes of the 17.4 million people who voted Leave in the Brexit referendum two and a half years ago. Voters were given a solemn undertaking that their wishes would be respected, and we owe it to them to fulfil that undertaking. That is why I wrote the so-called Article 50 letter in March 2017, beginning the process by which the UK would withdraw from the European Union.
‘However, in view of the difficulties that have since arisen, and of the need to find a withdrawal mechanism that respects both the will of the people and commands the support of parliament, I have today written again to Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, to withdraw that letter as we are entitled to do without seeking the approval of other EU member states, in accordance with this week’s ruling by the European Court of Justice.
‘As a result, the UK will remain a full member of the European Union until and unless a new leader begins the withdrawal process anew. I am confident that my successor will want carefully to consider whether to seek the country’s approval again before making a decision.
‘I have taken this action in order to allow my successor the greatest possible freedom of action. It would not be right for me to hand over the baton with the count-down clock still ticking and with too little time left to develop a new approach to the greatest challenge our nation has faced since the end of the Second World War.
‘The choices that we face remain exactly the same as they were on 23 June 2016: to remain in the EU, to leave with an agreed withdrawal framework and a new negotiated trading relationship, or to leave with no agreement in place. It will now fall to a new leader to decide how best to choose which of those options will serve our nation best.
‘When I took office in 2016, I made this pledge: “As we leave the European Union, we will forge a bold new positive role for ourselves in the world, and we will make Britain a country that works not for a privileged few, but for every one of us.” That has been my single aim every day since then, and I now leave it to others to take that work forward.’
And then? I’m afraid at this point, my crystal ball shatters into tiny pieces. But by this time next week, who knows, perhaps I’ll no longer need it.
Categories: Current Affairs

The Met and the moped-mounted muggers

Fri, 30/11/2018 - 08:54

I’m going to assume, for the purposes of argument, that you are not, in principle, in favour of killing children.
I’m also going to assume, for the same reason, that you don’t think stealing a mobile phone or a handbag should be punishable by death.
So I wonder what you make of the Metropolitan Police’s newly revealed tactic of deliberately knocking moped-mounted muggers, some of whom are in their early or mid-teens, off their bikes.
The Met say that so far this year, they have used the tactic sixty-three times and that none of the suspects has been seriously hurt as a result. It is not unreasonable, however, to assume that one day, someone will die. Bear in mind that in 2016, police pursuits led to the deaths of twenty-eight people, most of whom were innocent bystanders.   
The Met also say that the tactic works and that the number of thefts from mopeds has dropped by more than a third. According to a report in The Times, however, ‘Much of the reduction in moped-enabled crime is linked to the force’s drive to stop thefts of mopeds and catch the thieves by using forensic marking techniques and raising awareness among owners.’
Perhaps I need to spell something out here: there is a real, urgent crime problem, in London as elsewhere, especially among teenagers and young men, and the police are faced with a genuinely complex set of challenges. Knife crime is a particular issue – in England and Wales as a whole, the number of young people killed in knife attacks this year looks set to become the highest for ten years, and the fourth worst on record.
But simple solutions are rarely the answer, even when law enforcement officials insist that they are effective. I’m sure that prosecutors in Saudi Arabia would argue that chopping off the hands of thieves reduces the numbers of thefts in that country – and that their counterparts in China would similarly argue that shooting corrupt local government officials in the back of the head reduces corruption. Even so, I very much doubt that the Met would be tempted to follow their example.
Chasing miscreants on mopeds along crowded city streets is a highly dangerous activity, even if, as the Met insist, the only officers involved in such pursuits are specially trained and will always attempt to slow down a suspect before ‘nudging’ him off his bike. (If you want to see what ‘nudging’ looks like, by the way, there’s a helpful police video here.)
And there seems to be some doubt as to whether the tactic is even legal. The Police Federation, for example, which backs the policy, says it clearly breaches current legislation. ‘Judged against the common standard, as police officers are, it is dangerous to drive a car deliberately at another road user. The law classifies this as dangerous driving, and officers could be prosecuted.’
The Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, doesn’t seem to be too bothered about such niceties. His view is that ‘risk-assessed tactical contact is exactly what we need. Criminals are not above the law.’
Wouldn’t George Orwell have loved ‘risk-assessed tactical contact’? I’m going to add it to my dictionary of euphemisms, along with ‘collateral damage’ and ‘terminate with extreme prejudice’. And as for ‘criminals are not above the law’ – well, er, no, they’re not, obviously, otherwise they wouldn’t be criminals, would they …
Diane Abbott, on the other hand, got it exactly right. ‘Knocking people off bikes is potentially very dangerous. It shouldn’t be legal for anyone. Police are not above the law.’
Politicians know that you never lose votes by promising tougher action against criminals. And the police know that juries very rarely convict officers who are alleged to have exceeded their lawful powers. So both Sajid Javid and Scotland Yard are probably right to think that few voters will object. That doesn’t mean, however, that their policy is right.   
There are nearly always better, safer and more effective ways to tackle crime than by focusing only on criminals. Take car thefts, for example: in 2002-3, more than 300,000 vehicles were reported stolen – by 2017-2018, the number was down by two-thirds, to just over 100,000. (It was even lower three years ago.) Why? Because car makers worked out how to make it much more difficult to steal cars.
So perhaps moped manufacturers should do the same. It would be a lot less dangerous than encouraging police officers to deliberately knock teenage thieves off their bikes.

Categories: Current Affairs

Meanwhile, in other news ...

Fri, 23/11/2018 - 09:08

Suppose Brexit wasn’t a thing. What would the government be worrying about instead?
More to the point, what should it be worrying about – because although you’d never know it from the newspaper headlines or the TV news bulletins, the rest of the world’s problems haven’t magically vanished while we try to extricate ourselves from the Brexsh*t.
Perhaps, for example, the government should be engaging more seriously with the conclusions of the UN’s devastating report on poverty in the UK, which said, among other things: ‘British compassion for those who are suffering has been replaced by a punitive, mean-spirited and callous approach …’
To which Amber Rudd, having barely found her way to her new desk at the Department for Work and Pensions, responded merely that she was ‘disappointed to say the least by the extraordinary political nature of [the report’s] language.’
Or how about doing something about the 320,000 people who, according to Shelter, are now homeless, more than half of them in London alone? It should be – is – a national scandal.
Or trying to tackle the suffering of the tens of thousands of young people who are now seeking online counselling for mental health issues? The number has risen from 20,000 in 2015 to 65,000 last year, and is expected to reach 100,000 this year – little wonder as waiting times for appointments with NHS mental health providers can now be up to 18 months.
Or dealing with the appalling conditions in prisons, where so far this year 71 inmates have taken their own lives – more than during all of 2017. According to a report by the NHS regulator, the Care Quality Commission, leaked to The Observer last month, nearly half of the prisons in England are failing to provide adequate health care to inmates.
If Fyodor Dostoevsky was right when he observed that ‘the degree of civilisation in a society can be judged by entering its prisons,’ we would fail miserably to be regarded as even moderately civilised.
Perhaps you think the UK government should be looking beyond the borders of the EU. Perhaps it should be expressing its utter disgust that, according to Save The Children, an estimated 85,000 children in Yemen – I’ll repeat that number: 85,000 – have died of starvation over the past three years as a result of that country’s civil war. (Reminder: the UK is a leading provider of arms to Saudi Arabia, which is the main foreign participant in the conflict.)
True, the UK has sponsored a resolution at the UN appealing to the warring parties to take ‘constant care to spare civilian objects, including those necessary for food production, distribution, processing and storage.’ Which, in the apt words of the shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry, sounds depressingly like the ‘safety instructions for a new vacuum cleaner.’ Not quite what’s called for.
I’ve saved the best for last: how about making a priority of the battle to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the hope of saving the planet for future generations? As I write these words, I see that the secretary-general of the World Meteorological Organisation, Petteri Taalas, is warning that ‘without rapid cuts in CO2and other greenhouse gases, climate change will have increasingly destructive and irreversible impacts on life on Earth. The window of opportunity for action is almost closed.’
Ministers will doubtless argue that in the corridors of Whitehall, all these issues are being tackled. But they know – and we know – that for the foreseeable future, they will have neither the time nor the energy to deal seriously with anything that isn’t Brexit-related.
And that’s one of the main reasons why I shall never be able to forgive David Cameron for having unleashed the Brexit genie from the Tory bottle. We now know, thanks to the grotesquely inept chocolate soldiers of the European Research Group, that the anti-EU fanatics in his party are a tiny minority who would find it beyond their abilities to organise a group outing on Eurostar.
So he didn’t have to appease them by promising them a referendum, any more than Theresa May had to set her negotiating ‘red lines’ so as to guarantee an outcome with which  absolutely no one will be satisfied.
Meanwhile, those who are homeless, or living in poverty, or in prison, or struggling with mental health issues – they will all just have to wait while the Conservatives indulge in their favourite pastime: tearing themselves apart. It is both a tragedy and a disgrace, and I hope that one day, at least some of them will be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.

Categories: Current Affairs

Paying the price of cowardice

Fri, 16/11/2018 - 08:56

They didn’t know.
They didn’t know how complicated it would be.
They didn’t know how intricately woven is the UK’s membership of the EU.
They didn’t know that the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland might turn out to be a bit of a problem.
They didn’t know how divided their party was. Or how divided the country was.
Boris Johnson. David Davis. Michael Gove. Liam Fox. Jacob Rees-Mogg. None of them knew.
Or perhaps they did know, but they lied. They said Brexit would be easy-peasy. They promised a glorious future, as a proud, independent nation forged a new beginning, freed from the shackles imposed by pesky foreigners. In the words of Mr Fox, speaking just last year, agreeing a new trade deal with the EU would be ‘one of the easiest in human history.’
I am reminded of the Scottish preacher who is said to have told his parishioners the tale of the sinners who were cast into hell and then pleaded with the Lord to save them from eternal torment as they had not known what would be the price of their sinful behaviour.
‘Well,’ replied the good Lord. ‘Ye ken noo.’
In the case of Brexit, the sins were those of the Brexiters, but the torment is all ours. Their wilful blindness, born out of ideological zealotry, has led the UK to the precipice. I have no doubt that future historians will marvel at how two successive Conservative party leaders – first David Cameron and then Theresa May – sold their souls to the zealots.
I am no EU-fanatic. I have attended far too many EU summits to be blind to its shortcomings, the most serious of which has been the refusal of its leaders over many years to recognise that voters throughout Europe were increasingly unhappy at where the union was heading.
But its benefits still far outweigh its failings. Having just marked the hundredth anniversary of the end of the First World War, and having remembered that the Second World War erupted barely twenty years later, how can anyone fail to give thanks for the more than seventy years of peace that Europe has enjoyed since 1945. The EU has played a major role in that achievement.
All nations think that they are special, and Britain is certainly no exception. We are an island nation, unbeaten in war, a former imperial power with a democracy, admittedly imperfect, that has stood the test of time.
But go it alone? In the age of globalisation, international organised crime, cyber-warfare, climate change? Seriously? Go it alone? Who do the zealots think they are kidding?
Their recklessness, their cavalier disregard for the truth, their nonchalant shrug that we may have to suffer what David Davis calls ‘a hiccup or two’ – what it all adds up to is a truly appalling abdication of responsibility for the well-being of the nation.
Believe me, I understand why so many people voted for Brexit. They have watched their towns slowly die, their incomes stagnate, their children’s life chances diminish. They have seen the Polish supermarkets take over from their local greengrocer and heard the builders on construction sites and the patients in their GPs’ waiting rooms speaking languages they don’t understand. They have heard their children complain that all the extra help in the classroom goes to their classmates who can’t speak English.
And when the ideologues and charlatans offered them a miracle cure – an extra £350 million a week for the NHS; an end to ‘uncontrolled’ immigration; no more laws ‘imposed’ by Brussels – well, why wouldn’t they jump at the chance?
Did anyone try to explain why the world has changed? Or how the EU has helped some of the UK’s poorest regions? Did anyone extol the virtues of international cooperation to counter the cacophony of xenophobes and nationalists?
The crisis which now confronts us is the result of the abject failure of an entire political class. (And yes, I include the Labour party, under a succession of leaders.) A failure to listen, and a failure to be honest. British voters were lied to, again and again and again, and now the liars are taking to the hills. In the words of David Aaronovitch of The Times: ‘The Raabs are deserting the sinking ship, a scurrying made additionally poignant by the fact that they are the ones who sank it.’ One by one, faced by the inconvenient reality of the world as it is, rather than as they would wish it to be, they adopt a look of injured innocence and head for the door marked Exit, not Brexit.
Remember Dominic Raab, who resigned as Brexit secretary because he didn’t like the deal that, in theory, he himself had negotiated? He admitted just a few days ago that he had been surprised to learn that Britain is what he chose to call a ‘peculiar geographic entity’, which is -- who would have thought it? -- particularly reliant on the Dover-Calais crossing for its international trade. Gosh. Britain is an island. Who knew? It didn’t have to be like this. David Cameron didn’t have to bow to the demands of the Europhobes in UKIP and his own party – and Theresa May didn’t have to interpret the referendum result as a popular demand for the hardest Brexit imaginable. They each made a conscious political choice, and we are now paying the price of their political cowardice.By the way, if you didn’t see my article in last Sunday’s Observer about becoming a German citizen, you can read it here.
Categories: Current Affairs

Warning: the president is now sh*t scared

Fri, 09/11/2018 - 08:52

You pays your money and you takes your pick.
Thursday’s New York Times: ‘Trump Vows “Warlike Posture” if Democrats Investigate Him.’
Likewise The Guardian: ‘Trump issues threat of warlike response after Democrat gains.’
The Financial Times, on the other hand: ‘Trump urges bipartisan approach as Democrats take control of the House.’
So which was true, and which was Fake News? Both, of course, were true, because Trump said both. And it’s another reason why we should surely now know better than to take seriously anything he says.
Much better to concentrate on what he actually does rather than on his Rant of the Day. And by far the most important thing he did on Wednesday was fire his attorney-general, Jeff Sessions, who has enraged him for months by failing to halt the Mueller inquiry into his campaign’s alleged collusion with Russia in the period leading up to the 2016 presidential election.
Was the decision to get rid of Sessions designed to shut down, or at the very least hobble, the inquiry? What do you think?
What’s more, within hours of Trump’s chaotic, nasty press conference, with the president at his snarling worst, the White House suspended the credentials of an admittedly grandstanding CNN correspondent whom the president had called ‘a rude, terrible person’ for daring to challenge him. It was yet another petty response from a man who will never be able to get his head round the idea that the job of journalists is to do just a bit more than sing his praises all day. The White House also distributed what seems to have been a doctored video to bolster its allegation that the correspondent, Jim Acosta, ‘touched’ a female White House staffer as she tried to wrestle his mic away from him.
What I saw as I watched the Trump press conference was a President who is sh*t scared. Scared of what a Democrat-controlled House of Representatives could start prying into (Tax returns? Conflicts of interest as visiting foreign dignitaries ‘choose’ to buy accommodation at Trump properties?), scared of subpoenas that House committees can now issue, and scared, above all, of what the Mueller investigation might come up with.
Trump claimed – wrongly, of course -- on Wednesday that the Mueller investigation ‘got nothing, zero.’ Nothing, that is, except for his former personal lawyer and consigliere Michael Cohen pleading guilty to campaign finance violations and other charges; his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort being convicted of filing false tax returns, failing to disclose offshore bank accounts and bank fraud; his former deputy campaign chairman Rick Gates pleading guilty to lying to investigators; his former national security adviser Michael Flynn pleading guilty to lying to the FBI about his Russia contacts; and twelve Russian intelligence officers being indicted by a federal grand jury, accused of hacking into Democratic Party computer networks. (I’ve probably left a few out, but I think you’ll have got the point.)
And here’s where the Democrats will have to get canny. They could, if they so wish, go after Trump on a dozen different fronts, tie him up in Congressional and judicial knots for the next two years and make his life an absolute misery.
But if they do, how will he react? Badly, for sure. He will call them ‘enemies of the people’, ‘traitors’, and much worse. He will blame them for every mass shooting (‘soft on crime’), for every economic hiccup (‘high tax socialists’) and every act of terrorism (‘soft on illegal migrants’).
He will challenge every attempt to rein in his most dangerously autocratic impulses, and if his challenges end up in the Supreme Court, he may very well win. (Remember how hard he fought for the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh? Funny, that …)
And when he seeks re-election in 2020, he will run, as he did in 2016, as the Champion of the Little People, against the elitist liberals who have hated him – and his supporters – from day one. And you know what? He could win again.
Far better, surely, for the Democrats to focus on the things that really could make a difference to voters’ lives: health care, which was a major issue in this week’s elections; opioid drug addiction; rebuilding roads, bridges and airports; and gun crime.
(More than half of American voters think gun controls should be tighter, and nearly half think there would be fewer mass shootings if gun laws were tougher. The most recent tragedy was on Wednesday, just a day after the mid-terms, in Thousand Oaks, California, when a former US marine shot dead twelve people in a bar.)
Rather than start trying to impeach him – which, unless Mueller comes up with something truly earth-shattering, would be bound to fail in the Senate – it would make more sense to show voters that Democrats are better for them, their families and their country. Defeat Trump in two years’ time, and then, if there is evidence that he may have committed crimes, prosecute him as a private citizen.
Final point: when George W Bush and Barack Obama each suffered major reverses in mid-term elections in 2006 and 2010, they openly acknowledged that voters had administered what Bush called ‘a thumping’ and Obama called ‘a shellacking’.
So when Trump was asked what lesson he took from his losses on Tuesday, how did he respond? ‘I’ll be honest: I think it was a great victory … I think people like me.’

Categories: Current Affairs

Why we must confront, not silence, racists and bigots

Fri, 26/10/2018 - 09:22
If I had been a journalist in Germany in the 1930s, would I have interviewed Adolf Hitler?
If I had been in Russia, how about Stalin? Or Mao in China in the 1950s?
Answer: Yes. Of course. Loathsome mass murderers though they were, a journalist’s job is to report on who, and what, shapes the world.
As it happens, I have actually interviewed a loathsome mass murderer. His name was Radovan Karadžić, and he is now serving forty years in prison after being convicted of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity during the war in Bosnia in the early 1990s.
Did I want to interview him? Frankly, no, I hated the idea. As I recount in my memoir, Is Anything Happening?:
            I told my colleagues that I did not relish the prospect of interviewing a man whom I regarded even then as a war criminal. But they were insistent, so we reached a deal that would enable me to live with my conscience while still doing the job for which I was being paid.
‘Show him into the studio and then call me,’ I said. ‘I won’t shake his hand, and I won’t make small talk. I’ll go into the studio, I’ll do the interview and then I’ll say, “Thank you” and walk out.’
That is what we did. I challenged him as hard as I could when he denied that his forces were firing indiscriminately into a heavily populated city and I hoped that listeners would understand that he was lying. I was persuaded, reluctantly, that they deserved a chance to be able to make up their own minds, but I hated doing it.
And that is how I would have dealt with Hitler, Stalin or Mao. It is also how, if I had the chance, I would deal today with Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman of Saudi Arabia.
Why do I raise this now? Because there seems to be a growing belief, especially on the left, that people with objectionable views should not be questioned in the media or allowed to speak from public platforms.
Steve Bannon, self-appointed standard bearer of ultra-nationalism? Tommy Robinson, real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, formerly of the British National Party and the English Defence League? To put them on air, or to allow them on a platform is – so it is argued – to ‘normalise’ their arguments and by doing so, to increase the risk that more people will follow them.
I don’t agree. I remember when Nick Griffin, the then leader of the BNP, appeared amid much controversy on the BBC’s Question Time programme in 2009. It was an unmitigated disaster for both him and his party – by 2014 he had lost his seat in the European parliament, been expelled from the party and declared bankrupt.
I also remember Margaret Thatcher banning the voices of Irish Republicans from the air waves in 1988. That wasn’t a huge success either, its main effect being to provide useful work for Irish actors who were hired by broadcasters to read the words that had been spoken by the banned IRA or Sinn Fein spokespeople.
Thatcher’s view was that the media must deny people whom she regarded as terrorists the ‘oxygen of publicity’. I believe the opposite: that the oxygen of publicity is the best disinfectant available when toxins threaten to take hold in the body politic.
So yes, the BBC’s Newsnightprogramme was absolutely right to broadcast a carefully made film about Tommy Robinson and the roots of his support two weeks ago (full disclosure: the reporter, Gabriel Gatehouse, is a friend and former colleague). And yes, the editor of The Economist, Zanny Minton Beddoes, was perfectly entitled to interview Steve Bannon as part of the magazine’s Open Future festival last month.
As she put it in a statement: ‘The future of open societies will not be secured by like-minded people speaking to each other in an echo chamber, but by subjecting ideas and individuals from all sides to rigorous questioning and debate. This will expose bigotry and prejudice, just as it will reaffirm and refresh liberalism.’
Similarly, Nicola Sturgeon was, I think, wrong to withdraw from a conference to be held in Edinburgh next month at which Steve Bannon was due to appear the following day. She did not want, she said, to ‘be part of any process that risks legitimising or normalising far right, racist views.’
A couple of days ago, a group of academics attacked plans to hold a debate on the topic ‘Is rising ethnic diversity a threat to the West?’ It was, they said, ‘framed within the terms of white supremacist discourse. Far from being courageous or representative of the views of a “silent majority”, this is a reactionary, opportunistic and intentionally provocative approach …’
The academics insisted that they were not trying to shut down debate: ‘We are simply asking that we do not give yet more ground to those who seek to shift the blame for systemic failures onto communities who are already subject to oppression and hostility, and legitimise hate and scapegoating as if that is analysis.’
This is dangerous territory. Yes, of course organisers of this kind of debate must be sensitive about the way they frame the question – in fact the title of this particular event has now been amended to ‘Immigration and Diversity Politics: A Challenge to Liberal Democracy?’, which at least gets rid of the problematic word ‘threat’.
 The Timescolumnist David Aaronovitch, who is scheduled to be one of the debate participants, was not impressed: ‘Ironically and tragically, this idiocy by the liberal left allows the far right to pose as the champions of free speech and therefore as champions of true British aspirations. And that’s at a moment when the whole direction of the pro-diversity argument should be that a multi-ethnic, tolerant Britain is the best embodiment of our national values.’
 Which surely is the key point, because if there is one way to add fuel to the pernicious bigotry peddled by white supremacists, nativists and extreme nationalists, it is to pretend that they don’t exist. Much of their appeal, after all, is based on the argument that they are ignored, belittled and shut out of the hated mainstream media.
 It would be the height of stupidity to prove them right.

Categories: Current Affairs
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