My memory gets addled sometimes, so maybe I’m wrong about this. But didn’t it used to be the case that when politicians were caught out lying, they made some sort of shame-faced apology to the nation and begged for our forgiveness? I’m sure that was it, you know. So if I’m right, to judge by the case of our Attorney General, Dominic Grieve, things have turned precisely 180 degrees. Mr Grieve has just offered a full and unqualified apology for having told the truth. I thought that politicians were meant to do that — tell the truth?
And what an apology. In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, Mr Grieve said the following: ‘We have minority communities in this country which come from backgrounds where corruption is endemic. It is something as politicians we have to wake up to.’ Asked by the interviewer if he meant the Pakistani community in particular, Mr Grieve said that he did. Although he added that the whole blame should not be laid at the door of any single community. Cue, then, a fugue of idiocy which eventually led to the absurd apology.
First, Grieve’s party colleague, the MEP Sajjad H. Karim, said that the comments were ‘deeply offensive’ and — remarkably — ‘not based on fact’, then the rest weighed in. Mr Karim is either an idiot or deluded, as we shall see. And so, after only a few hours, Mr Grieve said a really big ‘sorry’. Here is his apology — you can cut it out and keep it if you wish, as it’s full of asinine genuflections to the hysteria of the mob and therefore a model of its kind: ‘Mr Grieve said he was wrong to give the impression that there was a problem in the Pakistani community. In a statement, he said: “It is not my view. I believe the Pakistani community has enriched this country a great deal as I know full well from my extensive contact with the community over a number of years. I’m sorry if I have caused any offence.”’
Lordy. Let’s deal with the facts first. Do Pakistanis come from backgrounds where corruption is endemic? Yes, they do. Pakistan is one of the most corrupt nations on earth, coming 139th on Transparency International’s list of the world’s most corrupt countries (the higher the number, the more corrupt, by the way). An Al Jazeera report into Pakistan this year began with the words: ‘Paying bribes is part of everyday life for many Pakistanis, with even passport applications affected.’
As for the Pakistani community over here, a report in May this year by the Electoral Commission on voter fraud (to which Grieve was specifically referring) said the following: ‘There are strongly held views, based in particular on reported first-hand experience by some campaigners and elected representatives in particular, that electoral fraud is more likely to be committed by or in support of candidates standing for election in areas which are largely or predominately populated by some South Asian communities, specifically those with roots in parts of Pakistan or Bangladesh.’
The Electoral Commission went on to say that not all corruption could be laid at the door of British people of Pakistani descent. But still, there have been criminal convictions of British Pakistanis recently in both Slough and Derby for voter fraud; I am not aware of any convictions against white British people for voter fraud. Clearly, incontestably, there is a problem within the Pakistani (and Bangladeshi) communities. This does not mean that all Pakistanis are corrupt, or that they are evil people; it means simply, as Dominic Grieve originally put it, that there is a problem within the community. You know this, the Attorney General knows this and Mr Karim should know this too.
So, why the apology? An apology for telling the truth — a truth which, incidentally, had already been stated by his own colleague, Baroness Warsi, a couple of years ago: she made the point that there was a problem within British Asian communities of voter fraud. Even this, mind, is a slight evasion, of course: there is no problem of voter fraud within the British Japanese, or British Chinese or British Indian communities. Just the Pakistanis and Bangladeshis, really.
There are truths that you can say in British society and then there are truths that you can’t say. And poor Dominic Grieve — who, as Attorney General, should have had a bit more spine — gave voice to one of the truths you can’t say. There are many, many, truths about our ethnic minority communities which you can’t say and if you do say them you have to apologise and then spew out something egregiously platitudinous about how greatly the Pakistani immigrants have enriched all of our lives, in a very real sense, just as the hapless Grieve was forced to do.
If you are a politician, or a senior public figure, you will be forced to apologise if you give voice to a worry about, say, the incidences of mental infirmity occasioned among infants as a consequence of British-Pakistanis procreating with their own cousins (two-thirds of Pakistani mothers in Bradford, for example, are related to the father of their child). Go on, raise that in Parliament and see what fury envelops you — and yet our health authorities know all about it, even if it’s not something they talk about too often, or indeed ever.
And it was only very recently that anyone has been able to talk frankly about young white girls being abused at the hands of Asian gangs. Merely to give voice to this clear and present problem was to leave yourself open to that massed ovine bleat of raaaaaacccisst — that you were somehow ‘demonising’ one community, playing the race card and so on. This happened to Ann Cryer, who ten years ago tried to raise the alarm when she was Labour MP for Keighley: most of the predators grooming underage girls, she said, came from the Mirpur district of Kashmir. The ensuing outrage warned off anyone minded to make similar observations. We know that the police and social services in Burnley and Oldham and Blackpool and Blackburn and Oxford were reluctant to act for years and years as a consequence of this very fear. And the silence meant that the problem was ignored, while the list of victims lengthened.
So, there are things you can’t say and things that you can say and sometimes they are almost the very same thing. For example, if you look at our crime statistics you will see that certain ethnic minorities — particularly people from an African-Caribbean background — are hugely over-represented in our prisons. Now, you can say that, but only if you then go on to make the point that the British criminal justice system is therefore institutionally racist and that all of our races in this glorious and happy rainbow nation commit exactly the same amount of crime proportionally, it’s just that the police and the judges are racist. Even if every other indicator tells you that this is an absurd thing to suggest. The result? No one asks proper questions about what’s going wrong.
Or take the education statistics. It is perfectly OK to point out that young black boys do pretty badly in our education system, with low levels of exam achievement and high levels of exclusion, if you then go on to make the point that the education system is weighted against them for racial reasons, because the teachers and the government and society is raaacccisst. But not if you suggest that there is a wider problem which somehow makes young black boys unwilling to learn.
And yet institutional racism is the one reason it simply cannot be that black boys do badly in school; black girls do just fine. Chinese pupils get better GCSEs than anyone; next it’s Indian children. Bangladeshi pupils do better than white British pupils and black male pupils do worse than anyone — so it can’t be racism holding black kids back, but something else. But venture as to what that might be and you will be entering a world of pain. Do so as a politician and your career will be pretty much over — unless, like Diane Abbott, you are a black politician.
So no serious debate takes place about why black children do so badly in our schools. But there are hundreds more things which you can’t say, if you’re a politician, and which are palpably true — not all of them concerning ethnic minorities, even if race is the one issue which will bring down the walls of Hell on your head.
Are single mums a good thing? Do we want more of them? Are children happier with young, teenage, single mums, do they achieve, do they have wonderful lives? Y’know, I have my doubts about that — but say that, as a politician, and watch the fury descend. Especially if you mention race or culture. Just one in ten Asian children live in lone parent families. A quarter of white children do, and just over half of black children. Good luck to any politician who opens a national debate on the implications of this. Far safer to let the problem fester — or just tell the world how brilliant black mums are, without mentioning the absent dads at all.
Is there something within the religion or ideology of Islam which somehow encourages, or merely facilitates, extremist Muslim maniacs to maim or kill non-Muslims? I think there probably is. But you can’t say that; when a terrorist atrocity occurs you must say ‘this has nothing at all to do with Islam’, even though that may be untrue, and a convenient evasion.
Do you think sex-change operations should be available on the National Health? Watch yourself, bigot. You think not all rapes are as bad as each other, even if you accept that all rapes are vile? When Kenneth Clarke was Justice Secretary, he once dared to suggest that there is a difference between ‘serious rape’ and sex between consenting but underage teenagers. The outrage came almost as fast as his apologies.
I am very glad that Britain’s community of people of Pakistani descent have ‘enriched’ the life of our Dominic Grieve; I’m sure they wouldn’t sleep easy were this not the case. But when even the Attorney General cannot state a simple truth, in the hope that we might tackle a problem which needs tackling, are we not in a bizarre and dangerous place? Our politicians are collectively terrified of these issues; and so the issues are never properly addressed. They are skirted around, or ignored. And when they are mentioned at all, the grovelling apology is already being formed on the lips.