Race and culture

The on-going row over Tory MP John Townend's inflammatory and offensive remarks about the British becoming "a mongrel race" has highlighted a degree of terminological confusion.

The BBC, among others, seems to take the view that the terms multiracial and multicultural are freely interchangeable with the result that anyone questioning the wisdom of taking the multicultural as opposed to integrationist route is immediately condemned as a racist

This view is wrong if not downright dangerous, because it seems to imply that different races cannot share a common culture.

Indeed, I would argue that, at one level, a multicultural society is a contradiction in terms because what binds a society together is shared cultural values.

In a British context that doesn't mean we all have to eat the same food, wear the same clothes or worship the same, or any, God, but it does require that we all sign up to the same political culture: freedom under the rule of law, respect for the individual, fair play and honest, open government.

Even the most ardent multiculturalists understand this, which is why they are reluctant to accept all the manifestations of immigrant cultures - female circumcision, forced marriages, inferior rights for women and the Indian caste system to name but a few.

And how would Robin "Chicken tikka masala" Cook react if London's Korean restaurants insisted on importing their native culture of serving up chien au poivre?

The problem with multiculturalism is that it imprisons people in their ethnic boxes when the pursuit of racial harmony may be better served by encouraging them to integrate into the wider society.

In the longer term the danger is that people will divide, politically, along racial or religious, rather than ideological, lines with the disastrous consequences we see in places as far apart as Northern Ireland, Fiji and the Balkans.

That way almost always leads to a disaffected, disenfranchised minority and the possibility of civil strife.

My views on this subject owe much to the book "Selling Illusions - The Cult of Multiculturalism in Canada" (Penguin) in which the author says: "Multiculturalism, with all its festivals and its celebrations, has done - and can do - nothing to foster a factual and clear-minded vision of our neighbours. Depending on stereotype, ensuring that ethnic groups will preserve their distinctiveness in a gentle and insidious form of cultural apartheid, multiculturalism has led an already divided country down the path to further divisiveness".

And, for those like the BBC who claim that to argue against multiculturalism is racist, I would point out that the author is Neil Bissoondath a Trinidadian of Indian descent who emigrated to Canada in 1972.

Mr Bissoondath wants to be a Canadian not an Asian-Trinidadian-Canadian. Free me from those suffocating, demeaning hyphens is his cry.

Nation of shopkeepers

Last Friday Old Grumpy was pressed into service as Question Master at a forum on "Barriers to Growth" organised by the Federation of Small Businesses.

In this impartial role, I had to suffer in silence as the various panelists trotted out their remedies for the County's economic ills.

One guru quoted Napoleon: "Britain is a Nation of Shopkeepers" followed by an expression of regret that this was no longer so.

Sadly the truth is the exact opposite - the last thing we need is more shopkeepers.

The whole basis of a thriving economy is to increase the efficiency of old industries, thereby freeing up workers to produce new goods and services.

Two hundred years ago 60% of the British work force was employed in agriculture compared to less than 2% today.

These redundant peasants now man the myriad public and private sector services which make up a modern economy, while the few remaining farmers produce ten times as much food as previously.

That is why we are all so much better off than our grandparents.

Down at heel

Old Grumpy notices that Pembrokeshire's bid to dominate the world shoemaking industry seems to have hit the buffers.

To those who thought it improbable that Pembrokeshire could out compete the Third World in a cheap-labour, bog-standard manufacturing business like making shoes, the laying off of workers at the Thornton shoe factory, following last year's closure of a similar enterprise in Pembroke Dock, will come as no surprise.

What is surprising is that the pointy-heads in the local job-creation industry though it wise to anoint these doomed enterprises with lashings of taxpayers' money.

Stealth Tax

Further to what I wrote last week about the relationship between rates of Council Tax and charges for services, I have come across another example to reinforce the point.

According to the Audit Commission's report on Performance Indicators, published in 1998, Pembrokeshire County Council charged £85 for a land search compared to the Welsh average of £63.

I have no reason to believe the situation has changed since then because I notice in the latest estimates that last year the authority made a "profit" of £125,000 on its land charges operation and has budgeted to make £117,000 in the current year.

The upshot is that every time someone in Pembrokeshire buys a house they pay a hidden tax of £22.

Whether it is morally defensible for a monopoly supplier of an essential service to screw people in this way, I'll leave for you to decide.

What is interesting is that Neath Port Talbot, one of the authorities with which Pembrokeshire is keen to compare its Council Tax level, only charges £55 for the same service.

As I pointed out last week, comparing Council Tax alone is misleading.

To determine which Councils offer the best value for money you need to know the total taken from local people in tax and charges.

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