Fair is fowl and fowl is fair

Now I know what a susceptor is, I'd like one put inside George Osborne's pants - actually, I wouldn't mind having one put inside my own pants, or indeed just about everyone's pants on this godforsaken Siberian island of ours. A susceptor, for those of you not up to speed on the wonders of dielectric heating applied to cooking technology, is a thin layer of aluminium either seamed through the packaging of microwaveable foods, or inside the small plastic or paper trays they reside on. The metal absorbs infrared energy efficiently and then radiates it inwards towards the food (or the Chancellor's genitals, pubic area and possibly lower belly, depending on whether he's a briefs or boxers sort of a chap).

With the use of susceptors, microwave ovens - which cook at relatively low temperatures - can do all sorts of clever things such as activating the oil necessary to pop popcorn, or possibly stimulating cold fish like Osborne. Look, I'm not suggesting that we actually want a satyromane in charge of the British economy, but I do think the Oik - as I believe the St Paul's School old boy is known to his Old Etonian Tory colleagues - could do with a little gingering up. Last September, when yet again those tedious allegations of him snorting cocaine with a dominatrix back in the naughty 1990s resurfaced, we were told by the Prime Minister's spokesman, "the Chancellor is 100 per cent focused on the economy".

Banquet bonus

Personally, it's this that I hold against Osborne - after all, who among us can say that we haven't snorted the occasional "big fat line" offered us by a dominatrix? The Archbishop of Canterbury has done it with Pope Benedict - Tony Blair did it with Rupert Murdoch; we all, no matter how
pure and exalted, have a Mistress Pain somewhere in our closet.

No, it's this focusing 100 per cent on the economy that's causing all the trouble - what Georgie-boy needs to do is to take a load off, get out his reusable hessian shopping bag and boogie down to Sainsbury's where he can pick up a whole series of excellent microwaveable meals-for-two for under a tenner.The other evening my very own Mistress Pain said to me, "What shall we have for supper?" and without more ado I did just that. The Sainsbury's Indian banquet - yes, banquet! - for two comes in an attractive ministerial-style purple box with attached handle and there are options of either chicken jalfrezi and chicken tikka masala (which I opted for), or a milder korma/masala version. As well as the two main dishes, there's a generous container of pilau rice, a plain naan bread and four onion bhajis. This is a lot of food to microwave a container at a time but that's not a problem because the bhajis and the naan have to be done in a conventional oven, so by juggling appliances and plates you can ensure it's all piping hot when it limps the ten feet from counter top to tabletop.

Ghee whizz

Why, I hear you scream, are you banging on about this bloody microwaveable Indian meal!? The answer is simple: it's all about the economy, dummy. My banquet was reduced to £7, so I was able to satisfy both the insatiable Mistress Pain and my own rather limper appetite for £3.50 a head. The food itself tastes damn good - no, let me rephrase that: this was the best Indian meal I've eaten in the past fucking year, and I include in that a state banquet in New Delhi at which I was seated next to the president and she popped balls of gold-leaf-encrusted saffron rice into my mouth with her own fair hands. Indeed, compared to the average Indian sit-down - let alone takeaway - Sainsbury's wins hands-down on cost and quality.

I expect Sainsbury's chicken is sourced no more or less ethically than the fowls cooked up by my local balti house - but it tasted more succulent to me. The sauces of the main dishes were also way less ghee-y than I'm accustomed to - and all the better for it. The onion bhajis were the hot bollocks - Osborne, take note - while the pilau rice was cooked so perfectly that I could comb the grains into perfect regularity with the tines of my fork.

As for the Sainsbury's naan, well, as a belated anniversary tribute to the Scots Bard I can only observe, A naan's a naan for a'that. If only Osborne understood this, but I'm afraid for him it isn't the case that: "The rank is but the guinea's stamp/The Man's the gowd for a' that..." Rather it's the gowd that counts.

Will Self is an author and journalist. His books include Umbrella, Shark, The Book of Dave and The Butt. He writes the Madness of Crowds and Real Meals columns for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 20 February 2012 issue of the New Statesman, How do we stop Iran getting the bomb?

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What's to be done about racial inequality?

David Cameron's words on equal opportunities are to be welcomed - now for some action, says Sunder Katwala.

David Cameron made the strongest, clearest and most high profile statement about ethnic inequalities and the need to tackle discrimination ever yet offered by a British Prime Minister in his leader’s speech to the Conservative Party conference in Manchester.
“Picture this. You’ve graduated with a good degree. You send out your CV far and wide. But you get rejection after rejection. What’s wrong? It’s not the qualifications or the previous experience. It’s just two words at the top: first name, surname. Do you know that in our country today: even if they have exactly the same qualifications, people with white-sounding names are nearly twice as likely to get call backs for jobs than people with ethnic-sounding names? … That, in 21st century Britain, is disgraceful. We can talk all we want about opportunity, but it’s meaningless unless people are really judged equally”, said Cameron.
While the proof of the pudding will be in the eating, this was a powerfully argued Prime Ministerial intervention – and a particularly well-timed one, for three reasons.

Firstly, the Prime Minister was able to root his case in an all-but-universally accepted appeal for equal opportunities. It will always prove more difficult in practice to put political energy and resources behind efforts to remedy discrimination against a minority of the population unless a convincing fairness case is made that values cherished across our whole society are at stake. Cameron’s argument, that any party which tells itself that it is the party of the ‘fair chance’ and ‘the equal shot’ must have a response when there is such clear evidence of discrimination, should prove persuasive to a Conservative Party that has not seen race inequalities as its natural territory. Cameron argued that the same principles should animate responses to discrimination when it comes to race, gender and social class. Put like that, wanting job interviews to be fair – by eradicating conscious and unconscious patterns of bias wherever possible – would strike most Britons as offering as clear a case of the values of fair play as wanting the best baker to win the Great British Bake-Off on television.
Secondly, Cameron’s intervention comes at a potential "tipping point" moment for fair opportunities across ethnic groups. Traditionally, ethnic discrimination has been discussed primarily through the lens of its impact on the most marginalised. Certainly, persistent gaps in the criminal justice system, mental health provision and unemployment rates remain stark for some minority groups. What has been less noticed is the emergence of a much more complex pattern of opportunity and disadvantage – not least as a consequence of significant ethnic minority progress.

Most strikingly of all, in educational outcomes, historic attainment gaps between ethnic minorities and their white British peers have disappeared over the last decade. In the aggregate, ethnic minorities get better GCSE results on average. Ethnic minority Britons are more likely, not less likely, to be university graduates than their fellow citizens. 

As a result of that progress, Cameron’s intervention comes at a moment of significant potential – but significant risk too. Britain’s ethnic minorities are the youngest and fastest-growing sections of British society. If that educational progress translates into economic success, it will make a significant contribution to the "Great British Take-Off" that the Prime Minister envisions. But if that does not happen, with educational convergence combined with current ‘ethnic penalties’ in employment and income persisting, then that potential could well curdle into frustration that the British promise of equal opportunities is not being kept.  Cameron also mirrored his own language in committing himself to both a ‘fight against extremism’ and a ‘fight against discrimination’: while those are distinct challenges and causes, actively pursuing both tracks simultaneously has the potential, at least, depolarise some debates about responses to extremism  - and so to help deepen the broad social coalitions we need for a more cohesive society too.

Thirdly, Cameron’s challenge could mark an important deepening in the political competition between the major parties on race issues. Many have been struck by the increase in political attention on the centre-right to race issues over the last five to ten years. The focus has been on the politics of representation. By increasing the number of non-white Conservative MPs from two to seventeen since 2005, Cameron has sent a powerful signal that Labour’s traditional claim to be ‘the party of ethnic minorities’ would now be contested. Cameron was again able to celebrate in Manchester several ways in which his Cabinet and Parliamentary benches demonstrate many successful journeys of migrant and minority integration in British society. That might perhaps help to ease the fears, about integration being impossible in an era of higher immigration, which the Home Secretary had articulated the previous day.

So symbolism can matter. But facial diversity is not enough. The politics of ethnic minority opportunity needs to be about more than visits to gurdwaras, diversity nights at the party conference fringes and unveiling statues of Mahatma Gandhi in Parliament Square. Jeremy Corbyn’s first speech as Labour leader did include one brief celebratory reference to Britain’s ethnic diversity – “as I travelled the country during the leadership campaign it was wonderful to see the diversity of all the people in our country” – and to Labour bringing in more black, Asian and ethnic minority members - but it did not include any substantial content on discrimination. Tim Farron acknowledged during his leadership campaign that the Liberal Democrats have struggled to get to the starting-line on race and diversity at all. The opposition parties too will no doubt now be challenged to match not just the Prime Minister’s rhetorical commitment to challenging inequalities but also to propose how it could be done in practice.

Non-white Britons expect substance, not just symbolism from all of the parties on race inequalites.  Survation’s large survey of ethnic minority voters for British Future showed the Conservatives winning more ethnic minority support than ever before – but just 29 per cent of non-white respondents were confident that the Conservatives are committed to treating people of every ethnic background equally, while 54 per cent said this of Labour. Respondents were twice as likely to say that the Conservatives needto do more to reach out – and the Prime Minister would seem to be committed to showing that he has got that message.  Moreover, there is evidence that ethnic inclusion could be important in broadening a party’s appeal to other younger, urban and more liberal white voters too – which is why it made sense for this issue to form part of a broader attempt by David Cameron to colonise the broad centre of British politics in his Manchester speech.

But the case for caution is that there has been limited policy attention to ethnic inequalities under the last two governments. Restaurateur Iqbal Wahhab decided to give up his role chairing an ethnic minority taskforce for successive governments, unconvinced there was a political commitment to do much more than convene a talking shop. Lib Dem equalities minister Lynne Featherstone did push the CV discrimination issue – but many Conservatives were sceptical. Cameron’s new commitment may face similar challenges from those whose instinct is to worry that more attention to discrimination or bias in the jobs market will mean more red tape for business.

Labour had a separate race inequalities manifesto in 2015, outside of its main election manifesto, while the Conservative manifesto did not contain significant commitments to racial inequality. The mid-campaign launch in Croydon of a series of race equality pledges showed an increasing awareness of the growing importance of ethnic minority votes - though the fact that they all involved aiming for increases of 20 per cent by 2020 gave them a slightly back-of-the-envelope feel. 

Prime Ministerial commitments have an important agenda-setting function. A generation ago the Stephen Lawrence case opened the eyes of middle England to racist violence and police failures, particularly through the Daily Mail’s persistent challenging of those injustices. A Conservative Prime Minister’s words could similarly make a big difference in the mainstreaming of the issue of inequalities of opportunity. What action should follow words? Between now and next year’s party conference season, that must will now be the test for this Conservative government – and for their political opponents too. 

Sunder Katwala is director of British Future and former general secretary of the Fabian Society.