Is this racism?

You decide. But those of us who are not white are rather fed up with such goings-on.

From the Mirror:

Pizza Hut was accused of racism yesterday after asking a group of black professional footballers to pay in advance for their meals.

The demand was made as a table of white youngsters seated nearby were allowed to settle up after eating.

Five AFC Bournemouth players were stunned when a duty manager told them to pay up front because of "the way you lot look".

When they refused, staff claimed they were being "disruptive" and called the police.

Officers arrived at the restaurant but took no action after the players, including £2,000-a-week first-team regulars Anton Robinson, Liam Feeney and Marvin Bartley, agreed to leave.

Pizza Hut last night apologised to the League One stars and admitted they had been treated "very shabbily" but insisted there was no racism.

However, midfielder Mr Robinson, 24, said later: "The only thing that was different was the colour of our skins."

So Pizza Hut insists it wasn't racism, but the players insist it was. I know which side I'm on.

The UK is a much more tolerant and diverse country than when my father arrived here as an immigrant from India in 1966 and had dog shit posted through his letter box on a semi-regular basis. Thankfully, in 21st-century Britain, racism is less and less acceptable, less and less prevalent. But it still exists. It hasn't disappeared.

And many white Britons, even of an ultra-liberal, politically correct bent, don't quite get the impact that racist or discriminatory language or behaviour can have on people from non-white, ethnic-minority backgrounds.

Often, the racism isn't intended or deliberate, and the person causing offence will get rather upset or annoyed if their words or deeds are pointed out to them. But it's not just far-right, tatooed bigots who discriminate against ethnic minorities. Yet those of us who are non-white are often dismissed as thin-skinned or over-sensitive, or lacking in a sense of humour. We are accused, by the right-wing media, in particular, of inhabiting a "victim culture" in which we supposedly "cry" racism, with the support and encouragement of the "race relations industry".

But how many of you will ever find yourselves in the humiliating position of the black person in a restaurant who is treated differently from the white customers? How many of you know what that's like or how it feels? How many of you have been stopped and searched hundreds of times, as this black adviser to the Met Police was?

How many of you spent three years, as I did at university, being stopped and asked for ID on countless occasions, and for no apparent reason, as I tried to enter my own Oxford college? Christ Church, where I did my degree, has porters stationed at each entrance to ensure that tourists don't get in to the college without paying an entrance fee by pretending to be undergraduates. But I was at Christ Church for three years – didn't they realise, after the first few stops, that I was a student there? On several occasions, I entered the college with a group of fellow students, all white and all of whom were allowed to pass by the porters while I was stopped and asked to produce my college photo card.

I'm not pretending it's the same as being refused service in a restaurant, or being stopped and searched by the police, or being denied voting rights, and it might seem like a trivial matter to those of you who haven't been on the receiving end of such behaviour, but it's the kind of frustrating experience that sticks in the minds of those of us who happen to be non-white but feel as British and as integrated as the next man (or woman).

On a related note, it's rather disturbing to see that Oxbridge colleges have failed miserably in their alleged attempts to diversify their intake and admit non-white students, black teenagers in particular. According to information revealed, via FoI requests, to the (black) Labour MP David Lammy, 21 Oxbridge colleges made no offers to black students last year. They should be ashamed of themselves.

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

Show Hide image

Theresa May's big thinker - an interview with George Freeman

The Conservative policy board chair on the meaning of Brexit, state intervention and whether "Mayism" exists.

Theresa May’s three months as Prime Minister have been marked by ruthless changes of both personnel and policy, from grammar schools to fiscal targets. The man tasked with overseeing the latter is George Freeman, a newly bearded 49-year-old who jokingly describes himself as “a designated thinker”.

“It’s a huge privilege,” Freeman told me when we met recently in Westminster. “As [May] has indicated, she’s determined to open up the policymaking process to good ideas from a much wider pool.”

After entering parliament as the MP for Mid Norfolk in 2010, Freeman distinguished himself as one of the most intellectually energetic Tory MPs. He founded the 2020 group of Conservative modernisers and became the first ever life sciences minister in 2014. Before this, he had worked for 15 years as a biotech entrepreneur.

Politics is in his blood. The Liberal prime minister William Gladstone was his great-great-great-uncle and Mabel Philipson, the first female Conservative MP, his great-aunt. Yet Freeman attributes his reformist zeal to the belief that “with privilege comes responsibility”. He boarded at Radley College after his parents, both alcoholics, divorced and has spoken of his “emotionally damaged” childhood.

It is unsurprising that May, confronted by the greatest policy challenge since 1945 – EU withdrawal – has called on his services. The chair of the Prime Minister’s policy board, to give Freeman his official title, was a passionate Remainer but told me “we are now all Brexiteers”. The “Brexit roar”, he explained, was “a mixture of very deeply felt concerns and complaints about globalisation, powerlessness and the growing gap between London and [other] places . . .

“There’s an understanding that if we simply delivered Brexit, and didn’t tackle the rest, we would only have dealt with some of the problem.”

His ambition was “to do for our generation what Disraeli did in the 19th century, in understanding that the extraordinarily challenging pace of franchise extension was also a huge opportunity to harness and fashion a New Model Conservative Party”.

Besides abandoning the surplus target (“to boost growth and investment in infrastructure”), Freeman cited welfare policy as a point of departure. The government would “better differentiate” between changes in the welfare budget and systemic reform – a division that May believes was eroded by George Osborne.

The Prime Minister underlined her commitment to industrial strategy by naming a new department after it. But what does it mean? “I think there is a recognition that we are embracing something unrecognisable from the failed ‘beer and sandwiches’ interventionism of the Sixties and Seventies,” Freeman said. “Twenty-first-century Conservative industrial strategy is about backing our science, innovation and knowledge economy, and other sectors where we have serious global leadership.” He spoke of “stepping in where only the state can”, citing the publicly funded Diamond Light Source synchrotron facility, which he recently visited with the astronaut Tim Peake. The government must be not merely “pro-enterprise”, but “more enterprising”.

May has endured her heaviest dissent over education, and Freeman was notably lukewarm about the idea of new grammar schools. “As well as her position” on the latter, he emphasised, “the Prime Minister set out a much broader vision”. Asked whether he understood MPs’ objections to academic selection, he said “there will be all the usual consultation and discussions through parliament about specific measures”.

The Prime Minister has entered office with greater ideological definition to her thinking than David Cameron, who struggled to reconcile his early vision with austerity. Can we speak of “Mayism”? “I’m not sure the ‘ism’ is helpful or appropriate at this stage. The Prime Minister is very strongly driven by her conservative values, and converting those values into effective policies to tackle the challenges we face. I think we have to wait for the judgement of history to define the ism.”

Freeman is close to “DC” (as he calls Cameron) and praised his premiership. “I was very sorry to see him go. But in the end, given the way the referendum turned out, it was inevitable. I thought he handled that whole last week in the most exemplary way: typical of the man. In time, I think he will come to be recognised as a transformational leader who brought the Conservative Party to terms with modern Britain.”

He rejected the former education secretary Nicky Morgan’s suggestion that May would struggle to “reach into” the marginal seats that the Tories won under Cameron. “Theresa May is appealing widely across whole swaths of the country as a One-Nation leader,” he declared.

With the re-election of Jeremy Corbyn, Freeman said, “the centre ground of British politics, once dominated by Blair and New Labour, has been vacated . . . That is a huge opportunity for a One-Nation Conservative Party to demonstrate our relevance beyond our core vote to those around the country who have clearly felt so marginalised.”

Corbyn’s triumph “illustrates the extraordinary challenge for mainstream political parties in this age of asymmetric, post-Brexit politics . . . We now have to use the opportunity of incumbency in government to tackle the root causes of the insurgency that has taken out the Labour Party.”

Freeman acknowledged the risk that Labour’s divisions would produce an internal Tory opposition.

“It also creates a question for the Conservative Party. Will we turn in on ourselves and generate our own arguments, or unite and reach out into the space that Corbyn has vacated?” 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 29 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, May’s new Tories