What a frightening world it must be if you only read the Daily Express

Frightening, but with free baked goods.

Daily Express front page

"BRITAIN'S 40% SURGE IN ETHNIC NUMBERS – 9 MILLION LIVING HERE ARE NON-WHITE", yells the front-page headline this morning. It's a classic tabloid ghost train ride: here come the immigrants, taking over Britain, turning us all a duskier shade of off-pink. When you think about it, "ethnic" is such an odd term to use – we're all ethnic, of one type or another – but they're using it to mean "ethnic minority", as they have done before, together with the rather more blunt expression "ethnics".

I suppose it's one of those things that might bother some people more than others. It depends on whether you think these islands belong to people who are "white" more than people who are "non-white", or whether you see the changes in population as a positive thing. Can you really divide up the various mixed races and groups in this country of rich heritage into the binary of "white" and "non-white"? And if you can, what are you trying to say?

This kind of thing goes back to an "us and them" distinction that has been apparent in the Daily Express and Daily Star for a while, usually in relation to Muslims and British people, as if the two could not possibly be the same. In this instance, the "us and them" narrative is that this country's population is composed of two types of people: white and non-white. The assumption is that "we" are white and "they" are non-white, and there isn't anything in between.

Give the readers what they want

It might be the case, of course, that this assumption may reflect a deeper truth about the readership of the publications in question, but this is still a national newspaper, shouting out from the news-stands to everyone, purporting to tell a version of reality. Even if you are pandering to an ever-dwindling bunch of frightened Little Englanders who are worried about immigrants, that doesn't excuse the use of this kind of terminology, if you're going to have integrity about the things you present as being true and untrue.

But this is 2011. I keep looking at the calendar and imagining that I've slipped back a few decades, to another time, another era, when people didn't know enough about growing up in a multicultural society to know about "ethnic minorities".

But no, this kind of headline is still being splashed in a national newspaper, as if non-pink people were some kind of novelty who only came into being under New Labour and who have been pouring across the (open) borders to try to take over ever since; as if it really is a case of "us" and "them", of "white" and "non-white".

If it weren't so depressing, it would be faintly hilarious. But it is depressing that a newspaper should make a scare story out of there being people in this country who aren't white.

Cakey consolation

The world can be a scary place, of course, particularly if you read the tabloids – but if you got your information about it from the Express and the Express only, you might find it to be more scary than it really is.

Every day, a new scare, a new thing to be worried about, a new reason to hide behind the door chain and be afraid of what's out there. It's a miracle that the readers even manage to get out to the corner shop and buy the newspaper in the first place, so afraid must they be of what lurks out there.

"MILLIONS MUST WORK AFTER 70", thundered Wednesday's edition – but at least there was a free sandwich to keep you going. "FURY AS JUNKIES GET £1BN BENEFITS", boiled Tuesday's edition – with only the promise of a lemon drizzle doughnut to ameliorate that anger. And on Monday, we were faced with "BRITAIN'S HAY FEVER HELL" – mind you, there was a free chicken stuffing lattice on offer, as long as you could see through the streaming eyes long enough to find your local branch of Greggs.

Every day, another scare, another thing to depress you, another thing to make you angry about the unfairness of it all – and another free thing from the bakery. What's surprising, perhaps, is that they're plugging Belgian buns today, of all days. Bloody Belgian buns, coming over here, taking our pastries . . . Still, at least the icing's white. And that's all that matters.

Patrolling the murkier waters of the mainstream media
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Lord Empey: Northern Ireland likely to be without government for a year

The former UUP leader says Gerry Adams is now in "complete control" of Sinn Fein and no longer wants to be "trapped" by the Good Friday Agreement

The death of Martin McGuinness has made a devolution settlement in Northern Ireland even more unlikely and has left Gerry Adams in "complete control" of Sinn Fein, the former Ulster Unionist leader Reg Empey has said.

In a wide-ranging interview with the New Statesman on the day of McGuinness’ death, the UUP peer claimed his absence would leave a vacuum that would allow Adams, the Sinn Fein president, to consolidate his hold over the party and dictate the trajectory of the crucial negotiations to come. Sinn Fein have since pulled out of power-sharing talks, leaving Northern Ireland facing the prospect of direct rule from Westminster or a third election in the space of a year. 

Empey, who led the UUP between and 2005 and 2010 and was briefly acting first minister in 2001, went on to suggest that, “as things stand”, Northern Ireland is unlikely to see a return to fully devolved government before the inquiry into the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme is complete -  a process which could take up to a year to complete.

“Adams is now in complete control of Sinn Fein,” he said, adding that it remained unclear whether McGuinness’ successor Michelle O’Neill would be “allowed to plough an independent furrow”. “He has no equal within the organisation. He is in total command of Sinn Fein, and that is the way it is. I think he’s even more powerful today than he was before Martin died – by virtue of there just being nobody there.”

Asked what impact the passing of McGuinness, the former deputy first minister and leader of Sinn Fein in the north, would have on the chances of a devolution settlement, Empey, a member of the UUP’s Good Friday Agreement negotiating delegation, said: “I don’t think it’ll be positive – because, for all his faults, Martin was committed to making the institutions work. I don’t think Gerry Adams is as committed.

Empey added that he believed Adams did not want to work within the constitutional framework of the Good Friday Agreement. In a rebuke to nationalist claims that neither Northern Ireland secretary James Brokenshire nor Theresa May can act as honest or neutral brokers in power-sharing negotiations given their reliance on the DUP’s eight MPs, he said: “They’re not neutral. And they’re not supposed to be neutral.

“I don’t expect a prime minister or a secretary of state to be neutral. Brokenshire isn’t sitting wearing a hat with ostrich feathers – he’s not a governor, he’s a party politician who believes in the union. The language Sinn Fein uses makes it sound like they’re running a UN mandate... Gerry can go and shout at the British government all he likes. He doesn’t want to be trapped in the constitutional framework of the Belfast Agreement. He wants to move the debate outside those parameters, and he sees Brexit as a chance to mobilise opinion in the republic, and to be seen standing up for Irish interests.”

Empey went on to suggest that Adams, who he suggested exerted a “disruptive” influence on power-sharing talks, “might very well say” Sinn Fein were “’[taking a hard line] for Martin’s memory’” and added that he had been “hypocritical” in his approach.

“He’ll use all of that,” he said. “Republicans have always used people’s deaths to move the cause forward. The hunger strikers are the obvious example. They were effectively sacrificed to build up the base and energise people. But he still has to come to terms with the rest of us.”

Empey’s frank assessment of Sinn Fein’s likely approach to negotiations will cast yet more doubt on the prospect that devolved government might be salvaged before Monday’s deadline. Though he admitted Adams had demanded nothing unionists “should die in a ditch for”, he suggested neither party was likely to cede ground. “If Sinn Fein were to back down they would get hammered,” he said. “If Foster backs down the DUP would get hammered. So I think we’ve got ourselves a catch 22: they’ve both painted themselves into their respective corners.”

In addition, Empey accused DUP leader Arlene Foster of squandering the “dream scenario” unionist parties won at last year’s assembly election with a “disastrous” campaign, but added he did not believe she would resign despite repeated Sinn Fein demands for her to do so.

 “It’s very difficult to see how she’s turned that from being at the top of Mount Everest to being under five miles of water – because that’s where she is,” he said. “She no longer controls the institutions. Martin McGuinness effectively wrote her resignation letter for her. And it’s very difficult to see a way forward. The idea that she could stand down as first minister candidate and stay on as party leader is one option. But she could’ve done that for a few weeks before Christmas and we wouldn’t be here! She’s basically taken unionism from the top to the bottom – in less than a year”.

Though Foster has expressed regret over the tone of the DUP’s much-criticised election campaign and has been widely praised for her decision to attend Martin McGuinness’ funeral yesterday, she remains unlikely to step down, despite coded invitations for her to do so from several members of her own party.

The historically poor result for unionism she oversaw has led to calls from leading loyalists for the DUP and UUP – who lost 10 and eight seats respectively – to pursue a merger or electoral alliance, which Empey dismissed outright.

“The idea that you can weld all unionists together into a solid mass under a single leadership – I would struggle to see how that would actually work in practice. Can you cooperate at a certain level? I don’t doubt that that’s possible, especially with seats here. Trying to amalgamate everybody? I remain to be convinced that that should be the case.”

Accusing the DUP of having “led unionism into a valley”, and of “lashing out”, he added: “They’ll never absorb all of our votes. They can try as hard as they like, but they’d end up with fewer than they have now.”

Patrick Maguire writes about politics and is the 2016 winner of the Anthony Howard Award.