Away in the Caribbean, I can forget Hague and Blunkett

I am off to the Caribbean, there to make the sequel to the White Tribe, my three-part documentary series on the English, which was broadcast on Channel 4 earlier this year. At the end of it, I declared myself an Englander of Caribbean origin.

Now I return to the village of my birth, to key areas of my life in Trinidad, before visiting the smaller islands to see what this independence business has brought to the peoples of the Caribbean, or perhaps, as I wrote in this column, whether a process of recolonisation is on the agenda.

So for the next month or so, I will be filing copy from the islands, which I promise will not be all sun, sand and sea. I have visited almost all the Caribbean islands except Dominica, where the former Reaganite prime minister, Eugenia Charles, had a serious objection to my presence. Now the prime minster of that island is an old comrade of mine and so is the attorney-general. Times have changed.

It is rather odd, at least from where I stand, that most of the old revolutionary guard of the Sixties and Seventies, to which I belong, are ministers of state, opposition senators and parliamentarians, and are locked in a grim battle to make these tiny islands into something worthwhile.

With populations ranging from 6,000 in Nevis through 60,000 in Antigua to two million in Jamaica, the islands have produced some remarkable individuals: two out of five of the greatest cricketers of the 20th century, according to the cricketing annual Wisden; a Nobel Prize-winning poet, Derek Walcott; a novelist of great renown, Vidia (V S) Naipaul; and C L R James, one of the greatest intellectuals of the 20th century.

But all of these - even to some extent the two cricketers, Garfield Sobers and Viv Richards - developed into figures of international stature when they moved outside the Caribbean. I go even further: those of enormous talent who have remained at home have been worn down to shadows of their former selves, literally ground into dust. That is the nature of the place. General de Gaulle once described the islands as pieces of dirt in the Caribbean Sea.

I remember once when I was called home, in the middle of a television series I was presenting, because my father was dying. He died within hours of my return. I went to the undertaker, where 40 days of credit was the norm. But when I told the clerk that my name was Darcus Howe, known then as hostile to the government, she cancelled the credit and demanded cash. Plantation societies breed that type.

It is not that I think England is fairyland. Not at all. Hague-the-plague carries in his bosom poison of a very rare variety. He is pretty close to advocating capital punishment for burglary. We have an incident in which a burglar is crawling about on his knees, begging for his mum, pleading for his miserable life like a rabid dog, only to be blown away by one of the most powerful close-range weapons, the pump-action shotgun. Hague does not issue a warning about taking the law into one's own hands, but wants to broaden the law of self-defence to include murderers of that ilk.

Then he appears on television, riding roughshod over a young Asian woman who pleads with him to moderate his language on asylum-seekers. He struts his stuff in the studio, casting aside with scant courtesy her pleas. Within hours, in Birmingham, three white men pour petrol in a black man's face and set it alight.

And, finally, David Blunkett. I need some respite from him, too. He knows nowt but authoritarianism.

I make a simple personal statement. My daughter, Zoe Howe, will be allowed all the generosity and tolerance I can muster. And always in her conflicts with teachers, my first instinct is and will be to support the bairn. Blunkett can take a running jump as far as I am concerned.

See you in the Caribbean.

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