Tebbit's loyalty test is dead

A glorious summer has already begun. The weather helps, but the main features are already in train. The World Cup is centre stage. The eyes of millions, from all parts of the globe, are focused on a spherical object as it is taken from end to end of the park by the feet and heads of 22 men in different cities of the German republic.

The Sri Lankans are here making merry with the cherry and the Pakistanis are due shortly, led by the imam-esque Inzamam-ul-Haq. Wimbledon draws nigh and Venus, the single Williams sister, will carry with her the hopes and aspirations of the dark-skinned immigrant population in the UK and elsewhere.

A casualty of the fret and fever of these sporting moments is the "Tebbit test", which has already died without even a whimper. Remember Norman Tebbit, who some 15 years ago watched a Test match between England and Pakistan, took his beady eye off the ball and concentrated on the enthusiastic support offered to the team from the east by young Pakistanis born in Bradford and elsewhere.

These were his words: "A large proportion of Britain's Asian population fail to pass the cricket test. Which side do they cheer for? It's an interesting test. Are you still harking back to where you came from or where you are [sic]?"

The tabloid press relished this statement and pointed aggressive fingers at the new communities for our disloyalty to Queen and country.

Tebbit returned to this theme a year ago after the bombs exploded on 7 July, boasting that he stood by his comments, and arguing that policies of multiculturalism prevented the integration of immigrant communities. We, the immigrants he referred to, wondered if we were committing a cardinal sin by supporting cricketers who were now considered the enemy. There were sharp rebukes to Tebbit's attack by some of our leaders, but more importantly we spoke feverishly among ourselves and dissented en masse.

I managed to buttonhole Tebbit as I journeyed around England in 1999 during the course of filming a series for Channel 4 entitled The White Tribe. I questioned him about his now infamous test. To my astonishment, he admitted to being an immigrant himself from the lowlands of Europe, and preened as he spoke of how the tribespeople from whom he came were proud to lift themselves from their lowly status up into the hallowed corridors of the English. Implicit in what he said was his acceptance of inferiority.

I arrived here 44 years ago, along with thousands from the former colonial territories, without accepting, in the slightest, an inferior status. Kwame Nkrumah, Jawaharlal Nehru and the other leaders of the anti-colonial movement saw to that. However, we were isolated by our separation from our countries of origin. Historical references were not easy to come by.

A younger generation has benefited from the revolution in the means of communication. They are in immediate contact with the countries from which we came. A phone card costs £3, and for that price we can speak to the West Indies, Ghana, Pakistan and India for 50 minutes. The internet binds us in a way that was not possible in the past. No longer can we be shaken by allegations condemning our loyalties to those sporting teams which originate from our past.

So when the Soca Warriors, the Trinidad and Tobago football team, played against England in Germany, we, migrants from Trinidad and Tobago, were at one with the team's hopes and aspirations. Coaches left the Thames Embankment for Nuremberg carrying descendants of islanders who arrived here 50 years ago.

Huddled together in sitting rooms throughout this land, Trinidadians and Tobagonians cheered and moaned in unison. We held the mighty England for 80 minutes, charming our way into the hearts of people across the globe, certain that our loyalties could not be described as sinister.

There was not a scintilla of dissent from the host population as Ghanaians gathered on the streets of Tottenham in support of their team. Not a drum was heard, not a funeral note, as immigrants from Trinidad cheered for T&T.

Tebbit's test did not survive the passage of time and is now truly dead. As the old codgers from the right wing of the Tory party shuffle their way to the crematorium, David Cameron will be absent. But Trevor Phillips (soon to be Lord) and his sidekick Trevor McDonald will shed a tear in mourning for the passing of that outdated and miserable test.

Darcus Howe is an outspoken writer, broadcaster and social commentator. His TV work includes ‘White Tribe’ in which he put Anglo-Saxon Britain under the spotlight. He also fronted a series called Devil’s Advocate.

This article first appeared in the 03 July 2006 issue of the New Statesman, 7/7: one year on