Why Kelvin MacKenzie is wrong to diss the north

There's so much wrong with Kelvin MacKenzie's idea for a "Southern Party" that it's hard to know where to start.

Sometimes, you start a day with the best of intentions, and then someone ruins it all. I planned to spend today knitting, maybe doing some baking, planning for Christmas.

But no. Kelvin MacKenzie's been a dickhead, and so I plan to spend the next few hundred words informing him of exactly how much of a dickhead he is. 

You see, MacKenzie wants to start a "Southern Party", to help all those poor underrepresented millionaires in Kensington, Chelsea and Kent whose interests are so thoroughly ignored by the present political parties

There are so many things wrong with this article, I almost don't know where to start. Perhaps at the beginning. According to the article:

the hard-working, clever and creative people living in London and the South East who single-handedly are giving the rest of the nation a standard of living they can’t, or won’t, create for themselves.

Apparently this group is currently insufficiently represented, a source of positive growth for the economy as a whole, and in desperate need of help. Unlike these people. Obvs. 

Except, is it really obvious? Research published by the New Economics Foundation in 2009 showed that while bankers, advertising executives and accountants damage the economy, cleaners, child minders and bin-men create between £7 and £12 in the wider economy for every £1 that is spent on their services. I won't insult your intelligence by assuming you need me to cite research showing that cleaning, child minding and waste recycling are jobs that are distributed across the country, whilst banks, advertising agencies and accountants are overwhelmingly based in the south-east.

Somehow, this notion that high pay automatically correlates to a positive contribution to the wider economy just won't die. You would think that five years after the start of the great recession, the idea that those who are paid a lot of money might actually be wrecking the economy might have taken hold even a tiny little bit. Apparently not.

So much of media and governance is based in London that those of you based in the capital may not realise quite how much power and freedom you have. A start-up will find loans easier to obtain with a London address. Contacts are easier to make. Lobbying is easier. 

And there's that whole prejudice thing you don't have to deal with if you're based in the south. In the quote above, MacKenzie states that people in the south-east are creative. His obvious implication is that people elsewhere in the UK are not. Understandably, I object to his unfounded implication.

To take an example very local to me - when internet phenomenon Kickstarter launched in the UK, the first project to meet its funding goal was Sheffield-based Pimoroni. In the early years of the video games industry, Gremlin InteractiveSumo Digital and a host of smaller agencies turned Sheffield and the Don Valley into the Silicon Valley of the UK. Sheffield-based web design agency Technophobia pioneered internet banking by linking up with the Co-op to provide the UK's first internet bank,

As to MacKenzie's assertion that the south-east works harder than the rest of the country. I don't know that I can really take this seriously from someone in the middle class who is attacking a class whose very name is a testament to their hard work and dedication. 

I would love to be able to refer to a register of lobbyist and lobbying groups to show how disproportionately London-based businesses are able to influence government. Unfortunately, no such register exists.

Outside the south-east, we haven't forgotten that it was Londoners who lost Derby its train building industry. We haven't forgotten that it was London group-think that led the Coalition in it's early days to play the destruction of industrial and green technological progress for political gain with the cancellation of the Forgemasters loan.

And then he really gets his teeth in on the scroungers. Those who claim benefits. As Sarah Morrison outlined recently in the Independent, most benefit claimants are in work. In work and not being paid a living wage. Surely it doesn't take a genius to work out that if companies are using value-destroying accountants to minimise their tax bill, and paying starvation wages which must then be topped up by the government, then surely the scrounger label more properly applies to the companies, not those working for them.

The coalition and their allies are clinging to divide and rule as a central plank of their strategy. By informing us that our real enemy is our next door neighbour whose husband left her with three kids and rent arrears she didn't know were mounting, our former colleagues who didn't quite escape redundancy, the corner shop owner who couldn't afford an accountant to make sure his tax return was completed properly, they hope to distract us from the real enemy of a system past its time and a parasitic elite. 

I'm not distracted. I am angry that we have to have this fight again. But we will. 

I am not a Londoner. And for that, I am proud.

Fearless in the face of yarn, yet terrified of spiders, Charlie Hallam is a Sheffield blogger and activist. She can be found waffling about politics and yarn as @fearlessknits on Twitter.

London: not everything happens there, you know. Photograph: Getty Images

Fearless in the face of yarn, yet terrified of spiders, Charlie Hallam is a Sheffield blogger and activist. She can be found waffling about politics and yarn as @fearlessknits on Twitter.

Photo: Getty Images
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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.