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6 December 2019updated 09 Jul 2021 7:46am

Evening Call: People of Colour, People of Talent

By Jonn Elledge

Remember the day in 2015 when the internet went wild for a blue and black dress that some people, vexingly, saw as white and gold – a day so important for the history of humanity that the Wikipedia page describing it is titled, simply, “the dress”? Or the one with the sound effect that some people heard as “laurel” and some as “Yanny”, and which for some of us, even more confusingly, morphed from one to the other?

Well, the extremely online are at it again, only this time it’s electoral. Today’s confusion is whether the adjective used by Boris Johnson in a speech earlier was “colour” or “talent”. Here’s the quote talking about Britain’s post-Brexit immigration policy, with the relevant word starred out:

“We’ll be able to do all sorts of things differently and better, including controlling our immigration system for the first time in decades, and that would be a good thing. I’m in favour of having people of ***** come to this country but I think we should have it democratically controlled.”

Whoever or whatever was responsible for captioning the video at Channel 4 heard the missing word as “colour”. This would obviously have been a fairly awful thing to say, implying as it does that skin colour is an important factor in the government’s thinking on migration controls. And since this is Boris Johnson we’re talking about here – a man whose record on matters of race relations is, ironically, not whiter than white – a lot of people enthusiastically leapt on that transcript to highlight quite how awful the Prime Minister is.

The only problem is that, although he fluffs the word slightly, he seems to have actually said “people of talent” – a line he’s been using throughout this campaign to highlight his plan for an Australian-style points-based immigration system. This has its own problems, as Anoosh explained earlier – not least of which is (this thought mine, not hers) that the logically corollary is that we should be reserving all the low-skilled jobs for Brits. Nonetheless, that isn’t quite the same as going out on the campaign trail to talk specifically about non-white immigration.

And so, Channel 4 deleted both the wrongly captioned video and the tweet in which it quoted those captions. That has not been enough to stop the mysterious yet ubiquitous senior Tory source from telling reporters that, “This shows why it has been impossible to cooperate with Channel 4 news – they are campaigners in this election”. In other words – it’s given the Tory party the perfect excuse for the attitude they’ve been taking towards the broadcaster for this entire campaign already.

Why so many people were so quick to believe that Boris Johnson would have used the words “people of colour” is a question that the Tory party seems to have little interest in asking, and so the rest of us can only speculate.

There are six days to go. Come on guys. We can get through this, somehow.

Good day for…

Ex-Tory rebels David Gauke, Anne Milton and Dominic Grieve, whose campaigns to remain MPs have won the support of a Conservative prime minister. Not, admittedly, the current Conservative Prime Minister, or either of the two who preceded him. But 22 years after leaving office, Sir John Major has come out in support of the three MPs are no longer with the Conservative Party and are hoping to be re-elected as independents.

Whether Sir John has quite the sway he did in 1992 when he presided over the party that won more votes in a general election than any other party in British history remains to be seen, but I’m sure the trio are pleased nonetheless.

Bad day for…

The media – and alas, not just because of the Channel 4 imbroglio. Jeremy Corbyn earlier unveiled a package of documents that he claimed provided fresh insight into the full horror of Boris Johnson’s Brexit plans.

But, as Stephen noted earlier, nothing in those documents should have come as any surprise to anyone who’d been paying attention. Why is it, he wondered, that the only way to get broadcasters to cover policy is “to add the words ‘Top Secret’ in big shiny letters”? Good question.

Quote of the day

“While the exercise was conducted properly, we regret any misunderstanding this may have caused.”

Remember the social media storm that the Queen had died, after a mysterious figure known only as “Gibbo” reported her death to his WhatsApp group? Tom Cotterill, an enterprising reporter at the Portsmouth News, has uncovered the truth. Staff at a Royal Navy Air Station had been holding one of their regular practice runs for Operation London Bridge, the procedure that’ll be followed when her majesty expires for real – and somebody got the wrong end of the stick.

Naval staff have said that they regret the misunderstanding – as, one imagines, does the Queen.

Everybody’s talking about…

The constituencies they’ve been visiting to take the temperature of the electorate. A few samples from the NS team: Anoosh has been to Hartlepool, Canterbury, and Iain Duncan Smith’s Chingford & Woodford Green, Indra to Norwich North, and George Grylls to Wolverhampton South.

You can find them all indexed here. For all the myriad horrors of this election campaign, it’s fair to say the NS team are having a great time.

Everybody should be talking about…

Those who don’t have a vote – because one person who hasn’t been having a great time is dual Greek and American citizen Sarah Manavis, who is doomed to live through this election and deal with the resulting immigration policies without having any say in it.

She’s written about the experience, in a piece that begins: “A story I’ve been telling for the last three and a half years is how my boyfriend and I almost got married in our first three months of dating.” You can read on here.


Questions? Comments? Email me.

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