Thursday 29 April 2010

Bigoted or not? How to tell the difference

"So does he think we're all bigots?" is the lead headline on the Daily Mail website to trail their coverage of the Prime Minister's disastrous remarks about a voter in Rochdale.

Clearly, that would be quite wrong and absurd.

Immigration is a major public issue. (That is why it has been endlessly discussed in political and public debate, with enormous amounts of legislation passed on it too).

So we all need to be much clearer about the difference between a rational and a bigoted discussion of immigration.

Where should we draw the line?

Coincidentally, the reporter on today's Mail piece is James Chapman. I believe that he was also author of the Mail's news report last year complaining that British-born children and grandchildren of immigrants were not classified as immigrants. (I think, from memory, that Chapman was the reporter: the initial article seems to have been pulled from the online archive).

That report complained that:

although the figures from the Government’s Office for National Statistics show an increase in numbers of foreign born people they still fail to record the true impact of immigration because they record their children as British rather than second or third generation immigrants.

That was wrong. On an ungenerous day, one might regard it as bigoted too.

Perhaps that is controversial, but I think I could make some case that it could be "unreasonably prejudiced and intolerant” to declare that my children, aged under five, should be classified as immigrants and considered less British to boot, because their grandparents came to this country forty years ago.

But we should always remember that sinners can repent. To their credit, the Mail were responsive in apologising when challenged.

They ran my letter to address the mistake.

So progress is possible. And I will always regard the Daily Mail's journalism over the murder of Stephen Lawrence as one of the most important and effective tabloid newspaper campaigns of the last twenty years.

Yet even the sincerely repentant can sometimes lapse.

Unfortunately, the Mail has returned to discussing who is "British by blood" rather too frequently in this election campaign - targetting Nick Clegg, Steve Hilton and other persons of suspicion across the political spectrum over their foreign parentage.

Mr Paul Dacre, the agenda-setting, editor-in-chief of the newspaper, is said to have a close personal relationship with Gordon Brown.

So the Prime Minister would never, of course, call his friend Mr Dacre a bigot.

With so much less cause in Rochdale, you might have thought that Gordon Brown would have learnt to hold his tongue.

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