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Jewish World Review April 25, 2001/ 3 Iyar 5761

Wesley Pruden

Wes Pruden
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A game of chicken without the sauce -- THEREīLL always be an England, perhaps, but maybe without room in it for the English.

Political correctness arrived late in Britain, where the intellectual class has always been a little more authentic than ours. American liberals rarely want a fair debate with anyone with a differing viewpoint. How could a liberal be wrong when heīs so sincere?

But when political correctness arrived in Old Blighty, it arrived with a vengeance, and Tony Blair arrived with it. Mr. Blair modeled himself along the lines of Bill Clinton, and emerged as Bill Clinton with his pants on -- a prime minister who never robbed a bank, lied to the courts or molested an intern but for whom feeling is far more important than thinking. This appears to suit a lot of his constituents just fine, and the bulldog is suddenly out as the symbol of the kingdom. Poodles and cocker spaniels are said to be auditioning for the role.

Scotland now has its own parliament. So do Wales and Northern Ireland. These assemblies make laws for their own people, and through their participation in the British parliament at Westminster regulate the lives of Englishmen as well. The English have no such supervisory role over the Scots, Welsh and Irish in the new "devolution" assemblies. Insult was added to injury over the weekend when everyone in the United Kingdom was obliged to fill out a census form, and there were questions, just as in the United States, to determine the ethnic makeup of what was once Shakespeareīs race of kings. Question 8 asked: "What is your ethnic group?" There were places to mark "white," "mixed," "Asian or Asian British," "Black or Black British," "Chinese or other ethnic group," and so on.

Within some of these categories, a Briton could identify himself as "Asian Scottish" or "Asian British." There was no box to tick as "Welsh," but the Office of National Statistics took pains to remind Welshmen they could write in the word "Welsh" if they liked, and probably should. The only Britons with neither a box to tick nor a reminder to write in something were the "English."

A lot of Englishmen -- and no doubt Scots, Welsh and others -- are suspicious that all this is meant to make it easier for unscrupulous politicians, of whom there is no shortage on either side of the Atlantic, to play the race card as immigration renders Britain ever more diverse. The Brits have not yet learned to race bait with the skill of our pols, but some of the ministers are getting the hang of it.

A Labor minister last week accused the Tories of "playing the race card" because several candidates declined to sign an agreement not to use race as a campaign ploy. Oaths of innocence are always odious, and sure enough, Mr. Blairīs men went to work at once playing the race card by accusing their opponents of playing the race card.

The particular target was John Townsend, a Tory member of the Westminster parliament who in a recent speech remarked that Britainīs "homogeneous Anglo-Saxon society" had been undermined by mass immigration, that immigration policy should be debated. No one argued with his facts. But Mr. Blairīs government wants no debate on the question; privately Tory strategists say that Labor wants no debate because Labor strategists know that the Blair governmentīs immigration policies are unpopular.

But once free speech is suppressed in the name of freedom thereīs no telling who will run afoul of the restraints. In a speech of his own to demonstrate what a liberal fellow he was, not at all like the hateful Tories, Robin Cook, Mr. Blairīs foreign minister, remarked that the land of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding had become such a rich cultural stew that the national dish was henceforth to be chicken tikka masala.

"Chicken tikka is an Indian dish, the masala sauce was added to satisfy the desire of the British people to have their meat served in gravy," he said. "The modern notion of national identity cannot be based on race and ethnicity, but must be based on shared ideals and aspirations."

Noble thoughts, but sour gravy to many of Mr. Cookīs Labor colleagues, who are furious that now he, and not the Tories, has introduced race in the campaign. Many Indians are not happy, either, by the suggestion that a plate of chicken and canned tomato sauce is regarded as their contribution to British culture, a dish unknown in India until it was exported to India for British tourists looking to find something familiar to eat. "I donīt serve it because my own chefs all come from India," a London curry-shop owner told the Daily Telegraph, "and they honestly wouldnīt know how to make it."

Itīs an expensive lesson in the risks of playing chicken, even in politics.

JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.


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© 2000 Wes Pruden