Over the last ten days there have been two public statements by Melanie Phillips on the theme of racism that both raise some serious questions. According to Wikipedia Melanie who is a Jew was born to parents who arrived in this country during World War II coming from Polish and Russian backgrounds. So given that her family history and religion have clear connections with matters of race, she should be well able to understand the impact on other people in our nation and overseas of racism and be a strong advocate for challenging it. However a week last Thursday she appeared on BBC Question Time and one of the questions that came up related to the murder of 14 year old Jaden Moodie in Leyton. In her response to the murder she referred to the decision taken by Theresa May in April 2014 as Home Secretary to reform the use of stop and search amongst police forces. Melanie appeared to be suggesting that this decision was in some way connected with the Macpherson report which was published in 1999, so fifteen years earlier, and 11 years before Theresa May became the Home Secretary. Melanie Phillips argued that the Macpherson report failed to demonstrate that the Metropolitan Police were institutionally racist. Now it may well be that the evidence of racism within the Police as part of the public sector as a whole was not clearly enough articulated in the report to satisfy Melanie Phillips. However for those of us who have been able to help change the way the police operate through bodies such as Independent Advisory Groups over the last 15 years, it is very clear that stop and search and other policies have at times been applied in a deeply racist way. This failure has been admitted by a number of police forces over that time and the data published regarding stop and search over the same period proves that they were right and needed to change and thankfully many of them have changed dramatically.
The second comment appeared just over a week later on Friday on Melanie’s blog which was entitled “Why the west should be holding its breath over the desperate battle for Britain“. Her piece covers a wide range of matters that all relate in one way or another to our intended departure from the European Union. However amongst other matters Melanie states “There are three nations which have this view of themselves as being uniquely blessed: Britain, America and Israel. All have played an outsized role in bringing the benefits of civilization to the world. Yes, all have had their faults. The British Empire had episodes of great cruelty; America had vicious racial prejudice; Israel’s political system is corrupt and dysfunctional. All three countries, however, are beset from within by an intelligentsia determined to distort their nation’s history, exaggerate its failings and prove it was born in original sin. A nation cannot be defended unless its people love and admire it, and unless it is led by men and women who acknowledge it for what it is rather than what they want it to be.”
It seems clear that for anyone, particularly someone who could be described as a second generation immigrant to suggest that our Empire merely had episodes of great cruelty and that America was guilty of vicious racial ‘prejudice’ is missing a great deal of understanding of how deep and aggressive both of our nations have been towards other nations and other races in the past. It is clear that someone with the profile and the platform that Melanie Phillips has, needs to be challenged when they make such foolish statements that fail to acknowledge the impact of our failings as a nation. Thank goodness Nish Kumar was able to challenge her on Question Time, let us hope other people challenge her for the blog she has written!