He reminds us he was formerly head of the Commission for Racial Equality, back in the days of New Labour. Modernisation and multi-culturalism was the aim, and Phillips was at the forefront of Blair’s project to wipe down dusty old Britain.
The philosophy he and his colleagues followed was that if they could ‘prevent people expressing prejudiced ideas, eventually they’d stop thinking them.’ This chilled my blood, reeking as it is with the odours of thought control and repression. Thankfully, Phillips now regrets this approach, saying, ‘I was wrong.’
He now believes we need to speak openly about race, even at the risk of offending someone. With that aim, he said he was going to ‘say some of the things we once told you were forbidden.’
I think Phillips wanted to be seen here as a maverick, saying brave and daring things in order to battle prejudice, but he got off to a poor start in adopting this nannying, prissy tone. I could imagine him shaking his finger at the children watching, telling us that what he once forbade us to say he is now magnanimously allowing. Well, it’s really none of your business what I’m thinking, Mr Phillips. We’re all free to have as many foul thoughts as we like. Society’s only concern, quite rightly, is that we do not act upon them, and are educated enough to see them as wrong or irrational.
Phillips was once loathed by right-wing groups and commentators as the ultimate example of the politically correct, liberal, metropolitan elite. He claims he’s now had an epiphany, but he does little to shake off that old image by saying he wanted us to ‘stop thinking’ certain things, and talking of issues ‘we told you’ were forbidden. If he wants to win his audience over, he’s immediately alienating them with his nannying. You can’t be a finger-wagging warrior.
But despite this uncomfortable start, the programme was a valuable project. It was structured around a collection of blunt and uncomfortable statements, such as Jews Are Rich And Powerful, People Prefer Segregation and White And Poor Is The New Black.
These statements appeared on screen, and lingered there for a few seconds in silence, just long enough for the viewers to murmur ‘wow, can he say that?’ and perhaps start to feel uneasy. Then Phillips reappears with arguments and statistics which show how these statements are true.
However, the data wasn’t the point here; the point the necessity of free speech. The fact that Phillips is trying to nudge us all into a conversation, one which isn’t restrained by silly British politeness or a liberal lefty fear of causing offence, is essential. He says we will never overcome prejudice if individuals, and communities, cannot speak freely and openly to one another. There’s no harm, he says, in admitting that some stereotypes are true. There may be benefit, and the saving of lives, in it.
He uses the Rotherham sex abuse scandal as an example. This fell under his statement Silence Creates Victims Too. We’re deterred from saying certain things because of a ‘terror’ of being labelled racist. When a group of worried mothers approached West Yorkshire Police and the Social Services to report their daughters were being approached at the school gates by Asian men, no-one in authority took action because to do so would be to admit there was a problem within the town’s Pakistani community. It would be racist! So nothing was done. Likewise with the terrible case of Victoria Climbie. As the programme points out, this fear ‘gave people a cultural exemption for unreasonable behaviour.’
If the authorities hadn’t been crippled by the dread of being called racist, Victoria and hundreds of Rotherham girls might have been rescued. Speaking openly and without fear is essential for the good of every ethnicity, and every child.
But we don’t speak out. Decades of political correctness have strangled it, and so the anger and resentment which many people harbour simmers away, unspoken, but constantly stoked, until it boils over in the rise of the EDL and UKIP, massive white flight from the cities and no hope of any cross-cultural understanding.
So we need to talk, but not politically correct soundbites and pleasantries. We need to talk plainly and if one or two folk get offended, tough luck. I’m entirely with Trevor Phillips on this. I just wish Channel 4 had given him a series instead of one very crammed, almost exhausting, programme.
Its cumbersome title was matched by its wearying, constant barrage of statistics. You needed a calculator to hand whilst watching this or, like me, a notepad and pen. Phillips was often delivering a lecture, not just being a personable TV presenter. The two approaches were like oil and water and simply didn’t blend here into one coherent programme.
But then this should never have been made as one coherent programme. Phillips bravely raises so many issues, and delivers so many facts, theories and ideas that’s it impossible, even foolhardy, to try and cram it all in. It was often like a Catherine Wheel, sparking off countless ideas, thoughts and controversies. Ideally, each of his statements should have had a programme of its own. As it stood, a lot was perhaps lost in the deluge and not given the attention it merits. The finger-wagging warrior needed a bit more space and time.