Britain’s former equality chief has claimed politicians and journalists are “terrified” of discussing race, leaving multiculturalism to become a “racket” exploited by some to entrench segregation.
Trevor Phillips, a former chairman of the predecessor to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, The Commission For Racial Equality (CRE), suggested some ethnic groups had become “isolated” and politicians’ unwillingness’ to address the issue had led to the rise of “angry, nativist political movements”.
His comments come ahead of his documentary – Things We Won’t Say About Race That Are True – which will air on Channel 4 on Thursday.
In an interview for the film, Ukip leader Nigel Farage suggested he would scrap race discrimination legislation, prompting a backlash.
In an article published in the Daily Mail today and The Sunday Times (£) yesterday, Phillips said: “The perverse and unintended consequences of our drive to instil respect for diversity is that our political and media classes have become terrified of discussing racial or religious differences.
“Our desperation to avoid offence is itself beginning to stand in the way of progress. And all too often the losers are minority Britons.
“Preventing anyone from saying what’s on their minds won’t ever remove it from their hearts. People need to feel free to say what they want to without the fear of being accused of racism or bigotry.”
He listed ’10 true things’ it is taboo to say, including “Romanians are far more likely to be pickpockets” and “Jewish households are twice as wealthy as the rest”.
He cited the child sex abuse scandals in towns including Oxford, Rotherham and Rochdale and the murder in 2000 of eight-year-old Victoria Climbie as examples of institutions failing to act for fear of offending minority groups.
Phillips, a Labour London Assembly Member, also admitted he felt he bore some responsibility for the July 7 bombings in 2005 because, as then head of the CRE, he failed “to see what was coming”.
He said: “Because I had made it my business to spend part of each week in a community outside London, I already knew some groups were becoming so isolated that values and ideas which most people would find alien were tolerated and even encouraged.
“But we had said little about it and done even less. After 12 months at the CRE I had come to the conclusion that, while beautiful in theory, multiculturalism had become a racket in which self-style community leaders bargained for control over local authority funds that would prop up their own status and authority.
“Far from encouraging integration it had become in their interest to preserve the isolation of their ethnic groups. In some, practices such as female genital mutilation — a topic I’d made films about as a TV journalist — were regarded as the private domain of the community.
“In others, local politicians and community bosses had clearly struck a Faustian bargain: grants for votes.
“And I saw a looming danger that these communities were steadily shrinking in on themselves, trapping young people behind walls of tradition and deference to elders.
“Of course none of this was secret. But anyone who pointed the finger could expect to be denounced for not respecting diversity.”
Phillips criticised the public reaction to “pefectly reasonable” comments by Benedict Cumberbatch about the lack of roles for black actors in the UK.
He said Cumberbatch was making the “much-needed case for the employment of black actors in greater numbers”.
“Yet the star’s main point was buried in a shower of condemnation for using the ‘outdated’ term ‘coloured’ — although in fact in America the phrase ‘people of colour’ is the most common way of describing black and Asian people as a group.”
Right-wing political movements which have surged in support across Europe, such as the National Front in France, were a fuelled by political correctness, Phillips added.
When asked in the documentary if he would retain bans on discrimination on the grounds of race or colour, Farage said: “No… because we take the view, we are colour-blind. We as a party are colour-blind.”
But he later moved to clarify his comments, saying in a statement: “My comments to Trevor Phillips were lauding the progress of race relations and equality in this country. Britain’s media should be proud of this fact instead of trying to do it down.
“Ukip is the only party that is suggesting that Britain’s employers should be free to employ British workers, regardless of creed or colour.”
Speaking on The Today Programme, Phillips said: “I do not think Nigel Farage is right at all. It’s absolutely clear still in this country that some ethnic groups are less likely to be employed irrespective of their qualifications.”
He said people with “recognisably non Anglo Saxon names” were less likely to receive job offers. “We need these laws, there’s no question about that,” he said.
In his article, Phillips wrote: “Britain’s lack of frankness is echoed in every major European country and it is fuelling a growth of angry, nativist political movements across the continent.
“In Sweden, Denmark, Belgium, Greece and Holland, far-Right parties have steadily built a solid presence on the political landscape. In France, Marine Le Pen’s National Front is tipped to win next week’s round of local elections.
“At the heart of these parties’ appeal is a simple, oft-stated claim: we are the only people ready to speak the truth.
“Nothing could be further from reality. But the po-faced political correctness that cramps all the conventional parties is allowing these frauds to get away with it.
“Preventing anyone from saying what’s on their minds won’t ever remove it from their hearts. People need to feel free to say what they want to without the fear of being accused of racism or bigotry.
“That means we’re all going to have to become more ready to offend each other. If we do, we might — in time — begin to see each other in our true colours. And surely that’s what the aim of changing Britain’s attitudes to race was all about.”
The documentary is to be aired on Channel 4 on Thursday at 9pm.