In many ways I admire ConservativeHome. It’s an attractive, reasonably open and user-friendly site that does genuinely appear to seek to engage with the Party’s grass-roots activists and supporters.
It has a problem though – serving as it does as a bit of a shop window for the Tories, it does with some regularity highlight to the outside world the more, ahem, interesting points of view and personalities within the Party. You know, the sort any party would want to keep a little under wraps – it’s not a partisan thing, every party has them. However, ConservativeHome sometimes seems to go out of its way to highlight them. Take, for example, the innocuous sounding statement ‘Cllr Harry Phibbs edits ConservativeHome’s Local Government page‘. I don’t know a huge amount about said Cllr Phibbs, but I’m learning – largely through his own teachings. And the more I learn, the more I feel that an equivalent statement would be ‘Margaret Moran MP edits LabourHome’s Probity in Public Life page’.
Cllr Phibbs represents the Ravenscourt Park ward in the London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham, flagship council of the Tory right since they took control in 2006 – tax-cutting, service-slashing, employee-bullying, homeless-bashing. The council’s most recent brush with the media spotlight has surrounded the intriguing views of Leader Stephen Greenhalgh about exactly for whom and where social housing should be provided. Some have intimated that his policies are almost Porter-esque. The Animal is saying nothing for fear of the libel courts.
I would hope, however, that even in Hammersmith & Fulham terms Cllr Phibbs would be considered to be 27 stops up the District Line from his ward (Barking, if you can’t be bothered to count). Certainly, he hasn’t been given a position on the council’s Executive. He does rejoice in the title of Chairman of the Value for Money Scrutiny Committee, but in a council where the governing party has a healthy majority, scrutiny positions are a great place to pension off the majority party’s drunken aunts (or equivalent) to. So its no surprise that this is the berth that Cllr Phibbs has been found. Adam Bienkov described him best in a tweet yesterday:
Harry Phibbs is a man out of his time really. Joseph McCarthy would have loved him.
If the evidence of his articles on ConservativeHome are anything to go by, Cllr Phibbs really does see a red under every bed. One of his latest missives, entitled ‘Livingstone’s pernicious “equality” agenda is still in place at City Hall’ is an excellent example of the genre. In it, he manages to accuse some of the most right-leaning members of Boris Johnson’s administration of being little better than Trojan Horses for neo-communism. It really is worth a read, just to try to understand the mindset of some of our future overlords.
Having professed his undying love for Boris Johnson at every level, including the ‘aesthetic’, Phibbs decries the continuation in City Hall of what he describes as
Ken Livingstone’s ideology of quotas, interest groups, thought crime and racial separatism.
As evidence of this, he points to a draft of Deputy Mayor Richard Barnes’ Equalities Strategy, due for final publication tomorrow.
The draft has promised a commitment to “eliminating institutional discrimination”, which includes “unwitting prejudice.” It states that Mayoral appointees will “reflect the diversity of London.” It promises “responsible procurement”.
OK, so that’s a bit buzz-wordy and many would doubt Johnson’s genuine commitment to any of the above (‘Mayoral appointees reflecting the diversity of London’ – just as long as it isn’t gender diversity), but is any of it objectionable to any one who has had any contact with the modern world? Well, yes, if you are Harry Phibbs. He asks
What is the “right level of representation” for ethnic groups in the workforce?
going on later to note that the LDA’s Race Equality Plan 2005-08 which
sets targets for ‘BAME’ employment within the LDA and GLA, usually at around 25%. This hasn’t been updated yet under the new administration, and as far as I know, there has been no public discussion about the direction it will go in.
Now, considering that according to the 2001 census, the ‘non-white British’ classification represents 38.8% of London’s population, 25% BAMErepresentation seems a pretty realistic target. An organisation with a London-wide catchment that is recruiting at much below that level is going to be one where most Londoners are going to walk through the doors and notice that the workforce looks a bit odd. I assume that Cllr Phibbs and I would agree that merit and ability is pretty much evenly spread across racial groups, so if a large organisation isn’t recruiting at something approaching the 25% level, there is almost certainly some kind of internal reason. I couldn’t speculate myself as to what those might be, but perhaps Cllr Phibbs, as a member of a council with just two elected members (out of 46) from a visible ethnic minority – both Labour councillors, incidentally – representing a borough with over a BME population of over 20%, might care to enlighten us. Could it be ‘unwitting prejudice’? No, for this exists not in Phibbs-world.
Then we move forward to slur by association.
The Deputy Mayor Kit Malthouse, leads on policing and helped set up the Met’s Race and Faith Inquiry, which will be published in September. It is chaired by Cindy Butts, the independent member of the MPA. An old mate of Lee Jasper’s (they are friends on Facebook still). Previously she was a researcher for two Labour MPs, Clive Soley and Melanie Johnson. The panel itself seems rather one-sided.
Friends on Facebook, indeed! Now apart from the slight issue of freedom of association, particularly with individuals such as Mr Jasper who have been cleared of any serious wrong-doing by God knows how many investigations, my understanding of the status of ‘friends’ on Facebook was that such relationships were not of the same status as real life friends (excuse me if I’ve got this wrong – the Animal doesn’t really do this MyFaceBo thingy). I know councillors who have councillors from other parties as ‘Friends’. Does that mean they’re about to defect? I dread to imagine what recruitment processes will look like when Cllr Phibs rules the world – presumably full background checks on everyone you’ve ever followed on Twitter will be in order.
And then the ‘rather one-sided’ panel. Its hard to work out what Cllr Phibbs means by this, unless perhaps, he is referring to the shocking fact that three of the four members of a panel examining racism in the Met are…black! And the other member is a lawyer who defended Deborah Lipstadt against David Irving. Perhaps Phibbs has a point – this panel is very open to the serious charge of being potentially biased in favour of anti-racism.
It’s when Cllr Phibbs goes on to try to present ex-Policy Exchange Director Anthony Browne as some kind of stalking horse for multiculturalism and ‘political correctness’ that we realise he has sunk to the level of self-parody. To round it all off, Phibbs get on one of his favourite hobby horses: the GLA’s diversity officers. Johnson has, in his eyes, committed an unpardonable sin in not sacking them all tout suite– the possibility that on being elected Boris Johnson may have found that these officers are in fact valuable and useful being unthinkable. Given that the eleven officers are identifiable individuals, Phibbs appears to sail mighty close to libel when he writes that
they are ideologues, not professional functionaries.
Of course, the great thing about people like Phibbs is that we can rely on other elements of the rightist commenteriat, both professional and amateur, will go out of their way to prove themselves even more unpleasant than the original writer. Below Phibbs’ piece (and I do hope, for the good of the country, that these writers are not Conservative Party members), we get some very choice views. Lindsay Jenkins, who apparently has written books under the understated titles The Last Days of Britain; The Final Betrayal and Britain Held Hostage (with dramatic new foreword by Frederick Forsyth!) asks us:
How much do the 11 diversity officers and their dancing attendants [a dancing attendant? I never got one of them at the GLA, goddammit] cost us?
And whatever that sum is, let us double it and then some because we the taxpayers are not getting the best person for the job we are getting skin pigmentation first and foremost.
Nice. Meanwhile, the delightful ‘john in cheshire’ (poor Cheshire) engages in reasoned debate with a commenter named Marjorie Bayliss who gently suggested that the lot of women had improved since the 1950s.
You silly bitch
he opines. There’s plenty more where that came from, leading up to some impressive conclusions.
Men are inherently better than women and white men are at the apex.
Given he’s such a reasoned chap, I wonder if anything makes ‘john in cheshire’ unhappy? Ah, good, he’s going to tell us.
You and your womankind, and the socialists and the muslims of this world make me sick.
If that’s physically sick, Cheshire County Council is going to need to invest in some brooms to clear up the vomit that ensues when ‘john’ meets somewhat more than half the nation’s population. An interesting experiment might be to place this individualal in a closed room with a female Muslim socialist and to record the outcome. Thankfully there are a few more reasoned commentators. Patrick Ratnaraja writes:
The Deputy Mayor Richard Barnes is doing a fantastic job with all communities. One must accept that Lodon is a diverse City. Reading comments on this website really makes me think why I am still a Conservative. I would rather be a member of the BNP as I cannot see any difference.
Hmm. No further comment.
And there’s just as much ‘fun’ to be had in the professional commenteriat as well. Ed West ‘writes’ in the Telegraph under the considered headline ‘Why has Boris failed to reject Ken’s legacy of ‘diversity officers’ and race politics?‘. I say ‘writes’ because of the 623 words in the article, 392 are a direct copy and paste from Phibbs – I do wish I was paid to press Ctrl+c, Ctrl+v. West seems to share Phibbs’ Facebook hang up:
Why? Why? WHY? No “old mate of Lee Jasper’s” should still be in City Hall. None of Jasper’s Facebook friends, none of his tennis partners, no women he’s flirted with or comrades he’s gone on fact-finding junkets with should still be there.
A point of factual accuracy first – Cindy Butts isn’t ‘in City Hall’, but is an independent member of the MPA. More importantly, the key word there is ‘independent’ – attempting to remove an independent member of the MPA, appointed through a public recruitment process for a four year term, would be a gross breach of office by the Mayor, whatever the reason. If the justification was simply that she happens to know Lee Jasper, Boris’ feet wouldn’t touch the ground before they reached an employment tribunal.
Then West moves on to attempt to postulate that the 2008 London election results demonstrate that London is becoming an
American-style racially divided city, thanks to runaway immigration and white flight, and in those sorts of societies people vote for their tribal party.
For a columnist who goes on to decry ‘identity politics’ to talk about ‘tribal parties’ is an irony of the highest order, leaving aside the lack of evidence for ‘white flight’ in London (As this GLA publication shows, a growth in ethnic diversity rather than ghettoisation is prevalent across all of London, including the outer boroughs). As Phibbs et al keep telling us, socio-economics are a better guage that race. In this case they are right – demographic movements towards outer London relate far more to people who attain some level of wealth chosing to move outwards, regardless of ethnicity. The defiantly outer London Borough of Harrow is a prime example of this, with a majority BME population. The claim that London is dividing along racial lines is a favourite of sections of the right (normally using it to claim that these divisions are fostered by the anti-racist left), despite the lack of any genuine evidence to back it up.
Which brings us to West’s peroration.
For the Conservatives to cooperate with black racial identity politics is suicide, because the sort of black voters who believe their problems are down to racism and lack of taxpayer’s money, and not fatherlessness and a culture of violence and ignorance, are not going to vote Conservative.
No, Ed. The reason the majority of black people in this country (and a large number of white people as well) are not going to vote Conservative is because the Party is supported by people who engage in sweeping statements about cultures ‘of violence and ignorance’ in relation to entire ethnic groups and who refuse to accept that racism has played even the teeniest little part in the position of ethnic minorities in Britain today.
West is depressing and unpleasant. But hey, look on the bright side, Phibbs is just funny (unless you live in Hammersmith, of course). And if I can say one good thing about the current administration in City Hall, it’s that Cllr Harry Phibbs has very little influence over it. Which means we can look forward to more unintentionally hilarious headbanging from the honourable member for Ravenscourt Park for some while yet.