A brutal English lesson

All animals are equal but some are more equal than others’. George Orwell’s sardonic axiom has lost none of its bite at a moment when Britain’s Conservative-Liberal Democratic Coalition Government is dominated by plutocrats who cry ‘we are all in this together’ even as they subject their fellow countrymen to economic stringencies by which they themselves are barely affected.

By Neil Berry (Debate)

Published: Wed 20 Jun 2012, 9:11 PM

Last updated: Fri 3 Apr 2015, 3:42 PM

Orwell’s inequitable equality may seem especially pertinent to the treatment of the co-chairman of the Conservative Party, Sayeeda Warsi, by her party’s leader, Britain’s Prime Minister, David Cameron. For alleged abuse of her parliamentary expenses, Warsi has been referred by Cameron to his independent adviser who is to judge whether she has breached the Ministerial Code.

Meanwhile, his Minister for Culture, Jeremy Hunt, has been spared any such referral, even though he is widely believed to have handled the ultimately abortive bid by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation to assume total control of the broadcaster BSkyB with less than the strict impartiality required of him by his office.

The difference between Warsi and Hunt is that she is a British Pakistani woman of humble origins and unexceptional financial status who happens to be one of Britain’s most prominent Muslims, while Hunt is an Englishman of privileged background who has become a multi-millionaire and who, for the time being at least, is serving as an indispensable shield for David Cameron as the Prime Minister endeavours to play down his own role in courting the Murdoch organisation.

That Jeremy Hunt is being accorded blatantly preferential treatment is all too apparent, and it is scarcely surprising that liberal commentators are expressing outrage at Cameron’s behaviour. What adds to the perception of a flagrant injustice is the sense that Cameron is targeting Warsi not just because she is less useful to him at present than Hunt but because a large section of her own party, whose support Cameron needs, holds her in abhorrence. Warsi’s critics claim she has been over-promoted, though in reality negative Conservative attitudes towards her have almost certainly more to do with the fact that she is a Muslim.

Warsi has been ruthlessly exploited by a party leader who was anxious to re-brand his party, to persuade 21st century Britain’s polyglot, cosmopolitan electorate that the Conservative Party is no longer narrow, nationalistic and intolerant but a party of the widest sympathies. Many suspected that Cameron’s effort to ‘de-toxify’ the Conservative Party was a sham exercise, and certainly his elevation of Warsi has increasingly seemed to be mere tokenism. It says much about the symbolic weight her ministerial status was expected to carry, that — as journalist, Mehdi Hasan, has observed — her exit from Cameron’s cabinet would instantly rob it of 20% of its women and 100 % of its ethnic minorities.

Yet if the stigmatising of Sayeeda Warsi has badly compromised Cameron’s re-branding project, it also has the potential to fuel an anti-Muslim backlash at a time when, against a background of economic calamity, many believe the British Muslim community ought never to have been allowed to grow to its present size. Rightist opinion in Britain is in fervent accord with the view propounded by US neoconservatives: that in accepting large-scale Muslim immigration, Europe as a whole has connived at its own doom. Writing in the Washington magazine, the New Republic, the American columnist, Christopher Caldwell, portrays the Muslim settlement in Europe as a manifestation of decadence, the result of the Continent’s plunging birth-rate and epoch-making loss of biological purpose. Now, he writes, thanks to having admitted huge numbers of un-assimilable aliens, Europe is in peril of breakdown. His perspective is one in which Muslims figure as Europe’s ‘enemy within’, inexorably eroding national identities and leaving white Europeans with the feeling that they can no longer recognise their own countries.

This is sinister talk, disingenuously obscuring as it does the many-layered complexity of the crisis engulfing Europe. In Britain’s case, the truth is that if the country bears less and less resemblance to the place it once was, it is in no small degree because of its wholesale transformation at the hands of the free market. And who may be identified as pre-eminent architects of this metamorphosis? Not the least of them has been Rupert Murdoch, whose phone-hacking tabloid journalists obliged David Cameron to set up the Leveson Inquiry into the modus operandi of the British press, with deeply embarrassing consequences not just for Murdoch but for the whole British political establishment. What the interminable Inquiry has conclusively demonstrated is that the British ministers have for years prostrated themselves at the feet of a hard-nosed, right-wing businessman whose contempt for Britain’s institutions and traditions knows no bounds.

It is indeed hard to exaggerate Murdoch’s malign influence on the British national psyche, the extent to which his domination of communications in Britain has spawned a society that often appears like a crude caricature of America, materialistic, self-regarding, obsessed with celebrity and presided over by politicians who believe that US-style private enterprise is the be-and-end-all of human existence.

David Cameron’s shabby treatment of Sayeeda Warsi may smack of the kind of double standards for which Britain’s patrician oligarchy has long been notorious.

Neil Berry is a London-based writer

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