David Goodhart: More dangerous than Nick Griffin?


Founder of Prospect Magazine criticised.

Whether you are Black or White most people know what the BNP Leader Nick Griffin stands for. The fascist boot boys that follow him around, along with his own putrid rhetoric, ‘ Sink those ships full of Africans that try to come to Europe’, ensures that Griffin is about as transparent and as honest, in his rabid racism as he could possibly be.

Perhaps, however a more dangerous individual comes in the shape of the pseudo liberal intellectual David Goodhart. Goodhart came to prominence in 2004 after The Guardian gave him unprecedented coverage allowing him to spew his bile about immigration. It was, of course, couched in polite language but the façade was quickly exposed as a racial rant. His new approach, however, is much more subtle, effective and ultimately more dangerous. Why? Because he no longer is the central mouthpiece for his views on race. He has got Black people to do it for him. Then in the classic divide and rule he sits back and watches Black people fight amongst ourselves.

Goodhart’s first outpouring on race and immigration received widespread condemnation: Commenting about his piece the Guardian’s own Gary Younge suggested,

What starts as a thesis about managing migration to preserve the welfare state - the fact that the NHS and many other public services owe their existence to mass migration earns an entire parenthesis towards the end - develops into a diatribe about the flaws of ethnic diversity.

The then Chair of the CRE Trevor Phillips was much more damning in his criticism: “ Is this the wit and wisdom of Enoch Powell?” he wrote of Goodhart, “Jottings from the BNP leader's weblog? The xenophobes should come clean. Their argument is not about immigration at all. They are liberal Powellites: what really bothers them is race and culture."

But like a wounded fox Goodhart has licked his wounds and returned with a new plan: Get others to say the things that he wants to say, better still if they are Black.

As founder and editor of Prospect Magazine he dedicated a complete issue to race. ‘Rethinking race’ was a series of articles written by Black writers, including Tony Sewell, Munira Mirza, and Linsday John. To summarise what they collectively said would be: ‘stop talking about racism, it barely exists. We don’t need Black writers writing about Black things when we can read Chaucer and Shakespeare’, and, finally, ‘the problem with Black kids at school is Black culture’.

Last night, on Radio 4’s ‘Analysis’ programme David Goodhart was at it again, suggesting that many of those who came forward to comment on the recent summer disturbances were part of a ‘new Black politics’. A Black politics that was more ‘authentic’, and represented the real views of Black Briton’s. His loudest cheerleader was the would-be Conservative politician Shaun Bailey. Patronisingly described by Goodhart as ‘authentically street’, Bailey goes on to state that, “Being seen as an angry poor criminal sat in the corner is the problem of Black people...I think we are a community that has been raised on a dependency culture. We are the chosen victims and I will change that.”

For Goodhart's thesis to work he needs to show, as he puts it, ‘an old radical guard’ - Bernie Grant, Linda Bellos, and Stafford Scott juxtaposed alongside a ‘new Black politics’, which incidentally, and not without mistake has no Black politics. So, when he talks about, and to Kwasi Kwarteng MP, he suggests that West Africans, such as the Eton educated Kwarteng represent the ‘truer feelings’ of the Black community.

A community which is no longer hung up about race inequality. Kwarteng is led into Goodhart’s lair by confessing that his constituency is predominately White, and therefore that is who he represents. Also included in the programme was David Lammy MP who becomes complicit with Goodhart's thinking because he has to defend why he only condemned the rioters without suggesting that the death of Mark Duggan, high levels of stop and search by the police, and lack of opportunity were contributory factors. In truth, however, Lammy did make some of those points in a House of Commons debate.

In essence what Goodhart presented the Radio 4 listeners was a stark but erroneous choice: that Black people must fall into one of two camps; the ‘Old radicals’ who, in his view blame their lot on everybody but themselves, particularly the State apparatus, or the new Black generation of politicians epitomised by Shaun Bailey, who too often argues that Black people no longer face a race penalty.

Goodhart, therefore, is not content with finding Black talking heads to help espouse his views, he also seeks to pit one group and thought against another. And not unlike that other ‘intellectual’ David Starkey, he too is happy to advise us as to which Black grouping, and idea we should affiliate with.

Goodhart's intevention is disappointing on a number of levels, not least that an individual such as Goodhart who comes to this  debate with some baggage is then afforded another  premier platform - Radio 4 - to define Black politics.

The reality of course is that there is no crude homogeneous Black community or communities. Our richness is our diversity. Moreover, dealing with some of the very real challenges many Black communities face: high levels of unemployment, challenges within the education system, continuing high levels of police stop and search, and gang related crimes, will require a kaleidoscope of measures including Black individuals and communities taking our full responsibility, but also a significant response from the State to ensure the persistent structural barriers caused by racial prejudice are once and for all eradicated.

Sadly, this more nuanced approach for the ‘great’ liberal intellectual David Goodhart, seems far too complicated. Either that or there’s something else going on.



Simon Woolley

Picture: David Goodhart, Director of the think tank Demos

Archived Comments

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urgghhh Where do I start I am exhausted by issues of race but I am not naive to think that race is no longer an issue in this country. What exhausts me is that my niece a third generation British born is still subjected to bigotry and abuse on the streets. Thankfully we live in a area where it is not a regular occurrence but it is still unacceptable if I what I had to endure growing up was the end of it I would have been delighted but it breaks my heart when I see it happening to her.

I am also bored with academics who use fancy language and theories to espouse their racist views and should really know better. I talk from experience having worked in a university for some years I encountered more bigots than you would believe, all Guardian reader and card carrying members of the Labour Party. There were also some good academics it is that old saying good and bad in everyone regardless.

However to claim that this country has no issues around race can only come from deluded individual or those in denial with wealth and who are happy to be the token at middle class dinner parties. I find I am increasingly disillusioned with how this country has treated Black people and if you complain you are accused of having a chip on your shoulder and saying nothing increases your alienation. I think History that is taught in school needs to be revised so that the part we and our ancestors have played in making this country 'Great' Britain is realised. As Salman Rushdie states 'we are here because you were there'. I am still constantly asked about my origins and when I say I was born here the next question is well what about your parents!

Race would be no issue if I were allowed to be myself and if I ignored reports of Police harassment and other incidents of racist attacks. Alas we don't have this luxury. I am not saying it is all doom and gloom and I often stand outside of the nonsense but can't do so permanently not when institutions and others still make it blatantly obvious that I am not really welcomed. At this stage I should say that some of my best friends are White :) ! There is always going to be 'divide and rule' and I am happy for those who live in la la land to have their say as long as they don't claim to speak for me. They should make it clear that the nonsense they speak is of their own experience.

Not sure that the 'new' black politics is so new

While I don't think that the Goodhart/Griffin comparison is helpful, I do agree that those concerned with progressing racial equality do need to be wary of the rather insidious post-racial arguments put forward by Goodhart, Sewell, Mirza and Johns among others. Patterns of racism still have a significant effect on the lives of black Britons. If some politicians who are black choose not to focus on addressing racism that is their choice but I hardly think that this represents a new Black politics. It also does not mean that there is not a significant movement of black people who remain focused on addressing racism in our society. On listening to Goodhart's programme I felt his analysis was flawed and sought to use the journalists' trick of polarising one group of black politicians from another to suggest that something new (or at least newsworthy) is happening. It is ultimaltely unsurprising that black politicians on the political right disagree with black politicians on the left - they always have and are always likely to. It is also unsurprising that the political tactics employed in the '80s are different to those employed in the '00s. The danger is that we end up in a distracting internal argument while unemployment for young black people hits 50%, schools continue to fail Black children, and the criminal justice system uses racial profiling to alienate Black young people instead of protecting them from crime. A question struck me while listening; why are these not the issues being addressed in a serious R4 documentary rather than the musings of a political journalist who is on record as claiming that race is no longer a significant disadvantage in the UK? The danger is that Radio 4 will claim to have been addressing issues of racism with this documentary and deny others who want to address the real issues facing Black communities any airtime to do so.

Look who's talking?

If there is no more 'race', then why is Goodhart (et al) talking about it still? If he believed that, he (and they) should move on to explain just WHY there remain status and outcome inequalities, in health, income, housing, quality of life etc and why all the proxy indicators we have seem to point to an enduring and residual - as well as an interactive - effect of what can only be loosely described as 'race' / ethnicity, national origin, faith or religious label, migration status, length of citizenship - etc) - not just in Uk but across Europe - where they may use different terms but the effects seem to endure, using whatever proxy measures come to hand. Oh, and there is an intersection - yes, disability, gender, sexual orientation etc (and socio-economic status) all have effects but when you add in your 'race' / ethnicity label, there is an additional dip, in nearly all cases.

Mind you, I can recall a time when some of the 'old' Black politicians resented or rejected the right of White commentators to contribute to the debate at all - but equally, maybe we need to go back to James Baldwin: ... If we--and now I mean the relatively conscious whites and the relatively conscious blacks, who must, like lovers, insist on, or create, the consciousness of the others--do not falter in our duty now, we may be able, handful that we are, to end the racial nightmare, and achieve our country, and change the history of the world. (The Fire Next Time, 1963) - we must just accept that not everyone (irrespective of skin colour etc) is as relatively conscious...?

But don't let Goodhart (sic!) steal the show.

Goodhart, Sewell, Mirza and Johns are not post racial thinkers

I don't think Goodhart, Sewell, Mirza and Johns are about being post racial, you'd have to accept that racism exists at a structural level in our society first to get to a position of being post racial. Goodhart, Sewell, Mirza and Johns never believed racism really existed in the first place and choose to denigrate the victims of it rather than admit they have nothing of use to say about the subject. Their game is making a name for themselves and pleasing a certain Daily Mail demographic.

New, as in 'preferable'

I agree with Rob Berkeley. It could even be suggested that far from being a 'new' black politics, it is a new clique, often as polarised and as dogmatic as the 'left' it seeks to challenge (or demonise).

Last year when Goodhart's publication 'Prospect' published 'Rethinking Race' (in October, a nod and a wink to publishing it in Black History Month Mr Goodhart - how nice), I contacted some of the authors (Sonya Dyer and Munira Mirza by phone and Lindsay Johns by e-mail). I thought Sonya Dyer's article was the most credible and accurate of the lot, and I don't think she is part of the clique I'm referring to so I'll move on.

The issue for me is that tackling racism is much more useful without many of the talking heads around. Some us have been, and have have done successful work by 'Rethinking Race', but we obviously weren't consulted, as we weren't 'rethinking' along the same lines. If rethinking a subject only has one-sided opinions it is pretty useless. The 'Goodharts' (Sewell, Johns, Mirza, and arguably now Birbalsingh) clearly have an issue with 'leftists', yet their conduct is a mirror image. Just as dogmatic, one-sided, and selective with the facts.

Lindsay Johns analysis was flawed, if not deliberately misleading. In http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/2010/09/in-defence-of-dead-white-men/ he had argued that "a home affairs select committee produced a report...calling for the department for education and schools to consult with black community groups to make the curriculum more relevant" and that by doing this "We can safely assume they were not talking about Ovid, Chaucer or Shakespeare".

First of all, it was just a recommendation. It did not become law or even guidance. I suggested that it's never reliable to base the premise of your argument on an assumption, and secondly that I have used Shakespeare, Blake, Defoe, Kipling, as well as Malorie Blackman, Chinua Achebe, and Chimamanda Adichie in schools which have a high percentage of black pupils (in highly deprived areas). So all of Johns's readers were short-changed, and probably went away more cyncial. Good work!

The point being that he was not only wrong (they can be used as well, it is not an either / or), but that it is incumbent on the school (and the wider community) to use the curriculum to "reflect values in our society that promote personal development, equality of opportunity, economic wellbeing, a healthy and just democracy, and a sustainable future". That's is what the National Curriculum states.

In relation to the lives of the young people the home affairs select committee report was about, use Romeo and Juliet to explore gang issues; use Blake to discuss matters of faith, race, morality etc. It can and is being sone.

In fact for him to argue that "our education system needs to stop treating the classics as irrelevant and reinforcing the ingrained prejudices of the younger generation", is not only factually inaccurate, he's deliberately invoking cynicism.

With regard to Munira Mirza,her analysis ignored some realities both in Oldham, but in the wider arguments too. Firstly, there were concerns that for PR purposes Oldham council kept quiet when housing associations made improvements. These improvements were seen by some to be preferential treatment, and it contributed to unease and division. By keeping quiet these tensions were not quelled, they were exacerbated.

Secondly, I suggested that balance is necessary when talking about how far we have come. To trumpet 'mixed-relationships' as being a sign of progress is right, but if we ignore the reality that 'mixed-race' children are the most over-represented in the care system that progress seems much more amazing than the reality. We agreed to disagree!

My final point to her was an enquiry. In her 'Rethinking Race' artcile for Prospect, she stated: "now is the time for a constructive and open debate...hopefully this marks the beginning of a new dialogue in which people will share their views, test ideas and tell each other why they may disagree. It is in everyone’s interests to speak openly about these issues".

Great idea, so when was she planning to get the ball rolling, either by recommending this to City Hall colleagues, or by doing something outside of her role there and putting something together that avoided the 'invite only' debates. The answer, was "why don't you put a business case forward".

My reply was that it was her idea. It is disingenuous to call for "constructive and open debate", suggest it marks "the beginning of a new dialogue" and then not do anything to bring that about. I have tried to avoid the politics of race as quite often both 'sides' are too polarised to address the complex and inter-woven issues. This is why.

However, by my measure what was being called 'rethinking race' was a hollow entity. It seemed to castigate the previous set of 'game-shapers' by replacing them with their ideological opponents. It doesn't stand for very much, or provide sustainable alternatives, it's main message was to say how rubbish it thinks its opponents are (Sonya Dyer excepted).

If by "constructive" you actually mean saying how wrong your opponent is, and by "open" you mean doing so from the privileged position of magazines and invite-only debates, then sorry, that doesn't cut it.

Meanwhile, the work on the ground to tackle racism remains under-funded or compromised in to 'promoting diversity', which is not the same thing. Forget the politics of tackling racism, as my Nana once said "it's better to be a chef than a food critic"

'New politics'?

Thank you for all your comments. They are all very thoughtful. Rob, the comparison with Griffin is harsh. I don't suspect for a second that Goodhart, hates Black people, but it is valid to question who, ultimately, might do us more harm? A benign agenda that removes the legitimacy to fight racism is not so benign. Leon, you're right about the 'post racial' thinkers, but we must persevere in seeking to, at least have a dialogue with the likes of Sewell and others and hope to share ideas.
Mark, I hope you stick with us. Continue to be both supportive and challenging.
David, you detailed contribution always adds shed loads to the debate. I think it’s about time you wrote in your own capacity.