Thursday 4 December 2014

Tebbit Test Redux

Lord Tebbit was a senior member of the government in Thatcher's era, and is known for his "cricket test" of whether immigrants are sufficiently loyal to Britain. Now, he has decided to update his test, and achieved the impressive feat of becoming even more bigoted and incoherent.

In the original test, any immigrant who supports a cricket team other than England is considered suspiciously foreign.

Having a sports-based test of loyalty is silly to begin with; but as I've written before, it is particularly absurd in a country with at least four different international sports teams. The Scots and Welsh support their national teams against England at football or rugby, and are largely indifferent to cricket. Do these native-born Brits pass Tebbit's test, or not?

Consider an Irish immigrant to the UK. Ireland north and south have a combined team in rugby, but separate ones for football. So is supporting Ireland at rugby permitted, while supporting them at football falls foul of the Tebbit test?

Immigration from Australia to the UK was about 26,000 in the year to June 2012. There are plenty of Australians in Britain who support their national cricket team; and New Zealanders who are fanatical supporters of the All Blacks. Does Tebbit have a problem with white, English-speaking Aussies or Kiwis settling in the UK? I rather doubt it.

Dangerously foreign if they wanted to settle in the UK?
Source: The Guardian

For the record, I have dual Canadian and British citizenship, but I grew up in Canada. I do not care in the slightest how the England cricket team performs. If Canada faced England at rugby, I would support Canada, even though their chances of winning would be remote. Having said that, the UK is my home and has been for more than twenty years. I am personally insulted if anyone thinks my sporting allegiance makes me a less responsible and productive citizen.

Oh no, I don't mean you, Tebbit would probably say; and that's the point.

The test is rather transparent code. Tebbit won't come out and say he dislikes people with a different skin colour, language, or religion, so sport is used as a proxy for the concept of not fitting in. You all know what we mean, nudge nudge, wink wink.

Now, Tebbit has has announced an updated version, in an interview with BBC Newsnight:
“One test I would use is to ask them on which side their fathers or grandfathers or whatever fought in the second world war,” Tebbit said. “And so you’ll find that the Poles and the Czechs and the Slovaks were all on the right side. And so that’s a pretty good test isn’t it? Perhaps we’ll even manage to teach them to play cricket gradually over the years."

To start with, Tebbit's example is incorrect. Slovakia fought on the Axis side, while the lands which would become the Czech Republic put up no official resistance to German occupation in March 1939, six months before the war began in Europe. In the film Casablanca, Victor Lazlo was a proud Czechoslovakian who single-handedly carried on a war against Nazi Germany, but he is a fictional character so I'm afraid he doesn't count.

In Tebbit's formulation, French people are welcome, but Germans aren't. Both countries are stable democracies; they are neighbours, military allies and trading partners of the UK; but Tebbit believes we should decide immigration policy on the basis of what their ancestors did 70 years ago. Today, there are young university graduates whose grandparents were not yet born when the war ended. Is this Tebbit's notion of British justice?

Turks are presumably all right, since Turkey declared war on Germany on 23 February 1945, a whole two and a half months before the fall of Berlin. Finns are unwelcome, since their government found itself on the same side as Germany when Finland was invaded by the USSR. Chinese are welcome, but not Hungarians. Switzerland was neutral, and Italy changed sides halfway through, so I have no idea how Tebbit would handle them.

This is terribly confusing, and it gets worse. Does it go by citizenship, ancestry, or some combination of both? What about someone of French descent with German citizenship, or vice versa?

What if other countries apply a similar policy? The UK has made a great many enemies over the centuries. In the Opium Wars of 1839-42 and 1856-60, the UK forced China to accept imports of British opium. Effectively, the Royal Navy was deployed as muscle for heroin dealers. Should British people be denied the opportunity to live, work and study in China because of this?

The whole concept of inherited guilt might be funny, if it wasn't so terrifyingly hateful. Medieval pogroms against the Jews condemned them for the death of Jesus Christ, centuries earlier. Nazi Germany defined a Jew as anyone with one Jewish grandparent. Tebbit should be ashamed of himself.

If Tebbit was some anonymous old codger muttering in the pub, no one outwith his immediate vicinity would care. But this man is a former cabinet minister and chairman of the Conservative Party, a current member of the British Parliament, and has a platform for his views in the BBC and other national media.

Simply put: Lord Tebbit has authority to make our laws.

It is very much a matter of concern when he sounds off like this. His views have no place in the legislature of a modern democracy. Unfortunately, parts of the UK's government are far from modern and Tebbit has been appointed to the House of Lords for life, so we mere voters have no way of chastising him.

Tebbit is a member of the parliamentary Conservative party. Is the current Conservative leader, David Cameron, willing to condemn Tebbit's hateful nonsense? Could he at least delegate the job to the party chairman or its leader in the House of Lords? It would seem not.

The reasons are obvious. Right now, Cameron is in the business of appeasing the xenophobic wing of his own party, and pandering to possible UKIP voters. He is not about to step forward and condemn rank bigotry from the likes of Tebbit.

If British values include courage, respect, justice, fairness, and tolerance, then Tebbit rejected them a long time ago, and his party is in the process of doing the same.

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