Political Emotions and the UK Administration
Is the British Royalty Relevant Anymore?
The impending wedding of Prince William to Kate Middleton might propel her family into the privileged aristocratic band of Britain, but it might not do much for the main family she is joining, the Royals, due to apathy and a sense of increasing irrelevance by the public. This new couple would have to do something dramatic to change its approach and direction and, as William's father will be king before him, and the Queen has settled in for a long haul, don't expect any changes soon. Expect business as usual after the novelty of the wedding has passed.
The Royal Family is rapidly becoming an anachronism in today's classless world of high tech reactions, individual expressiveness and instant soundbites. The Queen still gives out medals and public honours based on the 'British Empire', yet where that empire exists these days is entirely beyond anyone to fathom. Paradoxically, she is head of a commonwealth which is highly multi-racial, yet there is not a single Black person in her entourage, no Black advisers and certainly no Black staff in her palace. In fact, if you wish to test the invisibility of minorities in Britain, the way they are treated as second class-citizens, have a close look in Westminister Abbey on 29th April 2011.
The Royal wedding will give the clearest indication of just how multicultural this nation is because the event will be practically all-white in representation, apart from the Commonwealth Heads of State who have been invited. Furthermore, this Commonwealth is weighed down under the oppressive symbolism of an unjust 'empire' that obstinately continues to take pride of place in our language, no matter how offensive it is to certain sections of the British community. There is no move for the Queen to get rid of the archaic, divisive and racist symbolisms, despite her important role in the Commonwealth she rules over.
In the dark ages
Quite simply, the British Royal Family has had its day. Constant exposure in a new vulnerable way, the treatment of Diana, Charles' long-standing affair with Camilla Parker-Bowles, the lip service paid to diversity, and the seeming uselessness of their presence when the age of deference and awe has long gone, is killing the institution slowly. We might not be too keen on a Republic, like our American neighbours, but, even with Internet publicity, they are still mainly fodder for tourism and the curious rather than any real value to the public.
The problem with the royal Family is that it has not changed with the times. Members are still trying to apply traditional, unequal ways of behaving to a situation which has long dispensed with tradition and inequality. Diana offered a golden chance of bringing the monarchy up to date with current expectations, but her demise meant that her sons offer the best hope of change. In a world where blog is king, there is no place for silence from our Royal Family anymore on the issues of the day, otherwise they rule themselves out of our rapidly advancing world simply by omission.
That could explain why, except for the Queen, William and Harry, their popularity has dramatically declined and only a few people turn up to see them at events. We need a caring, expressive Royal family who is not just there for the tourists, but one who, through its own lead, will begin to justify the millions of pounds per year the public purse has to supply to keep them in the dark ages.
In its present form, the Royal Family is definitely irrelevant, having the trappings without the substance. As a strong Royalist who has no desire to see Britain become a republic, to me it would be nice to see a leading Family which is more in tune with our modern age, more approachable, more inclusive of ethnicity, and far more appreciative of their changing role in a diverse age. A Family that is no longer guided by an invisible and outdated colonial empire, but reflecting a modern society based on respect for the individual, regardless of class, race, creed or birth.
Why William and Kate's marriage
should last much longer than the other Royals
Soon after their engagement, in November last year, a bishop of the Anglican church, the Rt Rev. Pete Broadbent, Bishop of Willesden was censured by the Bishop of London, who oversees him, and asked to "withdraw from public ministry until further notice".
Why? Because he likened the couple, on his Facebook page, to 'shallow celebrities' whose marriage would fall apart "after seven years". How he is so privy to the exact number of years the marriage would last, is anyone's guess. However, it got me thinking about the couple's forthcoming union and I thought I would pronounce on the issue, as a relationship guru, at least from a more expert base than the bishop's.
William and Kate are likely to have a very long marriage because of certain key factors which were not common to other Royals, or 'shallow celebrities'.
1. Shared VALUES
Shared values lie at the heart of any relationship. Partnerships fail when the values become disparate, the couple see things differently and cherish different aspects of their lives. William and Kate got obviously on very well from the moment they met at St Andrews University because they clearly share certain key values - especially valuing communication and empathy for others. They place priority on the same kinds of activities which seem to matter to BOTH of them.
For example, during his gap year at University, William joined Raleigh International in southern Chile for 10 weeks, helping to improve the lives of the local community. He actually helped to 'construct walkways from log posts and taught English in local schools'. That would have had quite an impact on his perspectives. Six weeks after he left, Kate Middleton joined the group too. It seems that both choices of Raleigh International were entirely independent of each other. The fact that they both wanted to share in a similar experience relating to other people would form part of the glue to hold them together.
He also spent time on a dairy farm in the UK, where he was paid the measly sum of £3.20 ($5) per hour. Apparently, he has said he loved that experience the best, "rising before dawn to milk cows and performing mucky jobs" like everyone else. Kate herself wasn't raised on a farm, but she lives in a very quiet rural area, which seems to please William greatly, as he is always finding opportunities to spend time with her family. I would think that the couple's choice of living in Anglesey, a very remote rural area in wales, would have been a deliberate choice connected to that style of life.
2. Great CHEMISTRY
There are four main elements to chemistry: attraction, comfort, value and excitement. Attraction itself has three further elements: physical, emotional and intellectual. If we examine their chemistry carefully, it is very clear that the physical attraction between them is off the scale, they are clearly emotionally connected. They seem to have the same moods and body language and the intellectual connection would be awesome because of their shared University experience and the level of education they both had.
They are obviously VERY comfortable with each other, as their constant smiles and body language demonstrate, they also value each other and show it (as their interviews indicate), they have an irreverent sense of humour, and they seem to enjoy great excitement in the company of each other. With this couple, one might be a Royal prince and the other a commoner but, take away the superficial title and you would have two ordinary people who are likely to be holding hands and hugging at every opportunity and who wouldn't be afraid of public displays of affection.
One senses that they are holding back in their public treatment of each other to avoid undue attention from the media. But the chemistry is electric between them and that's what will hold them together for a long time. They truly love each other. This won't be a marriage for heirs and spares, but one of a deep bonding of mutual understanding. Not like his mother and father, Charles and Diana, where there was a clear division between his status and hers, a stiff formality of never ending protocol, which was reflected in the way he treated her.
3. Good COMMUNICATION
This couple are clearly in tune with one another. They seem most at ease together in every picture taken of them and they are always chatting together. They like communicating together and are articulate enough to appreciate what each other is saying and the meaning involved. William and Kate are truly at ease with each other. One gets the impression that if they have a disagreement they can sort it out together without things becoming negative. She is not in awe of him and he has a healthy respect for her, a good basis for mutual respect. Most importantly, they smile a lot, being very positive people who seem happy in their own skins. This should draw them closer together even more and be a source of comfort in the down times.
4. Shared ASPIRATIONS
One gets a sense that their expectations, objectives and aspirations are likely to be the same. No one spends over seven years in another's company without learning tons about them and without a deep understanding developing between them. By their behaviour since they met, they have been acting like a married couple in all but name. Mismatching expectations are the biggest killers of relationships. It seems that their expectations of each other are in full alignment with what matters to both of them. The interaction between them is so flowing and easy; nothing seems artificial or staged. It shows that, along with their values, they do share similar objectives which they can both be comfortable with, which could partly explain why Kate was keen for them to get on with it and tie the knot.
5. Genuine mutual RESPECT
The interviews of this couple show unmistakably that they have great respect for each other. They clearly love one another, but they also value each other too, the essence of respect. You can hear it in their words, when they are talking about each other, the loving and admiring way they look at each other other, and in the way they support one another at every opportunity. There is complete alignment here between the couple. Contrast that to Charles and Diana, especially when she said she was in love with him, and he replied vaguely, 'Whatever love is'!
Altogether, the couple's clear attraction, confidence, easy communication, body language and mutual support suggest two people who know each other very well, who love each other very much, whose expectations are in alignment on a mutually supportive level and who, above all, have tremendous chemistry flowing between them. A firm foundation for a wonderful and long-lasting relationship.
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Five reasons why Kate Middleton will be a great Princess
In the past it has been difficult to gauge the potential of new members of the Royal Family because they all had to bow to protocol, they were taken from the same class of people (aristocrats and nobility), they behaved in the same manner beforehand, they appeared to have bland personalities that fitted in, and they toed the Royal line meticulously after that, almost like clones.
Kate Middleton appears an entirely different breed. She seems really refreshing and a person in her own right. One cannot see her disappearing behind the Royal facade because she seems pretty confident in herself: her own person. In fact, there are five outstanding things about our Kate which makes her perfect for the new role of Princess that she is about to acquire.
1. Her Personality
She is definitely the People's Princess. She smiles continuously, being happy within herself, so it is not difficult to spot when she is unhappy. She suddenly becomes very serious, her lips purse tightly together and her eyes become bland and unfocused. She clearly likes people in the easy way she treats them and the unselfconsciousness she displays when she is among them. She is most approachable, which puts others at ease and she has a natural warmth that is endearing. She is seen by the media as bringing a "refreshing informality" to the Royal Family. Kate is clearly a winner with the public already.
2. Her Family
All along one gets the feeling that Kate is very close to her family. She spends a lot of time with them, and even William is sharing their house more often too. I would hazard a guess that she is surrounded by love, affection and calm. Her mother and father seem a bulwark against the outside world, despite their fragile look, protecting her every step of the way. One doesn't have to look far to see that both she and her sister, Phillipa, are most valued and are treated that way. This means she has the necessary emotional support to be a bulwark against the rigid, and often detached barriers and structures of the Royal Family, as well as the background to give the Family a softer look in the future.
3. Her Courage
It is clear that Kate does not take any prisoners. She is very courageous in how she acts, especially her treatment of Prince William as an ordinary person. She's not overawed at all by his status, and is very keen to get on with things in her own way too. Nothing seems to phase her. In fact, she appears to be relishing the role of princess-to-be with great enthusiasm, yet without too many airs and graces. In fact, she seems so natural for the part, it's as if she was born to it!
4. Her Background
Kate Middleton's background is solidly middle-class, with a history which includes coal miners and all kinds of skilled craftsmen and women. Her links are with the ordinary people, not a single titled person among her ancestry, which makes her quite unique for a Royal Princess. That fact has endeared her to the public in a very poignant way. She is truly one of them, and they are extra proud of her achievement in crossing the great class divide.
5. Her Empathy and Awareness
Kate appears to have a great deal of empathy, both for Prince William and what he has gone through, and the people she comes in contact with. She is very aware of her environment and what is required of her and she appears to be embracing it with new vigour. Above all the qualities, her sense of awareness makes her very supportive of William and that will be hugely beneficial in the years to come when they assume more responsibilities as a senior Royal couple.
Kate is enjoying the moment that fate has carved for her, and the fact that she has been smiling through it all says a lot about her character, her confidence and her keen sense of awareness in who she is about to be and where she could take that role. She has the twin assets of seeming both ordinary and regal at the same time. She will certainly fit into the Royal Family, on one hand, but her own solid values, her extrovert personality and the love and support she has enjoyed, will ensure that she will be changing that Family as well.
Is Britain really a 'broken society'?
As we approach the British general election, the first possible change of party in 13 years, there is a mood of expectancy in the country. The TV debates between the party leaders have been instrumental in reviving interest in politics and staunching the growing apathy in a way not seen in years. There is actual excitement at casting the vote because many people will be doing it from a position of being more informed and engaged in the actual politics, which makes it relevant to look at David Cameron's charge that Britain is a broken society and needs to be fixed, which the Tories intend to do. But is it really? Let's apply the Idiot Guide to it that simply reduces the issues to their most basic concerns.
The reasons for the accusation come mainly from personal perception, individual experience, increased expectations and fear, especially around crime and security. Apply that right across society and one then gets a picture of a society in trouble, one worse than years before, with a general nostalgia for things past. But nothing different is happening in Britain that didn't happen years ago. In fact, the incidents of crime has actually fallen by 45% in the last 15 years, mainly due to reductions in theft of vehicles, burglary and violent crime, especially domestic violence which has fallen by over 70% (due primarily to the government's focus on outlawing it and the changing status of women). So people's perception and imagination about crime and its effects are far more powerful in painting a negative and troubling picture than the actual reality.
Yearning for the past
But then that's nothing new. As far back in time as one can go there have been widespread gripes about British society, how terrible it was becoming and the dire predictions for it. For example, in 1360, a writer pronounced woefully that society was coming to an end. Why? Because the Black Death and Great Famine had ravaged the country, impacted on the old feudal and hierarchical systems in a massive way, which meant more mobility, more individual self management and broken ties with one's overlord, community and family. People just could not be controlled and exploited to the same extent anymore.
Nearly seven hundred years later we are still alive and kicking, having evolved naturally from one state to another. However, to an ordered 14th century society based on strict hierarchy, deference and everyone knowing their place, where most people were illiterate and often had to depend on distorted word of mouth for their information, it must have been a very bewildering and fearful time of transition.
And that's the key word here - transition: great change and flux - and transition is never comfortable. It brings fear for the unprepared and the unwilling, trashing traditions while fostering uncertainty. Britain is in a time of transition, moving from one class-conscious and authoritarian state to another. One where men had the power and control, both at work and at home, to another that emphasises free information, technological advances, individual self determination, equality of the genders and the nuclear family. There will be a lot of ignorance, resistance and pain!
People who are not comfortable with change, who are used to things being a certain way, who value security and power above all, who have difficulty with their quality of life or who might be exposed to frequent crimes in their neighbourhood, will certainly have a different perception and perspective about their country than someone like me who is retired, who does not need to hunt for a job, who lives a tranquil and peaceful life in a salubrious part of Maidenhead and who is very happy with our existence! Most important, improved medicine, quality of life and economic states have raised expectations much more than those of 40 years ago, for example. People now expect far more from their governments than just empty promises. They want to see tangible results and are increasingly holding governments accountable. It means that what would have been tolerated back then is frowned upon now. It really is all relative to experience, expectations and aspirations.
A great and prosperous society
Britain is not a 'broken society' in any way. There are people who have lost their confidence in themselves and the country; parents who find it difficult to interact with their children because of the technological divide; people who are victims of the recession - and fortune comes and goes; people who expect a lot but do very little to enable it except to blame everyone else; those who are experiencing a great life, despite the situation and those who are moving with the times - the diversity will always be there, in good times and bad.
Those who fear the most will see only the 'broken society' they have built inside their heads because we see society only as we are. What dictates the way we see the world is not what happens but our REACTIONS to it. Those who are optimistic and are willing to contribute to country's growth will see its potential and its blessings.
For me, this is a wonderful country with a lot of promise. The young might need more guidance and more love but the country is no worse than a few years ago and certainly much better. As research by the Economist concluded, there isn't a general pattern of negative events around the country, just worrying pockets of it:
Quote: "Drinking is down overall, but a minority is drinking harder; most types of crime are down, but certain types of violence persist; total drug use has fallen, but some of the most harmful drugs are getting more popular. The evidence supporting the existence of a “broken society” is thin indeed: all the more reason to focus on those who languish outside mainstream society altogether."
That's a balanced assessment of the Britain I know. Perhaps the moneyed elite whose interests the Conservative party represent see a broken society which their greed has helped to bring into being. After all, it was not long ago Margaret Thatcher is attributed as saying that there was no such thing as society. In effect, it was every man/woman for him/herself and we have seen the painful legacy of that approach down the years. But for the rest of us who are not as privileged, there are indeed individuals who need help and whose lives could be much better, but there is nothing 'broken' about this rich, wonderful and talented society.
Why Swingeing Austerity Cuts And a Big Society do NOT go Together
Britain's Prime Minister, David Cameron, delivered a rousing speech to Conservative party faithfuls at their annual conference when he called them to arms with 'Your country needs you', and emphasised the Big Society where everyone looks out for one another on a voluntary, cooperative and empathetic basis. All fine words indicating fine ideals and a desire to unite the nation in a time of impending austerity and sacrifice, but they are highly inappropriate to the current situation.
It means that Mr Cameron's vision will remain just that for some time because of common human factors that he and his team have not really taken into account. And the most hidden and destructive factor is FEAR. David Cameron would be better off appealing to people as individuals with whom he shares their concern and anxieties, while he is threatening to relieve them of their basic livelihoods in the dreaded cuts, rather than trying to force them to look outward at a time when that is not emotionally possible. When we are threatened, individually, it is a natural instinct to retreat and defend, not join with others, simply because everyone else becomes a potential scapegoat.
In any kind of economic or social upheaval, fear is the dominant factor, which is entirely understandable. If a family is worrying about losing their jobs, not getting enough benefits which are going to be slashed, about the economy being in recession and depriving them of opportunities, the last thing they will care about or wish to know about is someone else's problems. The reason why a Big Caring Society might work during war time but won't in economic downturns is because the two situations are vastly different.
Fighting a common enemy
War is caused by external forces, enemies of the state, who present a threat to every person within that society. It stands to reason that their very survival is at risk which will require each person to join forces to repel the enemy who could indiscriminately destroy them. No one is excluded. When there are economic problems, people do not care about the big picture because the concern moves from the macro (national) to the micro (the home) where the main priority is each family for itself. Instead of joining forces, people will be more concerned with who is getting more than they are, who is to blame for such problems and who should accept responsibility for their precarious situation.
There will be no unity of approach or action under such conditions. Protecting one's position from erosion and further attack assumes priority while reason and common sense take a back seat because of that fear. Economic downturns always carry blame and a need for scapegoats because jobs are not just things we do for money. They are also the essence of how we perceive ourselves in status, rank, responsibilities, sense of achievement, self-worth and identity. Any threat to all that is not conducive to unity and cooperation because people who are riddled with anxiety, with doubt and low confidence, will be ruled by fear of the future, and fear is a limiting emotion, not a constructive one.
Couple that fear with the stark fact that the government expects people to volunteer their time free of charge, that there will be no real money to motivate action, and one can kiss the Big Society goodbye! How are people worried about day to day issues supposed to bear the expenses themselves of doing the government's job for it? That's like pouring salt into an already open wound! For example, I am semi-retired and have volunteered in the past for whatever took my fancy, especially in empowering others. But I would think twice before helping with anything that would leave me anxious and out of pocket - worse off than I am. That would be rather foolish, especially if my income is steady and unchanging. Who makes up the shortfall?
Basic questions like that will be the kind asked by most families in Britain today. They will not be about anyone else because in times of economic crisis, thoughts are likely to turn to scrutiny of the role of the better-off in society, the unequal gaps between communities and ultimately to the government. Playing one big happy family in a Big Society would be the last thing on their minds while they are fretting and cogitating about their fate.
I think Mr Cameron needs to go back to the drawing board for this one, or simply leave it until there are clear signs of recovery. Perhaps then the idea of joining hands together in celebration of renewed good fortune might actually lead to the Big Society he so desperately seeks. It really is a question of timing than anything else in getting what we desire and the Big Society is an idea whose time has, clearly, not yet come.
Why 'There's No Black in the Union Jack'!
Britain is preparing to witness the wedding of the century on Friday morning. Well, almost all of Britain. The fly in the ointment is the extremist group, Muslims Against the Crusades, who are planning to protest in the area to draw some attention to themselves. One can safely assume that publicity is their main aim because the Crusades went a long time ago in history and, as one cannot go back in time to right any wrongs, this one will not gain much public support. Nevertheless, it is a symbol of the invisibility of minorities in the UK that they feel they have to use this significant day in order to be heard.
The impending Royal wedding means very little to the country's 10% minority ethnic communities - most of whom are likely to stay away from it - because they know that their presence will merely be tokenistic and strategically represented on the day. That it will be swiftly back to the usual invisibility immediately the ceremony is over. Back to being an all-white Britain where power and resources are concerned, but an all black one wherever 'problems' and 'victims' are highlighted.
One of the reasons why I admire America so much is that, though it is a long way from real racial parity, minorities are well represented in all spheres of life, and are continually visible where it matters to provide much needed role models. Look at the television medium there on any day and there will be a diversity of presenters and opinions. Here in the UK, the media as a whole tells the sorry state of being a minority in Britain. The BBC, for example, has just announced its team for covering the Royal Wedding, which it is busy promoting for the big day and, look as hard as one can, there is not a single minority ethnic face among the line-up. Yet every household in the country, whether black or white, has to pay a fee for its television licence; money that ensures continual jobs for majority members while minorities are denied their share of the cake.
The clear message is that such important times - national economic debates, political and Royal events - are all exclusively white affairs, because minorities are not really British in every sense of the term and are not affected by such things. They were on the wrong side of the colonial divide: the ones who were governed, not the rulers. That superior attitude still permeates the places which matter, breeding and fuelling exclusion on a massive scale, regardless of the fine words and intentions around it.
Some time ago, some British blacks coined the sentence: "There is no Black in the Union Jack"flag. On issues of state and politics, those words really come alive in their truth. The uncomfortable elephant in the room regarding minorities and the white majority is that a black person would never be considered suitable as a wife/husband/girlfriend/boyfriend for any member of the Royal Family, but that Family, hypocritically, loves to stress the importance of the Commonwealth to the British monarchy. The message to minorities appear to be: We love your company to help prop us up and give us some kudos, as long as you keep your distance.
British politicians, and the media, especially when there are benefits to be had from it, love to boast about our multicultural society. The truth is that there are two societies, in a covert vein - one which contains the power brokers and people of influence of one particular colour (white), and the powerless, invisible ones on the periphery of the action, those blessed with a different colour (black), who will be strangely absent from the celebrations, being safely kept a good distance away until it is safe for them to be allowed out again.
That is the reality of being Black in Britain today: one of exclusion and invisibility, especially at such times when they really should be involved to ensure unity, harmony and mutual respect - to be p[art of the routine in every sense - in this wonderful country.
What multicultural society?
The Invisibility of Being Black in Britain
The one thing the general election has shown up beyond any doubt is the hypocrisy around our multicultural society. We do have one, yes, as is noticeable from the 10% of minorities in the country, but the lip service paid to it, and the way those minorities are treated in a negative way, question the whole concept of what being multicultural means.
Look closely at all the photos associated with the leaders of all the parties and you'd be hard pressed to see anyone Black in them! they give the impression of an entirely White society which partly accounts for why many minority groups are completely apathetic to what is happening in politics. There is a saying among British Black communities, "There is no black in the Union Jack', that the country's flag only represents its White heritage, and it is in moments like the general election which bring that stark point home.
For a start, you will not see anyone black associated with politics on any significant level, especially reporting on it, analysing it or being asked to comment on it. It is as if politics are only associated with white Britons; only they will be interested; only they will be voting and, most important, only they will be giving comments on the situation, because they are the only ones eligible and qualified to do so. Hence why I am the only Black British woman on the Internet commenting on it! But I am running ahead of myself.
Black people, particularly those of African Caribbean origin, are largely absent from the three major areas of society: government, business and the media. For example, in government, there are 15 elected minority members of parliament. There should be at least 50, going by the minority population in the country. Worse still, Gordon Brown's recent Cabinet is the first one in decades not to have any Cabinet minister from minority communities! The Attorney General (who is Black) is attached to the Cabinet but is not a full member of it, a retrogade step from a man claiming to be sincere about equality for all.
Robbed of credibility
In business, minorities tend to be the cleaners and janitors than the executives. A recent report by Business in the Community revealed that even when they graduate and are fully qualified, minorities have difficulty finding jobs much worse than their White peers. Only 56.3% of them found work within a year compared to 66% of White graduates. But even when they are very successful in their field, you will not hear much about them because of one major factor: a denial of credibility.
Ethnic minorities are deliberately robbed of their credibility in a majority society which makes them invisible. You will certainly not find a Gwen Ifill in Britain (she was the Black moderator in one of America's 2008 election TV debates). Another example is the focus on celebrities which is pervasive in our society. But where are the minority celebrities and achievers? The ones well known in their communities but are ignored by the mainstream press? Where are the minority guests on chat shows? On discussion panels? On entertainment programmes?
Where are the minority writers to give alternative viewpoints and to add to the pool of knowledge? Those are clearly the preserves of White Britons. In fact, the TV programme, BBC1's Newsnight, has been a virtual no-go area for Black journalists ever since it was created decades ago. Not one has been on it in this 21st century. Worst still, last week on Question Time, we had the supreme irony of an all-White discussion panel discussing immigration and other issues that affect minorities as well, yet not a single minority commentator on the panel! The absence of credible minorities in the media is a very important issue because the media is the most pervasive and influential force in our lives.
Focus on the negatives
It seems that minorities in Britain are virtually invisible in every aspect of life except one: crime. It suits the White media to use them as fodder for scapegoating and blame, to have a target for fear and insecurity, especially if they are different from the majority. Hence we hear about them ad nauseam in relation to terrorism, guns, gangs and street crime but hardly in any other dimension - a gross lack of balance. They are treated in an extraordinary way so that there is very little reported when they are doing well, but lots when there is something negative to focus on.
Minorities are also used in a cynical way to show national pride abroad, as with getting the Olympics, when multiculturalism became cool and essential, but are largely excluded from the preparations, the promotion and the service contracts. Such an exclusive and racist approach keeps minorities in the public eye as extraordinary and non-contributing beings who are simply taking from society. It uses them in situations that bolster national fear (immigration and crime) while ignoring the vast majority of law abiding, legal citizens quietly playing their part in their communities and boosting the countries economic and cultural worth.
Having said all that, if one really wishes to see the extent of the invisibility of minorities in Britain, one only has to see a report in the Guardian on the NHS '1% club' that says it all. No less that 16% of staff in the NHS are minorities, yet only 1% are chief executives out of 600! The article noted that, "Trevor Phillips, who was chairman of the now disbanded Commission for Racial Equality, described the phenomenon as "snowcapping" - with the summit of each health service organisation almost entirely peaked in white."
The invisibility of being Black in the United Kingdom, especially in positive terms, and in the ordinary and routine life of the country, has a corrosive and deleterious effect on minority communities whose presence is continually diminished by it while deliberately dividing society on racist lines. This then encourages the White majority to have mainly negative perceptions of anyone who is different and keeps the community in discord.
Minorities in Britain do not seek special treatment. They simply seek the visibility of their presence, the acknowledgement of their skills and talents, the celebration of their achievements and recognition of their credibility and competence, just like their White peers. Nothing more and nothing less. One hopes that the new government will be taking note instead of glibly perpetuating the status quo.
Why it is suddenly cool to be Black in Britain:
Thank you Simon Cowell - and Barack Obama!
Last night, the equivalent of the Berlin Wall came crashing down in Britain on our television screens. Alexandra Burke, one of the most talented singers I have ever seen on TV, sang her heart out to become the undisputed queen of Britain's X-Factor (the sister of American Idol, but a much better, more inclusive version). Barely two weeks ago, moved by one of her renditions, Simon Cowell had said to her: "You make me proud to be British!"
As a Black woman in Britain, watching two deserving Black acts in the finale (the stunning JLS group and Alexandra) I too felt extremely proud to be British. I have always been proud, as I adore this country, but being an older Black person having lived through the prejudices, discrimination and sheer invisibility of being Black, last night had tremendous significance beyond the obvious for anyone of African origin in this country. It was really cool to be Black, and proud, and talented on TV screens that have been starved of Black faces, starved of Black input and starved, in particular, of Black presenters, panellists and judges! (Thank you, Simon Cowell - and Barack Obama!)
A Sea Change in British Media
To understand the magnitude of what happened on ITV last night, one has to be both Black and British. It doesn't matter what the programme is ever about, especially reality ones, the foregone conclusion (until Leona Lewis in 2007) is that only a White winner will suit the expectations, the marketability and the 'image' required - and only White winners have been voted for by the public to match that racist perception. Even when a Black person reaches the final, one knows the coveted prize will be elusive to them because they are normally fighting the odds of what is mind-numblingly patronising, traditional and routine: that anything not White is inferior.
It was not so long ago in 2002, for example, on the BBC's Fame Academy, most Black people felt that the runner-up, Lemar, was robbed of victory because the public weren't ready to vote for anyone Black in such a new series. But there was a kind of poetic justice when the winner, David Sneddon opted out, disillusioned and unable to cope with the pressure, and Lemar went on to become one of Britain's best known recording artistes, doing justice to his amazing voice and talents.
On any day of the week, there is very little on our screens, especially at peak times when the big audiences are engaged, to indicate a truly multicultural society where one has real choice in programming, or a different fare to enjoy. You will be hard pressed to find any Black voices on anything, especially Black experts or key players. There is a lot of window dressing, tokenism and peripheral activity by minorities within our media but they are still very firmly in the background, kept well away from the lottery-sized salaries and influential positions. This in turn helps to keep minority communities invisible, out of the competition, robbed of key opportunities and chronically underexposed.
A Change in Public Perception
If one trawls back through every programme with a major prize attached to it, one would be hard pressed to see any Black names involved. Consigned to the perennial label of 'also rans', Black people knew that there was no way one of them would win, but at least taking part gave them some exposure, even if they were doomed by their colour to be eternally second-best, and many grabbed the opportunity to be at least involved. While including minorities as obvious fodder, this illusion of 'fairness', was so predictable as to be terribly demoralising and sad, especially for Black people nationwide looking for inspiration and some assurance that they were actually visible.
Last night, the incredible happened in public perception: for the first time it really didn't matter about their colour! Two Black finalists, looking good, full of talent and looking cool, destroyed the usual tokenism associated with such coveted events. Let me repeat that for the unbelieving: There were TWO Black finalists of three, not just one, and they both came first and second, destroying the myth (hopefully for good) that only a White person can ever be a winner in the media in such events, especially when cute and astonishingly talented little Eoghan Quigg, could have stolen the moment. (Thank you, Simon Cowell - and Barack Obama!)
They were good for the viewing figures too. Normally averaging between 8 and 10 millions, the X-Factor has turned into one of Britain's biggest shows. But last night it hit the jackpot with a staggering 15 millions who switched on to watch (a quarter of the UK's population) when the average for a good programme is around 7 million these days). It is no coincidence at all that an unknown Black guy with a strange name becoming American president is changing perceptions everywhere, quietly and relentlessly, about the value of being Black. Suddenly it feels wonderful to be 'normal', not extraordinary or tokenistic, but normal. My only disappointment is that this did not happen on the BBC, the country's leading channel, which should be ahead of the field in reflecting our multiculturalism, through representation and inclusion, especially when the licence fee has to be paid for by all. Instead it happened on the commercial channel which has the bottom line as its top concern.
Ah well, with Barack Obama on the verge of occupying the White House, an incredible feat of achievement by any standards, and relentlessly changing world opinions, the British public has also had a sea change in perception with the outcome of the X-Factor. At this rate, programme-makers might even begin to get bolder and less traditional, less biased and more inclusive in their output. Who knows, I might yet see, in my lifetime, the two established no-go areas for Blacks on British television fall as well: period dramas having Black stars in the leading casts and Newsnight having a Black presenter - though I can't afford to hold my breath!
For today, I am deliriously happy, I am awestruck and amazed. Yes, our own Berlin Wall of perception came tumbling down last night with a huge and reverberating bang. The future looks very promising for our society but, above all, it really feels good, chic and cool to be Black and truly British. It has taken 40 years of my lifetime to reach this point, but how exciting the next 40 years could be! (Thank you so much, Simon Cowell - and Barack Obama!)
Why immigration to Britain should not be used as a political football
The subject of immigration has become a hot potato in the general election, especially when the Labour party has tried to downplay it for obvious reasons: i:e whatever the present situation, they are mainly responsible for it through their policies over the past 13 years.
Currently there are 80 different routes to work or study in the UK which have developed in an ad hoc way, either through economic need or political expediency. These are now being replaced by a points system which is being applied to anyone coming to Britain from outside the EU, mainly to cover students, skilled migrant workers and people seeking sponsorship. In a nutshell, the more skills one has, and the more demand there is for them, the more likely one will accrue the points to be allowed into the country. What effect that will really have when 80% of immigration to Britain won't be affected because of the European free trade membership is anyone's guess, but at least it will simplify the process.
The other two main parties have kept immigration high on the agenda but for very different reasons. The Conservatives mainly wish to put a cap on the numbers coming to the country while the Liberal Democrats recognise that putting a real cap on immigration, especially when Britain is a member of the EU with free mobility between members, is really pie-in-the-sky thinking. It might soothe a few fearful and anxious people but it won't achieve very much. Instead the LibDems wish to address the problem by starting with the illegal immigrants already here, to stem the criminal activity involving their presence, and to bring them into the tax orbit. It means that those who have been here at least 10 years and are already a contributing part of their community can be drawn into the system and pay their taxes like anyone else.
The other two parties knock this suggestion yet put nothing in its place, except to talk about limiting future entries. That is a fine gesture but what then happens to the estimated 600,000 illegal people who are currently lost in the system and are being exploited by criminals who are making a nice living out of their predicament? They won't suddenly disappear, neither can they be rounded up to be deported because one has to find them first!! The only sensible way out is an amnesty, just as America has done in the past, as Nick Clegg suggests.
How immigration has changed our lives
Britain has a long history of immigrants shaping its culture and making their mark on this country. The Romans started it all and gave us Latin and some fine roads, to say the least; the Angles and Saxons from Germany followed and gave us our language. Then the Danes harassed us for at least three centuries, always wanting to conquer us but never quite succeeding and left their cultural impact. Finally the French showed how it should be done through William the Conquerer in 1066 and for nearly two hundred years, French was the official language of Britain. Imagine being able to speak your language but you couldn't write it in official documents because a foreign language had taken over!! All those changes, which must have had great impact on the population, have benefited us in the long term even if they were unsettling in the short term.
Today tons of Britons have made a kind of reverse journey into France, living affluent lives in some of the best parts of the country. They have been made to feel broadly welcome and enjoy the existence they have. That is the natural way for humans: the curiosity to explore, to discover new places and to extend themselves by leaving their own shores and inhabiting others. If we did not do that, most of our world would still be undiscovered and in the dark ages!
The real truth about immigration
Contrary to the anxiety the politicians like to fuel about immigration, as though it is something extraordinary and only happens to us, immigration is a worldwide phenomenon. Global Issues point out that, currently, there are 191 million immigrants to different countries all over the world, with 20% of them in the US alone, while 33% live in Europe. Between 1990 and 2005, immigration actually decreased worldwide. Very few people move from one country to another simply to live off the state. Most people are seeking a new life and it takes courage to put one's self at risk, to lose all one's roots, family, community and friends and go to another country; to suffer extreme loneliness and rejection in order to seek a decent life. It is up to governments to regulate immigration, not to to ignore its potential problems then blame the immigrants themselves.
According to Britain's Trades Union Congress, most immigrants are in the South East of the country which puts undue pressure on local communities. It means that most parts of Britain are unaffected by any mass immigration. In answering the question: Has migration (to Britain) led to unemployment?, the TUC points out that it isn't new migrants that affect jobs, it's supply and demand. Where there is a great demand there will be tons of jobs. Where demand has fallen, jobs will fall in that sector. It was also pointed out that migrant workers pay more in taxes than they receive in benefits.
The only certain fact about current immigration is that it really affects developing countries by robbing them of their professional people. For example, 82% of immigrants from Guyana and 69% from Jamaica who emigrated to the United States in the'90s were highly qualified professionals! When British politicians speak about the problems with immigration in the country one wonders if they are mindful of the benefits, for example in our National Health Service, that these professionals provide which their home countries have lost? That could explain why Clegg has been trying to draw a distinction between 'good' immigration and 'bad'.
Why undue focus on immigration is wrong
Politically, every election time has been fraught with problems for immigrants in Britain since they all tend to be lumped together mainly on the basis of colour and race. I remember when I came to Britain in the '60s and Enoch Powell was preaching his inflammatory speeches about 'rivers of blood'. Every election time was pretty awful if you were an immigrant who stood out because of your colour. Politicians in their virtually all-white parties knew that racism was rife and played upon it for cheap votes. They would say all kinds of things about Black settlers, making no distinctions between those who were bonafide or not, and some members of the public would take the law into their own hands and show these immigrants how unwelcome they were.
As a Black nurse, pretty excited at being in England to train, the effects of this biased targeting was brought home to me with a vengeance. Kindly, elderly white folk, goaded by Powell and other well meaning politicians, spat in my face while I was nursing them and told me to 'go back home'. But that is the problem with white majority privilege in a mixed society. They say what they want to get the racist votes while innocent people bear the consequences.
Today it is not so much Black people who are targeted anymore as the people from Europe, especially Polish immigrants who are a thriving community and working in their own way to contribute to our society. Yet the Poles are here to do mainly lower paid jobs Britons won't do. The fact that there are millions of Britons in Europe in international exchange seems to escape the fearful xenophobes among us. The tragedy with this constant focus on immigration, especially in a derogatory and pejorative way, is that it isolates one section of the community as deviants and no-good takers, the butt of prejudice and low confidence, when most immigrants simply want a better standard of life and are willing to work very hard for it, despite the difficulties of language, culture and social interaction.
It is wrong to focus on immigration for political gain simply because it is very divisive, often racist in intention and a futile gesture for spurious political gain. Worse still, it makes nonsense of all the other positive policies designed to unify society and give parties like the BNP fertile ground in which to operate. The real focus should be done administratively, by civil servants, not politically by people seeking election, especially if we live in a multicultural society.
Politicians cannot keep harping about the equal and harmonious society they seek, one marked by mutual respect, yet use the weakest and most vulnerable section of that society as a political football to score cheap and nasty political points. Only Britain suffers in the process by undermining the usefulness, talent and impact of immigrants who come to our shores. After all, the NHS is the biggest employer in the UK and 16% of that work force are former immigrants from black and ethnic minority groups who have given their service for years. Take that number away and some parts of the system would collapse! This highlights the obvious hypocrisy around the issue and the superficial concern politicians really have for those coming to our country.
After all, the most common sense reason for not focusing negatively on immigration is that almost all of us, at one point or another in history, has descended from immigrants!!
The Power of the TV Debate
What a difference television exposure can make to the fortunes of a party! Last week this time, the Liberal Democrats, headed by Nick Clegg, were on 18% public approval ratings in the polls, the usual place they have been for quite while.
In the past, they have reached the early 20s in points, but have never passed 25% for a long time. The history making television debate between the party leaders last Thursday night changed all that! Nick Clegg emerged victorious from it, the polls went haywire and the Lib Dems went stratospheric!
Over the weekend they broke the 30% barrier for the first time in years (33%), with the Conservatives hanging on at 32% and Labour trailing on 26%. They have since settled at 30%, with the Conservatives marginally regaining their lead at 32%. Everyone is predicting a hung parliament, with no clear winner in seats, which would make the Lib Dems major players in forming the next government. They cannot believe their luck at this stage of the campaign while Labour is trying to play catch-up.
The Conservatives, led by David Cameron, who have been clearly surprised and rattled by Nick Clegg's success, appeared to have suffered the most, psychologically, from the change in the Lib Dems fortunes. Cameron has decided against attacking Labour for the moment and, instead, is now training his political guns on Nick Clegg, using the age old scare tactic that a vote for the Lib Dems is a lost vote that will keep Labour in power. In the meantime, Gordon Brown is wisely keeping a statesmanlike detachment from the fray, telling jokes about his father's political advice instead.
The Real Effect of the TV Debate
It is clear that the television debate was a great success, especially for the virtually unknown Nick Clegg. He got into his stride as the debate got underway and emerged from it as a formidable and knowledgeable leader. He really made mincemeat of his opponents in a very humble, yet confident and assured way. Suddenly he was propelled upwards on the crest of public approval and has been soaring like an eagle ever since. His outstanding performance meant that Liberal Democrat candidates all over the country are now more visible, they make more sense to voters, they have more relevance and are seeming to be a much more attractive proposition than the two old parties which, compared to the freshness of the Lib Dems, are rapidly registering themselves on the population as being more of the same.
The TV debate also changed perceptions: the way the population views the parties and the the way the parties view themselves. From riding high as the favourites for the next government, the debate threw the Conservatives out of the lead and revealed David Cameron as far more lightweight than he wanted to appear to be while Gordon Brown was confirmed as bad as was suspected. It really will be an uphill struggle for Labour to return to power on its own.
Finally, the debate showed what was possible. It reduced the apathy in the campaign and really fired up the atmosphere around it. Suddenly, it wasn't so predictable or boring. Politics had become exciting again. With two more debates to come, it can only get better. The only problem for Nick Clegg being at the top is that the only way for him is down! He has a lot of reputation to preserve in the next two debates. Was his performance a one off or a sign of even better things to come? He is certainly the one to watch.
In a nutshell, the TV debate emphasised Gordon Brown's unsuitability for the job, it demonstrated what a hidden gem Nick Clegg is and definitely showed David Cameron to be terribly weak under pressure. The choice is certainly narrowing!
British General Election 2010:
The morning after the night before: what a bloody mess!
The Results so far
(621 of 650 seats declared)
Conservatives: 291 seats (needing 35 seats to form the new government)
Labour: 251 seats (needing 78 seats to form the new government)
Liberal Democrats: 52 seats
The Current Facts
1. The Labour Party LOST the election. However the Conservatives HAVEN'T won it, even though there was a national swing of 5.1% to them from Labour!
2. Despite having more seats than the Labour party, with 36.1% share of the votes, Conservatives have an even weaker mandate to govern than Labour had in 2005 with 40.7% share. It means only a third of the country actually voted for them!
3. Despite the Lib Dems getting nearly 23% vote share(up 1% on 2005), they actually LOST seats (5 so far) which does not make any sense!! On that performance they should have had at least 60 seats by now.
4. As a party, the Conservatives have gained the most number of seats since 1930.
5. The Liberal Democrats' Nick Clegg will be kingmaker, as predicted, to help the Conservatives form a coalition or rule as a minority government.
6. Labour could form a government too but it would also need not only the help of the Liberal Democrats, but also the smaller parties too, a coalition that would be very fragile, disparate in demands and fraught with difficulties. Worst still, it would not instill the financial markets with any trust or confidence.
7. For the first time, many people were turned away at some polling stations at 10pm, doors closed in their faces, and thus disenfranchsing them! Some stations didn't even have enough ballot papers, yet if their lists were up to date, they should have known how many ballot papers they needed!
8. The UK Independence Party, with 868,054 votes(3.1% share) has no seat in Parliament, leaving nearly a million people without a voice in British government - one of the greatest reasons for the dire need of electoral reform.
9. The Green Party with 268,749 votes so far (1%) has a seat in Parliament for the first time since their creation over 40 years ago, while the British National Party with 539,841 (1.9% vote share - an increase of 1.2% on their 2005 result) still has no seats at all!
10. The Conservatives, with only one seat in Scotland, has no mandate to govern there!
11. The lack of any party having an overall majority could lead to lots of long term problems.
There are three main possibilities stemming from this election:
1. The sitting Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, seeking to form a new government, as stated above, with as many smaller parties as possible to give him overall majority. The trouble is, all these parties want big cash concessions to side with Brown, yet, constitutionally, unless he resigns there is nothing Cameron can do. The Queen has to invite him to form a government and she can't do that until Brown resigns and it seems that he is determined to hang on to power. The best way out of this potential impasse is for Cameron and Clegg to form a quick and decisive government between them.
2. The leading party, Conservatives, forming a government with the Liberal Democrats and with David Cameron as Prime Minister. They would immediately have a combined seat total of 342 seats as currently stands but the LibDem's price for that support could be high. However, a poll taken today among the Conservatives activists reveal that 92% of them do NOT want a coalition with the LibDems.
3. The Conservatives deciding to go it alone as a minority government with the tacit support of the smaller parties.
3. All major parties coming together to rule in a cross party coalition. The question then is who would be the Prime Minister and Chancellor?
My prediction? Another general election within a few months, especially if the Tories try to go it alone. Labour has got too many seats for it to keep quiet on the sidelines and it would be their interest to go to the country again after a few months of making it difficult for the Conservatives to govern while hoping to get a better result for themselves next time. Furthermore, there would have to be unpopular policies from now on and the Conservatives will have to make those decisions which would not endear them to the public.
A great website for monitoring results and developments as they happen: The BBC Election
Why Tony Blair is right about the main cause of the 2011 England riots
Intervening in the current discussion about the causes behind the recent riots, former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, disagreed with the current PM, David Cameron's, assessment that it was a 'moral decline' in British society. Blair said that there was really nothing wrong with our society, it was just that we had a group of disaffected youth who is 'outside the social mainstream', and I am inclined to agree with him.
From time immemorial, in any society, there will always be a group of people who will not fit into the expected norms. However they are usually constrained in actions by the kind of society they live in. Ipso facto, if they live in an authoritarian or dictatorial social environment, their actions will be far more constrained than in a freer democracy. But whatever society they are in does not stop them feeling the way they do. In fact, there are three main factors that would contribute to such alienation.
First, what has certainly embolden our youth to behave irresponsibly is the inconsistent passive-aggressive justice system we have had up until now for youth offenders. Until the riots, it didn't seem to matter too much about how someone behaved, no matter how many times they committed a misdemeanour, offended the neighbours, or simply behaved badly. The actual punishment was often ridiculous in relation to the gravity of the crime in the bid to keep them out of already overcrowded prisons. The punishment was sometimes derisory, especially for multiple offences, so it was easy to develop a gradual disrespect for the law.
Of course some youths came to view such leniency almost as a badge of honour, encouraging them to offend and re-offend.
Second, for whatever reason, whether it is unemployment, being unemployable, being victims of racism, being invisible in their society, those youths who looted and burned with such abandon were disconnected from their society. People who believe they have no stake in something, and feel outside of it, tend not to care about it and often prefer to destroy it as a way of asserting their power; simply to show that they can do it. We have to feel valued, significant and appreciated before we protect what we have. Once we feel on the outside of our social milieu, feeling undervalued and invisible, resentment creeps in and very few things matter any more.
Third, we have a society dominated by an impersonal technology where an impersonal social media dominate youth existence. Youngsters who are not well anchored to their family will be anchored to their peers instead; more vulnerable to the group or gang mentality, more open to suggestions and behaving like lemmings. Our modern world is also one in transition, changing from an authoritarian one, where information was guarded and deference was a hallmark, to one where individual freedoms are paramount, children know more than their parents in technology and information is freely available for everyone to make their own choices.
So, it is easy to read into the youth's behaviour a signal about society as a whole but that is to use a tiny minority to judge over 60 million people, which is silly. The youths reflect how they think and believe, not anyone else. Society itself is looking for answers within this painful transition, which is overshadowed by a deep recession, but what David Cameron is forgetting with that perspective is that MOST people are law abiding. If the majority were rioting and looting, perhaps he would have a point. But to use the few to judge the many is crass in the extreme.
Tony Blair is absolutely right. We have disaffected youth and they need to be addressed, not just punished aggressively with long sentences. That will not cure their alienation or disaffection, neither will that teach them any lesson except the law of the bully. They need to be treated consistently, with firm but fair justice, all the time, and not just when there disturbances. Their whole lives need to be addressed and their alienation understood before it can be helped. Knee jerk reactions damning our society as a whole just won't do the trick.
The Sihera Emotional Health Guide© 2012-2016