25 Feb

Institutional irrationality

The mother of murdered London teenager Stephen Lawrence has said she believes parts of the police are still racist.  Speaking fifteen years after the Macpherson Report branded the Metropolitan Police force “institutionally racist”, Baroness Lawrence said some attitudes “haven’t changed much”.She said stop-and-search measures are still unfair.

There are few things worse than having your son murdered and there is rightly great public sympathy for the parents of Stephen Lawrence: but sympathy is one thing and irrationality is another thing altogether. I don’t know how racist the Metropolitan Police Force is. I cannot judge whether their stop-and-search tactics are unfair. But, fifteen year on, it is disgraceful that a very significant part of public policy and the criminal law continues to be enacted according to a definition which is manifestly absurd.

I mean that judgement in the Macpherson Report which says, “A racist incident is anything so described by the victim or any other person.” So, if I were to invite you for a nice cup of tea, you could, if you were so perverse, report this as a racist incident. And unfortunately our society is not free from exactly this sort and degree of perversity. 

This perversity is called political correctness

Most people regard political correctness as a bit of a joke and rather a laugh, but in its serious consequences it is neither. When sceptics asked for a justification for his coining the tendentious neologism “institutional racism,” Lord Macpherson declared loftily,

“We do not pretend to produce a definition which will carry all argument before it.” But that is the whole purpose in making legal definitions: to avoid the confusion which partisan arguments inevitably produce. You would think that a man who is one of our senior judges could understand this.

Macpherson’s arrogant refusal to answer criticism amounts to his saying, we won’t answer your awkward questions. Just like the secret police.

The Macpherson definition of an act of racism is meaningless of course, but it is the catch-all, you’re-guilty-even-when-you’re-innocent terminology of the gulag. If anything can be legitimately described as a racist incident, then the term “racist incident” is vacuous. Meaningless jargon, politically-correct or not, is not merely spurious: when a meaningless expression is made the basis of a law of the land it is a prescription for confusion and chaos. Certainly the definition of a racist incident set out by Macpherson is incoherent and as such cannot reasonably stand as the basis for law-making.

But it does so stand, thereby making us all victims of an insane procedure. Badly-framed legal definitions damage our whole society and undermine our way of life.

Among those who dared criticise the Macpherson Report, William Hague, former Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition, and now Foreign Secretary, said:

“It has led to every police officer in Britain being branded a racist.” Hague promised to “…take on and defeat the liberal elite that has never trusted the police force and now wants us to believe they are all racists”.

He never had a hope. The “liberal elite” are our rulers now. But there is nothing liberal about them.

And not just the pol;ice, but everyone in the country. “Institutional racism” is a deliberately and systematically vague expression. It is relatively easy to demonstrate racial prejudice in an individual, but how would you go about showing that a whole institution such as the police force or, as Archbishop Sentamu has said, the Church of England, is guilty of this crime?

The Macpherson definition and the concept of institutional racism are exactly the sorts of linguistic devices invented by totalitarian regimes to silence dissenters by criminalising dissent. Orwell called Newspeak.