How Can This Be?

The revelations this week about systemic racial discrimination against Gypsy Roma and Irish Travellers (Mincéirí) by the Pontins chain were a grim reminder of the sort of world we live in. It emerged that Pontins had drafted a blacklist of “undesirable guests”, explicitly to stop Mincéirí from staying at its resorts after a whistleblower contacted the Equality and Human Rights Commission. The whistleblower had told the i newspaper: “If a person had an Irish accent and was calling from Ireland, then strangely that was OK. But if it was an Irish accent and the postcode was for a caravan site or an industrial estate in Britain, then that was a big red flashing light.”

The blacklist was referred to the EHRC in February 2020.

“It is hard not to draw comparisons with an undesirable guests list and the signs displayed in hotel windows 50 years ago, explicitly barring Irish people and black people,” said Alastair Pringle, the EHRC executive director.

“Banning people from services based on their race is discrimination and is unlawful. To say that such policies are outdated is an understatement. It is right to challenge such practices and any business that believes this is acceptable should think again before they find themselves facing legal action.”

Pontins is owned by Britannia Jinky Jersey Ltd, which said it “has agreed to work together with the Equality and Human Rights Commission to further enhance its staff training and procedures in order to further promote equality throughout its business”.
This is odd because it was the Pontins training that created the situation in the first place. It was Pontins that created a “training manual” called “YOU SHALL NOT PASS” which asked their staff to lie to people trying to book.
The company will face little or no actual consequences.
As Séamas O’Reilly points out: “It even led to the irony of the Labour MP for St Helens North, Conor McGinn, revealing that Pontins had recently lobbied him to support its sites being reopened, despite the fact that by virtue of his being a McGinn, the document “would have banned me & my kids from staying there if they had”.
It’s important not to sidestep the issue. As O’Reilly notes: ‘It’s tempting to think of Pontins’ racism as a British crime against the Irish, a convenient way of positioning ourselves as the victims of oppression rather than complicit in a coalition of anti-Mincéir prejudice that spans both countries.”
The same should be said of Scotland. We shouldn’t read this story as “the English being anti-Irish” but rather as there being pervasive anti-traveler prejudice throughout Britain of which we are by no means immune.
This week also saw Gordon Beattie resign as chairman of Beattie Communications after saying: “We don’t hire blacks, gays or Catholics” arguing they only hire talent.
In the LinkedIn post Mr Beattie wrote that companies should only hire people for their “talent, experience, knowledge and wisdom”. He added: “We hire people we like, trust and admire and recruit people who have the potential to be better than us.” Beattie Communications said that Mr Beattie is resigning from his position as chairman as a consequence of a “tone deaf” social media post.
The incidents may be redolent of the culture of casual racism that was both driver and result of the Brexit fiasco but they also speak to a far deeper problem. The wider notion that “progress” as a linear process seems under greater and greater pressure.
It’s not just the widespread pandemic chaos and economic collapse we are witnessing.
News that Loyalist paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland are withdrawing support temporarily for the Good Friday peace deal due to new border procedures contained in the Brexit deal fill me with despair at the political class.
As does news that Rishi Sunak Hedge-Fund husband of a billionaire and Britain’s richest MP will with a single policy in his budget – the Universal Credit cut – plunge 500,000 people into poverty.
As does news that from South Carolina that executions can now be carried out by firing squad after senators moved to address a shortage of lethal injection drugs. South Carolina’s state senate approved the move 32-11 on Tuesday, with a number of Democrats joining their Republican colleagues in the vote. South Carolina is the fourth state to bring in a firing squad as part of its executions, behind Utah, Oklahoma and Mississippi.
The concept that society might progress to become more sophisticated, more humane, more democratic, more rational, more democratic, more progressive seems a distant prospect as all of the worst aspects of reactionary forces take control.
The Pontins scandal is a mirror to the world we live in. The old signs ‘No Blacks No Irish’ were thought to be a symbol of a distant past we should be ashamed of. But the Pontins story shows its the very present we should be ashamed of.
And yet and yet the very same week we discovered YouGov polling showing the Conservatives taking a thirteen point lead.
In the same week we were told in the Budget that Boris Johnson’s controversial Test and Trace system is to get another £15bn on top of this year’s spending allocation of £22bn, taking the total bill for the controversial service run by Tory peer Dido Harding to a £37bn over two years.
The same Budget told us the government was offering NHS staff just a 1% pay rise in the coming year, a move described by the nurses’ union as “pitiful”.
So much for clapping for heroes.

YouGov reports the Conservatives on 45% (+4 from 25-26 Feb) and Labour on 32% (-4).

I don’t think I’ll be alone in staring at these with figures with incredulity and asking, How Can This Be?
But I am also (in desperation) asking: where is the political project – the mass movement for change that can do more than just instill a vague sense of Obama-style “Hope” but actually rekindle the notion of progress and carry us out of this downward spiral and this dark morass?

Comments (8)

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  1. Paula Becker says:

    There is no such thing as ‘progress’.
    (hope that helps)

      1. Paula Becker says:

        ‘Unfortunately what is called progress is nothing but the invasion of the bipeds who do not rest until they have turned everything into hideous quais with gas lamps and – even worse – electric lights. What times we live in!’
        Cezanne writing to his niece 1902

  2. Steve says:

    So what are you suggesting. The matter is now in the public forum. What more do you want done

  3. Wul says:

    ” I don’t think I’ll be alone in staring at these with figures with incredulity and asking, How Can This Be?”

    Because the only alternative to the Tories (Blue or Red) was Corbyn Communism, which will tax your garden, make friends with terrorists and Take us Back to the Seventies. It was in the papers and on on the telly.

  4. florian albert says:

    It is disappointing that Mike Small can not distinguish between genuine racism, which plainly still exists in our society, and a foolish and failed PR stunt by Gordon Beattie.
    Further, his comment that ‘casual racism was both the driver and result of the Brexit fiasco’ is simply untrue. He is making an accusation against some 17 million voters – including a million Scots – for which there is no worthwhile evidence.
    In doing so he displays a similarity to ‘Rev’ Stuart Campbell. The difference is that the latter makes specific accusations which allow those on the receiving end to respond, using the legal system, if necessary.

  5. Derek says:

    You missed the third part – that my dad encountered in London in the 1960s – “no blacks, no irish, no jocks”.

  6. Pete Roberts says:

    Some thoughts from outside the box.

    “I don’t think I’ll be alone in staring at these with figures with incredulity and asking, How Can This Be?”

    You’re certainly not. Trying to step back and see a bigger picture all I can see is a clusterbourach on an unprecedented scale in human history, what we know of it, at any rate. Apart from the corruption of our political system, our whole civilisation depends on fossil fuels which aren’t going to last. “Renewable” energy depends on these same fossil fuels and timber harvesting which is also not sustainable at the rate we are cutting down and burning trees. Then there is the fact that we have fecked up the environment way past the point where we can even begin to put it right.

    All in all I see the patriarchal top down command and control model spiraling out of control with the politicians and corporations incapable of coming up with anything other than the policies that got us into this mess in the first place. Here is a good explanation of the situation we are in for those with the patience to try and get their heads round it.

    In other words I see us to be in the decline and fall of the Western materialist civilisation, but unlike precious civilisations which took decades to go down I think ours will collapse very quickly due to the interconnectedness of things and the speed of events in the internet age. It will just need one event in a crucial sector like finance to trigger a collapse of the whole house of cards. To survive we will have to drastically reduce our energy consumption among other things and restructure our relationship with the planet, in other words change our whole way of life and do it fast.

    Nobody is talking about any of this, in public anyway, so the populace at large has no idea that we are in this kind of mess, let alone having any idea of where we can realistically go from here. It will take a massive shock to wake people up, and this is on its way. Not a question of if but when. I really wish it wasn’t and I’d love to be proved wrong but I just don’t see it.

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