I learnt two things about the subject of child grooming gangs on Monday’s edition of The News Agents podcast. Firstly, there’s no evidence of over-representation of any ethnic group within these gangs. Secondly, some allegations have indeed been ignored because of “cultural sensitivities”.
It's right to be horrified by the latter while recognising the vitally important wider context of the former. But that’s not what the Home Secretary did this week. She deliberately confused the picture.
She talked to Sky’s Sophy Ridge about, to quote: “the predominance of certain ethnic groups, and I say British Pakistani males, who hold cultural values that are totally at odds with British values, who see women in a demeaned and illegitimate way”.
Words matter. And she chose them carefully. Note the word “predominance” to imply something the Home Office’s own commissioned research tells us isn’t true. Note the casual juxtaposition of the term “British Pakistani males” with her disgust at those non-British cultural values.
She knew what she was doing. She was lifting a great big whistle to her mouth and blowing it as hard as she could to a slavering pack of dogs. If you doubt that, look at this tweet from @adilray. His isn’t the only one.
And even if you give her the unearned benefit of the doubt and suggest she didn’t know what she was doing, it would still reveal her to be a liability who is unfit for public office.
So it was interesting to listen to Jess Phillips. Passionate about an issue on which she has real expertise. Excoriating about the government. But very obviously and at times excruciatingly avoiding condemning the Home Secretary’s dog-whistling.
Or, as Jon Sopel put it, refusing to fall into the Tories’ elephant trap.
Jess Phillips is the last person I want to criticise. And I realise full well that standing up for British Pakistani men isn't prominent in Labour's election-winning strategy. Yet here, once again, was an example of Labour not saying things that do need to be said.
And there, later in the same programme, were more. Of the Labour leadership’s relative silence about the links between Brexit and the farce at Dover. Of Starmer, in January, refusing to get drawn on Europe.
There’s a pattern here, spanning multiple topics. Listening to the programme, I was reminded of the Labour leadership’s failure to condemn in adequate terms the vile propaganda directed by this Government towards refugees as I set out in this article:
I know and understand the reasons. We all know and understand the reasons. But an obsession with avoiding bear traps, a determination not to be dragged into the “culture wars”, has consequences. And victims.
The message from Labour to any British Pakistani men suffering a surge in racist abuse since Sunday is that they just have to accept it.
The message from Labour to refugees is that they just have to accept it.
The message from Labour to all of us daily infantilised by the refusal to have even a moderately honest conversation about the consequences of Brexit is that we just have to accept it.
The message from Labour to anyone suffering from the distorted politics produced by a political landscape in which, even when Labour are in power, they are forced to play on a chess board laid out by the Tories, is that they just have to accept it.
We have to accept it because of first past the post.
We have to accept it because of an electoral system that the Labour leadership does not want to change.
We have to accept it because it suits Labour to be able to tell us we have no choice but to vote for them if we want to get rid of the Tories.
We have to accept it because, for Labour, the chance of a taste of absolute power once in a while (and 13 of the 44 years since 1979 really IS only once in a while) is more important than the chance to have a genuinely representative democracy where every vote counts.
It's not my instinct to attack Labour. For most of my adult life they've been the party my heart has told me to vote for. The thought of them not winning the next election terrifies me. I have no truck with the notion they're no different to the Tories.
But I'm fed up with living in this distorted political landscape.
I'm fed up with being told the views of Workington man and Stevenage woman matter more than the views of the rest of us.
(As I'm sure many Workington and Stevenage people who don't fit the stereotype are too).
I’m fed up with hearing Labour politicians stay silent because they dare not speak the truth.
I’m fed up with being, as Rafael Behr puts it in this horribly accurate piece, an “unheroic, second-class voter”.