The legacy of Philip Larkin stands on its own; the casual racism he was wont to exhibit, though, causes many to stop and think. But not Michael Henderson, who dismissed this aspect of Larkin’s not always worldly provincialism by simply saying “A racist would not go on Desert Island Discs and choose records by Louis Armstrong (‘the Chaucer and Shakespeare of jazz’), Bessie Smith and Billie Holliday”.
Some of his favourite artists were black. This, perhaps, did not occur to Henderson, and one can readily see why that might be after he was hired by the Murdoch Times to review Brit(ish), by lawyer, journalist and broadcaster Afua Hirsch. The sub-title of the book, “On Race, Identity, and Belonging” has Henderson sniffing loftily “This racism-obsessed polemic is tiresome and clichéd”. What a struggle reading it must have been for him.
The impression is given of an overbearing schoolmaster given the task of pulling a precocious yet tiresome pupil down a peg or two, to teach them a lesson: “she was called to the Bar and, despite having no apparent journalistic experience other than a spot of teenage scribbling, has subsequently worked as a reporter for newspapers and television. But oh, that struggle!” One can almost feel the righteous admonition.
“You, young ‘un, wouldn’t know what struggle is …” and so on until we get perilously close to a segué into the Four Yorkshiremen sketch. Henderson must have had it tough. What he also had was little understanding of the reality for many Britons. He sneers “she sees privilege, prejudice and snobbery everywhere. The British Establishment has ‘perfected’ vilification of the working classes. No, it hasn’t. ‘White supremacy is ever present in British society’. No, it isn’t”. Perhaps someone wasn’t looking? Just a thought.
Ms Hirsch is denounced for not travelling more widely, which is a brave punt, considering she was born in Norway, brought up in London, lived in Senegal, and worked in Ghana. Her references to colonialism and imperialism are equally dismissed as “more heat than light”. Henderson throws in “self-obsessed” and “fantasy” along the way.
But enough. The Times knew who it was hiring to write what is laughably titled a “review”. It is a crude and sneering put-down of someone who is clearly considered not to know her place. And the Times has significant previous for this: as Sayeeda Warsi pointed out, “They got Douglas Murray who called me the ‘Enemy’ to review my book When a book review is not a book review but an opportunity to further an agenda of division”.
Rupe greets one of those non-white people
At least Doug Murray the K managed “This sloppy book adds little to the debate about Islam in Britain”, which is marginally better than the direct bigotry of his earlier “Sayeeda Warsi is part of the jihadist emigration problem” for the Spectator magazine. But her comment is well founded: the bigotry that has for so long been a feature of the Murdoch tabloids has now infected the alleged quality titles like the Times.
Moreover, that infection has not happened by accident. As with the Spectator chasing hits by cultivating bigots like Murray, the Times has sought out Michael Henderson, knowing his appetite for sneering at the non-whites while pretending it’s not really happening.
Henderson is a disgrace. But the Murdoch press is yet worse for enabling him.