Race to the bottom

A news item in which our tourist department proudly announce they want to attract old bigots for Manx holidays (see http://www.iomtoday.co.im/news/isle-of-man-news/island-can-expect-an-influx-of-daily-telegraph-readers-1-7422582 ) made me wince. I think we have enough ageing (and not so elderly) racists living here already, without encouraging more to clog up our identikit retail and catering outlets.

But consider this further, and it becomes even more worrying. In the 1980’s the Tourist Board (as it then was) ran a laughable campaign in which potential visitors were promised that ‘You’ll look forward to going backwards’.

The cover story was that this was meant to bring back Brits who used to holiday here in the 1960’s, before flights to Spain and Greece and package holidays made it cheaper to lie on a sunny European beach than a wet one in Douglas. The real agenda was far darker, as I knew from seeing government consultation documents on the future of both tourism and immigration at that time, and concerned tourist board staff who would only voice their concerns off record.

In those days, more openly corrupt and useless Manx politicians and their advisors enjoyed frequent freebies to dubious places. A particular favourite was the notorious South African ‘whites only’ entertainment complex Sun City, where our politicians met Afrikaaner financiers to set up the monetary rat run the island then offered to avoid apartheid sanctions. On one trip, the worried Sun City PR head honcho admitted the game was almost up in South Africa, so he was looking for work elsewhere. Which is how he came to run the only slightly less desperate Manx Tourist Board, why for the next few years the island government came to adopt some of the nastiest, most bigoted, policies ever seen here, and why we are still feeling the repercussions.

Because the real brief given to the advertising agency behind ‘Looking Forward To Going Backwards’ was to subtly tap into UK ‘white flight’ panics without giving the game away. Some bright spark theorised that we could reach out to all the disgruntled semi-skilled white Brits. First we got them to take a cheap, nostalgic holiday here. Then, when they noticed there were no black faces, they might come back to live, doing dull production line work for less than UK rates though not quite as low as third world rivals.

At the other end of the economic scale, government thought we could attract UK ex-pats and white supremacists who knew their time was nearly up in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Hong Kong and other dumps. The first task was to get their money out, via our offshore finance industry (then little more than a backdoor escape route from international sanctions on apartheid and other evils). Then, when democracy threatened, the high net worth individuals themselves (along with all their dubious talents and connections) would follow.

This is why the island now has so many racists in both public and private finance sector executive posts, and also numerous retired semi-skilled or unskilled workers who have passed their vile prejudices on to offspring who are too dumb and closeted to ever hold down a job. These folk, and not the Manx born minority, have been the greater economic and social obstacle to a decent society for years. The equally dumb (if more expensively educated) offspring of the Afrikaaners at least find work due to Daddy’s firm or friends, though, from watching such blinkered inbreeds in action, they are hardly an asset to any company.

To be fair, the Isle of Man was not the only offshore location playing this game in the 1980’s. There was a similar campaign in Guernsey, though only for high income permanent residents as there has always been a two tier ‘guest worker’ regime there, allowing the rich to expel their cleaners each time a cheaper source from a more desperate country comes on-stream.

So what should the civilised reaction be for any local encountering a Daily Telegraph reader asking for directions?

The same as it should be to any bigoted throwback. Say we’re shut and direct them back to the airport or sea terminal. If we had done that to Afrikaaners and UK white-flighters in the 1980’s the problem would never have developed.

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