Independent column, independent mind

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, the outspoken Independent columnist who proudly names Prince Charles and Cherie Blair as offended by her writing, among many others, received an honorary doctorate of letters from the University of Lincoln’s Health, Life and Social Sciences faculty in September’s graduation.


Yasmin Alibhai-Brown at September's graduation. Photo: UoL

“It was very good to be recognised and in places where I didn’t know people knew me,” Alibhai-Brown said.

She hopes this award will make people “recognise that journalism is not just respectable, but actually a very important activity in democracy”.

“You know, we’ve always been such a disreputable lot in people’s eyes, and it’s nice that we are being recognised,” Alibhai-Brown said.

She is critical of burqas, the body-engulfing dress which covers the face and body worn by hardline Muslim women. Stopping short of an outright ban, she has little tolerance for burqas in Britain: “I think it would be completely right to say if you want to use public services, to have public jobs, we need to see your face.”

Some say cracking down on burqas would further isolate people we need to encourage towards mainstream society. This holds little weight with Alibhai-Brown: “I don’t think they can opt out of norms, and the norm is we need to see your face. All offices, more or less, say if you’ve got a helmet on and you’re entering a reception area then you need to take it off. I don’t think this should be an opt-out [for women in burqas].”

In reaction to Labour’s invasion of Iraq, she publicly withdrew her support for the party and endorsed the Liberal Democrats ahead of the 2005 general election. Now the Liberal Democrats are in a coalition with the Conservatives, a party she staunchly opposes.

While ­she says this is making her disillusioned with politics, she values the balance the Liberal Democrats bring to government: “I do recognise that if they [Lib Dems] weren’t in there, the Tories – who were pretty well raided anyway – would have slashed and burned very quickly. I don’t think they’re making their mark as much as they need to. I don’t think they’re aware that, even though they’re small, they’re   incredibly powerful where they are, and they should stop feeling so flattered.

“I think they need to understand their own power better, and their own responsibilities.”

Can the Labour party’s leadership contest inspire her confidence to return? “I can’t get exercised about this at the moment. I really can’t. I’m really pleased Diane Abbott got in there, because to have all white Oxbridge men was just such an affront. She’s done much better than people thought – people have taken her seriously. With all the behind the scenes stuff, for whoever is elected it won’t be for reasons of who presented themselves best or who might have been better for another kind of Labour party.

“It seems to me more of the same is to follow.”

Alibhai-Brown feels proper representation of the centre-left is lacking: “There are more people who are left of centre in this country than everyone acknowledges. We’re not all right wing, and politicians don’t seem to understand that.”

You might assume that a passionate anti-racist and anti-discrimination polemicist would recoil at the thought of writing for the Daily Mail, a right-wing tabloid that feeds off demonising minority groups. Alibhai-Brown, however, regularly writes for the Mail, something she offers no apology for: “I never write for the Daily Mail to follow that set agenda. I have never written a single word for them I didn’t actually believe… I think it’s important to express my views in a paper where they hold such opposite opinions to mine…I choose my subjects very carefully, and I choose my words very carefully.

“I do have a lot of respect there now, so they will never stick on a headline or change anything I’ve written without consultation… I did a very big piece on a refugee and what he had achieved, and how awful the attitudes were, and they ran the whole thing.

“They actually put it on the front page of the paper.”

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