Who would have thought that taxis would become the vector for much of the biggest issues facing modern politics? Migration, globalism, societal breakdown, identity… sexual abuse is just one of them. We see the skirmishes between London Hackney Cabs and relative newcomers Uber and Addison Lee echo old battlegrounds between trusted tradition and free market innovation, unionised bodies vs Tory donors.
Now taxis are at the forefront of the clashes between race and localism, political correctness versus genuinely felt fear. In Devon, a taxi driver lost her license for displaying the English flag and declaring herself “local”, while up North taxi firms are starting to provide drivers of a certain race on request.
The humble hackney carriage is becoming a multi-faceted metaphor for the confusions evoked by the world in which we live and finds itself at the centre of the debate of what it means to be “local” in modern Britain.
This week a Rochdale cab firm admitted providing “local” – read white – drivers on request, triggering a great deal of teeth gnashing from the usual suspects, namely local Labour MP Simon Danczuk. Stephen Campbell, manager of Car 2000, 60 percent of whose drivers are Asian, admitted that, since the child abuse scandal that rocked the borough, there had been an increase in requests for white drivers by white residents.
As a businessman with business loans, a mortgage and the rest to pay, Mr Campbell has understandably taken these requests on board and allowed the customer to “discriminate” against his drivers. Unsurprisingly, amidst the outrage, what has rarely been noted is that many within the Asian community have for a long time asked for an Asian driver.
Neither has it been made quite clear enough that the drivers are not given the choice to discriminate against their prospective passengers or that, all else being equal, Asian drivers are probably quite happy to not be driving customers who would rather their driver be white anyway.
As with everything, context is key. These requests are not born of irrational prejudice but as a product of real fears in the fall-out of a monumental sex trafficking scandal that has hit the area and the national headlines hard. Asian grooming gangs, overwhelmingly Pakistani Muslim men, targeted young girls, almost all of whom were white. Two taxi drivers were among nine men jailed for their involvement.
Of course people are scared; of course parents worry for their children and of course real-held fears should be allowed to trump a national feeling of distaste at political correctness falling to the wayside. Everyone knows that your average Asian taxi driver in Rochdale is highly unlikely to be a sex offender, just as women know that if they walk on their own in the dark at night they are statistically unlikely to be harmed, despite what their fathers may tell them, but I for one avoid doing so for peace of mind. What do we live for, if not to feel safe while going about our lives?
A couple of taxi firms catering for the irrational yet understandable preferences of their customers will not lead to the breakdown of society into segregated racial groups wary of involvement with each other. Cover-ups in the name of political correctness just might. Neither does this practice pave the way for service industries to discriminate at will.
Google is littered with examples of taxi drivers receiving fines for discriminating against potential customers on the grounds of disability, and rightly so. The point is that there it is the driver, the one supplying the service, or not as the case may be, making arbitrary discriminations. In the case of the Rochdale taxis it is the consumer requesting a service that they believe would better suit them.
When compared to that sad case of a Christian couple receiving criminal records for refusing bed and board to a gay couple, the difference here is akin to the couple themselves choosing in the future to visit a different B&B, one in which they would feel happier, safer, more welcome. It’s far from ideal that either scenario exists but such is this world in which we live.
Taxis are a service industry; this is a consumer-led move. Some taxi firms only employ female drivers, just as some gyms only cater for women. We do not bat an eyelid at this and we can understand why the demand exists, just as, even if some might not like to admit it, we can understand why some people in Rochdale feel safer, in the wake of this horrific scandal, in the company of a white taxi driver.
It isn’t pretty but it’s a symptom of modern Britain, one for which the British Labour party has so very much to answer for. Taxis are carrying the weight of modern politics but, in this highly context-driven situation, born largely of bad politics, they must not become a sacrificial lamb to the howls of establishment unease.