Baggini's background and philosophical training gave him the intellectual honesty to be as critical of the biases he and his friends shared as he was of the biases of others. Even before he went to Rotherham, he was wary of the thoughtless anti- patriotism that lay behind David Hare's cry that "most of us look with longing to the republican countries across the Channel. We associate Englishness with everything that is most backward in this country."
Baggini told me he had noticed that when his friends went overseas "they always found something to delight in. They would tell me how wonderful it was to share a glass of wine with the old boys in a rural French bar, and not realise that if those old boys were speaking English they would probably be saying, 'That Jean-Marie Le Pen, he's got the right idea.'"Cohen seems to take this to justify precisely that attitude. He approvingly quotes Baggini saying that:
[t]he new Labour slogan "you can't have rights without responsibilities" was the view of the English mainstream... "It's an illiberal thought," he told me. "Liberals believe that you have rights on the basis of your membership of the human race. But most of the English aren't liberal. They believe that you only have rights if you are a fully paid-up member of this society. That's why they will be very illiberal about 'Muslim preachers of hate' and say, 'We don't care about their rights. What about ours?'"
Well, the New Labour interpretation of 'you can't have rights without responsibilities' is illiberal, but more properly, the claim makes not an illiberal, but a conceptual, point, since obviously, if has a right, then someone else must have a duty, which could easily be parsed as a responsibility, to uphold that right. A right no-one had a duty to uphold would not be a right. What the New Labour interpretation of the rights-responsibilities claim demands is that rights be constrained by some inchoate, rather conservative and authoritarian idea of the social good: you may have the right to wander the streets freely, but only so long as you don't loiter in such a way as to cause morally upstanding members of the community distress. Norms of public interaction are to be structured by those with access to traditional forms of authority, and so in such a way that is generally to the detriment of those who lack that access. There are two mistakes: first, assuming that a change in norms of social interaction is automatically a breakdown in such norms, and second, that no-one has a right to do wrong - think here of whether there is a right to adultery.
The apparent inability of a professional philosopher to make the relatively simple distinction what it would be preferable for people to do, and what they are required to do, aside, the point here is that it would be reasonable to paraphrase the attachment to the particularities of place as 'That Jean-Marie Le Pen, he's got the right idea.' It is the demand that others are not Other, that they conform, assimilate, and that is profoundly illiberal. Now, maybe there's something to be said for that position, but however satisfying it may be for Cohen and perhaps Baggini, an accusation of hypocrisy directed at those who dislike it some but not all of the time is at best an ad hominem attack on some of those who reject it some of the time and not a point in its favour. The inconsistency it apparently brings to our attention does not even force anyone to affirm the kinds of attitudes Cohen seems to be praising, since when it is shown that attitudes x and y are inconsistent, there are always two possible steps: to give up x, or to give up y. Personally, I think that the Boules-playing stereotypes invoked by Cohen describe people, in this respect, just as bad as the inhabitants of Rotherham, if in an otherwise far more pleasant setting, and any other members of the 'liberal intelligentsia' who find Englishness unpalatable can do the same.
Exactly what Cohen thinks he is up to here I'm not really sure. Presumably it is part of his 'look how everyone who doesn't think that Islamic fundamentalism now is analogous to Nazism in 1939 has betrayed the ideals of the left' shtick, but a) it fails to hit its target, for the reasons I've given, and b) invokes normative principles which are themselves in stark contrast to the internationalism of the left. If the others need to stop being Other in order to qualify for full moral status, why the hell would we treat them decently elsewhere? Why in particular, would we bother sacrificing our blood and treasure to bring them democracy? I suppose it is typical of the candid friend to be sneering and patronising, even when their candour is quite misplaced, and so we might forgive that, but when they saw at the branch on which they sit...?