Tag Archives: historical revisionism

Corbyn And The Media (Part 3)

Yesterday, the mass media was agog at the spectacle of Peter Tatchell disrupting Jeremy Corbyn’s speech to mark the occasion of the United Nations general assembly signing the declaration on human rights in 1948. Tatchell, a man whose career since 1983 has been characterized by its use of stunts, claims he was highlighting Corbyn’s silence on Russian bombing of Aleppo. Leaving aside the lack of objectivity in news coverage of the Syrian conflict, Tatchell’s choice of moment for his latest stunt could not have been better timed.  He knew that this would provide excuse for the mainstream media to launch another round of attacks on the beleaguered Labour leader.  And attack him they did.  The Guardian even took the time to remind us that St Tony had “condemned” Corbyn over the bombing of Syria. This is the man whose eagerness to bomb Iraq has led directly to the current conflicts in the Middle East. This is the man whose supporters in the Commons voted to bomb Syria.  One of those MPs was Hilary Benn, who was applauded by the Tories for his “barnstorming speech” and grandstanding ignorance of the historical actualité.

It is no surprise that news providers covered the Tatchell stunt but not the actual event at which Corbyn was speaking.  The media created its narrative through the magic of digital video editing, in which only those moments of Tatchell’s stunt were broadcast. However, The Cat has seen additional footage that tells a rather different story:  it is one in which Corybn, though under attack, gives a clam and measured response to Tatchell.  He wasn’t manhandled or harangued.  The Tory press would have loved that.  Can you imagine what would have happened if he’d pitched up to a UKIP meeting and had done the same thing? Can you imagine what would have happened if he’d done that when Blair was leader?

So what about Tatchell’s point?  Has Corbyn done enough to condemn Russian bombing?  As always, it depends on who’s asking the question.   If the BBC, ITV, Sky or Tatchell himself is asking the question, then it comes with the added demand that if Corbyn is ‘guilty’ in their eyes, then he should do the decent thing by donning sackcloth and sleeping with a stone for a pillow.  Nothing less will do.  This is, at least, the subtext of Andrew Neil’s Twitter exchange with former Labour MP, Chris Williamson.  Click on the images to access the conversation.

Neil is joined by what The Cat assumes are a number of Labour right-wingers (the names are real giveaways) and Tories,  all of whom are flatulent with their own sense of self-importance and entitlement.

For his part, Tatchell is continuing to churn out his excuses.

That’s great, Peter, but you’ve chosen the wrong politician to attack.  That reminds me, for a gay man, you don’t seem that bothered by Daesh, who continue to throw gay men from tall buildings.  These are the people whom the mass media refers to as “the rebels”, while next door in Iraq, they’re called ‘Daesh’.  Funny that.

What about Corbyn’s “silence” over Russian bombing?  Well, Corbyn has condemned all sides in the conflict.  I mean, aren’t all sides guilty of atrocities?  Yet this is not enough for Andrew Neil, Peter Tatchell or our notionally free press. The hidden discourse to their claims is that Corbyn quietly supports ISIS/IS/ISIL/Daesh.  But there is nothing on record to even remotely suggest that he does.  This statement issued in the aftermath of the Paris attacks earlier this year attacks all parties involved in the conflict.

This article from Left Foot Forward published in October, repeats the demand that Corbyn “must break his silence on Assad and Russian bombings”.  These things are gifts to the Tory press, the Tory Party and the Labour Right.  But whatever Corbyn does or doesn’t say, you can be assured that a story will be assembled from a lot hearsay, speculation and lobby tittle-tattle.

Remember, the ‘news’ is just a collection of stories that have a beginning, middle and end.  In stories, simplistic themes of good versus evil are crucial in driving the narrative’s plot.  If you’re looking for impartiality or objectivity in the news, forget it.  Go and read some critical theory instead.

 

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Democracy’s A Bitch

Democracy’s a bitch. That’s what the Labour Party’s right-wing is currently getting to grips with. Having changed the rules to elect a new leader, the Blairite postmodernists are now crying foul because Jeremy ‘Juggernaut’ Corbyn’s campaign is leaving the rest of the field in the dust.

The rules were changed, mainly because of pressure from the Tories and their media allies to end the Labour Party’s relationship with the unions,  and when the Tory press says “jump”, the Labour leadership not only asks “how high”, it adds “can I kiss your boots too, sir”?

So far this leadership election has reminded us of the following:

  1. The Westminster elites are contemptuous of democracy and the people they’re elected (or appointed) to serve. John Mann’s call for Harriet Harman to suspend the leadership election is the latest example. Mann is a right-winger who once worked for the right-wing Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union led by the right-wing Ken Jackson. Need I say more?
  2. The last thing the Tory government wants is a strong opposition. It prefers a weak or non-existent opposition, such as that under the current leadership. You can have any opposition party you like as long as it’s right-wing party posing as a centrist party. Even Francoist Spain had token opposition parties that lent a democratic veneer to the authoritarian regime.
  3. The lack of tolerance on the part of the neoliberal consensus (Labour-Tory-Lib Dem-UKIP) for dissenting points of view
  4. There’s a preference on the part of the Tories, the Labour right and their media allies for a revisionist take on history, which has been coupled with a morbid obsession with selectivized moments from the past. For example, the claim that a Corbyn leadership would be just like Michael Foot’s leadership of the party in 1983, and the constant referencing of “the longest suicide note in history”. It is interesting, though not surprising, that the Labour right and the Tories both do this. Neither party is fresh and each copies the other in the hope that no one will notice.
  5. Soundbite politics and presentationalism are no longer viable. Voters pay attention to someone that has a message and speaks with conviction and passion. Many people, especially those who have never really engaged with politics, are starting to see through the superficial crap from Labour and the Conservatives.
  6. According to the mainstream media, the Labour leadership, and the Tory government, anyone who opposes austerity, cuts to public services, wage freezes, the selling off the NHS, fracking, neoliberalism and corruption in public office (Hello, Dave) is an “extreme left-winger”. This term was once used to refer to real left-wingers rather than liberals, social democrats and the unaligned. It’s yet another reminder of how far to the right public discourse has been pushed over the last 35+ years.

Politics is too important to leave to career politicians. Take politics back from Westminster!

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Telegraph Comment of the Week (#26)

Every so often, the Lyin’ King produces a blog about the American Civil war in which he muses over what it would have been like if the war never happened. All of Hannan’s blogs on this subject are, more or less, grandiloquent attempts at historical revisionism: they tend to play to a particular constituency of reader who sees the Civil War as the end of a golden era and any attempt to say otherwise is part of an huge conspiracy by the “Feds” to deceive you.

Hannan’s view of the American Civil War is perfectly aligned with the neo-Confederalist movement in the United States. This movement is, as I have written elsewhere on this blog, intellectually supported by the Ludwig von Mises Institute, which produces all manner of revisionist stuff about the war and of the role it played in the abolition of slavery. On this latter point, the neo-Confederates can’t quite come to terms with the fact that slavery is, fundamentally, an evil enterprise. Instead, what we see from them is the continual production of articles that support and justify the institution of slavery as a noble enterprise that proceeds, albeit ahistorically, in a fine epoch’s old tradition.

Today Hannan asks “Could the American Civil War have been avoided”? The short answer to that question is: no, it was inevitable. Yet, we find with the Lyin’ King and the neo-Confederates that such things as historical materialism are despised and, in their eyes,  it is much better to fantasise about an alternate world in which the southern states are still practising slavery and the slave-owners are a uniquely noble form of human being who really care about their chattel. In this dystopian fantasy world, everyone knows their place.

This doesn’t stop Hannan from dreaming of what might have been:

Might slavery have been abolished without bloodshed? It’s hard to say. The ban on the import of new slaves would eventually have finished the institution, but at a price of decades of suffering for those already in bondage. Peaceful manumission, as had happened much earlier in Britain, was the obvious alternative, but the slave-owners were in no mood to sell. Then again, had they been able to foresee the future, they would surely have grabbed at compensated abolition.

Hannan claims that the import ban on slaves would have finished the institution. What he doesn’t dare mention are the slave-breeding farms of Virginia and Maryland, the internal slave trade in the Southern states, or the plan to seize Cuba from Spain and use that island as a slave state should the South be forced to relinquish slavery.  The capitalists, in this case the slave-owners, are compensated, but the victims – the slaves themselves – are considered unworthy of reparations; they’re just human capital in the minds of the hard-nosed, hard-faced capitalist, who only sees the world in terms of profit.

I’ve seen Hannan claim, like the LvMI claim that the American Civil War was a “tariff war”. It’s a feeble attempt at a economic rationalization of the war. The war and its causes were much more complex and a major part of the reason for war was the issue of slavery. Hannan would do well to read up on the slave revolts, John Brown, Bleeding Kansas and the Kansas-Nebraska Act.

Now to our comment of the week. “Jim Blane” has already graced this series and so, once again, we find he’s come to give us the benefit of his knowledge deficit. He justifies chattel slavery by claiming that “Slavery has been practiced for thousands of years by all races and civilizations”. All “races and civilizations”? Laughable. But because it existed in history is no excuse for it to exist today. Moreover, the kind of slavery that existed thousands of years ago was not based on what Fanon called “melanism”, it was predicated on the idea that the vanquished should be enslaved because they had been defeated in battle.

Dim Blame

Here “Dim Brain” claims that the first slave owner in “North America” was a “Black African”. This is fictitious. Notice how he doesn’t actually provide any evidence for this assertion. The right despises evidence as much as it despises the working class and they only accept history as long as it’s been airbrushed first.

The level of ignorance in this comment is shocking. Nowhere does our dim friend make a distinction between the nature of chattel slavery and the forms of slavery that were practised before its introduction by the Spanish and Portuguese. The entire point of this comment is to claim that white people are superior to other ‘races’. Notice how he begins his comment with “Educating White Guilt Ego Glow Peddlers”. What does that mean? If he’s setting himself up as an educator, then it’s no wonder these people are so dim. Then there’s his claim that “The White man was the first to ban slavery . and if he had not it would still be going on in Africa and Asian today” (sic). Nonsense. Slavery continues to this day in the so-called developed countries as well as parts of Africa and Asia.

“Dim Brain’s” last point is an exercise in how to write white nationalist drivel. He claims that ” Only the White race has served up an indictment for crimes against humanity upon all of it’s children’s children for all eternity as a way for White middle /upper class progressives to insaiate their insataible greed for moral supremacy” (sic).  Put down the crack pipe, matey.

Related blog

Life on Hannan World (Part 8)

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Telegraph Comment of the Week (#22)

If it’s one thing the Right loves to do it’s to claim that it’s philosophically and epistemologically superior to the Left. Yet its constant rewriting of history actually demonstrates the opposite. In recent years, many on the Right have claimed that the Nazis are ‘left-wing’. Why? Because they can’t cope with the idea that the Nazis (and fascists) occupy a space further along from them on the political Right. They do this for two reasons: first, to smear the Left and second, to claim a tenuous moral superiority over them. The Nazis are ‘socialists’ they will exclaim because the word ‘socialist’ appears in their name. There can be no more a feeble rationalization. For example, the Australian Liberal Party, in spite of its name, is not a centre left party but a right-wing party. If you tell them that, they start hurling insults. Names count for nothing but try telling them that.

This week’s comment was found on a Delingtroll blog, which makes the same tired claims about how Nazis aren’t really right-wing. In this blog, he attempts to create a space between Nigel Farage and the Front National’s Marine Le Pen but ends up making himself look foolish and ignorant in the process. No mean feat for Delingpole or Dan Hannan, who is cited in this hilarious piece.

To lump together fascist parties (Golden Dawn in Greece, Ataka in Bulgaria, Jobbik in Hungary, the BNP) with bellicose but essentially constitutional anti-immigration movements (FN in France, PVV in the Netherlands, Freedom Party in Austria) is clumsy. To add in eurosceptic parties of the democratic right (AfD in Germany, Mouvement pour la France, Danish People’s Party, Ukip) is deliberately tendentious.

When someone groups all these parties together under the label ‘extreme right’, he is telling you more about himself than about them. Parties like Golden Dawn are not right-wing in any recognisable sense. They favour workers’ councils, higher spending, state-controlled industries; they march on May Day under red flags. They could just as easily sit at either end of the European Parliament’s hemicycle (our closest equivalent, in its combination of mystical nationalism and loathing for capitalism, is Sinn Féin). Calling such parties right-wing isn’t intended to make anyone think less of them; it’s intended to damage mainstream conservatives by implying that the difference between them and the Nazis is one of degree.

Hannan’s article for The Spectator Dictator is desperate as well as intellectually dishonest. UKIP have, through Godfrey Bloom, established friendly relations with Le Pen’s FN. Moreover, the FN recently met with Geert Wilders PVV with the intention of forming an electoral pact in the European Parliament. There’s nothing ‘clumsy’ about those connections. They are real.

The above quote is preceded by a characteristic whinge from Delingtroll:

Yet our lazy and parti-pris media – even many newspapers notionally on the right-wing side of the debate – continue to do the liberal-left’s dirty work for it by labelling any party with instincts which are nationalistic, anti-immigration, or anti-EU as belonging to the “far-right” – and therefore automatically beyond the pale of reasoned political discourse. The loons of the green-left, on the other hand, get a more or less free pass to spout their anti-democratic drivel at will.

The nationalism that is expressed by the likes of the PVV or the other parties mentioned here, belongs on the far-right. There can be no question about it. Furthermore, there is nothing ‘reasoned’ or reasonable about the shrill paranoia that dominates the Right’s anti-immigration discourses. Words like ‘floods’ and ‘tides’ are constantly used alongside exaggerations like ‘mass immigration’ which is itself a euphemization of the phrase ‘floods of immigrants’. These words are often joined by hygiene metaphors like ‘contamination’.

Now to this week’s comment. This one comes from ‘eufreedom’. Yeah, I laughed at that name too.

euignorance

The key to this comment is “ALL British born” and in spite of “eufreedom’s” claims that no distinctions will be made according to colour, creed and denomination, questions are invariably asked by such parties regarding one’s right to claim national identity – particularly if they look different. Kippers often claim that they are “neither right nor left” but given their nationalism and obsession with difference, this is evidently dishonest. ‘eufreedom’ also takes umbrage with the fact that people disagree with his/her drivel and pronounces them “neo-fascist-marxist-EU drones and trolls”. This comment may look like a self-parody of a Kipper, but this is how they really think and talk.

For more hilarity, have a look at Toby Young’s feeble attempt to unite the Tories and UKIP under the “Country before Party” banner. 

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Life on Hannan World (Part 8)

On Sunday, the Lyin’ King claimed that it was right for British slaveowners to have been compensated millions of pounds for the loss of their slaves. Whereas the victims of this crime – the slaves themselves, got nothing. he admits this was bad but his admission is uttered through gritted teeth.

As one would expect for a Telegraph blog about ‘race’ and slavery, this piece prompts the usual chorus of racist voices to slap Hannan on the back and shout “Bravo”!

Was it immoral to compensate slave-owners at the time of emancipation? That is the implication of most of the media comment that has followed the publication of a study of the records by UCL, showing that several prominent British families received vast cash payments. The Independent on Sunday calls it ‘Britain’s colonial shame’. Trevor Philips thinks it ‘the most profound injustice that probably you can identify anywhere in this country’s history’.

The very mention of Trevor Philips is guaranteed to get his readers frothing at the mouth.  Hannan carries a torch for the British Empire and like so many of his fellow Tories and UKippers, he believes that the only way forward for Britain is to return to its brutal past. He continues,

I can’t for the life of me see why. The fact that people were prepared to pay to abolish the monstrosity of slavery is surely a cause for satisfaction rather than shame. It is one thing to say, in the abstract, ‘slavery is a bad idea’; quite another to say, ‘slavery is so wicked that I am prepared to make a personal sacrifice to help do away with it’.

Slave-owners were compensated because the government were members of the same social class. It had nothing to do with heading off a potential revolt. White slave-owners were seen as superior to black slaves. It’s as simple as that.

The general thrust of his argument is supportive of the Ludwig von Mises Institute’s (LvMI) and  Ron Paul’s claim that the US Civil War needn’t have happened if the Federal government had compensated slaveowners in the aftermath of emancipation.

Here he  sweeps aside the US’s unique brand of chattel slavery and tells us that,

Although slavery sometimes had an ethnic basis, it was no great respecter of race. Muslim slavers traded in Christians: Georgians, Circassians, Armenians and others. Christians, for their part, enslaved Moors: as late as the sixteenth century, hundreds of thousands of Muslim slaves toiled on Spanish plantations. On the eve of the American civil war, there were 3,000 black slave-owners in the United States.

Hannan forgets that slavery – as practised by other groups – did not use race as the basis for enslaving others. In many cases, people were enslaved by conquering armies: they were not seen as chattel. Chattel slavery was instituted in the late 17th century when the notion of race was first mooted and Africans were mainly seen as subhuman and only fit for manual labour. Indeed, this idea of racial supremacy was later given a Biblical justification in the shape of the so-called Curse of Ham.

Hannan mentions the “3,000 black slaveowners” in the United States but doesn’t explain why black people held slaves. Instead, he uses this fact as a deflectionary tactic that has it origins in the LvMI’s historical revisionism of the American Civil War.  Those “black slave-owners” that he talks about were mainly mixed race. Furthermore, the vast majority of those black slave-owners had purchased slaves with the intention of setting them free. But free blacks were also considered a threat to the socio-ethnic order and were often suspected of harbouring fugitive slaves – this gets no mention. We must also remember that the so-called “One-Drop Rule” posited that if anyone had any degree of mixed ancestry, they were considered to be black in the eyes of the law. While there were free blacks, these people did not enjoy the same rights as whites. There is no mention of this either, nor is there any mention of the Black Codes and Jim Crow laws that were passed in many states.

Robert Higgs of the LvMI attempts to defend the institution of slavery and tells us that slavery is “natural”.  Here’s a taste of his article,

Slavery is natural. People differ, and we must expect that those who are superior in a certain way — for example, in intelligence, morality, knowledge, technological prowess, or capacity for fighting — will make themselves the masters of those who are inferior in this regard.

The LvMI has been at the intellectual forefront of the neo-Confederate movement for a number of years. It denies that it is racist and revisionist. It tries to claim that the American Civil War was fought solely over the issue of tariffs and it defends the institution of slavery. Hannan’s speeches, blogs and articles are regularly featured on the LvMI website.

Hannan is a fan of self-styled libertarian, Ron Paul, who has previously been accused of racism and is a supporter of the neo-Confederate movement. Casey Gane-McCalla of Newsone  says,

Ron Paul is a neo-Confederate, and proud member of the Ludwig Von Mises Institute, which has been labeled as a neo-Confederate organization. In the video he claims that the North should have paid to buy slaves from southern slave owners to avoid the war, rather than the South renouncing slavery. Paul also fails to bring up the fact that it was the South that started the war by attacking the North in 1861.

Ron Paul was also was the only member of congress to vote against honoring the Civil Rights Act Of 1964 on its 40th anniversary in 2004. Paul would also claim that he wouldn’t have voted for it at the time, putting him on the side of the racists in both the fight against slavery and the fight against Jim Crow segregation, the two defining struggles of Black people in America.

Hannan describes Paul as “principled” but here’s a video of Paul speaking to the LvMI with the Stars and Bars draped in the background.

As if to echo Paul’s position, Hannan tells us,

Instead, a terrible war was fought, whose legacy of racial bitterness endured for another century and more. Yet, when Ron Paul suggested that it might have been better for everyone had the Americans adopted the British approach, buying out the slave-owners peacefully, he was pilloried.

Yet, there is no evidence to support the claim that there would have been a civil war in Britain had British slave-owners not been compensated for the loss of their ‘property’.  As is often the case with right-wing libertarians, racism is rationalized by using plausible-sounding economic terminology. This has the effect of masking the racism and making it more acceptable to those people who do not wish to be seen as racist. Now they can feel vindicated. They can tell all and sundry that the American Civil War was a “tariff war” and that Civil Rights legislation was wrong because it denied racist diner-owners of the right to refuse service to those whom they believed to be inferior. Remember, if you’re a ‘libertarian’ nothing must get in the way of making a profit.

Hannan may not consider himself to be a racist but he flirts with those whose ideas about difference mark them out as racist. Ron Paul may also deny that he is a racist and a homophobe but the evidence speaks for itself.

Meanwhile the practise of slavery continues in Mauritania, Mali, Niger and Chad. I wonder if Hannan and Paul would demand compensation for those slave-owners if they were forced to relinquish their slaves? I very much doubt it.

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The British Right, the EU and the absence of modernity

John Bull: pigheadedness, anti-intellectual and resistant to modernity

Whenever I returned from a visit to the continent in the 1980s and 1990s, my heart would sink as I approached the port or airport. For I knew that when I set foot on British soil I was likely to be confronted with an antiquated train that was dirty and smelly. These days I need to re-mortgage the home I don’t own to pay the fare. On the continent, the railways are fast, clean, efficient and reasonably priced. Everyone has a seat and no one stands. Those countries embrace modernity. This country mostly rejects it. We have one high speed line. That is all.

In 1970, when my father announced to the family that we were going to move from Germany to England, I wasn’t happy. I wanted to stay in Germany. I’d grown used to the country and learned to speak German. But if you’re a child growing up in a military family, you get used to moving every 3 or 4 years. You lose friends and you quickly make more. That’s the way it is.

When we arrived in England, I was surprised that little had changed since my previous visits in 1963 and 1967. The country was still fusty, curled up around the edges like a stale cheese and pickle sandwich. Many television programmes were a source of horror and I was appalled to see white men blacking up and singing minstrel songs in 1970! I was disgusted when I heard comedians tell jokes about “nig nogs” and “pakis”. Grown up men telling jokes that schoolchildren whispered to their mates on the playground. Grown men!

People were still complaining or making jokes about the Germans. The attitude toward the French was no better. Other European countries also came in for abuse. No one was safe. But there was no justification for this superiority complex. None at all. It seemed that Britain was resting on its laurels; always harking back to the 19th century and the days of Empire. “This country kick-started the industrial revolution”! “We invented the railways”! So? What are you doing now?

Britain’s post-war governments had tried and failed many times to join the EEC. Now European nations must be wondering why they bothered in the first place. But in the 1970s Britain persisted with its application for membership and because the biggest obstacle, De Gaulle was cold in the grave, it was finally successful.

So on Wednesday when Cameron appeared before the cameras to announce that he would give the British people a say over the EU, it reminded me of all the times I’d heard jokes about the Germans and the French. On Twitter, the Europhobes crowed.  They started popping the corks – prematurely, of course. Some started talking fondly about the Empire. “Oh, those were the days”! “We should never have given up Inja”!

Britain is not a modern country. The parties of the right are obsessed with the days of Empire. They refuse to face the future, because it’s much more comforting to look to the past. But it’s not a past that exists in either the bowdlerized history books beloved of Michael Gove and Niall Ferguson or the popular memory. It’s a past that’s formed entirely out of the nothingness of nostalgia; it’s shit and dust. The Tories and their ideological cousins, UKIP, are incapable of doing anything but looking backwards and in doing so, they want to drag us back to some mythological age when there was “free trade” and “civilization” was dispensed from the barrel of a gun.

And with the talk of a referendum, comes the Churchillian rhetoric about “fighting them on the beaches”. Plucky little England against beastly Europe. These people demand Imperial Preference from an Empire that no longer exists and “free trade” that isn’t free. The thing is, in spite of what our Europhobic friends say, Britain still trades with its former colonies. Today when I visited the supermarket, I saw Anchor Butter (from New Zealand), New Zealand lamb, Sri Lankan tea and coffee from Kenya – openly on sale. Who says that Britain doesn’t trade with these countries? UKIP does and so do Europhobic Tories.

It was a Conservative government under Edward Heath that took Britain into the EEC. The Labour Party was mostly opposed because they saw it as an institution dominated by bankers and bosses. By the 1980s, the Labour position had changed because of Thatcher’s anti-union laws. The EU was gradually seen as a bulwark against the excesses of rapacious neoliberalism, though it was pretty much hopeless, because those laws were passed (so much for a “loss” of sovereignty) and trade unions were forced to comply.The Tories complained that Britain would lose its sovereignty. It didn’t.

The Tory-supporting media drives the debate on Europe and it would be wrong to suggest that it doesn’t. It would also be wrong to suggest that many British people are well-informed about Europe. They aren’t. If you tell that to a member of UKIP, they’ll tell you that you’re being “patronizing” but they’re in denial and they’re arrogant. Just have a look at the papers: they all say the same things about Europe and the EU.

The alleged ban on curved bananas was a myth fabricated right here in Britain. You see, Britain can still manufacture things, even if those things are completely wrong or useless. The press continues to make up stories about Europe and the EU. Take this example quoted by Roy Greenslade in The Guardian.

I pointed out on Monday that the Daily Express had run a bogus splash,EU wants to merge UK and France.

A similar story appeared in the Express’s red-top sister title, the Daily StarClowns plan to turn us French.

I can only shake my head in dismay. How can we have a sensible and rational debate about the EU when our “free” press prints lies like these?

I’ve said in a previous blog that the EU isn’t perfect. But when one unpacks the narrative of the right’s opposition to the EU, one uncovers the sheer hatred of foreigners and immigrants that lies beneath rhetoric about sovereignty. I see plenty of comments on Telegraph blogs that do nothing but bleat about “purity” and how Britain’s culture is being destroyed by immigrants. Like it or not, this country is a nation of immigrants and it is all the better for it. But it still isn’t a modern country.

What really galls me about the UKIP and Tory Europhobe argument is their tendency to insist that there is a consensus of support for their position. But this consensus is entirely imagined. They talk of the “people” but they have nothing but contempt for the people. They demand a referendum on the EU but they won’t give us a referendum on austerity, the cuts to education and the selling off of the NHS to medical companies.  Their obsession over Europe and the EU is pathological, perhaps sociopathic. Even a psychoanalyst would say so.

As for modernity, it’s resisted at every turn. Right-wing politicians and businesses (including Registered Social Landlords) operate like feudal overlords. The poor, the unemployed, the disabled are all dumped on. Those with the least means are saddled with  massive debts and high costs. Modern? Hell, Britain isn’t even civilized. A socialist  acquaintance told me years ago that “Britain was the last colony of the British Empire”. He was right. We’re all living under the heel of rapacious colonizers and little empire builders in a country that refuses to grow up and enter the modern world.

Europhobes cry “Many people weren’t old enough to vote in the Common Market referendum of 1975”. The people who use this line are the same people who weren’t old enough to be Tory MPs during the Thatcher years, but who now insist on forcing through policies that not even that government could get away with.

We need a proper grown up debate on the EU, not more lies, mischief-making and scaremongering by the press.

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The Tory obsession with the past

Given their fondness for the past, anyone would think that the Tories knew something about history, but it isn’t history or the past that they’re interested in. It’s something else. Now they won’t admit it to themselves, but what they’re actually concerned with is nostalgia: the romanticized view of the past or, as I often put it, “history with all the bad bits taken out”. It is a ‘past’ where the rich could get on with being rich. The aristocracy controlled parliamentary politics and much more besides and the working classes and the poor knew their place.

This blog from (Fr)Ed West is a case in point. West asks “What was so bad about the 1950s”? This is a cue for his racist readers to complain that today’s Britain is full to bursting with those horrible ‘coloureds’. West opines,

But what do people have against the 1950s? It’s a strange insult to use because, not only were the 1950s an incredibly peaceful, ordered time but they were also, by today’s standards, very equal (and getting more so).

A “peaceful and ordered time”? I think I know where this is going. But let’s deal with the lie that the 1950s was “peaceful”. He forgets the Korean War, in which Britain was a participant. The Suez Crisis, the euphemistically-named Malay Emergency, the continued occupation of Iraq, the struggles that preceded de-colonization (Kenya was particularly nasty) and the ever-expanding Cold War.

It was a great time to be poor – the first time in history when a working-class Englishman could afford to support a wife and two kids, as well as having enough to save, afford a holiday and, often even run a car. Today, especially when housing costs are considered, that is very difficult.

Hang on, it was a “great time to be poor”? Is he for real? Then, with a straight face, he tells us, “a working-class Englishman could afford to support a wife and two kids”. He deliberately confuses being working class with being poor. I think the less time I spend on Westworld, the better.

So what is this Tory obsession with nostalgia? Is it because their knowledge of the past comes from fictionalized historical narratives? Or is it something else? Early into their government, some Tories were openly advocating a return to Victorian’values’. Cameron even told us how we should return to those days to ‘reclaim’ our industrial heritage (there was the subtext of Empire too). This blog from Andrew Hill of the FT, kicks a big hole in Cameron’s ‘vision’.

The Tories don’t like a citizenry that questions things. In fact, they would much rather we didn’t refer to ourselves as ‘citizens’ but as ‘subjects’ instead. A subject is not an active member of society but a passive one. Subjects question nothing, their role is to accept everything that comes from their masters. They are deferential to authority and are happy to take up arms against anyone whom the state has identified as the ‘enemy’.

The thing that started this sudden interest in 1950s nostalgia came from Pob (Michael Gove) and his plans to revive old qualifications, which he declared are better and tougher than today’s qualifications. Never mind that he insulted all those youngsters who have completed their tough exams by telling them that they have it easy or that he has practically set about destroying the comprehensive education system in this country. For Gove and his chums, it’s all about learning facts, dates and figures by rote. Forget about developing a critical mind. In today’s Britain, questions are verboten. Accept your place and like it.

Even many historians who self-identify as Tories are inclined to revisionism. Niall Ferguson, who was asked by this government to rewrite the history syllabus, is notorious for his ‘counter-factual’ histories. Not content with seeing the past as it was, the Tories want to create a new past in which social reforms never existed. They despise the idea of a ‘people’s history’ or social histories because these tell the real story of the people not the Tory version of history with its emphasis on ‘derring-do’ and Empire.  Starkey, in particular, dismisses social history as “feminized”. This probably tells us more about his misogyny than any concern he may or may not have for ‘real’ history.

In the Tory version of history, the Peterloo Massacre was entirely necessary because the Chartists represented a threat to the ‘natural’ order. The Reform Acts of 1832 and 1867  should never have happened because a modicum of power was ceded to some of the people (the property qualification remained until 1918 and women were only permitted to vote in 1928) – too much, in other words. It also meant that politicians were now accountable to the electorate, which was anathema to those who wanted retain their tenuous hold on power through the rotten boroughs.

The 1950s was a time of political deference that was only disrupted by the appearance of Beyond the Fringe and even then, half of the participants in that production came from ruling class backgrounds (Miller and Cook).  This longing for another age is indicative of an inability to face up to the present or confront the challenges of the future. This attitude is best represented by the image of the ostrich with its head in the sand. Gil Scott-Heron, writing about the US Republicans’ penchant for nostalgia in his rap poem B-Movie,  sums it up,

The idea concerns the fact that this country wants nostalgia. They want to go back as far as they can – even if it’s only as far as last week. Not to face now or tomorrow, but to face backwards. And yesterday was the day of our cinema heroes riding to the rescue at the last possible moment. The day of the man in the white hat or the man on the white horse – or the man who always came to save America at the last moment – someone always came to save America at the last moment – especially in “B” movies. And when America found itself having a hard time facing the future, they looked for people like John Wayne. But since John Wayne was no longer available, they settled for Ronald Reagan – and it has placed us in a situation that we can only look at – like a “B” movie.

B-Movie may have been written about the US but it applies to Britain as well. Instead of John Wayne, we have Winston Churchill or any number of rehabilitated right-wing heroes. Enoch Powell, for example. These figures have been detached from history, airbrushed and re-presented to us as demi-gods or prophets. This shouldn’t surprise us, because the Tories don’t like taking a critical look at their objects of worship. It’s easier to accept easy answers to complex issues and if that means re-ordering the past to suit their thesis then that’s what they’ll continue to do.

Nostalgia isn’t real: it’s a representation of history. Nothing less. Nothing more.

Finally, nostalgia is easier to deal with than history because of the uncomplicated nature of the fantasy. Nostalgia is free from the ugly realities of life. This is why the Tories find it so much easier to engage with nostalgia than history itself.

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Filed under 19th century, 20th century, History, History & Memory