Tag Archives: Michael Gove

Michael Gove, Historical Revisionism And Wilful Ignorance

This morning, I’d noticed that Michael Gove had tweeted an article – presumably while intoxicated – from The S*n which reheats an old anti-Corbyn accusation. The article, which I won’t link to here, claims that Corbyn “aided campaign to free IRA assassin who served 20 years for trying to kill a cop”. There is no depth to which Gove will not plunge.

Let’s go back nearly 20 years when Gove wasn’t an MP (happy days), but was writing for the Rupert Murdoch-owned Times. The right-wing press in this country have continued with the notion that the war in Northern Ireland is ongoing and have used the conflict as a means to smear Corbyn for his efforts in finding a peaceful solution. I found this article written by Roy Greenslade in The Guardian in 2000, in which he says:

The rightwing papers’ coverage of the bloody loyalist feud in Northern Ireland has been slanted to fit the old myth that republicans are the root of all evil

Greenslade is referring here to the Loyalist feud that followed the Good Friday Agreement in 1999. Remember that the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has close links to the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), the Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF), which is an alternative name for the UVF, and the Red Hand Commando (RHC). The last two Tory governments, were supported by the DUP in a confidence and supply arrangement, which seemingly elided the party’s connections to Loyalist paramilitaries for the sake of expedience. In any case, it was a relationship doomed to failure from the outset, because the DUP does what the DUP wants when it wants.

Greenslade observes that British newspapers don’t give readers the full story, and Tories like Gove rely on voters’ ignorance of past events, which then begs the question: if people have no knowledge of British post-war history and the low intensity conflict in Northern Ireland, known euphemistically as ‘The Troubles’, then why take time and trouble to smear a man like Corbyn as an ‘IRA sympathiser’, especially when Thatcher government’s support for Loyalist death squads is well-documented? The only answer that I can come up with is hubris.

Giving readers a historical perspective takes up space and draws heavily on the time – and, of course, the expertise – of the journalist. It is therefore costly and, given the cult of youth that pervades so many papers nowadays, there are often too few people around editorial floors with a working knowledge of post-war modern history.

Greenslade continues:

Perhaps the most pernicious reason for our ahistorical press is its political agenda. When events call into question a policy line avidly pursued by a paper, throwing into doubt the trenchant “advice” offered to readers down the years, then it proves convenient to ignore history altogether.

Since coming to power in 2010, the Tories and their allies in the media and elsewhere have been trying to rewrite history to suit their false narratives.

A combination of these factors, with the last undoubtedly the most prevalent, occurred in the coverage of loyalist gang warfare in Northern Ireland last week. Right-wing papers suddenly found themselves in a tricky situation because the story did not fit neatly into the previous 30-year pattern of events.

In that paradigm, all the troubles in the “province” stemmed from malevolent republicans. In recent years, with the IRA ceasefire and Sinn Fein’s incorporation into elected office, these papers have opened a second front by pouring scorn on the concept and the practice of the peace process.

Yet the vast majority of republicans have remained stubbornly faithful to the ballot box, making it difficult for the hostile Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail, Times and Sun to continue with their anti-peace process propaganda war.

Unlike those Loyalists, eh? Remember, the DUP didn’t accept the Good Friday Agreement and have pretended ever since that the low intensity war is still happening. Greenslade again:

Then along comes Johnny “Mad Dog” Adair and an opportunity of sorts is gratefully accepted. The usual suspects – Ruth Dudley-Edwards, Michael Gove, Bruce Anderson – were wheeled out along with their unnamed leader-writing sympathisers to hammer the government.

The outbreak of internecine strife on the Shankill was, according to Anderson in the Mail, due to politicians having created “a moral vacuum in which such madness can fester”.

And there, of course, is the return to the central agenda: it’s all the uppity republicans’ fault after all. The Daily Mail nodded in agreement, referring to “the government’s endless concessions to republicans”.

Not willing to accept that the fault for Loyalist internecine violence rested with the paramilitaries themselves, leader writers like Gove et al instead blamed Republicans. Greenslade again (my italics):

Gove in the Times blamed John Major and Tony Blair for appeasement. The Telegraph referred to the Northern Ireland secretary, Peter Mandelson, as living in an “Alice in Wonderland world” and claimed that Adair “ruled the roost because of the Belfast agreement”. So far, so bad. Even on this single point, no historical context was allowed to peep through. No mention, for instance, of the people of Ireland having voted overwhelmingly for the agreement, which stated categorically that prisoners would be released.

The Times, unlike the Telegraph, did at least praise Mandelson for Adair’s arrest. But its columnist Gove led the way in offering a scandalous justification for the Protestant paramilitaries’ gangsterism. Their hostility towards the peace process, he dared to claim, is fuelled by the fact that Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness is in government.

Gove, like many in his party, see nothing wrong with reviving the cycle of violence that so marred civil and political life in the Six Counties for nearly 40 years. For them, it’s a price worth paying, just so long as they get the Brexit they crave.

Gove’s efforts and those of his colleagues rely on the average Brit’s total ignorance, not just of their own history, but that of Ireland. This was brought into sharp relief a year ago when Priti Patel said that the government should use the threat of food shortages to force the Irish government to drop its demand for the so-called ‘backstop’ in the Brexit negotiations. Aside from the residual imperialism expressed in this statement, Patel and Gove’s cavalier approach to history and memory is dangerous.

But the Tories don’t care. For them, history only matters inasmuch as it’s just another narrative than can be endlessly rewritten to suit their political objectives. This 2016 article from the Belfast Telegraph revealed that the government provided UDA-linked groups with funds from what it calls ‘ the controversial Social Investment Fund’.

Among those with huge influence over how the £80 million SIF budget is allocated is notorious Bangor UDA criminal Dee Stitt, who last week posed for photos with DUP First Minister Arlene Foster.

Other key players include the UDA’s former leader in the Maze Prison and Lisburn commander Adrian Bird, and convicted UDA gunman turned failed DUP council candidate Sam ‘Chalky’ White. All three paramilitaries were appointed to SIF steering panels, which recommend how cash is handed out, with DUP and Sinn Fein approval.

During the past two years Stitt, Bird and White have successfully lobbied for more than £5 million of taxpayers’ cash being spent on UDA-linked projects that pay their wages in Belfast, Lisburn and Bangor.

The Tories, Michael Gove in particular, have some explaining to do.

1 Comment

Filed under General Election 2019

Election Round-up: Farage Out, Gove’s Drunken Tweets

Nigel ‘Fag Ash’ Farage has announced that he won’t be standing as a candidate for the Brexit Corporation Party in the upcoming general election. Of course, that doesn’t mean he’ll be absent from our telly screens. Quite the opposite, in fact. Farage has appeared on BBC Question Time more than any other politician (33 times), despite not having a seat in the Westminster Parliament. We’re told that it’s because he’s the CEO Leader of a ‘major’ political party.

Farage, like Boris Johnson and Donald Trump, is a media creation. They’ve elevated him to a position far above his role as MEP. I mean, how many other MEPs get as much attention as he does? Not even Dan Hannan gets his mug on the box as much.

Some pundits claim the reason why Farage isn’t standing is because he’s failed to get elected eight times. Fag Ash claims:

“Do I find a seat and try to get myself into parliament or do I serve the cause better traversing the length and breadth of the United Kingdom supporting 600 candidates, and I’ve decided the latter course is the right one.”

It’s been suggested that Farage’s vanity project party could split the right-wing vote and allow Labour in. Good. The company party intends to stand in Boris Johnson’s constituency of Uxbridge and Ruislip. Johnson has a 5000 majority.

In other news, it was revealed that Tory candidate for Gower, Francesca O’Brien, made some unsavoury and socially Darwinistic comments on Facebook about Channel 4’s poverty porn show Benefits Street. The tweet, which has now been taken down is reported to have said:

“Benefit Street..anyone else watching this?? Wow, these people are unreal!!!” “My blood is boiling, these people need putting down.”

However, the Tories have refused to deselect her. According to Adam Bienkov of Business Insider.

Asked whether O’Brien would be removed as the candidate, the Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey MP told the BBC on Monday that while O’Brien’s comment were “clearly wrong,” it was now a “matter for the people of Gower.”

“I recognise these comments are not ones that I would associate myself with in any way, but I think that will be a decision for the people of Gower to make a choice on who they want to be their member of parliament,” she said.

Pushed again, she replied: “I think that is a matter for the people of Gower on whether they want her to be their next MP and they will have that choice next mont

Yet, last night and in the early hours of the morning, an apparently drunken and possibly coked-up Michael Gove sent out a series of defamatory tweets, each one a variation on the “Corbyn is a terrorist sympathiser and an anti-Semite” theme.

The ‘Dom’ mentioned here is the eugenics advocate and all round arsehole, Dominic Cummings. For the record, Gove opposed the Good Friday Agreement, echoing the familiar ‘No Surrender!’ of Loyalist paramilitaries and DUP politicians whom he greatly admires. If you think I’m exaggerating, think again. Gove even sings the Loyalist standard ‘The Sash My Father Wore’ according to the Irish News.

So while Gove is happy to smear Jeremy Corbyn and the likes of the BBC refuse to correct him when he spouts this slanderous nonsense, they say nothing about his admiration for Loyalist thuggery. The DUP, which supported the May government has close ties to Loyalist paramilitaries the UVF, UFF and Red Hand Commando, but there isn’t any mention of this on any of the broadcast news media. I wonder why?

1 Comment

Filed under General Election 2019

Smears and Scare Tactics: That’s the Tory Campaign

I bet you feel like a right mug

I wrote this blog during the General Election and didn’t get around to finishing it. The Tories didn’t run a good election campaign. if there were prizes handed out for the best campaign, the Tories would have lost. There, I said it. There was nothing substantive: just the usual half-arsed crap that they tend to write on a hooker’s backside during one of their cocaine binges. Flog off this or that asset (even if it doesn’t belong to the state), and keep beating up the poor and the weak. The public want more of that shit! Yeah! *Sniffs* *Twitches*

Labour’s campaign wasn’t great either. There was the embarrassing immigration mug and the cringe-inducing pink ladies’ (sic) battle bus. But it wasn’t as bad as the Conservative Party’s campaign, which was a dismally negative affair, full of lies, smears and good old fashioned scaremongering. Labour had some mildly social democratic policies like some form of rent control, but the party seemed to suffer from an inferiority complex. This was evident in the way they failed to counter the Tories’ constant lie that they “crashed the economy” and “bankrupted” country.

David Cameron was just as gutless and like all good bullies, he got his friends to do his dirty work. He refused to debate Ed Miliband in a head-to-head interview and it’s no secret that the former was shit scared at the prospect of being found out as a phony and wriggled his way out. The SNP ran a good campaign and their leader Nicola Sturgeon put the three unionists in the shade during the Leaders Debates. Such was Sturgeon’s popularity that many English voters wanted to vote for her as Prime Minister… not realizing, of course, that we don’t have a presidential system. As for the Lib Dems, we never really heard from them much until the final week. UKIP spouted the usual rubbish about immigrants and the Greens ran the kind of campaign that Labour should have been running. That’s pretty much it.

Although it is unfinished, the blog below gives a snapshot of the third week of the election. It’s mainly about the Gruesome Twosome: Michael Gove and Sarah Vine.

Scaremongering. That’s what this election is all about. Forget the policies. Just be afraid. Be afraid of the big bad SNP and Labour walking together through the aye lobby. The Tories and their preferred coalition partners, UKIP, have resorted to scare tactics to win over voters.  The former uses the spectre of communism, while the latter relies on the fear of the Other. The Tories are past masters of the scare tactic and they have access to the best practitioners of political skulduggery. Indeed, they employ people whose job it is to smear their opponents and plant the seeds of fear in people’s minds. The Conservative Research Department (CRD), for example, is well known for its smear tactics, espionage and dirty tricks.

When Michael Gove was moved to the whip’s office in the last cabinet reshuffle, he was apparently given the extra role of chief propagandist. Since the election was announced, Gove has popped up in television and radio studios to smear the Labour Party. He paints nightmarish images of a Labour minority government supported by the SNP that are worthy of Hieronymus Bosch. Gove and wife, Sarah Vine, are a sort of husband and wife smear team. He spreads poison on the airwaves, she spreads poison in the print media and online. Vine recently claimed, with unintentional hilarity, that Britain would become a “communist dictatorship under Labour and the SNP“. But she went further and insulted northerners and Scots too. Her husband’s a Scot, but he’s one of those Scots who’s mair Sassenach than Scottish. Great way to win over voters in the, er, ‘Northern Power House’ too, eh Sarah? How about sticking to what you’re good at? Like accusing the Director of Public Prosecution, Alison Saunders, of being “politically correct”.

In August last year, Judge Mary Jane Mowat, who spent 18 years on the bench in Oxford before retiring, claimed the rape conviction rate would not improve until women stopped drinking so heavily.

 ‘I’m not saying it’s right to rape a drunken women,’ she added. ‘I’m not saying that it’s allowable to take advantage of a drunken woman.’

She simply explained that a jury in a case where a woman can’t remember what she was doing ‘because she was off her head’ is less likely to convict.

She was speaking a basic truth. For her trouble she was vilified by the feministas.

Vine is no friend of feminists either, here referring to them as “feministas”. Fuck the sisterhood, eh Sarah?

Then there were the snide jibes about the Milibands’ kitchens (sic).

Not much prospect of a decent meal emanating from that mean, sterile, little box. No succulent joints of beef dripping in juices, no half-drunk bottles of red wine and mountain of fluffy white roast potatoes. It’ll be a quinoa salad with a side of shaved fennel, if you’re lucky. Let’s hope there’s a decent kebab shop around the corner

How petty.

Gove’s appearances on television have been nothing short of cringeworthy. Here he is attempting to explain his party’s manifesto commitment to extend Right to Buy to Housing Association tenants. He and his fellow ministers failed to tell the voracious Housing Association chief executives, who each draw down six-figure salaries about this, er, plan.

The plan… yes, that’s it. The Tories have a plan. So we’re told. It’s been given a name too. It’s the ‘Long Term Economic Plan’ or LTEP. Really trips off the tongue, doesn’t it? But it’s not a plan; it’s a slogan. Nothing more. Nothing less. It was coined to give the impression the Tories actually have something worth voting for. They don’t. They’re still recycling what’s left of Thatcher’s policies. Do you really want to go back to the 1980s? I know I don’t.

The Tories are hoping that many voters will internalise their scaremongering and lies. I watched a segment on Wednesday’s edition of The Daily Politics which had Giles Dilnot interview three workers in a Northamptonshire shoe factory. Two of them claimed they weren’t going to vote Labour, having voted for them in the past. Like an ‘I speak your weight’ machine (ask your grandparents), one said, bang on cue “I don’t have any faith in Miliband”, the other repeated the silly sub-Cain and Abel story, “He stabbed his brother in the back”. The former Labour voters told Dilnot they were going to vote UKIP, while the other claimed he was going to vote Tory. Gove was probably rubbing his hands with glee when he heard that. But these three workers (if indeed they were workers rather than managers) were not a representative sample of the nation’s voters and seemed to have been chosen for the purpose of claiming Labour’s fortunes were in the toilet and the Tories were now going to cruise home to victory.

Back to Gove. Yesterday, he told The Scotsman that his party was “closing the gap on Labour” and claimed that the Tories would win “three seats” in Scotland. What’s he smoking? Let me tell you something: it ain’t crack.

Here’s Gove talking up his party’s chances in Scotland last week on Newsnight. He also gets a chance to do some scaremongering. Gove repeats the “coalition of chaos” slogan while, at the same time, ignoring his own government’s chaos. The so-called “Omnishambles” budget, anyone?

There’s clearly too much of Gove on Newsnight. Gove is a dismal, unpleasant, obsequious, slimy, spiteful, repellent little creep twerp man, not content with smashing up our education system, he has been unleashed on the nation’s viewers and listeners as the Tories’ number one attack dog.

After the Leaders Debate a couple of weeks ago, Gove appeared on Question Time claiming Nicola Sturgeon would “hold the whip hand” over Ed Miliband and then repeated the lie that the last Labour government “bankrupted the country”. He wasn’t challenged by Andy Burnham. Huh? Then Gove tangled with Parker lookalike Peter Hitchens. The man in the audience who claimed Farage was “having a proper conversation” with the nation had clearly internalized the crap he’d read, seen or heard in the media. At one point he enters into a dialogue with Hitchens and claims that Farage “looked real”. I thought he looked sweaty and spoke a load of nonsense. What do I know? When pressed on a possible deal with UKIP, Gove squirmed, wriggled and fudged his reply. When the man in the orange shirt tackles Gove on his lies about the country “being close to Greece economically”, he squirms again. Then Hitchens, who’s no left-winger by any stretch of the imagination, steps in and finishes the job… and then goes on to claim the UK “encourages mass (sic) immigration”. Sigh.

So there it is: the third week of the nastiest general election since 1992, which ended much the same way as that election. Anyone would think…

This isn’t the end of the matter. There’s more to come.

2 Comments

Filed under General Election 2015

Now That The Tories Are Back, What Will Happen To The #CSA Inquiry?

The Cat thinks now that the Tories are back in power, the Child Sex Abuse inquiry may stall or go quiet. Cameron’s cabinet appointments certainly don’t offer much hope for progress on this issue. Theresa May remains as Home Secretary and Michael Gove is the new Justice Minister, despite having no law qualifications (he probably watched a courtroom drama on the telly once). Gove has already gone on record accusing those pressing for a full inquiry as “conspiracy theorists”.

Exaro News reported on 8 June 2013, that Gove, then Education Secretary, blocked a move to force schools to report sexual abuse.

The Independent reported on 6 July 2014,

The Education Secretary has insisted that there should not be a public inquiry into a possible cover-up of paedophile politicians in Westminster, after it emerged that more than 100 Home Office files related to historic allegations of child abuse have gone “missing”.

May, herself, appointed two judges who had connections to those implicated in the scandal. Both were forced to resign following pressure from victims’ groups and the media.

Then there’s the case of Patrick Rock, Cameron’s former adviser, who was  charged with the possession of indecent images of children. He appeared at Southwark magistrates court last December, after failing to appear in court in October. Rock was, according to the Daily Telegraph,

…born Patrick Robert John Rock de Besombes, is a veteran Conservative Party adviser and has been described as David Cameron’s “fixer”.

London-born Mr Rock, 62, is from an aristocratic family and attended Stonyhust College in Lancashire before winning a scholarship to Worcester College, Oxford, where he studied history.

Cameron claimed to have been “profoundly shocked” by Rock’s arrest. Here’s a video clip of his response.

Pure PR fluff. The handling of Rock’s departure was handled poorly as this Newsnight clip explains:

Rock was “close to David Cameron”. Great judgement. No?

The abuse cases in Rotherham, Rochdale and Oxford seem to be getting more coverage than the high level paedophile cases and while these cases are undoubtedly horrendous, they act as a useful distraction from the Westminster abuse scandal because they seem to claim that only men of Pakistani origin run paedophile rings.

We know that isn’t true.

3 Comments

Filed under Child Sexual Abuse Inquiry, Conservative Party, Government & politics

Memogate: Another Example Of Our Failed Democracy

We were warned that this election campaign was going to be one of the dirtiest fought for a generation. The Tories, having failed to win an election outright for 22 years, were always going to resort to gutter politics and dirty tricks to try and steal the election. It’s in their DNA. They began  their campaign in 2013 when they recruited Lynton Crosby . Crosby’s appointment as Tory election strategist happened on the back of his successful smear campaign that saw Bozza elected as London Mayor in 2012. Yet Crosby’s record on the national stage has been poor. He failed to get Michael Howard elected in 2005 with his crypto-racist “Are you thinking what we’re thinking” slogan. It’s funny how people forget that.

Tim Wigmore writing in the New Statesman last August observed:

The 2005 election showed the limits of importing successful electioneering from Australian to Britain. Australia’s use of the Alternative Vote forces every voter into a straight choice, between the (conservative) Liberal Party and the Australian Labour party. Crucially, voting is also compulsory in Australia, which lends itself to negative campaigning: offering a compelling reason why the electorate should not plump for the alternative is enough.

Britain’s electoral dynamics are very different. We live in a multi-party world; even if the Tories are successful in attacking Labour’s electoral weaknesses on welfare and immigration, voters may plump for Ukip or the Lib Dems instead. 35 per cent of the electorate did not vote for anyone in 2010: they need a positive reason to bother. Relentless negativity is less effective as a campaigning technique when voters can choose whether or not to vote.

In the last 24 hours and, coincidentally, after the leader’s debates on Thursday, which saw Nicola Sturgeon win what was, effectively a beauty contest; it was as sure as ‘eggs is eggs’ that CCHQ would try and make mischief (did you see Gove on Question Time?). Late last night, the Torygraph ran a story in which it was alleged that Sturgeon told a French ambassador that she would prefer to have Cameron in office than Miliband. The alleged discussion was allegedly contained in a Foreign and Commonwealth Office memo, which magically found its way to the Tory-supporting Telegraph. Sure, it did. Anyone with half a brain in their head would know that for Sturgeon to make such a claim it would surely be political suicide. The Tories and their friends in the media know this. Craig Murray claims that this story bears the hallmarks of an MI5 smear campaign. The Cat is inclined to agree with him.

Murray writes:

Ever since Treasury Permanent Secretary Nicholas MacPherson stated that civil service impartiality rules do not apply in the case of Scottish independence, I have been warning the SNP that we are going to be the target of active subversion by the UK and US security services. We are seen as a danger to the British state and thus a legitimate target. I spelled this out in my talk to the Edinburgh SNP Club on 6 March, of which more below.

The story, as Murray reminds us, appears to have echoes of the Zionviev Letter. Indeed, I tweeted a reminder to this effect this morning. It was because of this forged letter, printed in the Tory-supporting Daily Mail, that the first Labour government fell and failed to win the snap election on 29 October, 1924. This defeat and Ramsay MacDonald’s subsequent betrayal in 1931 has been etched on the memories of old Labour Party members, most of whom are no longer with us. Nu Labourites apparently have no memories of anything that happened before the Blair era.

Crosby’s crappy strategy is to create chaos and discord on the Left in an attempt to create an image of an effective and in-control David Cameron…a man whom, ironically, presided over a chaotic administration. One example of the coalition government’s ineptitude was the so-called ‘Omnishambles’. Another is Cameron’s lack of judgement, typified as it is by the hiring of men like Andy Coulson and Patrick Rock.

The ‘Memogate’ story appears to have had the desired effect among many Labourites, who have taken to social media in their droves to repeat their predictable “I told you so” message. None of them seems wise or, indeed, bright enough, to remember their history. If the Tories win this election, it will be because they used smears and scaremongering to do so; but it will also be because Labour were foolish and gullible enough to fall for it all.

1 Comment

Filed under 20th century, Free Press Myth, General Election 2015, History, Journalism, Media, propaganda, Yellow journalism

Culture For The Future?

People are fond of gazing back at the past through rose-tinted spectacles.  I remember reading somewhere that no one ‘does’ nostalgia like the British.  I love the 70sI Love The 80s and Dominic Sandbrook’s lightweight, but subtly ideological history series The 70s always present the past as the ideal time in which to live. In Sandbrook’s case, the blemishes, lumps and bumps that define eras and epochs are simply burnished or given a right-wing twist.  “Thatcher arrived to save the country from the unions” was the unspoken message at the end of Sandbrook’s series, which ignored the fact that management ineptitude and a chronic lack of investment was mostly culpable for Britain’s economic and industrial decline. In the case of the I Love… series, talking heads from showbusiness were interviewed on camera to talk about how wonderful Kickers and Kappa tracksuits were. “I really loved Kickers and you had to wear the key ring that came with them” opined one talking head. Just great. As I sat watching I Love 1980 on BBC2, it struck me how much about that year wasn’t mentioned. It was as if the people forced onto the dole queues by the Thatcher government never existed and the St Paul’s riots in Bristol never happened. This was an age of social and political turmoil. Thatcher was determined to destroy what remained of Britain’s countercultures- the permissive society she called it – and she had no time for those who disagreed with her.

Sure there were some good things about the 1970s but the decade wasn’t entirely good. This is, after all, the decade that saw the end of the post-war consensus. This is the decade that witnessed the rise in extreme right-wing activity on our streets, when people of colour were randomly attacked by neo-Nazis for merely going about their business. The National Front were emboldened by electoral gains they’d made in the local elections. Its splinter, the National Party, won two seats on Blackburn council in 1976. One of the reasons why punk arrived at the moment it did was because there  was a need for an antidote to the near endless stream of cultural nostalgia. Everywhere you looked, there was some romanticized reminder of the past, whether it was on The Black and White Minstrel Show or in the pop charts with bands like The Rubettes and Mud rehashing the 1950s with songs like Sugar Baby Love and Tiger Feet respectively. Nostalgia was in Britain’s pop cultural driving seat in a car that had one wheel stuck in the ditch. Britain could not move forward because cultural magnates were too busy gazing longingly into their collective navel.

The toxic sludge of nostalgia that was current in British mainstream culture and political discourse in the 1970s seeped into the thoughts of some of Britain’s prominent rock stars. In June 1976, David Bowie returned to London and gave a press conference to waiting journalists at Victoria Station. Standing in an open top Mercedes, he appeared to give a Nazi salute and was whisked away, flanked by outriders. In a later interview, Bowie told a journalist that

“Adolf Hitler was one of the first rock stars. Look at some of the films and see how he moved. I think he was quite as good as Jagger.”

A couple of months later a drunken Eric Clapton addressed a stunned Birmingham audience with this message:

“[I think] Enoch’s right … we should send them all back. Throw the wogs out! Keep Britain white!”

Roger Daltrey and Rod Stewart were just as vocal as Clapton. For the millions of kids who bought their records and wanted nothing to do with the views they espoused, this was a slap in the face and a kick in the teeth.  Clapton, in particular, had made a living by playing the blues, an African-American musical form. Ironically, Clapton had recorded a cover of Bob Marley’s I Shot the Sheriff two years earlier. This was a point that was picked up by Red Saunders and Roger Huddle, who responded to Clapton and Bowie’s musings by writing an open letter to Britain’s music press. The letter read:

When we read about Eric Clapton’s Birmingham concert when he urged support for Enoch Powell, we nearly puked. Come on Eric… Own up. Half your music is black. You’re rock music’s biggest colonist… We want to organise a rank and file movement against the racist poison music… P. S. Who shot the Sheriff Eric? It sure as hell wasn’t you!

Rock Against Racism, formed in response to this letter, was the most successful cultural intervention in living memory. It successfully brought together left-wing politics and youth culture, and marginalized the right-wing elements in rock music and beyond.  While it is tempting to think of Live Aid and even Red Wedge in similar terms, we must remember that RAR was a rank and file movement that began with a simple letter to the music press. Red Wedge, for example, was founded to attract votes to the Neil Kinnock-led Labour Party. Live Aid, however, can be read in two ways: first, it was a naive project that responded to a news item on the Ethiopian famine, which had been created by the Eritrean separatist war against Ethiopia. This part of the story was ignored. Much of the aid sent to Ethiopia was diverted to warlords. Second, it was a vehicle to revive the fading career of Bob Geldof. Yes, I’m a cynic but take a look at Make Poverty History and tell me how that has succeeded in eradicating poverty. Poverty can only be eradicated by destroying the current capitalist system, not by liberal hand-wringing and buying cucumber sandwiches at premium prices (a fraction of the profit made on these sandwiches goes towards buying a bucket). Make Poverty History temporarily assuaged liberal guilt and nothing more.

Since the global economic crisis of 2007/8 and the installation of a deeply unpopular Tory-led coalition government in this country, a number of political initiatives have been launched to counter the government’s austerity policies. There’s the Occupy movement and UK Uncut to name but two. What has been missing from these political movements is culture. If you have a Left idea, then you need something cultural to go along with it (qv. Roland Muldoon). For most of the political parties, be they mainstream or fringe, the idea of culture often takes second place (if it happens at all) to their respective ideologies and if culture appears within these parties, it is used as a means to have a laugh and unwind after a hard day of selling the party’s papers on the street, but not as means to contribute to real structural change. This kind of culture that speaks only to a small group of people.  The Conservative Party has never made any real use of culture because they’re too concerned with the past: their idea of culture is stately homes, old bones, statues of war heroes, and possibly the West End theatre of Cameron-Macintosh. Culture is a living thing that’s been created by ordinary people. It was revealing that, instead of creating a Ministry of Culture, John Major created something called The Department for National Heritage in 1994. He may as well have called it The Department for Mausoleums and Tombstones.

The situation that we currently face is dire and, in some ways, it is similar to what we faced in the 1970s. The need for a cultural intervention in Britain is now greater than ever. The rise of UKIP, the appearance of street groups like the English Defence League and Britain First are a cause for concern. Over the decades, the far-right has modified its language and now wishes to be seen as respectable.  Yet the sentiments in Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech are never far from the surface.  Powell himself was never subjected to rehabilitation, though his legions of admirers (some of whom weren’t even born when he made the speech) continue to claim that he was “right”. The normalization of racist, sexist and disablist discourses in the media are partly due to the rise of UKIP and are uttered under the rubric of free speech (or I speak and you shut up). The coalition government’s policies blame the economic crisis on – in no particular order –  benefits claimants, the disabled, single parents, immigration etc. You name it, they blame it. People like Katie Hopkins, who have no formal qualifications in the subjects on which they pontificate, are granted hours of airtime and are rarely, if ever, challenged on their repugnant views. Bullying and deliberate cruelty have become the new lingua franca of mass entertainment and the government alike. The phrase “political correctness” is used pejoratively to marginalize anyone who defends tolerance and fights for equality. This must be challenged at the cultural level as well as the political level.

We should not let Labour off the hook. When  Gordon Brown succeeded Tony Blair as Prime Minister, he claimed that he wanted to see the kind of patriotism he saw in the United States. Three years later, he gave a speech that contained the phrase “British jobs for British workers”. These words could easily have come from the mouths of Nigel Farage or Tory MP, Peter Bone. Instead, they came from a Labour Prime Minister, who was desperate to appeal to floating voters whose political sympathies were defaulted to the Right. In doing this, Brown unleashed powerful forces that he could not control. Let’s not forget that during the Wilson-Callaghan years the Labour government failed to deal with the rise of the far-right and hid itself inside its Downing Street bunker, oblivious to what was happening on the outside. Callaghan had already called time on the post-war consensus when he applied for an International Monetary Fund loan in 1976 to deal with the Sterling crisis, which was precipitated by the Heath administration’s massive balance of trade deficit. The conditions of this loan led to massive public sector cuts and helped to pave the way for Thatcher’s victory in 1979. Once she had won, Thatcher then draped herself in the Union Jack and repeated the phrase much beloved of nationalists and bigots everywhere: the country is “swamped with immigrants”. These days the words used are “mass migration”. The old right-wing cliché that the country is “full” has also been resurrected. The NF may have been marginalized as a political force, but their anti-immigrant and racist rhetoric lingers in the speech of UKIP and others.

The leadership of today’s Labour Party is just as bad as their predecessors, because they have failed to learn the lessons of their past. In the aftermath of the local and European elections, Ed Miliband and his shadow cabinet kept repeating the line “We got it wrong on immigration”. This plays into the hands of ethno-nationalists and, of course, UKIP, and shows us that the Labour Party’s leadership is too scared to say anything positive about immigrants and immigration for fear of a press backlash. If we go back to the beginning of the current economic crisis, Labour’s political enemies, the Tories and UKIP, couldn’t claim that Labour was “soft on crime”, so they attacked the party on a different front: immigration. Since 2007/8, there has been a steady stream of anti-immigrant stories in the media in which all immigrants are misleadingly referred to as “migrants”. However, many of us living in the  United Kingdom are migrants. If you move home within a city or town, you are a migrant. If you move from Stoke-on-Trent to take up a job in Manchester, you are an economic migrant. The recent British Social Attitudes Survey claims that most people are against immigrants and immigration, with a many more people claiming that immigrants come to this country to take advantage of our benefits system. Yet there is no concrete proof that people come here to live on a measly £72.40 a week. Benefits are more generous in other European countries, so why would anyone want to come here just to claim benefits? If you point this out to the average immigrant-hater, they have no argument. What the British Social Attitudes Survey actually tells us is that people are quite prepared to believe the lies and scare stories that come from the press and the self-appointed experts of Migration Watch UK . Perhaps worst of all, the data from this survey could be used to bolster the Right’s claims that immigration is bad for the country and immigrants are taking British people’s jobs. The Tory-led coalition’s ‘reforms’ are killing people and making many more homeless. They are pitting worker against worker and neighbour against neighbour.

Not a week passes by without some minister or other, repeating the phrase “hardworking families” and smearing those who are out of work. Television also plays its part in these attacks with the near-endless stream of poverty porn that oozes from our screens. Benefits Street, On Benefits and Proud and Filthy Rich and Hungry are a few examples of the media’s bandwagon-hopping tendency to demonize and stigmatize benefits claimants. The latter programme was actually shown as part of the BBC’s Sport Relief season. People’s poverty should not be a cheap source of entertainment; a sort of two minutes hate for bullies and self-styled ‘hard workers’.

Like the 70s, there is a great deal of nostalgia present in mainstream political discourse. When the Tories came to power in 2010, Michael Gove wrote of his affection for the Victorian age. The party itself repeated 19th century mantra of ‘self-help’ and resurrected the phrase “deserving and undeserving poor”.  Ethno-nationalists gorge themselves stupid on nostalgia. They’re constantly dreaming of a Britain that existed in fairy stories. UKIP, for example, wants a return to the 1950s and grammar schools, which it claims are essential for social mobility.  Yet during the 1950s, social mobility was fairly limited. Moreover, people knew their place.  Confusingly, UKIP also wants a return to the 19th century, but their idea of the 19th century is one without the poverty, disease and high infant mortality rates, which proceeded hand-in-glove with the ‘classical’ liberalism that is much loved by today’s Right. ‘Classical’ liberalism is also loved by American neo-confederates, who never tire of telling people that slavery “wasn’t that bad”. It was under a classical liberal economic system that the Irish Potato Famine took place. The mantra then was “it’s God’s will”. For the Right believes that inequality is “natural” – a God-given.

The Tories have always hated the comprehensive education system and want a return to the old system that effectively excluded anyone without the material means to pay for a decent education. In our current education system, by rote learning is threatening to supplant the teaching of critical thinking skills. This is particularly the case in Higher Education, where the former polytechnics (or post-1992 universities) are cutting courses and expunging those courses that include the teaching of critical thinking skills from their curriculum. The government likes people who can’t ask questions, because people who don’t ask questions are easier to manipulate. This the neoliberal idea of education: to train people to be mindless consumers, who question nothing and are unaware or refuse to believe that they’re being oppressed. This is what Gramsci calls “contradictory consciousness” and what Bourdieu refers to as “illusio“. The message from the top seems to be “You will love us while we kick the shit out of you. It’s for your own good”.

Neoliberalism, apart from creating false economies on a grand scale, forces people see themselves as consumers; customers of a particular service.  Healthcare and education, for example, are reified; magically transformed into commodities. Neoliberalism produces illusions: illusions of freedom, illusions of wealth, illusions of choice. Neoliberalism exists to defend the power of the already wealthy and powerful. It pretends to be meritocratic, but in reality it diverts ever more power to the same people who have controlled things for centuries. Neoliberalism is nothing but feudalism in a Savile Row suit carrying a smartphone. If we aren’t careful we will find ourselves in a technologically advanced version of the Middle Ages, where ignorance and superstition rule unchallenged and trump reason and evidence-based solutions every time. We want a modern country that isn’t afraid to look forward. Nostalgia is a comfort blanket for those who fear what the future might hold.

Recently the government has insisted that schools teach “British values”. Aside from being a woolly, ill-defined concept on two levels, this is nothing less that a rush to inculcate forms of nationalist thinking in our children, and risks unleashing dangerous forces that cannot be controlled. For the Right, British history is marked by the dates of battles between royal houses and the births, lives and deaths of monarchs and their acolytes. Britishness only came about with the 1800 Act of Union that brought Ireland into the realm against its will. Moreover, Britishness (like any form of national identity) is entirely constructed from a selection of myths and half-truths. You create your own history.

We know what we’re against: we’re against neoliberalism, inequality, intolerance, racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, disablism, anti-Ziganism, anti-Semitism, corporate greed, slum landlords, inflated travel costs, lazy grasping MPs, war, etc. Therefore, we need to define what we’re for. We are for the 99%, because the current form of capitalism helps to enrich greedy people and sustain a hatred of Others. We must create culture for the 99% that addresses social and political concerns rather than tug on people’s emotions like the bourgeois theatre that dominates London’s West End, or the Hollywood movies that place style over substance. Much of today’s art doesn’t seek to engage with people’s lived experiences, instead it speaks only to itself. It is self-indulgent drivel. The artist must reject the dead space of the bourgeois art gallery, which demands disinterest and contemplation instead of engagement, and use the street as their palette and exhibition space instead.

We should adopt RAR as our model but include all forms of art and culture.  Much to the anti-immigrant parties’ disgust, Britain is a multi-cultural country and that is not going to change. All the multi-coloured cultural strands of this country need to be brought together under one umbrella in celebration of our diversity and in opposition to a cultural industry that is run for the benefit of accountants and media moguls, and says nothing about life as it is lived. We want artists of all kinds to take part in a new grassroots cultural movement for the 99%. Painters, sculptors, musicians, DJs, comedians, dancers, poets, rappers, writers, actors, jugglers, stilt-walkers, puppeteers, clowns and others that I haven’t mentioned. We must create cultural artefacts that look forward, not backwards.

History is a teacher, but nostalgia will teach you nothing that you don’t already know. In the words of Johnny Thunders, “you can’t put your arms around a memory”. That’s true, but you can embrace the challenge of the future.

We are the many, they are few. Culture for the 99%!

11 Comments

Filed under Arts, Comedy, Education

Telegraph Comment of the Week (#23)

No matter how hard they try (perhaps they’re not trying at all) the Telegraph can’t stop the numbers of fruitcakes that flock to its comments threads. This is no doubt due to the kinds of blogs that are published on the site and, in spite of Dan Hannan’s complaint that the blogs shouldn’t be judged on the kinds of comments that appear below them, his complaint sounds like the insincere whining that’s born of a lack of self-awareness. “It’s not my fault, blame that lot over there”! These people know what they’re doing and the more clicks these blogs get, the more money for the Telegraph. Clickbait: it’s as easy as 1, 2, 3 clicks.

This week, a new horse arrived at the Telegraph stable. Posing as a recent history graduate, Jago Pearson wrote an article in support of Michael Gove’s education policies and complained that academia was “dominated by lefties”. The thing is, Pearson is actually working for a Tory-friendly PR company. This sort of thing happens a lot: the government has made much use of astroturfers and Twitter accounts that harass anyone who doesn’t support the government’s classist policies. Gove is not a pedagogue, he’s an ideologue and a former journalist and it shows. It’s all about the narrative. However, what Pearson seems to have forgotten is that universities do not fall under the auspices of The Department for Education, they are the responsibility of The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. Oops! Perhaps he should have written an article in support of David Willetts instead?

Here are a couple of snippets from his first article.

The dominance of the Left is deep-rooted and for all to see, especially when it comes to the teaching of history. I write as a 21-year-old graduate of History and Politics, just six months out of university.

Don’t get me wrong: I had some superb teachers and lecturers, both throughout my time at school and while studying for my degree – individuals who enthused and inspired and knew their subjects inside out.

But the majority of them were rabidly Left-wing and the subjects they chose for their students matched their own misguided outlook on society.

Towards the end he tells us:

When it came to my dissertation, I managed to retreat to something more traditional, in the form of British defence policy and the Falklands conflict. Luckily, my supervisor was just about the only in the department without a Left-wing grudge to bear. To be expected I suppose, as an expert in intelligence and strategic defence.

Jesus H. Christ! Talk about paranoia. But “traditional”? What is that supposed to mean? Pearson’s prose style is reminiscent of The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13¾, but not quite as entertaining.

After he was exposed as a fraud by Tom Pride, Pearson thought he’d ask Damian ‘Blood Crazed Ferret’ Thompson for another crack at those awful, horrible lefties. The result is even more hilarious than the first article.

The tactics of the Left are so predictable, especially where certain subjects are concerned. You give them a prod; shake them around a little and they stir into life. How dare we criticise their cosy stranglehold on education?

The point of Higher Education is to get students to think critically and to ask questions. Pearson appears to have done neither during his time at Loughborough University, the alleged hotbed of academic radicalism and focus of his ire. The rest of the blog reads like a sixth form rant and it’s hard to imagine how Pearson managed to obtain a degree at all. On the basis of this, I’d say he’d have been lucky to achieve a third.

Now for the comment. This one is full of the usual clichés and hackneyed phrases that we’ve come to know and love.

Jim Bilge

“Jim Blane” just vomits the words onto the page. He opens with “White middle /upper class Neo-Leftism is a racist anti-White ideology”. So we now know this person is probably a white nationalist and possibly a member of the BNP or UKIP. But what is “anti-White ideology” other than paranoid drool? Have a look at the spelling, it’s clear this person doesn’t much time for such trivial things as grammar and sentence construction. Such things are, no doubt, indicative of ‘Left-wing indoctrination’. We can’t have that.

This comment wouldn’t be complete without the obligatory “Cultural Marxist” thrown in but, in typical headbanging style, Jim Bilge crams far too many epithets into his sentences and the result is a sort of mush with long sentences like: “Most self described Lefties and most NeoCons are Cultural Marxists or have adopoted the core tenets of Cultural Marxist /Cultural Deconstructionism / Blank Slate Theory / Critical Theory and yet at the same time don’t even know what these things are”.  Get all those hatreds in Jim, time’s running out.

Critical theory offends the far-right mind because nothing should be questioned. The leader is always right. The world was created in seven days and the story of Noah’s Ark is better than any scientific analysis.  Evolution, dear friends, is a commie…no, scratch that, Cultural Marxist plot to destroy the White ‘race’. That is what passes for free speech in Toryland, a country in which people accept their place under a regime of bullies, dummies and their pals in the PR industry.

This kind of rant against “left-wing intellectuals” is typical of the anti-intellectualism of, well, right-wing dictatorships. Oddly enough, it’s also the kind of thing that’s been happening in the States for decades where students are asked to report “left-wing” academics, who are then hounded out of their jobs.

Truth? These people haven’t got a clue.

Leave a comment

Filed under Media, Telegraph Comment of the Week, Tory press