Tag Archives: racism disguised as humour

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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Filed under Europe, European Union

Hatchet-job Hodges and Lynton Crosby: best of friends

This wonderful snap came my way on Twitter last Saturday. It shows Hatchet-job Hodges and Lynton “The Australian Karl Rove” Crosby embracing like the best of friends.

Hodges and Crosby1

I think this image proves just how close Johnson’s campaign was to the Tory-dominated press. Those right-wingers (and some left-wingers) who deny that the media had anything to do with Ken Livingstone’s defeat are deluding themselves.  You can’t get better evidence than this.

I heard that Crosby is being tipped to replace Hon Gid as Tory campaign manager… or that’s what some Tory backbenchers are calling for.

As for Crosby’s credentials, let’s go back to 2008. This article tells us,

Behind the casually racist turn of phrase that has seen Johnson describe black people as ‘picanninies’ lies a more consistent playing of the race card, orchestrated by his campaign strategist Lynton Crosby. Crosby was behind a 2005 Conservative Party campaign that denigrated immigrants, then asked voters ‘Are you thinking what we’re thinking?’

Thankfully, they weren’t. But this same style of ‘dog-whistle politics’ has been successful elsewhere. The trick is to speak in a code that chimes with racist assumptions, without making ostensibly racist statements. In this case, the Tories are building on a discourse established by the Evening Standard, the right-wing Daily Mail’s London stablemate, which has vilified Livingstone for lavishing money on anti-racist groups. Crosby may or may not have orchestrated these attacks, but his campaign message feeds off the racist fantasy that Ken ‘gives all the money to minorities’ just the same. And it is not just Johnson who benefits: come 1 May, there is a strong chance that the far right British National Party (BNP) could gain seats on the Greater London Authority.

If Crosby gets the job, we can expect more of this sort of thing.

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Filed under Ideologies, London, London Mayoral election 2012, Media, Tory press

Right-wing political correctness. Are Tories too sensitive?

Cllr. Peter Graham is deeply offended. Poor wee thing

The right loves to accuse the left of having no sense of humour and being “politically correct”. Yet, while they would deny it, political correctness exists on their side too.  Nationalism, ‘traditional’ family values, law and order, corporate greed, Winston Churchill’s appalling racism, William Hague’s head… make a joke about those things and the right will call for you to be hanged! Right-wing windbags routinely offend people at the drop of a hat but when the shoe is on the other foot, they squeal and squeal and squeal.

It’s pretty easy to offend right-wing sensibilities. I left the following comment  on the Shepherds Bush blog yesterday.

I couldn’t make it to the meeting but once again, I see that H&F Tories have ridden roughshod over the wishes of the residents. I wonder how much money in brown envelopes has changed hands in advance of this decision?

It’s a joke and I cite the Jeremy Clarkson ‘defence’.

A council planning committee meeting was held on Wednesday over the proposed disruption of  Hammersmith’s skyline.  The meeting was a lively one. One plan is to build a footbridge over the insanely busy A4. Fair enough, you may say. But the bridge that is being proposed will effectively wipe out a quarter of Furnival Gardens. Green spaces are in short supply in Hammersmith and the building of this bridge would be nothing short of environmental vandalism. On this particular issue, someone heckled the Tories with,

“You get an extra bung for that, do you?”

But politically correct Tory councillor and planning committee member, Peter Graham, took offence to the above heckle and my comment. Yesterday, upset and close to tears, he tweeted the following to Chris Underwood

peter_graham

@chris_underwood – of course people will disagree with vote, but blog comments about “bungs” and “brown envelopes” are absurd and offensive.

I find Harry Phibbs’ views on social housing offensive but I don’t think Cllr Graham would understand exactly how offensive his colleague really is.  I mean, after all, they sing from the same hymn sheet. BorisWatch raised exactly this point with him with this comment on Graham’s Twitter page,

BorisWatch Boris Watch

@
@peter_graham I find Harry Phibbs ‘absurd and offensive’, but that’s no reason to be all beastly, old chap @chris_underwood

Here’s what Underwood said in reply to Graham,

chris_underwood

@peter_graham yes, it is close to the line I will say something in the comments when I get in front of a computer.

Graham was still fuming,

peter_graham Peter Graham

@
@chris_underwood – the comments left go beyond suggesting a conflict of interest (legally, not the case). And we DON’T all live in Fulham!

Well where do you live Cllr. Graham? Chelsea? So this morning,

Chris Underwood said…

People – I share the view that the Council has ignored local people and should be criticised for that – but that does not excuse references to Hitler or allegations of brown envelopes – please refrain or I will need to moderate comments – and that just kills discussion.

Lets keep it above board.

The truth of the matter is that the Tories want to control discourse. If they make ‘jokes’ about minority groups as Emperor Boris has done with his “piccaninnies with watermelon smiles” comment a few years back, it’s called “having a sense of humour” and you should “lighten up” and “get a life” and stop being so “politically correct”.  I remember the 1970’s, when it was perfectly acceptable for many white people to use words like “coon”, “darkie”, “paki” and “wog” in polite discourse. I remember how women were objectified but not listened to… what am I saying? That still happens.  I thought we would have become more enlightened by now. It’s clear that we still have a long way to go when it comes to understanding the nature of power relations and how narratives are produced to keep certain groups of people in their place.  The Enlightenment was a bourgeois intellectual movement, whose ideals of liberty did not extend beyond the boundaries of their own social class.  It is these Enlightenment ideals of free speech that are always invoked in response to a complaint that is expressed by an injured minority.

Now Cllr Graham won’t admit to this, but Hammersmith & Fulham Tories look after their own narrow class interests. They do not work for all the residents of this borough and this was demonstrated by the Dear Leader’s thoughts on social housing.

King Street Developments, who are to be handed the contract to build these postmodern, anti-human monstrosities, is a partnership between Grainger and Helical Bar.  Both companies are members of the Conservative Property Forum.

By the way, Graham works for Greg Hands, the Thatcherite MP for Chelsea and Fulham.

Graham also grinned and cheered when the Irish Cultural Centre and other buildings were sold off in January.

Hands was the first Tory to defend the disgraced former Defence Secretary and fellow Thatcherite, Liam Fox.

Here’s Hands complaining about a T-shirt that he saw someone wearing at an event that Ed Miniband attended,

May we have a debate about the decorum of senior Members of the House participating in other elections? Did my right hon. Friend notice the extraordinary sight of the Leader of the Opposition appearing at a campaign rally with a Labour council candidate sporting a T-shirt in appallingly bad taste, which said:

“A generation of trade unionists will dance on Thatcher’s grave”?

I’ll be dancing on her grave too. In fact, I’m taking a week off to go on a bender when Thatcher dies. That isn’t a joke. That’s a plan.

If you’re reading this, Cllr Graham, you might consider changing your photo. It makes you look like a self-parody of a young Tory toff. That isn’t a joke. That’s an observation.

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Filed under Hammersmith & Fulham Tories, humour, Internet, Language, Media, Society & culture