Friday, 20 September 2013

Of Sluts, and Strikes, Or, Forward to 1912!

One of the interesting things about postmodernism is that with language and meaning sundered, anyone can appropriate it for their own purposes. 

Take this clip of Godfrey Bloom, Member of the European Parliament and former habitué of Hong Kong brothels, berating – and hitting – journalist Michael Crick for his supposed 'disgraceful' racism, after the Channel 4 hack pointed out that UKIP's conference material didn't stretch to a single non-Caucasian face.

This is the Godfrey Bloom whom this morning described women in politics as 'sluts' and referred to Africa as, well, see for yourself:

Somewhat unfashionably, I'm quite a supporter of 'political correctness', or to put it more simply, politeness. Anyone with a serious argument to make doesn't need to reach for personal, racial or sexual comments to further said argument. Bloom's dyspeptic accusation of racism is laughable on one level, but also dangerous: it's a deliberate attempt to render the term meaningless so that it can't be used against him and people like him when they say racist things.

Perhaps UKIP couldn't find a single black person for their publicity because they don't have any black candidates or even members. In a sense, their brochure may be honest at a deeper level: where other parties (and even some advertisers) feature people from ethnic minorities to look inclusive and progressive, UKIP is clear: they just don't want black people in their party. The leadership might not say so out loud, but the membership speaks volumes. They see all black people as foreigners and would happily see them deported. 

It's easy to dismiss UKIP as the latest manifestation of red-faced blustering Tory golf-club bar bores calling for 'a small libation for my good lady wife' and dreaming of bringing back the birch. For good reason: that's what they are. But they're far more important than that. The UK has a shrill, rightwing media which concertedly plays on the prejudice of bourgeois reactionaries while tacitly encouraging the dominance of another group of rightwingers, the financial engineers. The little-Englanders attract votes for neoliberal parties through dog-whistle politics while the parties they elect get on with cutting wages, axing pensions, privatising hospitals, denying climate science and removing workers' protection. On some of these things, the UKIP voters agree with the money-men; on others, they just don't care. Currently, the rightwing newspapers loathe the Coalition government and use UKIP to drag the Tories further to the right, economically and socially. This contradiction in the strands of conservatism is encapsulated in Nigel Farage: while he talks endlessly about the conservative culture wars (hating political correctness, the little man being crushed by Brussels etc etc), he made millions in the City, exactly the kind of 'socially useless' gambling which erodes the supposedly 'English' or 'British' values many of his members purport to endorse. Given the opportunity, he would privatise everything in sight, yet his members are staunchly against the free-market free-for-all for which their monetarist cousins yearn. Farage wants a low-wage economy in which shareholders take what the workers should be paid: whatever he says in public, he knows that a globalised, mobile proletariat is key to maintaining this capitalist Utopia. Truly, being a conservative politician is to ride two horses straining to gallop in different directions. 

Giving UKIP the oxygen of publicity makes them seem important, provoking the Tory Party to chase their votes by shaping an even more reactionary agenda. We all know UKIP's leadership are bluff 'common sense' buffoons who'd steer the country into a ditch on their first day in office, or liek Farage, appear to be bluff common sense buffoons while actually pursuing a private agenda inimical to their own voters. But they're important because they're being given the opportunity to make the political running, despite their minimal size and lack of elected representatives. We're being dragged to the hard right. 

The Tories have accepted this drift from respectable conservatism to fringe lunacy as the price of power, becoming a Tea Party in tailored suits. So much, we'd expect: the Tories value political survival way above principle or ideology. But Labour should be ashamed. Ever since the dark days of Blair, the Oxford-Party HQ-SpAd-Safe Seat brigade who run the party have assumed that the working class is made up of thuggish racists. Needless to say, virtually none of these Bright Young Things have ever worked for a living, originated in the working class or lived amongst them. But they've read about them, and they know that White Van Man reads The Sun and hates Gypsies, women, foreigners and 'poofs' (his boss reads the Mail and expresses his identical prejudices in politer language). 

Rather than assume that a misinformed population has better instincts which can be awakened by discussion, education and reason, New Labour decided that it would be easier to pander to these prejudices, hence the vile race-baiting perpetuated by Labour ministers like Reid, Blunkett and Woolas, the immigration minister who claimed that 'illegal immigrants' and al-Qaeda wanted the Lib Dems to win in his constituency:

So what we now have is a political system in which all the major parties have decided that a) the voters are vile scum and b) their perceived prejudices should be adopted as party policy. UKIP is merely the latest boogie-man used by Murdoch et al. to make potential governing parties stay at heel. 

I'd like the Labour Party, at least, to return to the 1930s. Back then, it was forced by the Independent Labour Party and the Communist Party to remain agile, radical and close to the electorate without adopting the darker impulses of the populus. It had confidence in the people's intelligence and goodwill. Now, we have parties which fear and resent the population, a political class which wants to be left to get on with things unhindered by the mere citizenry. One section of the left was Syndicalist. Their vision of the future was workers' co-operatives running each industry and negotiating with other industries to the people's mutual benefit, without government. You may or may not see this as a good idea, but the Syndicalists had a very keen eye for the pitfalls of representative politics such as the UK adopted. Here's what the 1912 South Wales Miners' pamphlet The Miners' Next Step has to say about political and trade union leaders' inherent conservatism:

In the main, and on things that matter, the Executive have the supreme power. The workmen for a time look up to these men and when things are going well they idolise them. The employers respect them. Why? Because they have the men - the real power - in the hollow of their hands. They, the leaders, become "gentlemen," they become M.P.'s and have considerable social prestige because of this power. Now when any man or men assume power of this description, we have a right to ask them to be infallible. That is the penalty, a just one too, of autocracy. When things go wrong, and we have shown that they have gone wrong, they deserve to be, and are blamed. What really is blameworthy, is the conciliation policy which demands leaders of this description.

For a moment let us look at this question from the leaders' standpoint. First, they are "trade unionists by trade" and their profession demands certain privileges. The greatest of all these are plenary powers. Now, every inroad the rank and file make on this privilege lessens the power and prestige of the leader. Can we wonder then that leaders are averse to change? Can we wonder that they try and prevent progress? Progress may arrive at such a point that they would not be able to retain their "jobs," or their "jobs" would become so unimportant that from their point of view, they would not be worth retaining.

The leader then has an interest - a vested interest - in stopping progress. They have therefore in some things an antagonism of interests with the rank and file.
The ordinary people, they say, are reduced to the status of fans at a football match: while they might have picked the team, they no longer have any say in how play is organised. For the Syndicalists, betrayal was inevitable. The leaders would go to London, sit in negotiating rooms with the opposition, visit their tailors, drink their whisky, pick up their discourse and before long, those outside would find it hard – to nick Orwell – to tell the difference between the pigs and the men. 

Reading today's revelations about New Labour's infighting in the dying days of the Blair regime, it's depressing to note that neither Blair's nor Brown's minions give a moment's thought to political principle, to the hopes and dreams of their party members or the people they're elected to govern. The people are an inconvenient embarrassment, carping and jeering while their leaders try to look dignified in the offices of The Sun or Goldman Sachs. Again, those miners knew what they were talking about in 1912: the leader

sees no need for any high level of intelligence in the rank and file, except to applaud his actions. Indeed such intelligence from his point of view, by breeding criticism and opposition, is an obstacle and causes confusion. His motto is, "Men, be loyal to your leaders."
In order to be effective, the leader must keep the men in order, or he forfeits the respect of the employers and "the public," and thus becomes ineffective as a leader.
Paid-up members of what Sampson called 'the political class', this is politics reduced to a game of who's up and who's down, who's in and who's out. That lives, communities and futures depended on how they behaved appears not to have occurred to Blair, Brown, the Blairites and the Brownites. Bereft of any political principle, they'd read Francis Fukuyama's The End of History and agreed that ideological differences were dead: we were all free market capitalists now (a weak argument demolished along with the Twin Towers) and all that remained was to bicker over who would referee the bunfight. As usual, the Tories were hatefully honest: they never believed that the war was over. Not until the last worker is reduced to peon status, the last job exported to some North Korean slave factory will they declare victory over us. There's no humbug in the Tory wing of the Capitalist Party, unlike the Lib Dems or Labour: they hate and fear us and aren't afraid to say so, sure that false consciousness will deliver them enough votes to be in with a shot of power at each election.

Ed Miliband shows signs of understanding this, but there's little hope of success without as much pressure from the left as there is from the right and the media conglomerates who serve as the PR wing of Big Money. Which brings us back to dear old Godfrey, Boris and Co. They're the jesters of Big Money. They raise a stunned gape at their knowing use of language and ideas previously thought beyond the pale. Like comedians relying on rape jokes, the shock diminishes but the ideas permeate into polite society, disguised as 'speaking your mind' or 'common sense'. Exaggerated by an echo-chamber media pursuing other private interests, their plain-speaking is seen as attractive to the serious politicians and we're dragged, one gaffe at a time, into a smaller, meaner, less hospitable, more suspicious condition. 

Other than that, I'm quite relaxed at the moment. Looking forward to teaching next week. Toodle-pip!

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