And I don’t mean the European Union. I mean the whole bloody continent (more or less). Well, let’s think. I suppose you could teach everyone Esperanto. Or pick someone everyone likes and make him Emperor of All Europe. Or reintroduce Brown Bears and Wolves everywhere so we’d all have to huddle together for safety. Or (I know! I know!) hypnotise everyone. Or you could spend three hours in makeup, perform a jaw-droppingly cheesy song called Hard Rock Hallelujah and wait for the votes to pour in. Amazing. Quite amazing.
The response, on the whole, of the mainstream press (or at least the non-Nazi press) to the swing towards the BNP in various working class suburbs last week goes like this: how can we expect working class white people to vote right? They’re pissed off. Voting for the political heirs of the scumbags who bombed their cities and slaughtered millions in Europe is a quite rational response to the treatment they’ve had at the hands of the distant, cosseted elites in Westminster and the media. So, are poor people stupid? Can they not be trusted with the vote?
The background to all this is obvious. The newspapers are full of foreign criminals (the worst kind, obviously), slit-eyed people traffickers, nasty Afghan hijackers, shifty East European migrants and other scary outsiders. Fascists are riding a wave of fear and alienation into local power. The lesson is one we’ve failed to learn before: social change, when it comes, hits working class communities hardest. These communities have no buffer, no wiggle room and nowhere to go. Prosperity, once you’ve got it, provides insulation from nasty stresses of all kinds, literally – gated communities and rural retreats – and in subtler ways – better education and more holidays.
Poor communities just have to put up with it. As for mass immigration, big populations have been moving around the planet for economic reasons for hundreds of years and the poor have always held the role of unappointed welcome committees in pressure cooker communities like the North Side of Chicago, London’s East End and the housing estates of suburban Paris.
So now unprecedented economic integration and social strife in territories not far from our own doorstep are producing a new wave of aggravation for the white working class in Britain. Kosovans, Poles, Iraqis, Kurds, Sudanese, Czechs and a dozen other nationalities are flowing into accommodation at the bottom end of the housing pyramid, making new demands on social infrastructure that’s already creaking. Resentment is building. The result is 20-odd incompetent and divisive BNP councilors nationally and an increasingly loud and unwelcoming turn-of-phrase from the communities themselves.
It looks like we can’t continue to rely on working class communities to provide integration services, to act as a kind of invisible agency, ‘processing’ incomers and absorbing the pressures produced by social inequity and rapid change as populations mix and tussle for access to resources We’re practising a kind of ‘social outsourcing’ – expecting established communities, already coping with poor housing and crappy infrastructure, to manage the assimilation of newcomers on their own. If we don’t want to see communities all over Britain go the way of Barking we need to take seriously the concerns of these hard-pressed communities and apply some resource to the problem.
But what can we actually do? This is the tricky bit because what’s pretty clear is that we can’t do the one thing the BNP and their apologists in the media would like: stop social change. We can’t switch off the flow of incomers, freeze the British economy and reverse the effects of globalisation (the fact that the BNP think we can do just that is good evidence that they are fascists and not just racists, by the way, but that’s another story). Change, for now, is a given. Population flows will continue and the obligations of wealthy states to the planet’s dispossessed cannot be significantly scaled back (try it. See where it gets you).
Our effort, in the wealthy world, (where, let’s face it, immigrants are going to continue to arrive in large numbers if we’re to remain wealthy) must go into improving the capacity of our reception communities (Barking, Keighley, Burnley and all the rest), boosting the resilience of the bottom social tier, taking working class grievances seriously and easing the pressures produced by ineluctable change. The goal must be to build social solidarity, to neutralise the embitterment and disconnection that feeds the fascists.
There’s nothing quite like The Economist. Many have tried to duplicate its authority, its prescience, its attitude but it takes a blend of uptown (that’ll be Oxbridge) haughtiness and downtown worldliness to produce writing quite so learned and quite so sarcastic at the same time. Take this week’s excellent feature about Google. No new information here but just the right synthesis of critical distance and intimate understanding to produce enlightenment – an intensely satisfying read. I’d like to claim The Economist’s unique tone of voice for Britain and it’s true that, by comparison, the American newsmags are miserable, irony-free zones, but I’m afraid this kind of provocative, highly condensed wit is rare on this side of the pond too.
Peter Day’s excellent In Business is back on Radio 4 – and, now that they’ve got a podcast, I don’t need to steal the episodes any more. The first in the new series is about Britain’s stubbornly low rate of productivity. Some fascinating and surprising conclusions… Like, for instance, one way to increase our effective productivity rate would be to fire a couple of million people to get our unemployment rate up to French and German levels. In those countries they achieve higher levels of productivity by keeping unskilled and unproductive people out of the workforce and on the dole.
Are the BNP fascists? Ordinary members and voters may not be. They may own none of the party’s deeper convictions. Ordinary Germans who voted for the National Socialists in 1932 weren’t fascists either. The BNP’s hierarchy, though, is most definitely fascist through-and-through. Griffin’s convoluted thought process (which I hesitate to characterise as an intellect) delivers slugs of quite pure Mussolini-esque fascism, as here, in a screed apparently denying BNP/Neocon affiliation:
1) We are against the war in Iraq;
2) We are against overseas military adventures generally (though sending an SAS platoon to arrest and hang Robert Mugabe, and halt the persecution and extermination of the last white Rhodesians would be the exception to prove the rule);
3) We don’t want to export our political system to the Third World;
4) We don’t believe in imposing our economic system by force;
5) We don’t believe in multi-culturalism;
6) We don’t believe in laissez-faire economics domestically;
7) We oppose international free trade;
8) We don’t believe in ‘propositional nations’;
9) We don’t seek to impose Western culture on the whole world.
Griffin’s list contains at least half a dozen intersections with almost anyone’s ‘spot a fascist’ checklist so, yes, he’s a fascist.
Some debate about whether or not the BNP are fascists. I guess a narrow definition would exclude them (but then some unhelpfully narrow definitions exclude the Nazis). I like Umberto Eco’s 1995 definition of something he calls ‘Ur-Fascism’. He provides a handy 14-point, cut-out-and keep recognition guide, including, selectively:
‘1. The first feature of Ur-Fascism is the cult of tradition…’,
‘6. Ur-Fascism derives from individual or social frustration…’,
‘7. To people who feel deprived of a clear social identity, Ur-Fascism says that their only privilege is the most common one, to be born in the same country…’,
‘8. The followers must feel humiliated by the ostentatious wealth and force of their enemies…’,
’13. Ur-Fascism must be against “rotten” parliamentary governments…’
and so on. Eco was brought up an Italian fascist (a proper fascist, I suppose). You can read the full story in the New York Review of Books here but you’ll need a subscription. Click more for Eco’s 14-point list (which constitutes about a third of the original article so I guess that counts as fair use).
What’s frustrating about Blair’s culpable ineptitude in the last fortnight or so is that it favours principally the Old Labour rump of maybe 50 bitter and increasingly vocal old-timers. Gordon Brown may be rubbing his hands in anticipation of an accelerated succession but his own room to manoeuvre will be sharply restricted if the old guard win this battle.
Their fee for Blair’s early removal will be influence over the Brown programme and ongoing input to Government policy in the next parliament and beyond. The party’s ‘grey men’ must be resisted. Old Labour, like Cameron’s ‘caring Conservatism’ has nothing to offer modern Britain.
On Saturday I nearly died (see if you can beat that with your five-aside football and your trip to Ikea and your barbecue). It was food-related, of course. I choked on a piece of French bread (unsalted butter, nice piece of ham). I immediately stopped breathing and started panicking. Breathing was off the agenda.
I stood at the sink making a noise like a distressed seal or a blocked hoover (or a fat bloke chocking on his lunch). Juliet, who thought I was joking, attempted a comedy Heimlich Manoeuvre. Pretty soon, having figured out that I was actually choking (I was going a funny colour and still making that honking noise), she attempted a real Heimlich Manoeuvre (which, funnily enough, was exactly the same as the comedy one).
She also hit me as hard as she could on the back a lot (I have bruises). It worked. I am here to testify that I have spoken while eating for the last time. Don’t try to have a conversation with me while I’m eating. Forget it. You’ll get no reply. I’m chewing.
What I found most interesting about the whole episode (afterwards, of course) was the sheer amount of thinking I was able to do while standing there going blue. I thought about dying – obviously – about leaving my family, about not really being ready to go, about being underinsured, about not wanting to die on the kitchen floor, about how much I love my wife…
I guess it’s not the information that matters, though. It’s what you do with it…
Why am I angry? Lots of reasons. One: Charles Fucking Clarke gave the fascists a dozen seats because of his complacency and his arrogance and his inability to acknowledge that the foreign prisoners issue was a powder keg. Two: Tony Fucking Blair threw away dozens (a hundred? A hundred-and-fifty?) seats because he fired Clarke after the rout and not ten days ago when doing so would have had a political impact.
Three: Tony Fucking Blair (he made the list twice) half-fired John Prescott instead of actually firing him thus, inexplicably, turning the Prescott issue from a grubby private affair (with a nasty Max Clifford dimension) into a fully-fledged political crisis (with a constitutional twist) and: Four: Tony Fucking Blair (yes, three times) demoted a successful foreign secretary for reasons so impenetrable, so tribal and so self-destructive as to utterly undermine his successor. That’s why I’m angry.
I drove, on the afternoon of yesterday’s catastrophic elections, across a large slice of North and East London, from suburban Hertfordshire to Stratford in the East End and then – via a nostalgic peep at my old flat next to the flyover (and the planned Olympic Village) in Bow – to Stoke Newington and back home again via the Holloway Road and the A1.
The city is on good form, doing that thing it does when the sunshine returns – shoving open its doors and giving the good weather a sort of tentative “don’t wind me up you slag” welcome (because, obviously, it’ll be pissing down tomorrow).
So Walthamstow and Leytonstone (those jewels of the North Circular) were looking a bit more like Sienna or Granada today: chairs propping open shop doors and streets full of crop-tops and happy slappers and graphic designers making a serious attempt to make Upper Clapton Road a bit more like The Ramblas.
The local authority elections gave the whole thing an extra buzz, of course. I passed dozens of polling stations and the heat-haze gave them all a bit of Cape Town glamour. The fact that 40% of the white folk around me had just voted for a fascist hardly troubled me at all…