Where are we Now?
Scotland, and its now gloriously liberated neighbour, seems like an odd place to live in this late summer. Elite rule has failed but we don’t seem to know what to replace it with. We can sneer at the Trump memes flooding our timelines, but we laugh a little more nervously as North Korea fires a missile over Hokkaido island and on the other side of the Atlantic sits a child-President, revelling in his own obscenity, relishing his own slack-jawed ignorance. The insanity of Trump’s America was summed up by Frankie Boyle a few days ago: “Imagine standing up in Arizona and talking about preserving white culture: a state so recently colonised that the dry cleaners still offer a smallpox cleansing service. White guys have only been in Arizona for 150 years – that’s not even enough time to fill a Costa loyalty card.”
But the right and the far-right don’t like being exposed as the shambolic rhetoric of the Tory Brexiteers and the dismal Trump presidency has done. We can laugh at Trump but we have our own authoritarian emboldened politicians to worry about. English Irredentism is rampant – the virus of “taking back control” and the passionate and random outbursts of nationalist fervour is everywhere latching itself to Big Ben, the Bake Off or whatever symbol of instant nostalgia it can invent with more and more desperation. English nationalism is inchoate -half-formed – par-boiled – misshapen – but it’s visible. And it’s closely tied to the far-right’s re-emergence and spasmodic outbursts against being exposed to the light of day.
Attacks on feminism are ongoing and barely deserve a mention – but the theme of an ideology-under-attack just oozes out of this re-telling of Taylor Swift’s legal victory into a Isn’t Feminism Bad attack piece in the Spectator’s bizarre Coffee House thing “Taylor Swift’s sexual assault case reveals feminism’s guilty secret”).
In The Telegraph Norman Tebbit does some neat work shifting the moral equivalence of Alt-Right and Alt-Left manufactured by whoever is operating The Donald into something fresh and new: the Left are actually the Fascists not the right (“Today as in the 1930s, real fascism comes from the Left“.) The Chingford Skinhead has form but the fantasy politics aren’t confined to unreconstructed Tory grandees.
In the Scotsman, a columnist seems to be gripped by a revived Reds under the Beds state of fear, arguing against the coming crisis of Cultural Marxism Malcolm Parkin writes:
“Social guilt is promoted, particularly by television, which has become the organ of the Left by virtue of its EU funding, and from the influence of its journalists and editors, mostly of the bien pensant and anti-British view.”
If you were unaware that the EU funded your Commie telly service, now you know. But it’s worse than that it seems that the floods in Houston are an elaborate lefty hoax:
“Schemes to disrupt and distract abound. Man-made climate change has been invented as the successor to the hole in the ozone layer and its predecessors global warming and the rising of the sea, and sold to governments and to the Greens, who have become unwitting tools of the Marxists, and taken us back to windmills and wood burning as a means of providing energy that is inadequate for industry, and a further step towards the destruction of capitalism.”
But before you get out your flint and start twirling your windmill, consider this. Trump seems like an idiot because he is an idiot and if he comes over as coarse and clumsy boasting about his wealth and schooling its because he feels the need to. Our elite don’t feel the need. We all know the schools they went to.
Stuart Patrick, Chief Executive of Glasgow Chamber of Commerce twice last month commented on the homelessness problem in ‘The Times’. In one, a news piece entitled ‘Beggars are ruining city centre shopping, says business leader’. As commentator Gerry Hassan pointed out: “Patrick was quoted and claimed that the rising number and visibility of beggars had a negative effect on businesses and was putting off shoppers.” Patrick said: ‘It is a problem if you are a retailer in a city centre outlet and you are comparing what you might get in an out-of-town shopping centre.’
Human debris is essentially how the Chief Executive of Glasgow Chamber of Commerce is framing people.
But the logic is there. If everything is sacrificed to the altar of capitalism then a logic flows from that.
The rise of the new right isn’t just finding outlets in splenetic pieces in what used to be called the broadsheets, and it’s not just contempt for the poor or wildly-unhinged denialist rhetoric that is being published. Gross inequality is hard-wired to the system. Taking a breather from panting-no-thought required ‘Business journalism’, the Herald describes Executive pay as a ‘Monument to Greed’:
“Scotland’s top chief executives are pocketing pay packets worth more than 24 times the salary of the average worker…The highest paid CEO among the 39-strong cohort was Ross McEwan of Royal Bank of Scotland, who earned £3.5 million last year despite the bank posting a loss of £7 billion. His salary is the equivalent to that banked by 152 average workers.”
Oh well that’s those pesky nationalised industries for you isn’t it?
If Trump dons a red MAG cap our leaders are draped in £1000 leather troosers or Saville Rowe chic. One’s dumb the other’s sleekit.
The contempt shown for ordinary people is the same, even if the Trump phenomena is dressed up as a Redneck Revolt.
It pours out of the Scottish Conservative Party like ooze after lancing an abscess:
Councillor Alastair Majury: “Why is the Catholic Church against birth control? Because they’ll run out of children to molest.”
Councillor Robert Davies, posting a photo of black people waiting next to a plane with the caption: “No, I am not your lunch. I am your flight attendant.”
Councillor Donald Gatt “Why do I have to pay for meals for those who chose to have them? If you can’t afford children buy Durex.”
Now we’re told that these are low-level Tory operatives, councillors from rural corners of little substance. But there’s no doubt these attitudes are reflective of the mainstream of high-command. Jacon Rees-Mogg wants to preserve white culture too. Rees-Mogg, son of William Rees-Mogg, former editor of The Times, spoke as guest of honour at the Traditional Britain’s annual black tie dinner at London’s East India Club only the other year.
The Telegraph reported: “The group is run by Gregory Lauder-Frost, a former leading light of the Conservative Monday Club and a well-known figure within the British far-Right. He previously ran the Western Goals Institute, which had links to European neo-fascist parties.
He calls for the “assisted repatriation” of ethnic minority people whose families have moved to Britain since the Second World War, as advocated in the 1970 Conservative Party manifesto. He singled out Doreen Lawrence, Baroness Lawrence, the mother of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence.
Lauder-Frost, 62, told the Daily Telegraph: “I feel this woman has done the British nation no favours whatsoever. If these people don’t like us and want to keep attacking us they should go back to their natural homelands.”
But if we can unite around a coherent response to the Conservatives, can we transcend the wider attitudes and forces they represent?
Sectarianism, racism and contempt for the poor aren’t exclusive to the Tories. They’re part of our society, nurtured and inculcated by a toxic media, shouted from the terracings and muttered by your granddad. Bigotry is basically tolerated as art of the landscape of Scottish society. Very little is done about it. A rank racism was fuel to the fire of the Brexit campaign and sells millions of papers a day, and the kind of rhetoric about ‘benefit culture’ is just normalised now.
Climate denialism is rife, as is a complete opposition to taking action to prevent or mitigate it.
Even people who acknowledge the reality will baulk at taking actions that will actually affect their own lives. The problem is always somewhere else, whether that’s laughing at Trump, projecting all evils neatly onto the Tories, or imagining that the climate crisis will impact somewhere else, or demand real change from other people, (maybe the Chinese).
The stories we’ve told ourselves aren’t true and don’t work any more. This is true globally (our lifestyle is sustainable, our economy is viable, progress is linear), and true locally (we are progressive and downtrodden, our culture is thriving and respected, our government is radical and ambitious).
Our stories of Scottish selfhood: we are romantic failures, our education is peerless, our people are bold and innovative, need updating.
Maybe we need multiple stories to replace these shibboleths? As the Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche said at the Edinburgh Festival: “When we realise that there is never a single story about any place, we regain a kind of paradise”.
Where are we now? Adrift and settling into self-satisfaction and comfort-tales.
The fantasy world of the far-right is certainly worth lampooning but it’s up to us to go beyond that and actually construct alternatives that face-up to the multiple crisis that we’ve inherited, a broken economic system, disfiguring poverty and a climate crisis that can’t be wished away.
New stories required. Storywriters can apply here.
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