Westminster Gilead

Yesterday the unelected Prime Minister told the Commons “The best way to honour Jo Cox’s memory is to the get Brexit done.” It’s such a brutally crude comment even his own sister is denouncing him today. I’d suggest that the best way to honour someone murdered by far-right extremists is to combat far-right extremism, for whom Boris Johnson has now become a totemic figure.

The Independent have reported that: “Far-right extremists are celebrating Boris Johnson’s “brilliant” comments in parliament amid mounting condemnation over his rhetoric. Britain First, Tommy Robinson and Katie Hopkins are throwing their weight behind the prime minister after he dismissed an emotional plea from a friend of the murdered MP Jo Cox as “humbug”. Their supporters have previously called for riots at demonstrations supporting Mr Johnson, amid warning that his language was “calling to” nationalists. Last week, police named far-right extremism as the fastest-growing terror threat to the UK and said groups “anywhere along the spectrum” could inspire attacks, as MPs receive “unprecedented” abuse. Robinson’s official channel on the encrypted messaging app Telegram shared a post mocking warnings that MPs were receiving death threats.”

The English Defence League founder has called on his followers to “back Boris” and characterised him as a champion “for the people” versus “traitors in parliament”, and “corrupt elite scumbags”.

The Football Lads Alliance accused “corrupt and evil” MPs of “taking orders from a foreign power” and Britain First and its former deputy leader Jayda Fransen were yesterday sharing clips of Mr Johnson’s appearance in parliament on Wednesday evening, showing him accuse Jeremy Corbyn of wanting the “entire country to be held captive in the EU”.

English nationalism is wildly out of control. But it’s been joined by a new element.

The dismissal of threats of violence to women in public life, and the dismissal of the actual murder of a sitting MP was an extraordinary moment in British political life, the braying Tory MPs celebrating their discredited post-legal leader with unrestrained hysteria.

The narcissism, sociopathy and egomania on display is spoon-fed by toxic masculinity, but it is male privilege of a particular class at a particular time.

Rebecca Solnit’s writing about Donald Trump, could easily be about Boris Johnson:

“Once upon a time, a child was born into wealth and wanted for nothing, but he was possessed by bottomless, endless, grating, grasping wanting, and wanted more, and got it, and more after that, and always more. He was a pair of ragged orange claws upon the ocean floor, forever scuttling, pinching, reaching for more, a carrion crab, a lobster and a boiling lobster pot in one, a termite, a tyrant over his own little empires. He got a boost at the beginning from the wealth handed him and then moved among grifters and mobsters who cut him slack as long as he was useful, or maybe there’s slack in arenas where people live by personal loyalty until they betray, and not by rules, and certainly not by the law or the book. He fed his appetites and exercised his license to lie, cheat, steal, and stiff working people of their wages, made messes, left them behind, grabbed more baubles, and left them in ruin.”

If Johnson and Trump’s authoritarianism skirts the law it does so from an experience of unrestrained power, a culture of hubris and exceptionalism.

Solnit explains: “We gain awareness of ourselves and others from setbacks and difficulties; we get used to a world that is not always about us; and those who do not have to cope with that are brittle, weak, unable to endure contradiction, convinced of the necessity of always having one’s own way.”

The violence of language is commonly understood by those who experience it – and railed against by those who don’t. The gammon class who mock people for being “woke” and cling to phrases like “pearl-clutching” are angry and unconscious.These are the “anti-woke” – according to Afua Hirsch: “Today, the person using the word is likely to be a rightwing culture warrior angry at a phenomenon that lives mainly in their imagination.”

This is less than a generation from those who’d bark: “its political correctness gone mad” – but they’ve been justified and apologised for by the new obsession with “freedom of expression” which has been weaponised by “libertarians” of the new right.

This is the thin-edge of a culture war, a generation war and a gender war, in which the bewildered forces of privilege attempt to re-assert their social control. It is no surprise that the target of much of this inchoate anger were women, already being harassed and threatened. Figures like Gina Miller, Greta Thunberg, Mhairi Black, Luciana Berger, Paula Sherriff, Nicola Sturgeon and Diane Abbott face extraordinary daily abuse. They all have very different politics, but they have the temerity to have a presence, to attempt to have a voice. In an increasingly patriarchal and hysterical Brexit England this is just intolerable.

Occasionally, such as the unfortunate incident at the Mansion House, actual violence spills into view, which is frowned upon. But the language of violence is now a necessity for the political forces attempting to drive through their plans to their endgame, whatever that might be.  The language of “Traitors” and “Surrender” betrays not just a nation (England) but a class and a gender that feels lost in the 21st Century. This is not just about a fictional ‘Europe’ it’s about a whole world that’s been lost.

 

Comments (12)

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  1. Daniel Raphael says:

    Did he really say “The best way to honour Jo Cox’s memory is to the get Brexit done.” That seems almost incoherent.

    Good article, though.

      1. James Robertson says:

        What he actually said was, ‘The best way to honour the memory of Jo Cox and indeed the best way to bring this country together would be I think to get Brexit done’. You’re right, Mike, it is a brutally crude comment but it’s essential that we quote it accurately because this is the kind of language that Johnson and his people are going to weaponise from now until the General Election and – whether they win or lose – well beyond it too. And by doing that, they are inciting more violence, and we need to ensure that if that happens we can quote chapter and verse as to who kicked it off.

        1. Fair enough James, will check Hansard for accuracy. Agree actual facts are essential in these times.

  2. Charles L. Gallagher says:

    Mike,

    How right you are. My old Higher Maths teacher used to say when we got some piece of Algebra, Calculus etc, “Charles you open your mouth and let your belly rumble.” Seems that says it all about Chump MkII.

    Chas G

    PS He must have got something through to me as I managed a First in Natural Philosophy, plus in my spare time I passed my Ocean Navigation Ticket at the old James Watt, Sea School in Greenock, long closed.

  3. Richard Easson says:

    If I remember . the trial of Joe Cox’s muderer was held under “terrorism” conditions, but the people who inflamed the situation with their rhetoric were never interviewed or questioned. I mean those liars of the Leave campaign. Tell me that if they had been Muslim for instance that their computers, phones and relatives would not have all been siezed . Why were Johnson, Gove and Farage (Let’s face it, no shots were fired) not pulled in ?

  4. Interpolar says:

    „The narcissism, sociopathy and egomania on display is spoon-fed by toxic masculinity, but it is male privilege of a particular class at a particular time.“

    I don‘t know whether you really have to make a gender politics issue out of this. Just a while ago Theresa May was stuck in there with rather similar attitudes, and across the channel there are the likes of Marie LePen and Alice Weidel who are in full flow.
    You underestimate the far right if you do not recognise its ability to integrate women into its front ranks.

    1. Donald McGregor says:

      I think also, that if we are (rightly) to demand respectful political language, then using ‘The gammon class’ suggests that ‘our’ disrespectful language is somehow acceptable.

      I’m more than happy to be really rude about these @rseholes in Westminster but I think we shouldn’t rudely demand less rudeness….

      1. Me Bungo Pony says:

        Good point amusingly put. Made me laugh anyway 🙂

  5. SleepingDog says:

    Afua Hirsch has often perceptive things to say, I think, but in her article’s conclusion stops short of spelling out some logical corrolaries. For example, if black people have always been offended by blackface, what have women always been offended by?

  6. florian albert says:

    ‘English nationalism is wildly out of control.’

    On the contrary, it is the dog which – so far – has not barked. The example of English nationalists given, Tommy Robinson and Jayda Fransen are evidence of its irrelevance, rather than its importance. Robinson got 2.2% of the votes in an election which is routinely used to register a protest.

    The criticism of Boris Johnson would carry more weight if there was an acceptance that immoderate language has come to dominate political discourse.
    Nothing Johnson said stands comparison with Jess Philips’ comments about wanting to stab Jeremy Corbyn. (Ironically, I like Ms Philips in many respects but it can’t be denied that her extreme language helped raise her media and public profile enormously.)
    The left in general is as fond of aggressive rhetoric as the right.

    1. Alasdair Macdonald says:

      Unusually, I find myself in agreeing with the tenor of Florian Albert’s posting.

      The scenes at Westminster earlier this week were shocking, but, while this was a particularly bad fiasco, it was not greatly different from the kinds of conduct we have been seeing and hearing from years, such as Mr Soames barking like a dog every time Tasmina Ahmed Sheikh spoke.

      About a year go I heard a rap poet present a piece, which was condemned roundly by the media (which has been as bad as and often worse than MPs in its baleful language). They were unaware that every line in the poem had been taken from remarks made by MPs, and it included Ms Phillips remark about ‘stabbing Jeremy Corbyn in the front’. The press outrage was, of course, motivated by the fact that the poet is black!

      Undoubtedly, Mr Johnson was conducting himself as he did by a conscious decision and this tone has been continued by the Tory supporting media and by other Tory MPs. The use of the term ‘surrender’ has been deliberately chose – ‘No Surrender’ having echoed down the years since 1690, and probably often sung in private by a Minister without Portfolio in the current cabinet.

      So much of the meaning of these baleful remarks depends upon the context, but given the polarising effect of the Brexit debate in the wider public, the events of this week have a far more worrying potential.

      With regard to ‘English nationalism’, I think that again Florian Albert makes a fair point, that it is a dog that, so far, has not barked. There is the xenophobic, racist, religiously motivated kind of ‘nationalism’ which has been expressed for various years by groups like the National Front, the English Defence League, etc, which have attracted minimal electoral support, although they have visited abuse and assaults on members of the public. The kind of hate speech, which has been, since the introduction of various pieces of legislation, increasingly absent from public discourse, has been emerging again and Mr Johnson’s words ‘legitimate’ it.

      However, this is the kind of ‘blood-and-soil’ nationalism which was seen in the 20s and 30s and and other times during history in all countries. There is a much more humane and decent Englishness, as there is ‘Scottishness’, Welshness, Germanness’ etc, which exemplifies decent attitudes and actions of neighbourliness, compassion, respect, but which includes a local culture and history – such as the use of Gaelic, Scots, local festivals and history, styles of music, art, drama, etc. This was what GK Chesterton meant when he wrote; “Smile at us, pay us, pass us; but do not quite forget; For we are the people of England, that never have spoken yet.” This is the large group to whom Florian Albert is alluding. From my many sojourns in England in the past 70 years, these comprise almost all of the people I have met. I suspect that they are as disgusted by the parliamentary bear pit this week as we are. They do not want to see women looking frightened and fearing for theoir own safety and for their children’s because the nasty nationalism is, amongst other things, very misogynistic and Mr Johnson’s relations with women do not seem to have been particularly respectful.

      While those of us who live in Scotland, Ireland and Wales have always had a sense of something distinct from Britishness, this has been undifferentiated and blurred in the mindsets of many in England. The governance of England is a serious absence, in the political discourse and has led to a feeling of disempowerment of very many in England and, to a fair extent, I think that the large LEAVE vote in many parts of England was an angry shout against this disempowerment and impoverisation. These are the kind of people who are beginning to acquire a sense of Englishness, which is not the jingoistic, John Bull caricature.

      There are many wonderful cultures in England. People need to be able to identify with these. As Alasdair Gray in the Scottish context, brought to our attention the phrase, “Work as if you are in the early days of a better nation”, the people of England need to be presented with a vision like that and I suspect, that contrary to Florian Albert’s verb, they will not ‘bark’ in a misanthropic way.

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