Enough is Enough
Another week another media stooshie – hyped and sent viral by social media. Should we participate? Are we culpable?
The woman on Question Time – (in case you missed it) – spewed forth such a barrage of confused racist ramblings that everyone shuddered. Correction – autocorrect to my Metropolitan Elite bubble – some people cheered her forthright Salt of the Earth Post Liberation honesty.
She was – it turns out Sherri Bothwell – a former NATIONAL FRONT candidate in Leyton. There’s no way Mentorn didn’t know who she was.
It was like a sort of Racist Bingo card of clichés and misinformation (“flooded” – check – “sinking” – check – weird unverifiable anecdotes – check – our education and health services are collapsing under the strain of uncontrolled immigration – check).
Her answer to these imaginary stories that had been whispered in her ear was to “close the borders completely”. This was Trumpism come to land. This was your public broadcaster giving the National Front a platform.
“We should close the borders… completely. It’s enough! We are sinking! Enough is enough” she railed incoherently.
It was like decades of bigotry and Brexit delivered as a sort of emetic.
I tweeted at the time “Enough is indeed enough. This didn’t appear out of nowhere. We are tethered to a country where this has been normalised and apologised for. This is Dystopian England” – only to be schooled on Scottish exceptionalism and reminded of our own racism, bigotry and sectarianism. Of which of course we need to hold our hands up to. This is no nirvana. Racism exists in Scotland like a stain, no doubt. And our confused pride doesn’t stand up to much examination. Nor have we had the experience of genuine multiculturalism and immigration that England has. We have no way of knowing how we would have responded under different historical conditions and under different social experiences.
All this is true. But we are not talking about hypotheticals we are watching as an individual rants on live television – under the passive gaze of the host.
We are told she represents nothing – we cannot – we should not generalise from the particular. We cannot project from the unhinged individual to the wider nation. And this is right.
But how to respond to her post-fact analysis? “68 million people live in England and it’s going up”.
We need not to map her voice against a greater England – rich and diverse and tolerant and outward looking and anti-racist – but equally we need to map where this has come from. Because, just as she doesn’t represent the whole of England, she represents a significant part, and she doesn’t exist in isolation – floating free from the world in a bubble of her own bile.
She exists – and the context in which her views have been legitimised exists – because the right and the far right have exploited ruthlessly peoples fears and vulnerability about their precarious lives, their precarious health and their precarious homes.
But it’s more than that.
She has been cultivated and curated and groomed. She is not just the product of undermined services and vulnerable social structure. She is an ideological construct by dangerous people, and we can name them and observe them over time.
It is not enough to constantly say that people have “legitimate concerns” or to explain away peoples racism. Of course there are social conditions behind Brexit and behind fear.
But I am sick of making excuses for these people.
It is just lies and gibberish and it needs to be called out, not broadcast.
As the writer Moya Lothian-McLean explained, unpicking her tirade of nonsense:
“As previously outlined, there’s no great “flood” of migrants coming into the country. It’s not even a trickle. As for her claims about migrants being unable to speak English, in 2018, Sajid Javid said that the government estimated around 770,000 people in England were unable to speak the national language. These figures were taken from data collected by the 2011 census – conducted nine years ago. The non-English speakers are disproportionately older individuals; 59 per cent of non-English speakers arrived here after the age of 50.
Meanwhile, one in three people across the globe study English as a non-native language. And people from Poland, the country with the highest rates of migration to the UK, have a 62 per cent rate of proficiency in English.”
When people repeat myths that have been cultivated in the petri-dish of toxic Brexitland they need to be challenged not patted on the back.
Other questions hang like strange fruit. Should the BBC have aired this? Should we (mea culpa) have re-broadcast this?
Zelo Street reported: “As Sam Bright of Scram News has told, “So I used to run the social media accounts of a BBC political debate programme. This post blatantly violates BBC editorial guidelines”. Do go on. “If run properly, Question Time should inform people and (in theory) contribute to healthy, democratic debate. At the minute it’s built like an entertainment programme. It’s about clipping up extreme views and getting viral hits. The BBC need to rethink”.
When someone spouts heartfelt views, they are entitled to their opinion (however repellent you might find it). This is a bedrock of free speech.
But when someone is reproducing hate-speech the issue is different.
How should we respond to deliberate disinformation and ideological attacks?
This is not context-free. She is not a Citizen of Nowhere. She is the citizen of a particular state and a particular society at a particular time.
We can and should point this out – not to celebrate some pristine Scottish purity – but to stand in solidarity with people under attack – not by this woman – but by the government she probably helped elect.
He problem is not some random on BBCQT – the problem is that she is reflecting and channelling her governments words and stories about how Great England has been brought so low by “floodings” and “sinkings”.
Boris Johnson and Priti Patel and their coterie of racists are to blame. Farage and Fox and Widdecome are to blame. Decades of accommodation and equivocation are to blame, Gordon Brown and “that bloody woman” are to blame. But also the failure to create an alternative narrative is to blame. The abject failure to refute the story that immigrants are to blame for the failure of public services is to blame, and yes, the platforming of rank racists is to blame.
We can and should carve a different narrative in Scotland, not based on our own exceptionalism (and owning our own historic and contemporary failures) but based on a new and urgent sense of solidarity as Brexit Britain slides further into the mire of racism, populism and xenophobia.