2007 - 2022

Enoch Land and the Overton Window

How do you write about what is happening in England? Sections of the country seems regularly in the grip of dark forces of racism it can barely understand or face. Yet to report or discuss this is often to provoke an uncomfortable response from others in Scotland. Asserting difference or commenting about English society is often seen as a terrible slur or an assertion of political or moral superiority. So the first thing to say is that Scotland is clearly not immune from racism, indeed it has its own unique forms (bigotry, sectarianism and anti-Irish racism amongst them). The second thing to say is that we cannot make generalisations about ‘England’ but can legitimately talk about political and social currents in parts of English society. The idea that you cannot or must not do this is itself a form of erasure. The idea that Scottish and English society comprise a sort of identical mass of political cultures is just wrong. Elements of English politics seem to have morphed and twisted in the last few years into an ugly politics that is almost unrecognisable. We need to be able to talk about this.


On Saturday, 20 November an incident took in Hastings where a group of angry fishermen blocked a lifeboat from going to sea to rescue migrants crossing the English Channel. The RNLI made a report to police following the alleged incident which took place just a week after 27 people were drowned in the channel.

The incident was reported on the LBC call-in show.

Zoe, a caller on LBC, said she and her boyfriend saw the fishermen in Hastings attempting to prevent the RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution) vessel from attending to an incident at sea.

She added that the fishermen shouted: “Don’t bring any more of those [migrants] home, we’re full up”.

Zoe said: “On Saturday my boyfriend and I were just on the beach and we heard the lifeboat station opening up and thought ‘oh they have a call’ and started watching.

“There was a group of fisherman pulled up, gutting fish on the shore, and as the boat station opened up we heard the fisherman start shouting things like ‘don’t bring any more of those home, we’re full up’, ‘that’s why we stopped our donations’, and that kind of really horrible stuff.

When LBC host James O’Brien asked her if she was “sure” about what she saw, she replied: “I’m absolutely sure, the police were called. “It really shook me to the core and we thought of it yesterday night when we saw the news that people had passed away again.”

A spokesperson for RNLI confirmed the incident had been reported to authorities, and that the lifeboat was eventually able to launch. They said: “We can confirm an incident was reported to the police. The lifeboat was able to launch and the station remains on service.”

After the RNLI’s statement, Mr O’Brien tweeted: “I had no reason to doubt my caller’s story but I didn’t want it to be true…”

I don’t want it to be true either.

This isn’t normal. As the shift of what is acceptable or thinkable behaviour shifts we need to keep dragging back, resisting this and calling this out.

Immigration and the English Channel itself have become a sort of symbolic trigger-point for England’s post-Brexit identity crisis evoking familiar memes and icons of war, history and isolationism, all carefully nurtured by the far-right inside government and out.

Euro Finals

The Casey report on the England fan disorder at Euro 2020 final is confirmation of what we saw live on the day: a very large public event dangerously out of control with thousands of very drunk and high men smashing their way through into the stadium; virulent racism raining down against their own players; assaults on children young people and disabled supporters and widespread violence and mayhem.

One ticketless fan tried to impersonate a steward and hijack a disabled child, separating the boy from his father, to trick his way into the stadium.

The Football Association-commissioned report led by Louise Casey examined the events of the day of 11 July, when thousands of people without tickets tried to storm Wembley to see England played Italy, and tens of thousands more created scenes of mayhem on Olympic Way. The review describes what unfolded as a “national shame”.

Casey said: “I am clear that the primary responsibility for what went wrong at Wembley that day lies with those who lost control of their own behaviour that day, not with anyone who did their best but lost control of the crowd” …  Nevertheless there are always lessons to be learned. No one was fully prepared for what happened that day and it can’t be allowed to happen again.”

I mean, “no-one was fully prepared for what happened” is just really strange and, given this has been going on for about forty years I see no reason why it won’t happen again (and again) cos its not really about bad stewarding.

There was criticism, too, for the UK government, who first denied requests for more fan zones to relieve crowd pressures, then insisted that the FA expand the capacity at Wembley to 67,000 to prevent tournament Uefa moving the match to Budapest, which would have been a national humiliation.

But much of the report is just procedural with criticism of stewards and policing and operational mistakes, as if this is the point, and stained with a sort of pearl-clasping shock that such a terrible thing could happen rather than observe that this was and is the inevitable conclusion of decades of English football violence across continents and the inevitable manifestation of years of political ‘leadership’ that fed and curated a daily diet of outright racism and xenophobia.

Nor is that level of normalised racism confined to the red-tops who have sent decades nurturing a blame culture that demonised people of colour, minorities, and immigrants and now obsess about borders and openly talk about “turning back” desperate refugees. Now the Overton Window has been moved and much of this narrative has spewed out onto the mainstream press agenda and broadcast news.

This unfolding degeneration of values in public life and of attitudes and views that would have been held in the margins in the past has been going on for some time. Back in 2017 Colin Kidd explored this post-Brexit moment in the London Review of Books, and its consequences for wider British politics:

“Scottish nationalism, for all its faults, has matured politically, and the SNP barely resembles the clownish, Jocks-in-the-heather party of its early days. The leaders of Scotland’s civic nationalism have learned to curb ethnic excess; instead they embrace interdependence, sovereignty-pooling and the EU. England’s reborn nationalism, by contrast, has barely emerged from its swaddling clothes. Ukippers and hard Brexit fantasists have still to learn the basic ABC of a post-sovereignty world. However, the crassness of their response to its complexities makes it all the more difficult for nationalists north of the border to present a plausible vision of their own independent future.”

He continues:

Last June’s xenophobic campaign and the Brexit vote that followed have left Scots – even the most unionist – estranged from the idea of Britain. In the months before the independence referendum of 2014, a large body of undecided Scots, while alienated from the Englishness of Toryism, the Home Counties and the City, still felt torn between a sense of solidarity with ordinary working people in the North of England and a desire to create an independent Scandinavian-style state. Some of those voters stuck with the Union; others – though still nostalgically attached to British ideals of social democracy – took a chance on independence. But Brexit, ironically, has expunged the notion that a British nation with a common set of values exists north and south of the border. England now seems foreign, a country that espouses the anti-EU and anti-immigrant values once associated with Enoch Powell. The Anglo-Scottish Union survives, for the moment, because, with oil prices low, an independent Scotland divorced from the English economy would be unable to sustain much in the way of a welfare state. Nevertheless, Britishness is shrivelling. Enoch-land repels.”

There are continuities of racism between Scotland and England, and England is in many ways a much more multi-cultural society than Scotland is. But it’s important to talk about the massive changes and shifts in public life that we are living through that have been blessed and become acceptable and that need to be resisted.

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Comments (30)

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  1. John N Hunter says:

    The Hastings incident was investigated by the local Paper and turned out to be one guy shouting as the lifeboat came out the shed and a fisherman working at a spot where he didn’t expect the lifeboat to be coming down the beach. The fisherman was upset by the tone of the person who told him to move..

    1. As Mr O’Brien tweeted: “I had no reason to doubt my caller’s story but I didn’t want it to be true…”

      The RNLI reported it to the police.

      1. John N Hunter says:

        As I find such abuse abhorent I didn’t want it to be true either. However I decided to check the facts and I found this story in the Hastings and St Leonards Observer.


        Paul Joy, chairman of the Hastings Fishermen’s Protection Society, said the abuse had nothing to do with Hastings fishermen. He said the lifeboat decided to launch on the east side of the harbour arm – rather than the west side where it normally launches – and found a fishing boat was already there. This escalated into a “row”, but he said this had nothing to do with refugees being rescued in the Channel – it was the way the lifeboat crew spoke to the fisherman involved. He said there was a lorry driver on the beach who “had words about immigrants” to the lifeboat crew, but nothing was said about refugees by the fisherman.

        “The lifeboat was going out and the fisherman was carrying his fish down behind the boat. The lifeboat was launching from the east side of the harbour, and the fisherman’s boat was on the east side of the harbour and he was already there,” Mr Joy said. “The fisherman concerned was carrying his fish down to throw back in the sea – the small, undersized stuff which you should do, and the lifeboat man shouted out, screamed at him, ‘get out the way’, and he said, ‘who are you talking to?’ and that erupted into a row. But he was on his own, and the person who was having a go was a lorry driver.”

        1. Axel P Kulit says:

          Well. Mr Joy has to believe that. It may never be clear what really happened.

        2. I don’t really know why the other eyewitnesses or the RNLI would just make this up – but even if we imagine they did – you don’t really address the mainstreaming of racism in English public life that the article talks about?

          1. David B says:

            So just to confirm, the RNLI statement said “We can confirm an incident was reported to the police. The lifeboat was able to launch and the station remains on service.” Right? That doesn’t contradict the harbour master’s account. There is another first hand account here.

            Pointing out disputed facts in a story is totally reasonable in the search for truth, and shouldn’t undermine the bigger picture of racism in English public life.

          2. David B says:

            (Sorry, not harbour master – chairman of the Hastings Fishermen’s Protection Society)

        3. J Galt says:

          John, you should never let the facts get in the way of a good narrative!

  2. Daniel Raphael says:

    Just dropping by via comment to let you know, Michael, that I continue sending along Bella’s/your excellent commentary. Please continue.

  3. BSA says:

    Scots in all contexts refer to ‘down south’ instead of England, presumably because using the ‘England’ word appears divisive, a statement from another, different, country, and because it would often imply a need to discuss England, which would be seen as ‘anti English’. There are no such inhibitions, no such cringe, operating in the other direction. It will be very difficult to shift these inhibitions before the next referendum but, as you say, we all need urgently to be talking about the English problem.

    1. Axel P Kulit says:

      I tend to refer to England as “South Britain”. It may annoy a few Englishmen but as unionists who are consistent do not believe England exists, it matches the ignoral of Scotland.

      1. Mons Meg says:

        Aye, but ‘England’ and ‘South Britain’ are different things. ‘England’ designates one of the imaginary communities that make up the larger imaginary community that is ‘the United Kingdom’. ‘South Britain’ is just a geographical expression.

    2. Mons Meg says:

      And don’t people who live down south in England refer in all contexts to ‘up north’? And does the term ‘south west’, when used by people who live up north of here to refer to my neck of the woods, express some similar kind of unionist desire to avoid division and assert solidarity?

  4. John d says:

    Enoch’s land is Scotland too.
    Like it or lump it. Still is.
    Island monkeys that show the strength of mix and ..fight the fascistic fear of different as a threat to pride in heritage.

  5. Tom Ultuous says:

    The similarity between England and Germany leading up to WWII isn’t hard to see. They even have similar clowns in charge. Rees-Mogg was made for the part.

  6. Mons Meg says:

    Apropos the problem of spin: why does this article carry a photograph of an Englishman sticking a firework up a Scotsman’s *rs*?

    1. James Mills says:

      Actually , that was a still from a Tory Party Political broadcast ! LoL !

  7. Alex Shenfield says:

    As a former Englishman (emigrated to Canada in 1956) i am incredulous at the Nazi-like bigotry that now seems rife in England. Clearly the ongoing fraud that is Brexit had given permission for antisemitic and racist behaviours, but those existed prior to Brexit, so the explanation must lie at a deeper level. At this pint I can only seek to learn the views of others; I hope that this marks the beginning of a serious conversation. Your thoughts are respectfully requested.

    1. Stephen Cowley says:

      Surely we just need to be a bit more relaxed about the ethnic component of English identity.

      Everyone knows there is an “English rose” complexion and a make-up industry that caters to it.

      And there is an “Anglo-Saxon” vulgarity that the photograph of the man’s bottom in the article above articulates to a more than adequate degree. This is part of the contrast with the “Norman” aristocracy that Walter Scott illustrate in his novel Ivanhoe.

      Any stable political identity has a similar ethnic component, to which other things can be added in moderation.

      1. Mons Meg says:

        I have a point I’d like to make with regard to your idea that ethnicity is a component of political stability, but the site won’t let me post it.

        1. Mons Meg says:

          Nope. My comment must contain language or formatting that’s unacceptable. Don’t you just hate it when that happens?

    2. Mons Meg says:

      I don’t know why you’re ‘incredulous’, Alex. Such bigotry has always been there in its ‘polite’ and ‘rude’ forms. Digital media has just made it less ‘unspoken’ than it was in the ’50s.

    3. Axel P Kulit says:

      Looking back to the 50s and 60s and even the 70s I recall racism being all around me. Even though I am white I suffered some, nothing as bad as black and brown people and more subtle – deliberately mispronouncing my name, teachers telling me my writing showed English was not my first language – I was born in the smoke. There was always some banter that crossed a line when I was at school.

      Racism began to decrease after the race relations legislature was passed in the 70s. Brexit has reversed this very rapidly

      Incidentally I recall reading that the first race ( read English white against foreign white) riots occurred around AD800

      1. Niemand says:

        Indeed. Racism was simply normal in the 50s and 60s, hardly noticed. It became more outlawed as the 70s wore on and the diehards got uglier. But the idea it was better ‘back then’ is ridiculous.

        The use by a couple of people of the word Nazi to describe the atmosphere and attitude of people in England is offensive bigotry all of its own kind. Brexit brought out some real nastiness, that sadly surprised no-one who remembers the NF in the 70s (and some of the worst culprits are actually the same people from back then, young skinheads then, old, bitter bigots now) and a few really extreme acts, but the idea that Nazi style bigotry is rife in England is total garbage and really should have no place as an idea on this blog. But it is OK, being bigoted about the English is allowed, apparently.

        1. Mons Meg says:

          Yes, but it suits some political agendas to liken the Union to being handcuffed to a lunatic. That’s why ‘the problem with the English’ is often so grossly overstated in the discourse surrounding unionism and separatism. It’s a form of catastrophising, at all of which the man o’ independent mind looks an’ laughs.

        2. Tom Ultuous says:

          On MSN comments there’s no shortage of English people likening what’s happening in England to the Nazis. Look at the comments attached to any article about refugees and you’ll see the hatred, the cheerleading when refugees die in the channel along with the long standing claims about “spongers coming here to claim benefits”. Meanwhile the Westminster govt are eating into civil rights. The latest finger lickin nausea being the power to strip anyone not born here of their citizenship. If you can’t see the similarities you must be a bit Vera Lynn (cockney rhyming slang pun intended).

          1. Niemand says:

            Right, so you take the comments section in right wing newspapers as a gauge of some 50 odd million people, ignoring everything else? Tell you what, I’ll base everything I think about the people of Scotland from now on by the comments in The Scottish Sun and Mail.

          2. Tom Ultuous says:

            For starters they’re not exclusively right wing newspapers and you’re more likely to see those types of comments attached to anti-Tory articles by The Guardian or Independent. Did I claim they were a gauge of 50 million people? I mean, approximately half were on the remain side. Do you think all Germans agreed with the Nazis? At what point would you have said the Germans became the Nazis? Would there be no signs right up until they invaded Poland?

            It all starts when the sheep start regurgitating what they think you want to hear. “Immigration”, “they get everything that’s going”, “they come here for the benefits”, etc,, etc. and it snowballs from there. Then you’ve got a govt giving them tacit approval and right-wing rags cheering them on. The EU barely gives the “UK” a second thought these days but take a look at the Express, the Sun or the Mail and you’d be forgiven for thinking that they exist solely for the purpose of making lives a misery in the “UK”. With the Tories in Downfall mode the red wall (/ face) voters are already calling for the second coming of Farage. If you can’t see the similarities with the rise of the Nazis then you truly are blin.

      2. Craig P says:

        Axel – talking of ancient race riots, a historical aside. The English had a purge of their unwelcome population of Danes in 1002, the ‘St Brices Day Massacre’. Didn’t do them much good, they subsequently ended up part of the Danish empire.

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