Saturday, December 16, 2006

I say what it occurs to me to say

Andrew, I've noticed that in the last few months you seem to have increasingly devoted your weblog to the sillier rantings of your country's right. Given, though, that the utter lack of chance that there will be a Conservative government in the near future renders these folks ineffectual buffoons, why bother? It merely raises your blood pressure.

Andrew Reeves

As a matter of fact, I would welcome the replacement of the Blairite junta by a genuinely Conservative government. (That is: I would prefer a Socialist government to a Conservative government; but I would prefer a Conservative government to a Blairite one. But neither Socialism nor Conservatism are on offer at the moment.) That said, I happen to believe that after a six-month interregnum under Gordon Brown, David Cameron will get his statutory three terms in Number Ten. Since Thatcher, we have had a Presidential system in all but name, and I don't believe that The People will elect a dour, clever, dull Scotsman as President when there is a photogenic young blair-lite toff on offer.

You assume that the right-wing press won't have any influence unless and until Cameron becomes Prime Minister. This assumes that New Labour is on the political left. And it assumes that the tabloids don't have any influence until 'their' party gets back into power. I don't think this is true. And incidentally, the Sun has said 'Vote Labour' at the last three elections.

There were four pundits on last week's Any Questions (a political talk show on BBC Radio 4.) They included the sensible ex-Tory minister Ken Clarke and the surprisingly coherent evangelical Anne Atkins. All four took it for granted that 'councils' were trying to stamp out Christmas, that it was jolly silly of them and they should jolly well stop it.

The next Prime Minister Gordon Brown made a speech in which he said:

Just this evening, I was told that some Sure Start centres are being urged this year to call their children's Christmas parties 'winter celebrations'. The fact is children of all faiths all over Britain will be looking forward to Christmas in a few weeks time, and it is right that they can celebrate Christmas.

Gordon appears to be working on the old-fashioned (pre-2005) theory that 'Christmas' is a secular festival, one that all British people should join in, and you shouldn't really try to bring God in to it. At least, I assume that's what he means: surely his mad plans for a national holiday called Britishness Day and everyone putting Union Jacks on their lawn doesn't include the idea that 'children of all faiths' should be forced to participate in specifically Christian ceremonies? But he as made a conscious decision to associate himself with the 'Christmas is canceled' mythology, knowing perfectly well how the tabloids will report it.

Gordon doesn't commit himself to saying that Sure Start Centers (or nursery schools, as they used to be called, are replacing Christmas parties with Winter parties; he only says that he has 'heard' that person or persons unknown are "urging" them to do so. This just as well: the Sure Start website contains no references to a Winter Party or Winter Celebration. The Warrington branch is holding a Christmas Card competition, though.

Minister for Veils, Jack Straw used his column in his local newspaper to say:

If I may speak on Gabriel's behalf, I'm very clear on his view for 2006. Put the tinsel in the office. Celebrate Christmas publicly and Muslim and Jewish festivals too, and those of other faiths as well. Jesus was a prophet for all of us.

Lets pass over the question of whether Muslims would be comfortable with singing 'veiled in flesh the godhead see' and 'our god contracted to a span incomprehensibly made man' or whether Christians would necessarily agree that 'Jesus was a prophet'. I actually prefer Straw's ham-fisted syncretic Christmas to Brown's secular one. I only want to note that Straw has uncritically accepted the lie that there is a movement on to stop us putting up Christmas decorations, and the even bigger lie that this is 'so as not to offend non-Christians' (i.e Muslims).

The 'tinsel' bit is particularly good value. It has been pointed out that hanging tinsel around computer monitors is a really bad idea, because it could easily cause a fire. The Mail and the Express, have, as we've seen, adopted the tactic of treating every 'health and safety' rule as an instance of 'political correctness'. Straw appears to have been fooled by this trick, and accepted uncritically that we've been banned from putting tinsel in our offices because it might offend Muslims. The Express and the Mail have dictated the terms in which he thinks: he's been sucked into Express-land without even noticing it.

The normally sane Archbishop of York preached a harmless little sermon about how in very real sense we shouldn't be like the innkeeper who said that there was no room at the inn but that in a very real sense we should all as it were invite Jesus into our hearts and our lives blah-de-blah-de-blah. Doubtless all very true and the sort of thing that any Vicar might have said at any time in the last hundred years. However this year the Bish is not saying that all the hustle and bustle of Christmas might, in a very real sense, make some of us forget what is, in a very real sense, the meaning of Christmas. This year, secularization is part of a plot. We Christians are being prevented from celebrating Christmas by people who think that 'a Christian festival is offending other faiths'. He doesn't blame the Political Correctness Brigade or the Muslim Hoard; and (for some reason) he doesn't mention whether he thinks it is particularly bad to ban Christmas from white areas. His preferred bogeymen are 'illiberal atheists and aggressive secularists.' (Has Richard Dawkins made an ex-cathedra statement about tinsel? I thought he was okay with residual religious traditions provided you didn't actually believe in them.) Yet these illiberal atheists and aggressive secularists seem to be doing very much the same things as the PCB: the statement begins:

'Responding to media enquiries over the banning of Christmas celebrations in workplaces, nativity plays which no longer include Jesus and playgroup 'winter festival' parties where Christmas has been removed, the Archbishop issued the following statement...'

So even Most Revd and Rt Hon Dr Sentamu has been dragged into the fantasy world of Daily Expressland.

Last but not least Tony Blair himself made his incoherent 'integration' speech. I have to say that I don't actually know what he was talking about: I cannot translate phrases like 'The right to be different. The duty to integrate. That is what being British means.' with any confidence.

(If he thinks that 'the right to be different' defines being British in the way that liking cheese defines being French and taking your clothes off defines being Greek, then I would say that he is simply wrong. I think the British have always had a rather endearing low-level stay-at-home xenophobia. I can remember when using garlic in cooking was thought to be dangerously European. Are we really better at dealing with people who are 'different' than, say, the United States? But I think that the whole idea of defining 'Britishness' is dangerous nonsense. 'My parents were British'; 'I have a British passport'; 'The immigration office granted me British citizenship'. That is what Britishness means. That's all Britishness can ever mean. That's all Britishness should ever mean. )

Blair concludes:

Our tolerance is part of what makes Britain, Britain. So conform to it; or don't come here. We don't want the hate-mongers, whatever their race, religion or creed.

But Tony, Tony, Tony. The July 7th bombers didn't come here from anywhere; they were British. The Admiral Duncan nail bomber didn't come here from anywhere: he was British, and, in some perverted way, even Christian. The Tory councilor who wrote 'me have hobby, it called breeding' didn't come here from anywhere (except possibly cloud-cuckoo land) she was British. And the millions of Sun readers and Mail readers and hundreds of thousands of Express readers who salivate over 'All terrorists are scrounging asylum seekers' and 'Migrants taught how to scrounge' they are British, British, British. The London bombers were British people with dark skins. Harold Shipman was a British person with a beard. They didn't cease to be British when they became murderers; they simply became British criminals. Yet Blair slips imperceptibly into saying that the forces of Intolerance are aliens which came to England from Outside and can be sent back there.

Tony Blair is not a xenophobe. But the Mail, the Express, and the Sun control the political agenda to such an extent that he slips into their way of thinking without noticing it. Or else he pretends to be a xenophobe to get positive coverage in those papers. The fantasy world of the British media is not something which may have an influence if the Continuity Conservative Party ever get back into power. It is causing the political class to inhabit a fantasy world, here and now.


Eric Spratling said...

Truly, as I've said before: your continued campaign against the "Daily Express" have struck me, as an American, to be comparable to actions of a respected scientist or some such giving a weekly & thorough debunking of the "National Enquirer" or any of the like. "So as you can see here, I have thoroughly discredited the very concept of some sort of alligator-human hybrid existing, as well as the claim that such a creature could be participating in a double-act with the assuredly-deceased Elvis Presley!" Well, yes, you're correct... but don't you have better things to tackle with your free time, Professor Hawking?

I don't pretend to know very much at all about British politics, though, so when you say that these transparently idiotic malcontents at the Daily Whosit really have some sort of serious power in the UK, not only will I take your word for it, but I'll also dutifully file it away so I can relish in it the next time some Europhile tells me how "backwards" U.S. politics are compared to our big brothers across the ocean.

Ryethorpe said...

Fair enough, but there should be some middle ground between xenophobia and xenophilia - maybe xenonotquitesureia or something slicker derived from ancient greek.

James said...

the next time some Europhile tells me how "backwards" U.S. politics are compared to our big brothers across the ocean.

This habit is known as "Englishman on the Internet Syndrome." When talking to Americans, English bloggers or forum posters tend to remember their native land as a gentle world of Radio 4 and BBC News, where the quiet strains of Prime Minister's question time waft past families enjoying the (perfectly real) art and culture. Bring up the Sun, and they will respond with words to the effect of "Oh, well, that's just most people."

Mind you, the Express is an odd target. The others are probably more influential.

I. Dall said...

That was... disturbing. Things are actually getting worse.

Being critical of influental media is, in fact, worthy of genius.