Wednesday, 8 June 2016


When I were a lad, politics was easy. The working folk, by and large, voted Labour. Votes for the Tories were cast by those with pockets full of cash and heads full of the desire to hang onto that cash. A Liberal voter tended to tick a few of the following boxes: geography teacher; wearer of sandals; supper of real ale; into caravanning; beards; very concerned about local issues such as dog shit on the pavements; Methodist, Quaker or Kumbayah Anglican. Parliamentarians from these three camps had quite a lot in common, ideologically at least, with the activists and rank-and-file members of their respective parties. 

Flash forward to 2016. Here in Britain, across Europe, and in the USA we are seeing the wholesale desertion of mainstream political parties and candidates. People like me sometimes get to nod approvingly when this benefits avowedly and meaningfully left-wing organisations such as Portugal's Bloco de Esquerda, Spain's Podemos or Syriza in Greece. Sadly, though, the rapidly waning trust for established politicians and parties more often seems to be working in favour of regressive opportunists seeking to leverage the fears of those afflicted by a declining standard of living and the worst effects of technological and economic change. Hence the rise of right-wing populist, nationalist and far-right neofascist parties across Europe. Hence the steadily accelerating erosion of the gains made in preceding decades by those fighting for workers' rights, women's rights, minority rights and against the impoverishing effects of unfettered rentier capitalism. Hence, under the disingenuous guise of a putative concern for "free speech", the rolling back of language scornfully dismissed as "politically correct" by those who wish to reclaim a lost freedom to use words like nigger, kike, spic, raghead and faggot.

The last remark above paraphrases part of an excellent, terrifying article by Chris Hedges about Donald Trump and the rise of a new American fascism. A more amusing take on the attacks being sustained by advocates of kinder, less alienating language can be enjoyed by watching Stewart Lee discussing so-called political correctness. Or you could read Paul Mason's recent piece about the worst of what we encounter online, which includes this observation:
"Wherever the internet is not censored it is awash with anger, stereotypes and prejudice. Beneath that is a thick seam of the kind of material all genocides feed off: conspiracy theories and illogic. And, beyond that, you find something the far right didn’t quite achieve in the 1930s: a culture that sees offensive speech as a source of amusement and the ability to publish racist insults as a human right."
I would personally be less concerned about this kind of discourse if the sadistic, psychopathic, Machiavellian, narcissistic people engaging in it were only marginalised, socially awkward types expressing their helpless rage from the box rooms of their parents' houses. Obvious billy-no-mates types such as Joshua Bonehill-Paine and David Child are capable of doing some harm, but only on a pretty limited basis. 

But it's more mainstream than that. Well-known people making a living (sometimes a very good one) from using spitefully provocative language for dark purposes include Katie Hopkins, Nigel Farage, Paul Staines, Toby Young, Milo Yiannopoulos and Rod Liddle.

One thing all of these characters have in common is the adoption of a pose whereby they claim that their own words embody common sense or straight talking or telling it like it is. They purport to be brave enough to be articulating what everyone else is thinking but is too scared to say out loud. Being so courageous and being possessed of strong convictions they will not flinch from the rough and tumble of very robust debate. They don't get offended because taking offence is a cowardly act associated with leftie bed wetters and hand-wringing social justice warriors. They scorn the brittle, humourless defensiveness of the left. They can take a joke, giving as good as they get. Or can they? In my experience this is really not the case. By way of evidence, I can cite the list of Twitter account holders by whom this is my england is blockedAlongside the even more obviously obnoxious likes of Nick Griffin, George Galloway and Max Keiser, my roll of honour includes a couple of the supposed free speech enthusiasts named above. 

Getting blocked by Toby Young and Paul Staines can possibly be achieved through the use of foul, abusive language. But in my case, Messrs. Young and Staines decided to deny me the dubious honour of further interaction just because they prefer not to read dissenting reactions to their deliberately provocative statements online. It seems that these guys take offence pretty easily. It seems they can't take a joke. All at the same time as characterising those on the left as po-faced and prone to taking offence.  

Much the same, it seems, can be said of Breitbart's UK editor, the extraordinarily weird Raheem Kassam. Despite (or perhaps as a reaction to) being the grandson of Muslim immigrants from India, Kassam regularly uses Twitter to rail against Muslims and immigrants. 

The exchange which led to Kassam blocking this is my england on Twitter a little while ago does indeed seem to indicate that he can't take a joke and that he's extremely thin-skinned. The opening gambit of this exchange consisted of the Breitbart man tweeting a picture of a jeweller's shop on the Edgware Road, accompanied by the remark "This is London... apparently." He seemed to be taking issue with the presence of a business whose fascia included Arabic script. So, in wag and funster mode, I decided to respond with pictures of other businesses representing foreign influences on the look and feel of the great British high street. For this, I was blocked. These free-speech-loving, lefty-bedwetter-mocking types: so humourless, so tetchy.

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