“First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.“
Crab Mentality: “if I can’t have it, neither can you.” The metaphor is derived from a pattern of behavior noted in crabs when they are trapped in a bucket. While any one crab could easily escape, its efforts will be undermined by others, ensuring the group’s collective demise. (Wikipedia)
“Now it’s up to Boris to keep his promises.” South Yorkshire voter, 13/12/19
Lie – an intentionally false statement.
“I feel like a traitor (for voting Conservative)” South Yorkshire voter 13/12/19
Last night in Britain Boris Johnson’s Conservative party resoundingly beat Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party in the General Election.
For years, since Tony Blair’s New Labour party, the difference between Conservative and Labour policy has bordered on negligible. Until Jeremy Corbyn gained the leadership in 2015 and returned the party to its (radical left wing) socialist roots. The left wing of the about party never entirely vanished, but their numbers reduced following Blair’s shift of the party to the centre left following years of getting nowhere, pursuing a decreasingly left wing agenda. At the same time, David Cameron, the then Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative party, who had initially shifted the party towards the centre right, then shifted the party very much further right in order by announcing a public referendum on membership of the EU in order to appease Conservatives who were concerned that Nigel Farage’s UKIP/Brexit party would take votes from them.
The EU referendum narrowly went in favour of leaving, leading to Cameron – who never actually wanted to leave the EU – resigning. Theresa May took over and repeatedly failed to get through a Brexit deal that was acceptable to the House of Commons due to a tiny majority in the House of Commons. She called a General Election in order to get a bigger majority and ended up with an even smaller one. Boris Johnson took over and the same thing happened to him, except this time, in his General Election, the Conservative Party has achieved a huge majority.
So, what happened, and what does it mean?
The short answer is that three things happened: Labour lost because of Brexit, because people thought the policies were too good to be true, and because they didn’t like Corbyn. Partly because he seemed a bit hippy and partly because he seemed a bit terrorist sympathisey.
The long answer is below.
The Election Campaign – overview.
In the last week of the campaign, piece of independent research was published on the BBC website.
The first result of this research was that 88% of Conservative party adverts contained either lies or misrepresentations. In comparison, 0% of Labour adverts were found to comprise lies or misrepresentations.
The second result was that the BBC’s headline didn’t draw attention to the fact that the Conservative adverts were almost entirely misleading and that the Labour adverts were entirely honest because, as you can see, the headline suggested that Labour were as bad as the Conservatives, at least in terms of lying.
Diversion – Little Gray.
I love Little Gray. He was the bass player in the last proper band I was in and he’s very funny and good company. He’s a bugger, but I quite like that too.
A few years into playing together, during a break at one rehearsal, he excitedly told us that he had a fantastic offer for us that was going to result in us all being rich. He told us about the system that involved mates putting money in and, basically watching it all roll in.
Having described it to us, I told him that I wasn’t interested and nor should he be because it was a pyramid system. A con, in short. Nobody else was interested either, but Little Gray’s perspective was that we were daft because it was money for old rope. He took out a loan of a few thousand pounds and, unsurprisingly, if disappointingly, he lost the lot.
Little Gray has what people call street smarts – to an extent – but he’s not book clever. But he’s learning and he’s learning the hard way. Little Gray used to be naive in one way and now he’s cynical.
End of Diversion.
The Election Campaign – Conservatives.
Boris Johnson’s campaign was, fundamentally, built on one issue and one issue alone: Get Brexit Done.
Johnson made public appearances in workplaces where he pretended to be a Milkman, a digger driver, a butcher, a baker – not a candlestick maker, perhaps surprisingly – and other traditional British jobs that don’t involve working in a call centre. He’d dress up in the traditional garb of each of these careers, get filmed delivering milk, driving a digger, chopping meat, and baking a pie and get filmed doing it, while saying, “Get Brexit done!”
Subliminally, what that was all about was presenting Brexit as a return to an idyllic, almost rustic, not really remembered Britain of the 1950s without any complicated ideas beyond, let’s go back to how things used to be, eh? The Good Old Days. A memory of a memory.
The Good Old Days were, in the days prior to the EU referendum, what Nigel Farage tried to evoke on his regular television appearances. And, make no mistake, that idea went down very well with large swathes of the British population. Boris Johnson’s campaign was, in short, We can all go to Farage’s Fantasy Island because the only thing stopping us is membership of the EU.
In the Brexit referendum, the big, metropolitan cities primarily voted to remain and the smaller towns voted to leave.
But it was tight. 52% voted leave, 48% voted to remain.
What that meant was that the political parties, who all want to appeal to everybody, couldn’t pin ‘leave’ or ‘remain’ to their campaigning masts without alienating about half of the country.
Except they did. Well, some of them did.
Conservatives were all about leave, Liberals were all about remain and Labour tried to be all things to all people by offering a second referendum.
I work in a part of the country that voted resoundingly to leave. I work not far from Gray’s old house in fact. As I work with children and adults from that area, I talk to these people all day, every day and most of the adults – at least – voted to leave, if they voted at all. Periodically, I’d ask them about it and the answer I got was always – always – the same: “There’s too many foreigners.”
There weren’t many foreigners in Britain in the idyllic, memory of someone’s memory from the 1950s.
I’m not suggesting that everybody who voted leave doesn’t like foreigners or is necessarily racist, but nor am I going to pretend that a significant proportion of those who voted leave didn’t do so in order to kick the foreigners out. Society’s been shifting to the right for some time and it’s partly encouraged by the reality that immigrants are largely housed on the estates where the poorest people live. The natives, if you like, don’t like hearing people talking ‘foreign‘, they don’t like ‘foreign‘ shops and they don’t like not being able to see the doctor and the reason must be because now there’s all these foreigners in the waiting room. Hence Brexit.
In addition to that, sadly, many people I speak to firmly believe that leaving the EU means that the foreigners are going to get sent back where they came from. And when they say ‘foreigners’, they include Indians, Pakistanis, Africans, etc, etc.
The people I speak to would not, and do not, identify as being racist on the grounds that they have friends of different races, which they do.
I don’t blame the working classes for reaching this conclusion, even though I don’t agree with them.
Brett, prior to this election, wasn’t getting done because MPs – from both sides of Parliament, but especially Labour – were blocking it.
The General Election results show us that traditional working class Labour seats have now gone to Conservative rule, indicating that Brexit has been a significant issue. Even if it was only that people were sick of it and just wanted it over and done with.
2. Lying and Avoiding Scrutiny.
We’ve already seen that the Conservative party’s claims in their advertisements were found to be 88% lies and Boris Johnson, if he’s known for anything, is known as someone who has a distant relationship with the truth at the best of times.
To accuse Boris Johnson of being a serial teller of untruths is to only tell half the picture. People expect politicians to lie and Boris Johnson certainly doesn’t disappoint on that score but, as the election campaign progressed, something else became clear.
During election campaigns, prospective candidates appear on television, in debates and in interviews with a hard hitting interviewer. In the past, the BBC used Jeremy Paxman to coruscate prospective Prime Ministers, now they use Andrew Neill.
And so it went, Jo Swinson of the Liberals, Nigel Farage of the Brexit Party and Jeremy Corbyn were torn to shreds for thirty minutes on live television by Andrew Neill. Boris Johnson was due to appear but, as time went on, it became apparent that he had no intention of subjecting himself and his catchphrase to scrutiny by a political journalist, even if Andrew Neill was a former colleague and not shy about admitting his Conservative beliefs.
Channel 4 held a climate leaders debate. Boris Johnson sent his Dad in his place.
Then, Good Morning Britain, ITV’s breakfast magazine programme, not the hardest hitting political forum, while following Johnson’s Milkman morning found their reporter on the receiving end of the f-bomb live on air when he asked a question. Boris Johnson then hid in a fridge until the reporter went away.
What does that mean? It means that Boris Johnson wanted to make statements that nobody was allowed to even ask him questions about. Understandable, of course, but not really what you want from a politician.
And then something interesting happened: it became clear that most people didn’t mind. They didn’t mind him lying and they didn’t really mind him refusing to be scrutinised by political journalists or even the fluffy breakfast television presenters.
3. Non P.C. statements.
“What a fantastic servant of the UK. One of the last great impregnable bastions of political incorrectness. They don’t make them like that anymore.” Boris Johnson on Prince Phillip.
Among the things that Johnson would have been asked about in interviews was his history of making politically incorrect statements about minorities.
On Muslim women.
“…absolutely ridiculous that people should choose to go around looking like letter boxes… looking like a bank robber.”
On black people.
“It is said that the Queen has come to love the Commonwealth, partly because it supplies her with regular cheering crowds of flag-wearing picaninnies… with watermelon smiles.”
On gay men.
These statements were regularly referred to and Johnson appeared to not consider them to be problematic. Evidently, nor did the majority of the British public in this last election.
Staunch left wing journalist Owen Jones and Nimko Ali were filmed in the election lead up discussing politics. Jones asked her if “Tank topped bumboys” was a homophobic statement and she said that Boris Johnson wasn’t homophobic, even though he said it.
“They can only be made to seem offensive when taken out of context.” Boris Johnson 2019.
Boris Johnson doesn’t identify as racist and he doesn’t identify as homophobic. It’s tempting to suggest that the modern attitude towards as identifying as something that you evidently are not might have been stretched to its natural breaking point. Or perhaps not…
The Election Campaign – Labour
As the referendum result had been so tight, Labour chose to not take a position which, with hindsight, was a big mistake. One of several. Half of the problem was that Labour’s traditional vote base was working class, like the place I work, the place where Little Gray lived, places that voted to leave. The other half of the problem was that Labour’s other vote base was the metropolitan cities that voted to remain. They couldn’t take either stance because either one would have alienated half of their voters.
2. Socialist Policies.
Labour’s election policies were the most radically socialist for years. Re-nationalising privatised utilities, higher taxes for the top 5% of earners, millions and millions into the NHS and education, social housing developments, planting millions of trees, a four day working week, and so on. Power to the people, basically. The issue being, as I suggested at the top of this essay, crab mentality.
These are, on the whole, extremely popular policies but, crucially, the British public view them as being unrealistically utopian. This means that Corbyn has been mocked as “Magic Grandpa” meaning, basically, he lives in la-la land and he’s much too soft to deal with reality.
Conversely, he is simultaneously and conversely also tarred with the brush of being a…
3. Terrorist Sympathiser.
Corbyn, during the course of a long political career, has taken sides with people who consider themselves oppressed. People who think of themselves as oppressed tend to, eventually, take violent action. Such groups include the IRA and Hamas. Both of which have made some extreme statements and actions against those who they feel have oppressed them. In the case of the IRA, that means the British establishment, in the case of Hamas, the establishment of Israel, who are Jewish.
Due to his association with Hamas, who want to be in control of Israel, he has been labelled an anti-semite.
It’s a complicated issue that some people like to simplify, Israel. Without going into too much depth, the issue appears to be – if you don’t agree that Israel should belong to the Jewish people (which is considered by some to be ‘Zionist’), then you’re anti-semitic. Hitler, basically. David Baddiel, British comedian and ‘Three Lions’ singer, Rachel Riley, the girl who picks the letters on Channel 4’s daytime anagram and maths quiz show Countdown take this view, as do many British Jewish people.
Not all Jewish people agree with this. David Schneider, comedic actor and Noam Chomsky, for example, have suggested that the anti-semitism campaign against Corbyn is just a community who traditionally vote Conservative wanting to smear him.
4. The Divided Labour Party.
In addition to this, Labour MPs and former leaders have been enormously critical of Jeremy Corbyn. Many of these people came to the Labour party under Tony Blair’s (largely centrist) New Labour and resent a return to the traditional Labour party values of socialism.
Before the results were called, prospective Labour MPs appeared on television stating that, on every doorstep, people everywhere said they didn’t like him. ‘Unelectable’ has followed him around like a bad smell since he was elected leader.
Not that Johnson is popular either, but in a two horse race, the overwhelming majority of people appear to prefer him to Corbyn.
The Labour party is divided and will spend the next few years deciding what it is that they stand for.
Conclusion – What happened?
Labour didn’t lose this election for one reason, they lost it for several reasons.
Labour lost because of Brexit, because people thought the policies were too good to be true, and because they didn’t like Corbyn.
Partly because Corbyn seemed a bit hippy and partly because he seemed a bit terrorist sympathisey. I’m not saying he was guilty of any of those things, but it’s an easy cartoon to draw and accept if you’re not really big on subtlety. The same went for Boris, but he seemed cuddly to your average Joe in the street. A laugh. Nothing could be further from the truth of course, but that’s the perception.
The election result is indicative of a cynical rejection of the optimistic world that Corbynism promised. People have been beaten up for too long to believe that sort of hope. A bit like rescue dogs: a sort of cowering aggression in the back of a cage they’re too frightened to step out of. Corbyn promised too much to people who have been ill treated for so long that they cannot believe that anyone could ever be kind to them without nefarious and ulterior motives. Boris Johnson might be another stick to beat them with, but at least he wont be getting their hopes up that they’ll be treated better. The best that many of these people can hope for is that he’ll treat somebody else even worse.
It’s easy to see why they see immigration as the big deal. It’s the biggest change in poor Northern towns in recent years and people don’t like change, especially when they feel they’re losing ownership of what they consider to be theirs.
Brexit shows us that society’s been shifting to the right for some time and it’s partly been encouraged by the reality that immigrants are largely housed on the estates where the poorest people live. The natives, if you like, don’t like hearing people talking ‘foreign’, they don’t like ‘foreign’ shops and they don’t like not being able to see the doctor and the reason must be because now there’s all these foreigners in the waiting room.
Rachel Riley tweeted this on the result of the election: “...the relief of a minority community who’ve been living in fear of what might be. I won’t apologise for that relief. I voted for Chuka Umunna, former Labour, who quit over antisemitism. I hope he wins. For now, we can breathe.“
Labour have been accused of living in a bubble – a metropolitan bubble in which they surround themselves with politically correct people – and have lost touch with the working classes. And they have.
However, I’m not convinced that Rachel Riley spends much of her time among the disenfranchised working classes either. If she did, I think she might have a different perspective, which is that this vote for Conservative rule among working class communities is, at least in part, a vote against minorities. I don’t think people are particularly anti-semitic – on the whole, I’m sure some people are. At least not yet. Currently, the hate is mainly against foreigners who the indigenous working class population can most easily identify – muslims, people who speak different languages and people who look obviously different.
Blonde haired, blue eyed Rachel Riley isn’t ever likely to suffer much because, to all intents and purposes, she looks and sounds pretty much like the indigenous working class population, albeit with a nicer accent. Rachel Riley doesn’t look like a ‘bankrobber‘, ‘a letterbox‘, ‘a picanniny with a watermelon smile‘, or a ‘tank topped bumboy‘.
Like Martin Niemöller’s famous poem that I quoted at the start of this essay, first they came for the socialists. Eventually they came for the Jews. In Martin Niemöller’s day, they didn’t really have Polish supermarkets or people in Islamist clothing, but I’m sure he’d have included them if there were.
Make no mistake, despite the millions of student walls that have had Martin Niemöller’s poem blu-tacked to them, that’s where we are. The mobilisation of some Jewish people (traditionally Conservative voters) who invoked the holocaust in order to smear Corbyn might not have been the best idea…
Personally, I’m of the opinion that the swing to the right in this country has been assisted by the ubiquity of mobile phones. I know, I’m an old fart who doesn’t get it. 93 million selfies are taken every day, and have been since 2014. This, to me, is indicative of a society who is increasingly absorbed by themselves and, particularly, their own image.
What’s the effect? People spend a lot of time thinking about themselves and, especially, that their superficial appearance is the most important thing.
Boris Johnson superficially appears to be fun and his campaign was all about a return to an idyllic memory of a memory about a predominantly white Britain where everybody was happy. In which the ruling class were looked up to, admired and obeyed.
The Future for Labour.
Brexit will – eventually – happen and the poorest will suffer the most. Now not an issue beyond living with it. Too late.
The next leader (Jess Phillips, Kier Starmer, someone nobody’s ever heard of, probably) will be a reaction to Corbynism and consequently, a swing to the right in Labour. Blairism will be back, even though Blair wouldn’t have won either because it would be down to Brexit and he’s a staunch remainer. New Labour mkii, basically. Blair’s New Labour will seem like Corbyn’s Marxism by the time the next manifesto’s put together in five years, although they won’t identify as such.
In the same way that Boris Johnson doesn’t identify as a liar, racist or homophobic, despite all evidence to the contrary.
In the same way that many of the British working classes don’t identify as racist, despite voting for a racist Prime Minister.
The shift to the right in Britain has done for socialism. It’s a beautiful idea but maybe it’s much too beautiful for people who have been abused and neglected for so long that they can’t hope for anything better than other people suffering the same pain.