Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Fighting the conservative within, fighting the conservatives without

Some years back - I forget precisely which year it was now, the mid-2000s all merge into each other - I destroyed a certain number of CDs and books in my posession.  Now I'm no great admirer of most of the material I wanted rid of, but I still think it was a deeply regressive, backward, insular and wrong-headed act to destroy it.  This is partially because I now think it's immensely important to keep some representation of everything you've ever liked or believed, every phase you've ever been through, every ideology you've ever touched, and partially because at least some of the CDs were - for all their often questionable merits - representative of the world which the Right fear most viciously and vociferously (and at least one of them also stands as a foundation stone for much that I listen to now).  I may have tried to dress it up in all kinds of portentous clothing - the music represented selfishness, the antithesis of socialism and even social democracy, arrogance, a warlike mentality, the oppressed fighting each other rather than their oppressors - but deep inside, I have a terrible fear now, what motivated me was pure conservatism, a base-level revulsion at the cultural shift these people's very existence represents.  And the knowledge that I destroyed these things now fills me with the deepest shame, and may have helped me on the road back.

For there is a conservative hidden within me, and the desire to fight it runs in parallel with my desire to destroy similar forces without.  And that desire is the reason why I did not listen to a pre-recorded freestyle (but of course) on Cameo's 1Xtra show this evening.  I simply could not stand being reminded of the way the petty-minded bigotry of a certain part of British culture and society, a part which I was once willing to sup with, even make allegiances of convenience with, has been imposed on the tastes of a quite different part of British society and on stations which no non-specialists would ever touch, has been allowed to overpower the basic cultural principle of laissez-faire (which I only now truly believe in - I will not start on the implications of at least some of those petty-minded bigots' hypocritical support, still dragged on through its ashes, for the economic version of that idea).  I did not want to think of the way they not only attempt to impose ridiculous criteria on every single thing the BBC does (as if there was still "one" nation, one broadcasting audience, which there wasn't even when the pretence that there was was at its height) but are - in several cases - taking such a stance as a cover for a quite different, even more unsettling ideology (to bring in the obligatory Hitchens Minor reference, I suspect that an Anglo-paleoconservative such as PH genuinely does believe that there should be a BBC, he's just too naive and stupid to see that imposing the criteria on the BBC which he dreams of would be the surest way of destroying it).

At least The Sun is honest enough to come out openly against any public service broadcasting, a position it knows will not offend its younger, less literal-conservative readership.  The Mail, Times and Telegraph, read as they are by significant numbers of older BBC loyalists, cannot take the same stance, so they have to be nastily twisted and roundabout in their reasoning: their current great scheme is, I think, to cow the BBC into such submission that it becomes simply a public service broadcaster for the public of 50 years ago (what Mail readers in particular wrongly think both their paper and the Tory party want), to the point where everyone younger and/or freer of thought simply goes elsewhere - in the case of grime to pirates in London, to the internet elsewhere - at which point they can say that the BBC no longer has universal appeal, so a universal licence fee is no longer justifiable, so ... and then, too late, the readers of the more literal-conservative right-wing papers will discover that they have also lost the programmes they like, that their "friends" were disguised enemies.  During the Brand/Ross witchhunt, an entire cultural world was led - as we have rarely seen before in this country - into believing that those who also want to take away their personal preferences wanted to defend them.

(incidentally, re. my comments in that post, I am still no personal fan of either Brand or Ross - but this is a wider issue, and the naivety of David "my grandfather wouldn't even have a Freeview box in his house because you could potentially get porn on it, even if it wasn't free-to-air" Lindsay over this issue pretty much forced me away from his blog and from the wider romantic / trad-left-meets-trad-right / ostentatiously pre-pop view of Britain, probably the right decision on my part.  I also think, in another comment there a couple of days earlier, I should have been much harder on Quentin Letts.  But these are the lessons you learn: there are friends I have lost - through my own mid-2000s ideological fanaticism and desperation for absolute, unattainable, risible levels of emotionless human perfection, mainly - who I genuinely miss, but people like Lindsay are fundamentally anti-me, although for too long my conservative streak was strong enough that I could believe they weren't.)

But I have this profound fear that, far from being a short-term ideological diversion to "get that n***** off the front page" (although even that is before one even begins to discuss the irony of Andrew Sachs' background, and the fact that, had the British government always been in hock to the Mail, he might well simply have been another of the "six million screaming souls"), the Brand/Ross episode was merely the first battle / blow of a political era that hasn't even really begun yet (why else would I still be writing about it, half a year on?).  The Tories of the 1980s and 1990s, having been raised largely in the era of monopoly or at least duopoly broadcasting, had an instinctive emotional attachment to the BBC which, when it came down to it, ultimately overpowered their antipathy either to its supposed leftism, its overt populism, or both.  The new lot - Murdoch's children, every one of them - don't even have that.  No doubt Ann Widdecombe does actually want the BBC the Mail's readers think the Tory party want.  But she has no power, and never will again.  Those who actually do have power in the party don't want the BBC to exist at all.  The worst is yet to come, I fear.


  1. Yes, whilst the Ross-Brand 'skit' was unfunny, and clearly representing a lack of imagination on the said broadcasters' part, to exrapolate from the affair the idea that the BBC should be neutered is wrong-headed in the extreme.

    Inane crudities expressed regarding a (palpably grown) gothic burlesque star who can clearly defend herself against puerile jibes... hardly the stuff to warrant censorship, but then hasn't that been the conservative persepective on everything from "Lady Chatterly's Lover" to "Brimstone and Treacle" to hip-hop lyrics, per se? Some of the idiot 'commentators' from the tabloid press were portraying Ms. Baillie as akin to a Blytonian child, a paragon of virtue representative of some lost Britain. The absurd cult of innocence and victimhood permeates...

  2. Indeed so. And the fact that the climate has *also* prevented live grime freestyles etc. confirms my view that this has never been principally about the two men it is theoretically about (but then moral panics never are). The irony of it all is that Brand was clearly put on at 9pm on Saturdays because the BBC knows that a percentage of the Radio 1 audience will never want to listen to hip-hop, and his show was cleverly timed to keep those people (Moyles fans, basically) in the BBC fold (about 1996, before he joined Radio 1, Capital put Moyles up against Westwood for the same reason - to get the Cast/Sleeper audience, as it was then). So *in and of himself*, had the Mail never stirred anything and he was still there, Brand would be if anything an anti-hip-hop and anti-grime figure, a rather tedious attention-seeker and symptom of a British malaise (which is all he or Ross, the latter also tainted by the now absurdly nostalgised era when he first came to fame, were to me before the last week of October '08) liked by those who won't go any deeper than establishmentised rock. But now Brand has been used and has become a cipher in the British culture wars to such an extent that it is hard to imagine him restarting his career quite as what he was before, everything is different.

    The fact of the matter is that it is quite impossible to serve the same "public" at every moment of every broadcast, something the BBC implicitly admitted when it introduced 1Xtra (a station that would never be listened to even by Brand's *fans*, for heaven's sake, let alone by those who complained on the false assumption that they were being led by their true allies). "Standards" *have* to be different for different audiences, otherwise - as I said to David Lindsay - the BBC would have ceased to exist by about 1980 (actually, I see now that a bigger reason why it did not significantly decline in the 1960s/1970s was the post-war consensus and the general climate of disapproval of buccaneering capitalist ventures such as the offshore radio stations, but I was posting off the cuff back then). The problem is that the inveterate distrust of the multiple tribes in British life for each other, and the resulting intolerance among the various tribes of programmes not aimed at themselves, are so deep and profound that - even if the pressure of the Right in all its forms was less strong - the BBC would still find that very difficult. The hypocrisy and humbug of the Mail axis makes it a near-impossibility.