Friday, 13 November 2009

Never forget

that the old Daily Herald was the authentic voice of a particular way of existence, overwhelmingly shaped by collective endeavour and determination to create a more equable society (and let us not forget Dennis Potter's early involvement), and that the original Sun carved out of its remnants was, like Wilson's government itself, a tantalising attempt to bring the whole concept forward into the age that never truly was, the popular daily of a better world.

Exactly 40 years have passed since Rupert Murdoch acquired the latter paper. Today's Pick of the Pops - even if Dale doesn't play "Oh Well", perhaps the greatest single ever made that could reasonably be defined as rock music, right to the bitter end, as Peter Green returns to the forest, retreats from the world that made him and that he already knows is turning sufficiently that it would destroy him - will undoubtedly be a lacerating experience, so much so that I'm actually scared to listen to it. Because everything, in terms of equality and public stake in society, was steadily getting better until then. At that precise moment, the seed was planted for the passive-aggressive, narcissistic mess of reheated prejudice and market brutalism we live in today. A passing of ownership that went almost unnoticed was the beginning of the end for Butskellism and the start of the breakup of British public life and the descent of the working class into pathetic safe tribal wars: at that moment, those who had learnt over decades to work together began to be taught to hate each other, because Murdoch knew that a collective spirit, if not broken, would make it forever impossible for people such as him to restructure society as they intended. Within the middle class, the seed was sown for the world of unashamed knowledge and education for its own sake to also slowly die, though that would take another twelve years to really take effect - it was still hanging on when the working class had already been smashed, and I just about managed to catch its end, those Saturday mornings at the Royal Festival Hall, but the point is that had Murdoch not destroyed working-class solidarity first, he'd never have had the economic or cultural base to effectively do the same to the middle class in February 1981, in an act which some misguided Marxists thought even as late as that would be the last step before they took over.

This is, within the British cultural context and to some extent beyond it, at least as important an anniversary than the one recently marked in Berlin. Everything that is depressing and self-perpetuating about our present society, everything that alienates us from our neighbours and true allies, has its roots in that moment. I am not a reactionary. Sometimes the truest form of radicalism, and belief in some kind of positive future, is to condemn the false consensus of the present.


  1. The events of the past week have brought this into focus for more people than might have acknowledged it otherwise. But it is mere hypocrisy for the likes of Alastair Campbell to criticise The Sun now... they did the deal, the ultimate compromise of Blairism which aligned Labour with Murdoch.

    A tantalising point in my MP Chris Mullin's diaries; he reports a conversation with John Major in 2000 wherein JM says he was planning to outlaw foreign ownership of the media, but that this legislation got buried, effectively. Of course, this was planned at the height off The Sun's attacks on Major. Of course, he might have had a chance of achieving this directly post-1992, like Blair in 1997, but none of these people have acted decisively for the long term.

    Re. Middle-class educational ethos; did you see the 'Wonderland' documentary on the subsequent lives of University Challenge winners a week or two back? Much there to accord with your view. Whilst we have never been a society appreciative of the intellectual, our society has clearly become even more hostile, due to the media influence of Murdoch and his people.

  2. "John Major is probably the last man left in Britain who wears a tie on Saturdays" opined the arch rock'n'roll-at-gunpoint exponent Richard Littlejohn (quoted by Peter Hitchens, who is as different from Littlejohn as, say, Barbara Castle from David Milliband) just before the 1997 election. I think that remark sums up the criteria by which The Sun were anti-Major: wholly superficial, pop-cultural ones (though had they known that Major had such ideas on foreign ownership of the media it would probably have got nastier and more personal, especially because it was probably apparent by then that the neoliberal legacy would be safe in Blair's hands). They hated him, as they hate Brown, only because he harked back in some ways to the age when senior politicians were *expected* to have a hinterland in the old sense - Heath's conducting and sailing, at a time when Murdoch had arrived but hadn't yet made a great impact, probably endeared him to many people in a much more culturally balanced society - and the tragedy is that they have reduced *the whole tone of public debate* to this level.

    The knowledge that Major planned such ideas makes me even more retrospectively frustrated both with him and, probably much more so, with the world he had to cope with - he *did*, somewhere deep inside, have a sense of an earlier, more organic form of Toryism, just as there are definite hints of true social democracy now coming through, all too late and too few and too desperate, from Brown. The tragedy of both is that neither could even hint at abandoning neoliberalism until they had both been declared lame ducks (though in some ways Brown's situation is even worse because Major never had to live with the very real possibility of the shires seceding once he'd been defeated).

    Dale skipped the Plastic Ono Band's "Cold Turkey", btw - as inherent to an understanding of November 1969 as anything in that chart ("Hero of the War" and "The Old Man's Back Again" are perhaps more inherent than anything else, of course, but we know where *they* went). This kind of political rewriting of history is deeply sinister.