Saturday, 14 August 2010

Sea Songs makes a brief transition into Mailwatch

In one breath, Peter Hitchens moans that Britain is now "a subject province of a continental empire".

In the next, he comments that while travelling recently in a European country, he was unable to change British currency into local money because it was "an exotic currency".

I rather suspect he is referring to Turkey here, but even by his / the Mail titles' standards, this is an astonishing level of self-contradiction. If Britain is ever again to have a proper, globally recognised currency, it has two choices. Sadly, I suspect Hitchens would rather see us dollarise. And then go on, in the same breath, about being forced to listen to pop music. Never has the stench of hypocrisy been uglier.

The sad thing is that the case for Europe can arguably be made more convincingly by cultural conservatives than by the likes of Polly "Capital Gold" Toynbee, just as the case for US statehood can be made more convincingly by pop-culture-fundamentalist "leftists" than by an unabashed fogey such as Hitchens Minor (not that he does make such a case, but he would surely see it as a lesser evil, in the exceedingly unlikely event that he ever accepts that the Britain he dreams of is geopolitically unworkable). A greater shame than ever that Auberon Waugh isn't around to make the European case, because he had the ear of people who believe, like Hitchens Minor, that J.S. Bach represents the peak of all musical achievement for all time, people who are not tied to the "rebellion" of 43 years ago as so much of the "left" still is. As it is, most "conservatives" and most "leftists" are both wedded to people who are not their natural allies (the latter, of course, can sometimes make excuses for both the worst excesses of American big business and the worst excesses of Islam: the fact that the Mail dislikes both - hypocritically in the latter case: the most natural non-Muslim sympathisers with the more extreme Islamic tendencies are social conservatives - does not mean the left should defend either). If and when either pathetic tribe returns, blinking, towards the light, I hope they will consult the likes of me, rather than either tribe's house journals, for advice on where to turn next. I may not do very well, but I have no doubt I could do better than any newspaper - of which, in terms of power to distort and lie and poison, there remain none deadlier than the Mail.


  1. I'm not sure if Hitchens is hypocritical in the way you say he is. Recently, in particular, he has written much criticism of the notion of the special relationship. His attitude to America seems to be quite similar to that he has to Europe - admiring, but staunchly opposed to overt cultural encroachments from either source.

  2. Yes, he is right to regard the "special relationship" as a myth, and he is an important balance to the semi-literate likes of Littlejohn - but the issue remains whether or not his idea of Britain would actually be workable. He is far and away the least worst writer the Mail (and almost certainly the right-wing press as a whole) currently has, but there are still deep-rooted inconsistencies there. I don't think this is a straightforward "America vs Europe" thing, something I hope that I would have moved beyond in the age of Obama and Sarkozy (carmodising: could David Guetta's current career have happened under Bush and Chirac? I doubt it ... interesting how the mainland European influence on American pop, at that time the Swedish writers/producers that Britney/Backstreet/N'Sync had, died out almost as soon as Bush got in, and then revived through Guetta/BEP almost as soon as he'd gone), just that, if you call for Britain to leave the EU to be "a global trading nation" as he has, you are letting yourself open in practice for even more of the pop culture he so deplores.

  3. Hitchens deplores popular music, but I don't think he's ever complained about being "forced" to listen to it; rather he laments that adult human beings have declined so much that they listen to it.* Now, I disagree with you about his attitude to Americanisation, but let's say if I were to concede the point. As you say, he would see it as a "lesser evil" - part of the evil being popular culture. Again, I don't think this is necessarily hypocritical.

    As for the workability of his political programme, I'm dubious. I think Hitchens, to a large degree, gets off on his own idiosyncracy. He made one of his most vacuously snobbish statements recently, for example, in relation to the World Cup, partially rationalising his antipathy to football on the basis that mass feelings are almost always wrong. And I think you get a whiff of the same attitude in relation to electoral politics. I cannot help but suspect that if this political mass movement - mixture of socially conservative former Labour and Tory supporters et al. - that he has long been dreaming of came into existence**, that he would resist it.

    We already see this to an extent in his dismissiveness towards UKIP. He stated he dislikes it because it's the kind of party that contains people who make jokes about women knelt down behind refrigerators. He can't seem to accept the fact that any party that broadly shared his views would have a significant number of such people. :-)

    *Needless to say, I disagree strongly with this attitude.

    **Its feasibility obviously being highly doubtful to begin with

  4. Indeed (on several counts).

    I'm not sure whether even he believes some of what he writes. It was possible, even if you disagreed with them on almost everything (as I did) to recognise Michael Wharton and Auberon Waugh as very skilled writers precisely because they used exaggeration and satire for effect, seeing how far to the right they could go and testing whether or not you took it seriously, but Hitchens (the least worst right-wing columnist since they've gone) doesn't have that balance. As you suggest, UKIP is much closer to what he stands for and incarnates than he wants to admit.

    The infuriating thing is that from time to time he makes remarks that appear to be endorsements of the post-war consensus and criticisms of its erosion, for example when he recently condemned the mass sale of council houses and referred (in an attack on what he called Samantha Cameron's cod-Estuary accent) to a period unstated, but clearly definable as the post-war, pre-Beatles period*, as a land "full of hope and opportunity" (which it was, for many, but only because of the Attlee settlement). And yet he still maintains that "socialists" are a dominant force in modern Britain, and that the Cameron government is somehow "left-wing". Quite unbelievable, really - blatant innoculation from and denial of reality.

    *Am I right in remembering that "post-war", fifteen years or more ago, mostly meant precisely this period, i.e. up to "She Loves You" only? Now it increasingly goes up to "Bright Eyes".