Monday, 7 March 2011

Daily Mail Socialism and the Barnsley by-election

The dramatic scale of the difference between Lindsayism/Daily Mail Socialism and the more outward-looking, cosmopolitan version espoused in the West Coast Main Line cities can best be defined by the simple statement that, had the Liverpudlian working class identified - as Lindsay wishes the entire British working class would, and cannot face the fact that many of them never did - with the landed aristocracy rather than with those as marginalised in the United States for racial reasons as they were for social class reasons here, there would simply never have been such a thing as the Beatles; the impetus which brought them into existence would, without argument, simply not have been there. Now you can argue at length about whether or not that would have been a better or worse Britain or a better or worse world - I can certainly see both sides - but it would have been, equally without argument, an almost indescribably and unimaginably different Britain and arguably an even more different world. It would also, of course, be a Britain and a world in which enough people would identify with quasi-feudal ideas of "community" for Lindsayism to make sense.

The historical reasons why Daily Mail Socialism has been much stronger in north-east England, Scotland and Wales, places where a deep-rooted antipathy to the Tory party is combined with an equally deep-rooted social conservatism, than in the WCML cities (whose populations have been far more shifting and varied) and in the southern English shires (which have been, broadly, C/conservative in both the party political and literal senses, and whose self-image has seemed ever more ridiculous and ill-thought-out in recent years through the irreconcilibility of the two), have been gone over well enough already. It is not surprising in this context, and in that of Liverpool's very specific history where both traditional socialism and most (in my lifetime, all) forms of Toryism have seemed equally alien and out-of-place, that the only use Google reveals by anyone other than myself of the term "Daily Mail Socialism" is by a Liverpool season-ticket holder criticising Gordon Brown's use of the term "British jobs for British workers".

This was and is wholly accurate; my partial defence of Brown here in the past extends only to the crude Blairite/Cameronite taunting for reasons that have nothing to do with his politics rather than out of any real defence of those politics themselves; now the dust has settled, the pathetic, futile nature of such rhetoric is most reminiscent of the utter impotence of Major's ministers opposing aspects of Sky's influence, having previously done nothing to stop it while there was still time. Brown, as a leader with some residual, sentimental ties to the older incarnation of his party following an overpowering political personality who had achieved unprecedented electoral success at the expense of the party's entire cultural base, stands perfect comparison; while he had never been as wholly committed a cheerleader for neoliberalism as the Blairites themselves, he had no meaningful opposition to it either, certainly not sufficiently so to prevent him waving through such policies in his decade as chancellor. For him then to mouth vague statements in favour of the organisation of the economy along the lines of heavily protected and separated, psychologically socialist nations, when he had spent the previous decade happily pushing through economic policies which aggressively confined such things to history, just made him look stupid and weak. Of more direct relevance to the issue being discussed here, though, is that a Liverpudlian should use the term "Daily Mail Socialism" to describe the rhetorical language of a Scot, a fact which seems aptly to sum up the differences between the dominant versions of socialism in these two left-leaning places.

This of course also explains the recent political history of Barnsley, a town where a disillusioned "Old Labour" emotional feeling of betrayal combines with a profound insularity and fear of outsiders, and where the residual Tory vote - obviously never anywhere near enough to win the seat even in an election like 1959, but still greater than they could expect now - felt so alienated by the party's abandonment of "One Nation" politics and confrontational attitude towards South Yorkshire during the 1980s that much of the area's Tory vote collapsed for good, perhaps to the Lib Dems in the days (how long ago they now seem) when they were a protest vote for disillusioned supporters of both larger parties. While a Tory vote could obviously never be any kind of protest vote now, it could - without the legacy of the 1980s - have been a protest vote against Labour when they were still in office, but in practice could not be because the hatred for the party's handling of the industrial disputes of that time (one far above all others, of course) was still too strong.

This dual alienation led directly to the disturbing success of the BNP in the 2009 European election (where the party won 16% of Barnsley's vote, a significant factor in the shameful election of Andrew Brons to the European Parliament) and in last year's general election (more than 3,000 votes in Barnsley Central) - sheer despair and isolation, the long-term legacy of a cultural fear of the much more hybridised, cosmopolitan style of socialism "over the Pennines" (and even, to some extent, in Leeds and Sheffield), and the insular racism and Europhobia of certain aspects of "Old Labour" culture (typified in the late 1990s by Austin Mitchell's Mail on Sunday column and defence of the Duke of Edinburgh's dodgier remarks because, effectively, "everybody said that in my day and it never did us any harm", and by Dennis Skinner's claim that the German owners of Rolls Royce were "getting too big for their jackboots", both arguably worse than the worst Blairite) manifesting itself on the most odious level imaginable. Last week, the BNP's decline since the general election was thankfully evident (though they still won more votes than is comfortable to think of) and it was inevitable that the Lib Dems would have fallen as far as they did (as they undoubtedly will, for the same reasons, in the Scottish and Welsh elections) seeing that they are propping up a government that many in Barnsley will see as something akin to an occupying power, but UKIP's second place was deeply depressing, and clearly very much the same kind of misguided and deluded protest vote, inheriting both the Daily Mail Socialist and Tory-but-for-Thatcher tendencies.

We can say, as much without argument as that both Britain and the wider world would have been unrecognisably different without the Beatles, that the comparative success in Barnsley of parties like UKIP and the BNP is one of the worst legacies of an organised safe tribal war that never needed to happen. This Hugo Young piece - written three months before the death of John Smith - is a fine example, with all the eloquence and command of language that The Guardian still misses, of what is probably the second best point of departure other than "In Place of Strife" succeeding. As things are, though, the political alienation of so many in Barnsley is very precisely the legacy of 1984/5, and as depressing and enervating as anything else that can be so described.


  1. I have extensive experience of Greek culture which is definitely more socially conservative and which has no shortage of English critics who have no shortage of economic, political and even theological advice on how Greece could be so much better. But- I have a friend who has a son who is slightly mentally retarded and he plans to return to Greece when his business here is finished. He doesn’t need to spell out why or in which country his son will be safer.

    Greece might be more liberal if the people were less proud, consumerism (including of alcohol and drugs) was even more rampant and if the national church was basically an over 50s social club where enjoying The Life of Brian is practically obligatory. But would it be any safer for my friend’s son? Or would the elderly women who are treated with a lot of respect and consideration in Greek society be as well off? Certainly I would like to see change in Greek culture, but I don’t think the Brits are necessarily the people to learn these lessons from.

    Relatedly I do think it curious how many leftwingers are eager to sign up to the view eagerly proffered by many on the right that Tony ‘Ahab’ Blair dragged the nation kicking and screaming to war, when in fact parliament overwhelmingly voted for it, op eds were overwhelmingly for it and the population according to many polls was fairly evenly divided.

    This may seem to be drifting off topic, but it is anything but: this was a war for secular liberalism based on the tenet that secular liberalism is applicable to all cultures, all peoples, all religions, all nations. It’s just a matter of weeding out the odd tinpot tyrant here or there.

    Yet whilst some might take refuge in the ‘born again messianic meatheads made a real mess of things’ if they ever suspected that the war would turn out NOT to include torture and use of white phosphorus on civilians then they were profoundly stupid.

    I would agree that social conservatism and my ideal of leftism are irreconcilable in the long term, but as long as liberalism in its most religious and ‘internationalist’ (using ‘internationalist’ to mean wanting to tinker with other countries) forms are with us, then I can understand why many people take refuge in fogeyism even though I think it is primarily play acting and I’ve generally been too weird/ informal to really feel a part of it. But let’s just say that I’m none too frightened that David Lindsay and Peter Hitchens will team up to deprive me of my 80s Italian horror films anytime soon and until the unlikely chance their views do become much more mainstream I’ll value aspects of their critiques of modern politics.

    Incidentally, if you have time I think this Neil Oliver episode really says it all about the bizarre paradox of Scottish patriotism; how it is about being proud of being an underdog:

    Pleased to see you are back to blogging. Sorry if this is a bit of a rambling rant, but I do think that modern mainstream liberalism is largely defined by an increasingly narcissistic people and lacks a very coherent critique of civil liberties, national sovereignty and consumerism. I’ve never once bought the Daily Mail and have intention to ever do so, but I do feel that a kind of pseudo-liberalism that passes for modern ‘left’ does add to its appeal.

  2. @Robin

    I think my problem with your term ‘Daily Mail Socialism’ is basically that the Daily Mail can be cuntish in so many ways. Let’s not forget that it employs Melanie Phillips and Richard Littlejohn who are both cuntish neocons. In some ways I’d argue whether they are cuntish social conservatives, or if their general cuntishness makes them appear so. For example Littlejohn’s cuntish view that young women being murdered is ‘no great loss’ is not compatible with my personal views that prostitution is ‘wrong’ but just sheer cuntishness (and how many people’s deaths would cause Littlejohn’s black shrivelled heart to ache?).

    It also has many cuntish neoliberals who want to privatise the NHS.

    However, taking what might be the kernel of this idea, yes, I think Scotland does have a somewhat broader antipathy to both neoconservatism and neoliberalism as well as a different history and culture. For example I love Neil Oliver, perhaps because rather than despite his rhetoric about blood and fire. But give me an Englishman who seems just a bit too heartily rustic and homely (e.g. Tim Wonnacott) and I can’t help suspecting ‘BNP voter’. I literally flinched when I went into the Co-Op recently and saw some Union Jack flags for sale. Absolutely every high street in every Scottish city will be peppered with shops selling lion/ St Andrew’s Cross flags, but I was quite disturbed to see The Union Jack for sale.

    However, I do frankly think that it is the very lack of patriotism that makes England such an unstable and violent nation and I would prefer slightly bullish nationalism to fundamentalist liberalism. I am a liberal myself, yet I think that liberalism should itself be built upon scepticism and that Apostolic Christianity and constitutional monarchy are both more compatible with this than grand plans to use shock therapy or bombs to improve the world (with the leading ideologue having a 3rd class honours degree). Many have a fanatical adherence to liberal goals with few falsifiable predictions of what they want to achieve perhaps because their internationalism is based more on their lack of culture rather than genuine multiculturalism. Tanya Gold, Johann Harri and Penny Red can whinge and squeal all they like, but what do they want from the world? What would they appreciate? How did the Scandinavian countries achieve such income equality without whiny bigmouths but with monarchs and state churches? What would make these liberal loudmouths less bloody miserable, objectionable, vulgar, hate-filled people? I loathe the kind of politics these people represent especially because (ironically enough) the sniping approach to enemies (like ‘the religious’ all the believers who are one organism) is counter-productive. If anything I think there needs to be a real debate about liberalism and an attack on pseudoliberals who are intolerant of other cultures and want to change them without experiencing them.

    (this is part one of post if this does not already appear)

  3. Interesting post, but:

    "I would prefer slightly bullish nationalism to fundamentalist liberalism"

    Quite possibly true in places that were never the epicentre of an empire, but if you try to transfer it to somewhere that *was*, then it all falls down. I would feel, on the whole, much safer around people like Laurie Penny or the majority of old soulboys/reggae fans (i.e. the *original* "spirit of '69" skinheads, before what was originally a multiracial working-class movement was co-opted by the NF) than around the vast majority of those who would call themselves "English patriots". In England, the safest thing to be is to not feel any connection to any mythic idea of nation or belonging - England's specific history makes such things dangerous here in a way they are not in Scotland. I think it's the most respectful thing I could say to you, and to Scots generally, to acknowledge that, and to point out that this is why I am against any kind of social and cultural conservatism - it simply isn't "kosher" or safe for me in the way it probably would be if I came from somewhere that was never the centre of empire.

    This is the reason why black pop plays such a crucial role in my life - it fills the gap left by the absence of a freedom-fighting movement in my own history - and a friend of mine from a Northern Irish Catholic background (who may or may not read this) agrees with me that, because of this *problem of England*, it is much more just entertainment to him when he listens to it;
    it doesn't *need* to be anything else because he already *has* his own freedom-fighting tradition to draw on. I would say that there were always fewer soulboys in Scotland/Wales/Ireland (a case in point here is the very poor showing in Scotland, compared to the UK-wide charts, of a recent Earth, Wind & Fire compilation) because it was *less necessary* - social conservatism (such as you espouse in your excessive and ill-founded attacks on secular liberalism, which carry too many traces of the Clark/Lindsay "any regime that doesn't espouse deregulated conservatism is an ally of convenience, however backward and brutal it may be" mindset for my liking) was untainted for them. But it is tainted for me, and therefore we are never really going to see eye to eye. The alternative for me would be self-torture, and fake lusting after something that can never be mine.

    I am not any kind of neoconservative, but I do believe that some methods of social organisation are better than others and that some cultures are more open and more free than others, and that there is *in some cases* a justification for liberal intervention (obviously not Iraq, which was stupid and ill-planned on a truly grotesque level). The Scandinavian question is an intriguing one, but again I think England is simply too varied and has too many influences from too many places to really stand such a comparison - that kind of social democracy only really makes sense in smaller, more homogeneous societies, something England never really was. Scotland is entirely different, in this respect.

    Indeed the Mail is cuntish on multiple levels - whether its prurient and intrusive celeb shit-stirring (while pretending to be "above all that"), or its hardline neoliberal streak - but the point I am making is that a social and cultural insularity and fear of outsiders (which could only be politically applied through a Lindsayesque abuse of socialism) is *one* of these negative factors. I've known "Old Labour" voters who read it and saw little problem with it. It simply isn't possible to transfer the cultural politics in small, post-colonial countries to a larger global crossroads, and this - combined with my not being actively religious in any way - is why I must take a different road.

  4. I must correct myself here:

    "any regime that doesn't espouse deregulated conservatism ..." should, of course, be "any regime that doesn't espouse deregulated neoliberalism"