Is there something important happening tomorrow? Everyone seems to be getting very upset about which group of bureaucrats they want to rule over us. The point, I seem to remember Marx saying, is to change the world, not choose your preferred master. The servility of the people dressed up in their democratic best. Dance, dance, like a dancing bear, screech like a parrot, chatter like an ape, cry like a red-nosed clown, pink bows on our shoes, a ruff around our neck: but the eye of an ass watches us from behind.
APRÈS NOUS, LE DÉLUGE
Suddenly, everyone is so political. But where were you when Iain Duncan Smith was killing the disabled in their thousands? Where were you when George Osborne cut £12 billion to welfare? Where were you when Jeremy Hunt sold the NHS into private hands? Where were you when Brandon Lewis abolished council housing? Where were you when Theresa May turned Britain into a police state? Where were you when David Cameron sold the land we stand on to the highest bidder and turned this country into a knocking shop for foreign investors?
But they mess with our travel plans and suddenly everyone’s up in arms. Not that I expect anyone to get up and do something about it. Maybe a candle-lit vigil in Trafalgar Square, and, of course, a wave of hatred in the press against the racist, politically manipulated, white working class we’ve been happily shitting on for decades; but then it’s back to naked restaurants in the Elephant & Castle, a new i-Phone app that wipes our arses for us, and screwing our fellow man over for a living.
Someone once said that every nation gets the government it deserves, and we definitely deserve what we’re going to get.
I just got off the phone with my mate. She was telling me about a foreign businessman who was welcomed with open arms by the Hackney community in which she lives, but who has never employed locals, and instead uses foreign workers on crap pay with no employment rights in his now thriving business. I presume that now makes her a racist, even if she herself is mixed race.
Then I went to the shops and had a chat with the Indian woman behind the counter about how the price of the Guardian has gone up yet again. Then had a joke in the shop next door with the Turkish guy, who said he’d have to start charging me for plastic bags now we’ve left the European Union. On the way back I passed a team of Polish workers digging up the road to lay more bloody cable. And at the top of my street I waved hello to the Pakistani guy I always chat with when I go to his takeaway.
Everything’s fine here. No random acts of racism in the street or sudden descent into barbarism. Perhaps the middle classes should stop projecting their class stereotypes and fears onto the working class they’re so fond of patronising – white, black and brown. Read the Guardian, that’ll cheer you up. Buy an EU ribbon and stick it in your lapel so everyone knows how un-racist you are. Or go on a march and talk to each other about Britain First. Anything – except think about the capitalist gang-bang of Britain’s poor you’ve been doing so well out of this past decade and more.
AND IN OTHER NEWS: THE REFERENDUM
I’ve been too busy lately to follow the whole EU referendum spectacle, and in the limited time I had to devote to it I didn’t find a single thing to read that wasn’t a hysterical version of ‘But surely you can see I’m right!’ As a consequence, I didn’t vote yesterday. But having followed what is being done to Greece and visited the country last year, I struggle to see the European Union as a force for good. It’s an uncomfortable fact that each of the 10.7 million Greek nationals’ share of the country’s €376 billion debt is 35,000 Euros, payable by every man, woman, child, infant, grandmother, grandfather, disabled, sick, unemployed and bankrupt member of the European Union that was supposed to make them so wealthy. Nor do I see the past ten years in Europe as a model of democratic accountability, workers rights and free croissants, which apparently we’re all going to lose now. On the other hand, I don’t want to see my friends who would otherwise have the right to live here struggle to justify their presence in this country according to whatever new laws we come up with.
However, I am a little surprised by the mass hysteria that has followed the vote to leave the European Union. As far as I can make out, we can still import goods from other countries, so the croissants will still be available; and while I sympathise with the plight of nationals from other countries in the European Union, my friends from Japan, Australia, New Zealand, the United States and other nations also not in the EU have had to overcome the same obstacles and managed to do so. I also note that the London middle classes haven’t been up in arms about the treatment of immigrants to this country not from the EU. I’ve yet to see them resisting the racist snatch squads on the streets of Camberwell, or marching to demand the release of the refugees from non-EU countries imprisoned at Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre. So you’ll excuse me if their sudden appeal to the right to live here in the name of civilisation, democracy and the fight against racism sounds just a little selfish.
As for the slightly less lofty claims that leaving the European Union has already knocked billions off the value of the pound and will drive foreign investment and businesses out of the UK (or more accurately out of the City of London), I never noticed that the past ten years of austerity fiscal policies imposed on the poorest and most vulnerable members of our society were ever lessened by a Britain with the fifth strongest economy in the world being in the European Union. Nor has it been glaringly apparent to me that the City of London being the financial capital of the world has sent a stream of riches ‘trickling down’ – I believe the complex economic theory goes – into the outstretched hands of the undeserving poor.
Finally, I do not recognise the champion of human and workers rights in the European Union that stood by and nodded in approval as the Tories and their collaborators, Liberal Democrats and Labour alike, presided over the dismantling of our welfare state and the erosion of our civil liberties these past ten years. Nor did it stop David Cameron, the lead campaigner for staying in Europe, introducing a new British Bill of Rights for the current session of Parliament, the proposal of which, once again, drew no response from those now so offended by this curb on their own freedom of movement within the European Union.
What I have noticed, though, and that almost universally, is that the vote to Leave has been uncritically claimed as being motivated by racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia, lack of education, lack of a work ethic, and political manipulation by the tabloids – in short, by all the usual stereotypes about the working class that are so central to the sense of entitlement that is at the heart of middle-class identity and its never-ending struggle to exonerate itself of culpability in the more obscene inequalities and injustices of capitalism.
With one or two exceptions, everyone has been united in dismissing, without question, the possibility that the working classes they seem so sure voted for the UK’s exit from the European Union are fed up having their salaries and employment rights undercut by a workforce imported to do precisely that; that being treated as a semi-feudal labour and service industry for the financial elite is not their idea of citizenship; and that, like the workers in Greece, they don’t want their pay packets and pensions being set by the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund.
As I said, I have not looked into the choices this referendum presented closely enough to have voted either way; but please, dear bourgeois, save your sanctimonious outrage and your barely disguised class hatred for Islington’s dinner parties, when you can sit around and talk about how ghastly England is becoming these days and discuss what part of the world you’re thinking of moving to. The rest of us, who can’t afford a second home and monthly trips to the continent, have to live here.
And some of us, as you’ll see if you look up from photographing your elegantly arranged dinner plate, are fighting for this rotten stinking country that you’ve sat on your arses and watched turn into an offshore tax haven for the filthy rich without lifting your pinkies off your decaf lattes – not with little ticks in boxes every four years, but on the street, and for the homes and lives and culture of the people who have been under attack by the government of an EU Britain for decades.
So please, dear disgusted of North London, put up, or shut up, because your bitching is slightly pathetic, and just as self-centred, class-driven and politically manipulated as the motives being attributed to those nasty, racist, uneducated, ignorant, violent, lazy, work-shy hooligans you’ve never met but seem to know so much about.
I’m in. Are you?
IMMIGRANTS, REFUGEES AND BREXIT
Figures for UK immigration in the year ending December 2015 were:
British immigrants: 83,000
British emigrants: 123,000
Net migration: –39,000
EU immigrants: 270,000
EU emigrants: 85,000
Net migration: 184,000
Non-EU immigrants: 277,000
Non-EU emigrants: 89,000
Net migration: 188,000
Total immigrants: 630,000
Total emigrants: 297,000
Net migration: 333,000
Which means slightly more than half of all non-British immigrants into the UK last year were from non-EU countries; raising the question of to what extent the UK leaving the EU will stop people emigrating here.
In 2015, a total of 1,321,560 immigrants and refugees claimed asylum in Europe, including in non-EU member countries Norway and Switzerland. About 360,000 of these came from Syria, 180,000 from Afghanistan, 120,000 from Iraq, 70,000 from Kosovo, 60,000 from Albania, 45,000 from Pakistan, 40,000 from Eritrea, and the rest from Nigeria, Iran and Ukraine.
A total of 292,540 of these were accepted into the EU, of which 13,905 came to the UK in 2015, while it was still a member of the European Union. David Cameron, the Prime Minister of Britain when it was in the EU, agreed to accept a grand total of 20,000 refugees from Syria over the next five years.
In other words, there is no connection between the UK leaving the EU and our feeble response to the refugee crisis. That lies with the right-wing governments we have repeatedly elected to power, and whose military interventions in the Middle East, Afghanistan and Africa we have consistently given a mandate to with that democratic vote we’re so proud of.
None of this fits into the narrative being written by the supporters of the same European Union that has backed and financed the wars that caused the refugee crisis, and whose aggressive neo-liberal economic policies are one of the key causes of immigration to the UK by EU nationals, the vast majority of which are not, as they like to think, Italian performance artists working as cappuccino waiters in Soho, but rather Romanian cleaners, Spanish nannies and Polish construction workers labouring on zero-hour contracts to clean up our mess, look after our kids and build our homes for half what we should be paying them.
THE VOTE THAT DARE NOT SPEAK ITS NAME
Statistics on the referendum are emerging, with the votes for remaining and leaving the European Union divided by everything from age to education to ethnicity to religion to region to nation. But what there are no figures for – in this, the most socially divided country in Europe – is how voting was determined by class.
In place of which we are fed the following conclusion to console us in our time of grief. The provincial working classes voted out because they are stupid and racist (cue interview with Northerner telling us from between his fag that he hates the bloody Romanians); and the urban middle classes voted in because they are heroic defenders of multiculturalism (cue interview with French student in London telling us between tears that we all have to learn to live together).
No hint of class interests here, no economic determination of ideology, no thought of the middle classes voting to feather their already well-bolstered beds, no suspicion of the working classes voting in protest at the destruction of their world, and definitely no class analysis from our independent, middle-class and very pissed-off press.
And how the middle classes eat it up!
MULTICULTURALISM, CLASS AND BREXIT
Under the New Labour government of Tony Blair the policy and laws on immigration in this country were changed to allow an enormous rise in the number of work permits granted to migrant workers. With the expansion of the European Union in 2004, UK labour markets were opened to workers from the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia. This was not done out of a sudden conversion to the politics of peace, love and harmony between peoples, but to drive down the rising cost of the labour of the working-class population of the UK. By 2014, ten years later, 43 per cent of workers in elementary process-plant occupations (industrial cleaning and packers, bottlers, canners and fillers), 33.6 per cent of workers in cleaning and housekeeping, and 32 per cent of process workers in the food, drink, tobacco, glass, ceramics, textile, chemical, rubber, plastic and metal industries were foreign-born. The increase in the share of migrant labour has been greatest among process workers, up from 8.5 per cent in 2002 to 32.0 per cent in 2014.
The situation we have today, where a UK worker’s request for unionisation, a living wage or a contract is legal grounds for dismissal, is a direct result of this flooding of the labour market. When outraged protesters ask how it is possible that Phillip Green can buy a third luxury yacht with the pensions of 20,000 ex-BHS workers, or sack any employee who strikes for a wage she can live on, they might want to consider where the employment rights, recourse to industrial action and wage bargaining power of the working class in this country went.
Capitalist employers call it ‘competition’, and back it up with eagerly received propaganda in the media and entertainment industries denigrating the British working class as lazy, making a choice to live on benefits, and lacking in a work ethic for not accepting the same conditions of employment as Polish construction labourers and Romanian cleaning women. Even these are now standing up and protesting against those conditions. But those same workers who have had the economic value of their labour and skills undermined by the deliberate importing of migrant labour into the UK, who have had their unions made impotent or illegal by successive governments in thrall to the City, and who have seen the social services on which their increasingly impoverished communities rely cut by the politics of austerity, know exactly what it is: the means by which the rich have grown richer beyond avarice and the poor have been driven into greater and more abject poverty.
What the middle-class technocrats of neo-liberal capitalism call ‘multiculturalism’, which has been adopted and propagated as the ideology of our brave new world, is nothing more than the unregulated movement of capital through global markets by multinational corporations that have no country, pay no tax, are bound by no government, concede no rights to their workers, demolish our homes for profit, write our laws to legalise their theft, and determine our governments. And the free movement of labour acclaimed by middle-class liberals as the economic realisation of this ideology is nothing more than the means by which the resistance of workers to their impoverishment has been taken away from them by the influx of a surplus labour force.
In response to all this, which has seen the working class of this country reduced to political and economic impotence and servitude, we now have the lamentations of the European middle classes complaining bitterly about ‘not feeling welcome anymore’ in the UK and proclaiming themselves the defenders of that entirely illusory Britain they have done so much to create, which sees no contradiction in describing itself as built on tolerance, multiculturalism and economic opportunity, while presiding over the greatest assault on the living and employment conditions of the working class in this country in a generation.
It is unfortunate that the working class have had to make this political choice in tandem with the racist right-wing of the Leave campaign – which isn’t to say that champions of the Stay campaign wasn’t just as racist and right-wing; but it’s not as if they’ve been offered anything resembling an electable political party that has cast more than a condescending glance in their direction for several decades now – if ever. But for the politically-correct middle classes to continue to dismiss that vote as based on racism and xenophobia, and to ignore its actual economic determinations, is to play into the hands of the politicians, bankers, international financiers and media moguls who want to drive this country further to the right, both economically and culturally. More than that, it is a continuation of the political betrayal and economic exploitation of the working class, and the unquestioning embrace of monopoly capitalism, that has been the defining quality of Britain’s London-centric, multicultural middle classes this past decade and more.
WHITE-VAN MAN & MIDDLE-CLASS RACISM
I was walking along Old Street today when two Home Office Immigration Enforcement vans pulled up on the other side of the road. Ahead of me I noticed a black African (not black British) man moved carefully to put the bus shelter between him and them, while watching the vans nervously through the glass partition. I could see through the windows of the vans that the immigration officers were a mix of white, black and brown. I was giving them the finger when another white van pulled up between me and them, and the two white men inside shouted out: ‘Go on, lads, lock ’em up!’
Another example, one might think, worthy of the Guardian’s website, of the racism released by Brexit. But these vans and their snatch squads have been patrolling our streets since April 2012, pursuing not Eastern Europeans but immigrants from outside the European Union. They have come up against community resistance in Shadwell, Camberwell, Deptford and many other places with communities that have refused to be intimidated by their tactics. But I can’t say I’ve noticed the European middle classes that are so outraged by Brexit’s threat to their freedom of movement among them. In fact, I haven’t noticed London’s middle classes look up from their decaf lattes and artisanal burgers long enough to notice any of the attacks on our civil and human rights this right-wing Tory government has instigated over the past six years.
So please, if you’re going to splutter and rage at whatever new laws on immigration Brexit may bring, at least be honest about why, and don’t dress it up in a suddenly discovered love for the community of man. Perhaps, if our British bankers, French restauranteurs and Qatari property developers had paid their Polish builders, Romanian cleaners and Spanish nannies a living wage, gave them a contract, and allowed them to join a union, the racists in those vans – on both sides of the street – wouldn’t be roaming our streets now.
A THOROUGHLY UNEXPECTED AND UNPLANNED SITUATION
On Channel 4 News this evening, Jon Snow was interviewing some Labour politicians on a platform outside the Houses of Parliament when a crowd of mostly young, mostly white protesters came marching down the street and into the Old Palace Yard. I wonder who decided to let them through? If we’d tried to get anywhere near that side of the yard, which lies behind concrete barriers within a restricted security area, we’d have been aggressively stopped by the police. So somebody wanted them there.
When we were organising the demonstration against the Housing and Planning Bill in January I looked into the security arrangements in this area, and legally you can’t pass wind without a copper’s permission. You definitely can’t pass into the east side of Old Palace Yard, as this march did; you’re not allowed to use megaphones, as they were; and you’re not allowed to march, as opposed to a standing protest, without prior permission from the Mayor of London, which they didn’t have. So the idea of this being a spontaneous march from Trafalgar Square down Whitehall, past Downing Street, through Parliament Square and onto Old Palace Yard opposite the Houses of Parliament is very suspicious. The whole route lies within the Government Security Zone, where the MET has free reign to arrest and otherwise beat the crap out of you on the mere suspicion that you’re about to do something anti-social, let alone illegal. The last time I marched with a crowd of kids like this, on the anti-Tory demonstration last May after Cameron got in, the riot police first baton charged then kettled us for three hours outside the Ministry of Defence. Here, there was barely a MET officer in site, and when they did arrive they filed politely down the side. If this bunch of middle-class protesters got this far, it’s because someone in power wanted them and their pro-EU chants on national TV. ‘A thoroughly unexpected and unplanned situation’, as Jon Snow helpfully told us, it wasn’t.
REDUCTIO AD HITLERUM
Yesterday, during Nigel Farage’s farewell speech to the European Parliament, Guy Verhofstadt, the former Belgium Prime Minister and current MEP, compared UKIP’s already infamous poster of Syrian refugees along the Slovenian border to the propaganda of the Nazis. This is known as Godwin’s law, after the US attorney Mike Godwin, who argued that ‘as an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazism or Hitler approaches’.
Adolf Hitler, who was born on the border between Germany and what was then Austria-Hungary, had a Lower Bavarian accent that appears to have given him, in the ears of North Germans, an impression of sincerity rather than provincial uncouthness. Though I don’t like to admit it, I experienced a similar impression recently when listening to Susan Williams, otherwise known as Baroness Williams of Trafford, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, during the debates in the House of Lords, where she led the Conservative peers in their support for the Government’s Housing and Planning Bill. An attractive woman of 49, born in Cork, educated in Huddersfield and a politician in Greater Manchester since 1998, it was difficult to reconcile her warm Northern accent with the vilification of and attacks on the working-class that came out of her lying mouth.
I haven’t heard Nigel Farage speak often, but listening to him yesterday I was suddenly struck by his accent, which beneath the stock-broker’s patter sounds a lot like an uncle of mine. Uncle Den was the spitting image of Eric Morecambe, had a similar sense of humour and a flair for draftsmanship, and worked for a graphic designer. I wouldn’t be surprised if he voted for Farage; and although my own family, as my Welsh grandmother once declared, ‘is like the United Nations’, I’d bet he voted to leave the European Union.
That said – to return to Monsieur Verhofstadt – the irony of a member of an organisation that is stripping Greece of its land, property, assets and self determination, which has politically and financially backed every war pursued by the US and EU nations in the Middle East, Afghanistan and Africa over the past few decades, and which has sat on its bank balance while thousands of refugees from those wars drown in the Mediterranean or are herded into concentration camps – the irony of a member of such an organisation using a Reductio ad Hitlerum to champion the civilising benefits of the European Union would not have been lost on old Uncle Den.
CULTURAL VEGANISM IN THE COACH & HORSES
By mistake I was out in Soho last night, a place I usually avoid like the plague. After a few pints I dropped into the Coach & Horses with a mate. I never liked this place, was never a proper regular, but went once or twice a week back in the 90s. Norman, the self-styled ‘rudest landlord in London’, was a miserable bastard who treated his staff like shit, and the place was full of bitter old queens who looked askance at us youngsters when we leaned against their particular two feet of bar. But it was, at least, a pub, full of sound and fury, with its own divisions and revisions. I haven’t been there for a long time, but had no illusions about what awaited us as we walked though the doors. Norman’s long gone, of course, though they still use his name on the menu. The sign reading ‘Sandwiches £1’ that was so prominent in the stage play of Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell has gone too. And I think I can safely say that no-one like Jeff would be seen dead in the place these days.
I ordered two pints of the only ale they had on tap, and as I always do asked that it be poured in a mug. The boy behind the counter looked confused at my request, and waved a lager glass at me. He was of indeterminate nationality, just another of the bored-as-fuck Euro-trash clones that have taken the place of our barmaids. But I don’t blame him. Employment by a corporate owner who can fire you on a whim from a zero-hour contract at £6.50 an hour doesn’t inspire either humour or duty. Loathing and fear of getting the sack was all I recognised in his eyes. I could see, behind his blank stare, the seconds ticking down before he could run off to G-A-Y, or more likely take two night buses home to his bedsit in Deptford. I knew he had no idea what our national pub-snack was, but asked him anyway if he had any pork scratchings. I think he thought I was taking the piss, which I wasn’t; but when he turned away with a shake of his head a punter next to me handed me a menu and told me it was a vegan pub.
Now it was my turn to be confused. Like a man blindly thrashing his way through his own nightmare I held the menu up to my eyes. He was right. Norman’s Coach and Horses: London’s First Vegetarian & Vegan Pub:
- Sauteed Wild Mushrooms on Toast (V.O): £6.95
- Beetroot salad (VO, NFO,GF): £10.95
- Portobello Mushroom Burger (VO,NF): £11.75
- Celeriac, Chestnut and Parsnip Sausages (V,MF): £11.75
- Chard Leaf Curry (NF): £11.50
I was just digesting this information, and trying to work out what VO, NFO, NF and MO meant, when I suddenly became aware that a troupe of cockney performers was standing around an upright piano in the corner of the bar, banging on pan lids with wooden spoons, and generally doing their best Dick van Dyke impression of what the clientele of West End yuppies, European hipsters and confused American tourists think London’s working class look, sound and act like. They played the usual songs we know and love from a hundred Hollywood movies, including my all-time most hated Maybe it’s Because I’m a Londoner, with many a ‘knees up mother brown’, ‘lawks, misses, is that an ankle I spy?’, and ‘spare us a penny, guv’nor.’
I began to think the barman had slipped something into my drink, and waving the menu in the face of the nearest cockney performer spluttered out: ‘It’s a fucking vegetarian pub!’ as if this would find some outraged response, or at least a roll of his eyes. But he just looked at me and said: ‘Aren’t you a vegetarian?’ I’d paid for the pint, so sat down with my mate and drank it, but when the same performer went round with a glass mug (no doubt they’d brought their own) asking for some change, I couldn’t let the matter drop and asked him if he was a vegetarian. He told me no, but that his son was.
That was enough for me. I downed my pint and left. Outside, where the sound of the cockney band starting up again met the sounds of the street, a row of people sat at the chunky wooden tables and stools so beloved of their class. The men were dressed in dark business suits, the women in the same. There wasn’t even a hipster to spit at. In front of them stood discreet halves of continental lager, large glasses of bad Chianti, and heavy china plates adorned with dishes I didn’t recognise or could afford.
When people say they ‘want their country back’, I would guess they mean from something like this. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say they want their culture back: back from this generic, global, corporate, monolithic, homogeneous, middle-class imitation of culture; back from the exploitative relations of employment and production behind its facade of inclusiveness and equal opportunity; back from the stupidity, blandness and banality into which we have willingly sunk for nothing more than the promise of a vegetarian burger that costs two hours’ labour on the minimum wage for the workers who make it.
The consumers and class for whom this ersatz culture has been made, who have grown rich from the economic relations of its production, who are employed to propagate its ideals in our media, press, and entertainment industries, and who are refashioning our cities, countries and identities in its likeness, call it ‘multiculturalism’, and attack anyone who doesn’t dutifully take their place within its cultural logic as a racist. And I can see why. What confuses me, however, is why everybody else can’t.
Can I get some marinated tofu with that?
THIS CALLS FOR IMMEDIATE PROTEST!
The country is in turmoil. Nobody, it seems, wants to lead it. The Prime Minister has fallen on the bloody sword he has wielded over our heads for six long years. Boris Johnson, who shirked no ignominy that might have brought him closer to the crown, has just renounced his life-long ambition to place it on his head. The most likely pretenders to the throne are nobodies with the charisma of a fired geography teacher. Her Majesty’s loyal opposition, not to be outdone in idiocy, is tearing itself apart, deaf to the voices that voted for it. The most popular leader in Labour’s history is under attack from his own parliamentary wing, which directs all its energies to a self-immolation worthy of the Party’s Methodist credo. Yet they, too, cannot muster an alternative candidate not tarnished by the history of their shameful support for whatever lie might have brought them to power. The vultures that have straddled our sodden isles, one foot planted firmly on the Continent, have lost billions on the back of a vote by the working class they despise and exploit. Trillion pound trade deals that would have consigned us to obedient serfdom have collapsed in a day. And the political union that is one of the greatest instruments of neo-liberal economics looks on in terror as the fabric of its police state tears along the Brexit seam.
Faced with all this, with every political and economic institution against which it has railed the past decade standing on the edge of a cliff we thought we’d passed long ago, when the supposedly irresistible absolutes on which monopoly capitalism rests have never appeared so shaky and open to change – what does the so-called Radical Left do? It organises a march to demand that workers from counties obedient to the European Union be allowed to work in the UK under the same exploitative relations of employment and production as the rest of us . . .
In a few weeks this will all be wrapped up. The Tory Government will have a new Prime Minister. The Labour Opposition will have a new leader. The bankers will be back in the driving seat. And the Brexit disaster of 2016, like the financial crisis of 2008, will be just another excuse for further austerity measures, an increase in police powers, and the herding of more sheep into the corrals of neo-liberalism. Plus, of course, an opportunity for our middle-class intellectuals to write their next book or make their next film about the imminent downfall of capitalism.
We weren’t ready, and we never will be until we build the revolutionary working-class movement that alone is capable of overthrowing capitalism and bringing a new world into existence. The rest – the holier-than-thou Puritanism of identity politics, the anarchists who want to be ruled by Brussels, the earnest debates on post-capitalism in university halls, the getting very excited about the Second Coming of Jeremy Corbyn, the rise of Saturday protesting as the new clubbing, the empowered and empowering discourses of the other policed by middle-class students, the networked individuals who are gonna change the world one click at a time, the endless petitions to some benevolent god out there in our collective imagination – is bullshit.
THE TIMES THEY ARE A-CHANGING
On the left: how post-Brexit UK is being depicted in our press and media. Let’s call it the Guardian view of the world: a once United Kingdom divided now by region; multicultural London, the cosmopolitan Scots and the loyal Irish alone in a sea of Little-England isolationism, xenophobic racists, pheasant-eating fox hunters and benefit-scrounging council tenants.
On the right: something closer to how the UK actually voted. A referendum is not a general election, and the votes are not counted by geographic constituency. So Scotland didn’t vote to stay in the European Union, and Wales didn’t vote to leave. Right across the UK the electorate voted both to stay and to leave, with no more than a 60-40 split either way in most regions. But in the largest turnout in British electoral history, 17.4 million people, 52 per cent of voters in a 72 per cent turnout, chose to leave. Leaving aside the fox-hunters, the Paki-bashers and the Telegraph-readers, that’s still a huge number of people who made a decision to vote against the trajectory the UK economy has been taking for many years now, and which they associate, rightly or wrongly, with our membership of the EU. Our two-Party Parliament and our first past the post electoral system has constitutionally prohibited anything approaching this level of democracy before. And for the first time in a very long time, the working class have had an opportunity to make their voices heard, with each individual vote directly counting towards the result of the referendum.
For the middle-classes of London, which is to say, the British establishment in Parliament, in the City, in the press and in the media, to dismiss this vote as the deluded, manipulated expression of racist oiks, to call for a second referendum, to feverishly consider the legal and constitutional loopholes to triggering Article 50, and all the other ways they have spent this week trying to turn back the clock on their worst nightmare, is perhaps the clearest demonstration yet of the utter contempt in which that establishment holds the working class of this country and its complete indifference to their impoverishment under this Government. No surprise there. But that the so-called Radical Left have uncritically and without hesitation added their hysterical voices to this middle-class outrage has shown very clearly where they stand in the class war, and no amount of marching and bleating about refugees and immigration and racism will hide their loyalty to their class, their Party and the economic relations about which, as usual, they have nothing to say.
THE MIDDLE CLASSES STRIKE BACK
Hipsters for the EU! Snotty-nosed middle-class students for the EU! You won’t fool the children of the revolution for the EU! Radical Left People’s Assembly for the EU! Young upwardly mobile professionals for the EU! Young hooded anarchists for the EU! Sons and daughters of the urban middle-classes for the EU! People with enough money to spend their weekends in Barcelona for the EU! Non-binary poly-sexual cis-gendered women’s caucus performance artists with a gallery in Marylebone for the EU! Home-owners who’ve just seen the value of their homes plummet for the EU! Decaf latte with vegan burger and celeriac side-salad for the EU! Very pissed off middle-class twats who didn’t realise there were any working class people left in this god-awful country for the EU! Terribly busy people from Islington worried about who’s going to clean their £1 million homes for £6.50 an hour now for the EU! Oh what a bore do I really have to apply for a work permit like the rest of the world for the EU! Acolytes of the Cult of Jeremy Corbyn for the EU! Signatories to the Tony Blair isn’t a war criminal fan club for the EU! David Cameron wasn’t such a bad guy after all historical revisionists for the EU! This is our first ever protest and gosh isn’t it fun for the EU! Here’s another amusing pun on EU/YOU from an 80s pop-song for the EU! All cops are bastards but these ones seem really nice for some reason for the EU! I’ve sat on my arse and done fuck all while the working class have been ground into poverty but don’t mess with my travel plans for the EU! Londoners for immigrants as long as they all live in Bradford for the EU! All Brexiters are white racist benefit-scrounging hooligans I mean poor deluded victims of the Daily Mail wot don’t know their own minds for the EU! At the end of the day Greece needs to pay its way in the world Deutschland über alles for the EU! Smug bastards on the side of the bankers but at least we’re not racists for the EU!
Etc . . .
JEDERMANN SEIN EIGENER FUSSBALL
I watched the semi-final of the Euros between Germany and France last night. It was one of the strangest footballing experiences I’ve ever had, not only because Germany actually lost a football match, but because I watched them lose with a bunch of Germans, having arrived in Berlin on the 5th. We’d walked north from the S-Bahn at Ostkreuz, and this was easily the biggest crowd with the best atmosphere we’d encountered, though that isn’t saying much. I know Friedrichshain isn’t exactly Football Central, but the behaviour of the crowd still took me by surprise. There were at least as many women watching as men; except for one black man everyone was white; except for the barmaids and a squatter who’d wandered by from Rigaer Straße everyone was middle-class. Lots of German team shirts, long wooden tables, tall glasses of beer, etc. And within a minute of turning up, even though the match had already started, a smiling German waitress came up and asked us what we’d like to drink.
But the crowd’s reaction to the game was the strangest thing. I know reaching the semi-final of the European or World Cup is a bi-annual event for the Germans, but the atmosphere was more like a group of parents watching their children play an egg-and-spoon race at the school fundraiser. No shouting, no swearing, no real cheering, no tension (I guess because they all expected to win), and very little excitement. As opposed to the straining faces of Englishmen, who stare like Dante’s damned at the role-call of their own judgement, the Germans sat around and chatted politely about the rise of the Deutschmark and the price of Lederhosen, occasionally turning to catch a few completed passes before nodding soberly in approval and returning to their beer. What got the most reaction was a well-timed tackle, of which there were many. These received not the full-throated roar of an English crowd mingled with cries of ‘KILL HIM!’, ‘BREAK HIS LEG!’, etc, but a polite round of applause, the kind you hear at the Opera when a middling tenor makes his entrance. Even when Schweinsteiger gave away the contentious penalty that gave the dastardly French the lead, I honestly think I was the only person in or outside the entire bar debating whether it was ball-to-hand or hand-to-ball.
At half time, when English TV typically dissects every missed pass (of which there are many), bungled shot (ditto) and referee decision against them (‘cause we woz robbed!’), German TV switches ― I shit you not ― to the latest in politics from the European Union (Brexit) and a weather report (cloudy). I can’t imagine a single TV screen in a single pub in England surviving this.
Midway through the second half, when it began to look like Germany were in ein bisschen die Mühe, the table to my left broke out into song. ‘Ah!’ I thought, ‘now we’ll see some German Angst! Not so cool, calm and collected when they’re losing, are they?’ Alas, in response to me asking my German friend what mildly Francophobe football song they were chanting, she replied that it was a birthday song for one of their party, who stood up on cue and took a bow, blocking the view of the screen for half the bar. Frankly, if this didn’t result in his immediate glassing in an English pub I’d do it myself.
As the last five minutes were signalled and France were still 2-0 up, and even the German players appeared to have a bead or two of sweat on their quizzical brows, the one black man present stood up and politely waved his hand at the screen in exasperation. The final seconds ticked down. Were they really that confident about scoring not one but two late goals? Maybe I’d read the clock wrong and there was still half an hour to go. Germany were about to go out of the semi-final of the European Cup, a stage England last reached twenty years ago and has only achieved twice in major finals since 1966, and not a voice was raised, not a swear word was shouted at the referee, not an umlaut was dropped. I saw grown men weep into urinals when England were knocked out of the quarter finals of the 1998 World Cup by Argentina. I’ve seen crowds of English supporters look more distraught by England losing yet another penalty shootout than if you’d told them China had dropped a neutron bomb on the US. But here . . . nothing. No anger, no despair, no blame, no conspiracy theories, no interrogation of the national character, no drowning the collective sorrow in Jägermeister bombs and a quick shag in the girls’ toilets. Just an acceptance that ― although Germany were clearly the better team ― France had nicked the game, more on the back of German mistakes than by their own skill.
To the waitress’s polite enquiry, the crowd soberly decided they had an early start the next day doing whatever it is Berliners do for a living, and declined a third pint of Pils. Within five minutes of the final whistle the bar was empty. The chairs were neatly stacked. One glass had been broken, not in anger or violence but knocked over by a moved chair. ‘Alles gut!’ they smiled. ‘We’ll win next time!’ And I have absolutely no doubt they will.
The question arising, of course, is this. Is the German nation so accustomed to success in football that both supporters and players never lose their cool and presence of mind, on or off the pitch, while the English, fans and players alike, run around like headless chickens in an agony of repeatedly crushed hopes? Or is it because they keep their cool ― and don’t really see what all the fuss is about a game they just happen to be extremely good at but fall short of seeing as the embodiment of their national character ― that the Germans are so good at football; whereas the English ― who run around like headless chickens in an agony of renewed despair ― try desperately to find the dubious glory of our long-lost Empire, a stiff upper lip in the face of disaster, and all the other cliches of our former national character in our current abject ineptitude at all sports, but in this one above all others?
As a nation, a people, a culture, a gene pool, Germany is so clearly superior to us in everything they do that it’s slightly embarrassing. The average girl on the street has the figure of an athlete. The kids are polite and speak seventeen languages. In Berlin, at least, nobody seems to work, everybody drinks in moderation, and even the punks say ‘bitte’ and ‘danke’. It’s no surprise that even after 2 World Wars, 1 Holocaust, and 39 years of the Stasi, they’re still running Europe. Where the Panzer failed the Euro has conquered. Like the British in India, the Germans have learnt that you don’t need to invade a country when you can strip it of every asset and reduce its citizens to penury and obedience with a Central Bank and a bunch of bureaucrats. But I can’t shake the feeling that this is what Tony Blair and Angela Merkel, not to mention Jean-Claude Juncker and the rest of the European Commission, want us to be. And if it’s a choice between 4 World and 3 European Cups versus a packet of pork scratchings, a pint of warm ale and a pub full of screaming, swearing, fighting, pissed-up, one-eyed cockneys weeping into their urine at full time, I’m slightly ashamed to say I’ll take the latter.
Everyman his own football.
Architects for Social Housing
Illustration by Andrew Cooper