Issue 213 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published November 1997 Copyright Socialist Review

Stack on the back

Pat Stack

Strange swan song

My, oh my, what a confusing world we live in. Catching the occasional glimpse of the party conferences was odd to say the least. For while Jack Straw was sounding like an old Tory moralist, Gordon Brown like an old Tory economist, and David Blunkett like an old Tory educationalist, prominent Tories were apparently heading in the opposite direction.

There was William Hague, modern young man, modern young morals, shacking up with his girlfriend, and dismissing old Tory ideals and old Tory moral standards. Then there was John Redwood, he of the worrying stare and strange expressions, suddenly becoming friend of the worker, the poor, the oppressed, even the welfare state.

As if that wasn't enough, up popped Michael Portillo. You remember Michael. He was the one who gave us all our crowning moment on election night by losing his seat. For years we'd listened to this horrible, ambitious man touch all the right wing spots with speeches full of patriotic fervour and anti working class loathing.

Now suddenly he's the friend of the downtrodden, he's a caring sharing sort of Tory, a friend of single mothers and the vulnerable everywhere.

How can this be? What does it mean?

Perhaps the strange paradox of the whole thing is that sections of the Tory Party have a more profound understanding of what happened at the general election than do their Labour counterparts. It seems that sections of the Labour leadership really do believe the old bollocks that it was Peter wot won it. They believe that the cleverness of Mandelson, Alistair Campbell and of course Blair himself pulled off that fabulous victory.

Of course, if all the style and concessions to Tory ideology won it, then not just the policies but the whole tone of government remains very much shaped by what has gone before. The Tories, however, learnt something else in that election campaign. For four or five years they bleated on about how it wasn't their policies but their failure to present them properly to the public that was the reason they were trailing so badly in the polls.

The election campaign put paid to that piece of garbage. They found, individually and collectively, that they were loathed by millions of people.

So the Tories understand the enormity of their defeat and flail around trying to do something about it which leads to the rather incongruous goings on in Blackpool. The words and the mouths they were coming from just didn't match up. It was rather like going to see Def Leppard and finding them trying to sing operatic arias. Of course there was discord. There, like the worst of heavy metal trash, stood old axemen Alan Clark and Norman Tebbit, blasting out the more obnoxious of the old tunes.

Somehow, however, one feels that the new sweeter music can't last. It has been produced out of confusion and demoralisation, and if things don't appear to get better then the nasty refrains of Clark and particularly Tebbit can begin to play the airwaves again.

Of course, it's not the first time Tebbit has serenaded us with his thinly veiled racism. We have in the past had to listen to his twaddle about cricket tests. Now we have to match his level of cultural purity before we can qualify for the greatest prize of all, True Britishness. How do we attain the necessary cultural level, and what is this culture? Well we have to learn history. We have to feel a swelling pride in our hearts for Waterloo, Trafalgar, the relief of Mafeking and so on.

Ooops. But what if while we're learning this we learn of the Irish Famine, the Amritsar Massacre, the great British slave trade? So in order to be a true Brit we must read history selectively, rather as Catholics were taught to do with the Old Testament.

What then of the culture? You saw during the summer large numbers of people descending on London defending British culture, or that part of it that says it's fun to watch a pack of dogs pull a fox apart. This is a part of culture with which I and probably nearly all the readers of this magazine, indeed most people in Britain, have nothing in common with, dislike, and can't even begin to comprehend.

Similarly Tebbit mentioned Morris dancing as opposed to the Notting Hill Carnival. I would dare to suggest that there is hardly a household in Britain that doesn't have as part of its cultural pastime a collection of music by black artists or at the very least music inspired by black artists. Fans of classical music and opera will largely have music composed by Europeans of all sorts. Few, very few, will be listening to the sort of music that inspired Morris (whoever he may have been) to dance.

If, as I suspect he does, Tebbit includes our culinary habits in his assessment of culture, then surely we have long sold our birthright. We eat Indian, Chinese, Greek, Turkish, pizza and so on at a far greater rate now than meat and two veg, or even fish and chips.

Norman's British culture simply doesn't exist and bears no relation to the way we live our lives. Indeed he is demanding of black and Asian people a caricature of Britishness which may exist in a corner of Chingford, but more likely exists solely in the imagination of N Tebbit. It is designed to stir up racism, to appeal to the lowest, most base prejudices, and it serves as a timely reminder of just how loathsome the Tories really are. What a shame Blair and co can't see it!


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