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Archive for the month “July, 2012”

The Dark Knight Rises

(the following contains spoilers which you really should read if you are planning to see the film, as you shouldn’t see the film)

The alleged delights of being a contrarian are often illusory when the broad mass of humanity goes against your view. Film critics I respect, such as Roger Ebert and Phillip French, have lauded Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Rises”. Most public reaction I have encountered has been positive likewise.

However, there are a number of rather large flaws in the last installment of the franchise which I find it impossible to ignore. I was going to go on about the incredibly clunky dialogue, the rushed and hollow action, the lack of anyone to match Heath Ledger’s charisma, the loathesome apologia for fascism that runs underneath the movie’s skin. But you know what? All it needs is a basic summary of plot.

(This is the point that, if you are really determined to see the film, you stop reading now. Seriously. No good will come of you continuing to read)

A russian scientist is abducted from a plane by the mercenary Bane, an enormous muscled psychopath who has a big breathing apparatus on his face, and talks like Vincent Price channelling Darth Vader in a wind tunnel. This is an extremely well done scene, and is notable for being the last point I really thought Chris Nolan knew what he was doing.

The Bruce Wayne foundation holds a charity ball. Commissioner Jim Gordon is about to give a speech about how Harvey Dent (in honour of whom, a law has been passed that has incarcerated Gotham’s recidivist community, and sent crime to historical lows) wasn’t actually a shining light, but a raving psychopath. But then doesn’t. And puts it in his pocket instead.

Catwoman breaks into Bruce Wayne’s house and steals his grandmother’s pearls and his fingerprints. Bruce – who hitherto was a recluse with a gammy leg doing a Howard Hughes impression – gets intrigued by this and goes searching after her, rather than, say, reporting her to the police because she’s stolen his grandmother’s pearl and his fingerprints. Turns out she is working for a crooked industrialist, who wants control of Wayne Enterprises (The industrialist is working with Bane, because that’s the kinda guys you hang out with in industry, enormous muscled psychopaths with a big breathing apparatus on their face that talk like Vincent Price channelling Darth Vader in a wind tunnel).

He meets her at a charity ball. She warns him that his rich friends are facing a storm. She leaves with a Senator. Bruce meets a French woman who wants his nuclear fusion project, that he shelved when a Russian Scientist published plans to weaponise it on the internet. “oh, you can share it now, the scientist is dead, zut alors, he died in the opening credits sequence”, she says.

In a sequence of events, Jim Gordon chases after those with the fingerprints, and ends up in the sewers, where he is assaulted by Bane, who steals the speech that Jim has in his pocket. Jim escapes by rolling into some water.

Cops find Jim all soggy and take him to hospital. Nobody believes Jim when he says there is an army in the sewers. Because when the Chief Commissioner of police comes out of the sewers saying “there’s an army of criminals in the sewers and they attacked me”, you would, of course, ignore him. Of course you would. He’s only the most respected policeman in the city and has never had fantasies about an army full of criminals assembling in the sewers before. Of course you’d ignore him.

Bruce visits Wayne Enterprises to talk to Lucius Fox. Lucius shows him a room full of weapons that Wayne Enterprises has developed but that he keeps hidden from everyone because he doesn’t trust the police and army. Bruce says he’s keeping the endless source of energy that is nuclear fusion away from the public because he doesn’t trust them. Neither turns to the other at any point in this conversation and says “hang on, god fucking complex or what?”.

Bane attacks the stock exchange. Bruce, as Batman, chases. Bane has put a program in place that makes it look like Bruce has gambled all of Wayne Enterprises’ money on futures that are worthless. Bane escapes. Batman is left holding a product placed I-pad.

Bruce argues with Alfred, and they have a conversation that goes like this:

Bruce Wayne: Exposition, Exposition
Alfred: Exposition, State the bleeding obvious
Bruce Wayne: Exposition, plan of action that involves risk
Alfred: Elongated anecdote that illustrates fear for Bruce
Bruce Wayne: Low growling angst ridden moan
Alfred: Pained look of worry for Bruce

and then Alfred storms off, because he won’t watch Bruce kill himself. He does his wobbly lip, shaky voice, big rheumy sad eyes full of tears like a depressed bloodhound from The Italian Job thing before he goes.

Bruce loses control of Wayne enterprises because the board is really angry he’s gambled away all the money on futures that are worthless, even though he hasn’t, and even though whatever program Bane put into the computers, it must be patently obvious that these transactions happened, y’know, at the same time Bane was attacking the stock exchange, and even though even the most worthless futures would have to be worth something, unless they were, y’know, spread bets on Chris Nolan and his brother winning the Oscar for best original script.

In a surprise move, he outmaneuvres the crooked industrialist, and places the frenchwoman on the board. “Mais Oui!” she says. The frenchwoman goes to Batman’s house and they have tasteful sex. The crooked industrialist goes to shout at Bane because he isn’t in charge of Wayne Enterprises, but is first caught by Catwoman looking for a secret disk that can erase all trace her from the world’s computers. He tells her it’s a myth. Bane comes in. She escapes. Bane breaks the industrialists neck. Batman helps Catwoman escape.

Catwoman helps Batman go down into the sewers to find Bane, but she double crosses him and leads him to Bane. They have a really rubbish fist fight. Bane wins. Bane breaks Batman’s back, and after showing him that he somehow has access to Lucius Fox’s secret room full of weapons, you know, the room only Lucius and Bruce know about, places him in a prison somewhere like Turkey or whatever.

It’s a hell-hole. To pile insult on top of injury, they stick him in a room with an aged Tom Conti. Aged Tom Conti, who presumably has forgotten romancing Julie Walters, bores us all at inordinate length with the tale of the only person ever to escape the prison. He never uses a masculine or femine pronoun to describe said child, but certain other tales he tells regarding Bane leads Bruce to assume Bane was the child. They fix Bruce’s back, because that’s what you do as prisoners in the most hellish prison known to man. Rather than, say, knifing him, buggering him to death and stealing his clothes.

The police finally believe Jim Gordon, and send the entire police force down to the sewer. Even though there’s a big American football match on and, one would assume, the normal levels of traffic that a major city has to police. Bane blows the tunnels trapping everyone in the sewers (he’s used the crooked industrialists workers to plant bombs all around the city doing this. Because that’s what construction guys do, generally, side with insane psychopathic terrorists. You know, like all the New York construction workers who sided with Bin Laden….).

Then he goes to the ball game and blows up the pitch. He walks on to the remainders of it with the Russian scientist and tells everyone that he has trapped the police force, and what’s more, he has turned Bruce’s nuclear fusion reactor into a big bomb and the russian is the only person who can disarm it. He then breaks the Russian’s neck. He tells the world not to interfere with Gotham whilst he works his wicked way. He tells the people of Gotham they are free of the law. Oh, and by the way? Harvey Dent was a psychopath, not a nice guy. Look, I have Jim’s speech here.

Unhindered by the law, the apparently law abiding, crime free, seemingly prosperous Gothamites go on a rampage, which takes up all of 30 seconds of screen time, attacking the rich. Bane recruits a private army from the criminals locked up under the Dent law. He arms them with the weapons stolen from Lucius.

Meanwhile, the handsome but dull cop who has spent the entire movie being right two minutes behind events is working with Commissioner Gordon and others to try and free the sewer-trapped cops.

Gothamn is anarchy. This is illustrated by a short sequence where Cillian Fox hands out post-revolutionary justice, and another where Catwoman saves a small child from being beaten up for stealing an apple. Because, you see, once the police have been removed, everyone who isn’t rich or a policeman is, basically, part of an angry, ungovernable mob just itching to side with a psychopathic terrorist who has blown up their local football team, despite there not being any mention of poverty for the preceeding however many minutes of the film, and despite crime being at an all time low.


Bruce trains himself into fitness over the course of time (months appear to have passed, it is now winter in Gotham, and he’s been recovering from a broken back and having the shit kicked out of him by doing chin curls and getting fit on prison gruel – third world prisons are  just the place to get back into tip top fighting condition when you are an ageing billionaire vigilante past his best years) and then escapes from a big hole in the roof (after trying twice and failing. The secret was to do it without a rope, you see).

Commissioner Gordon gets captured whilst trying to get most all of the police force back from the sewers. He gets sent out onto the river’s ice to fall in and die. Batman rescues him. He’s somehow got back from Turkey or wherever it was in record time, and got into Gotham despite it being cut off from the outside world, and appeared just in time to rescue Jim on the ice).

Batman frees the cops in the sewer. The cops in the sewer attack Bane and his army, looking remarkably spruce for people who have been trapped in a sewer for fucking months (the dull cop has been giving them food, apparently. Given there’s allegedly 3000 of them, and one of him, and they are trapped in different parts of the sewer, that’s quite a big job. And given that food appears to be scarce or rationed because the revolutionary government of Bane has cut Gotham off from the outside world, he’s doing well to get his hands on it, but hey, he’s the dull cop, so that’s alright). Bane’s army, despite being armed to the teeth with at the very least semi automatic weapons, decide to engage in a fistfight with 3000 angry cops and lose (even though we’ve been told there are 8000 of them, and 3000 cops).

Batman helps. Batman attacks Bane. Batman wins this time because he’s only just worked out through talking to Tom Conti for fricking months that maybe punching Bane in the enormous and highly visible breathing apparatus on his face may be a winning tactic in a fist fight. Just as Batman goes into his custom interrogation technique (slamming Bane against things and shouting “where is it?” about the nuclear bomb, he is really a poster boy for subtlety, this guy), the Frenchwoman appears and stabs him in the back, revealing she’s the daughter of the badman from the first movie. It turns out the frenchwoman was the child who escaped from the prison! Pesky Tom Conti! Can’t he use masculine or feminine pronouns when telling an overlong tale? That was just asking for trouble.

She tries to make the bomb go off via radio control but in a really tedious action sequence, Jim Gordon has already stopped her by putting some sort of blocker on it. The bomb is going to go off anyway, sorry, I forgot to tell you that, because the core is degrading or something. Yeah, that was it. She runs off to try and get the bomb and Bruce is about to be killed by Bane when Catwoman (oh yeah, Catwoman helped Bruce somehow, and Bruce gave her that magical program thingy she wanted from the crooked industrialist, because obviously crime is bad and wrong and criminals deserve to be beaten to a pulp by a vigilante billionaire *unless they are Anne Hathaway in lycra*. I mean, it’s a good job Catwoman wasn’t a pug ugly bloke, or Bruce would have kicked shit out of him, slammed him into things shouting “where is it/he/Waldo?” and the like, and she wouldn’t have been round to save his arse) shoots Bane in the head. Batman, who has a lifelong aversion to guns of all kinds is perfectly fine with this.

Bruce and Catwoman go after Frenchwoman, who has gone after the bomb. There’s a really dull re-hash of the truck chase/attack scene in the second film which leads to the frenchwoman dying but the bomb being too far away from the reactor (oh yeah, to disarm it, they had to get to the reactor), and despite the bomb being radio controlled, and degrading, it has a big timer on the front that handily tells them they only have minutes left (because, y’know, nuclear fusion reactors that have been turned into bombs generally degrade to the very second), so Bruce gets into his plane, and flies off, tugging the bomb along with him, the bomb goes off over the sea, order is restored, dull policeman becomes Robin, Jim Gordon unveils a somewhat fascistic statue of Batman, and Alfred sees Bruce and Catwoman having coffee in Florence, because Bruce had put the plane on auto-pilot, see?

Oh. Sorry. Did I mention that there’s a bus load of orphans in danger as well? Sorry. Anyway, they get saved, and go to live in Wayne Manor.

The end.

Essentially, when you take the trimmings away, all 3 Batman movies are notable for one thing – the villain’s plot is basically the same plan every time (“Oh ho, you think your society is good or noble or just? I will cause existential dread and make you realise the thin skin between you and barbarism, a thin skin only held in place by the actions of a Billionaire Vigilante who beats up the poor“), and first Batman tries to thwart them, is defeated, it looks like the villain is going to win, but what’s that Robin? Batman has turned up fortuitously at the last moment to save the day? Hurrah!

This could be glossed over for the first film, as it was a reboot and added a certain life and vigour to the series, and added much vaunted “realism”. The second movie featured an exceptional performance by Ledger as the Joker, and more of the “realism”. By the time we get to film 3, however, Nolan’s “realism” is as realistic as the dream sequences in “Inception”. He rushes through the action sequences, which could have been the film’s saving grace (even the promising ones such as the Football stadium explosion) to get to next action sequence which is just as rushed, or to give us acres of tedious speechifying in a vernacular that no human being would ever use. And all in service for a quite reprehensible political message which at very best is Burkean fear of the mob, and at worse is a proto-fascist call for a strong leader.

If you intend to jump the shark, I would suggest stocking up on bat-shark-repellent first. Adam West is your man for that. He’s got loads.


An Old Rant

The White Working class disconnect – Multiculturalism, Antisemitism, Islamophobia, Immigration, and the economic elephant in the room.

(from 2010)
Recently, I have been working my way through Anthony Julius’ monumental “Trials of the Diaspora”, which is a history of anti-semitism in the UK. A very good, and worthwhile, book. In several instances I may disagree with Mr Julius – for example, several times, a defence is offered of Zionism as not being in any way the same as other European nationalisms because it is in essence a reaction to the fact that Jewish people were oppressed. Well, the end point of that is indisputable – anyone with any inkling of history would rightly grant Mr Julius that (as an aside, the current prevalence of Holocaust memorial days and the like, the drowning of the history book market with titles related to the Nazis and WWII, I think to a degree actually helps to hide that. The idea may sound counter-intuitive, that the focusing on the greatest mass genocide in modern history – and I mean modern history, by the way, it’s arguable, for instance, that the actions of someone like Tamurlane were comparable in scope and relative size, to say the least, without the technology that the nazis used – helps hide European anti-semitism, but the point is, the narrative is pretty much always focused on the exceptionalism of German crimes – to take merely 20th century examples, what A Level history student knows much, if anything, about the pogroms in Tsarist Russia? Who knows about the anti-semitic and authoritarian nature of the pre-war Polish state? The crazed anti-semitism that Stalin succumbed to? The anti-semitism of Poland in the 60s? Very few, I would contend), however, the idea that a nationalism differs because the ethnicity or nationality suffers oppression is a fallacy – Polish Nationalism was still nationalism. Zionism is a product of the 1800s, and can trace it’s roots to the same wave of nationalisms that the French Revolution encouraged. It’s a blood and soil nationalism. End of. In fact, one could argue that it’s the last surviving Western blood and soil nationalism, but to do so would be ignoring, say, the Balkans. One could also argue – a lot more convincingly – that of those nationalisms, it’s caused (comparitively) the least pain and hurt and here – looking at the mess such movements made of most of Europe for at least the latter half of the 19th, and first half of the 20th century, one would be on firmer ground, but at the same time, one must concede that any nationalist project generally does cause suffering to someone. Most “soil” is under disputed ownership. To argue otherwise is to ignore reality.

Other points he makes regarding the subject of Zionism – for example, the curious prevalence that it plays in political narrative – are less disputable. There is, undoubtedly, a healthy dose of anti-semitism in our obsession with the Israel/Palestine situation (and indeed, the philo-semitism of supporters of Israel is pretty much just anti-semitism reversed. Rather than taking Jewish people as individuals, instead, they are examplars of morality and nobility, of ethics – in it’s own way just as patronising and false a viewpoint – although, obviously, not as menacing – as the anti-semites), which, on a realistic level, affects a very small proportion of the planet. Of course, one can offer other reasons for our media and popular fixation with the situation – the legacy of Empire being one, after all, the UK held control of the region for a vital period of time. Or the cultural fixation with “The Holy Land”. The (in)convenient placing of the place at the meeting point of 3 continents. The west/east clash of civilizations thesis that goes back to at least the Ancient Greeks versus the Ancient Persians. The racist overtones (and, again, racist overtones on both sides. The fact that here are some pretty white, European looking fellows in dispute with some not quite as white, not quite European looking fellows colours both sides of the equation – on the anti side, it feeds into post colonial guilt, and they practice transference – the jews become scapegoats for the sins of Imperialism. On the pro Israel side, here is “democracy” fighting “barbarism”. Both these most definitely feed into the media representation of the situation). The idea that the conflict is the major obstacle to world peace, which is a constant trope throughout European society, is another example of an anti-semitic fixation. If you step back a step or two, you’ll see the Middle East policy of the west is not dictated by Israel/Palestine. The Middle East policy of the west is dictated by our reliance on several regimes there who supply us with oil. It’s dictated by our craven acceptance of them, our unwillingness to challenge them, and it’s dictated by the tricks they play to hold on to power.

(That’s all said by someone, by the way, who thinks there should be a solution, not one of those “hatfield and mccoy, it’ll never be solved” types. I’m just saying idealism and ethics can also have a sense of proportion about them)

What’s equally fascinating (and I say “equally fascinating” because firstly, I want to make the point that the subject of anti-semitism is completely and utterly worthy of studying on it’s own, but at the same time, it’s what we could call the “Urtext” of racisms. Pretty much the first, and pretty much the template for most that follows) about the book is the way it informs a reading of other, current debates and disputes. The similarities between it, and the dreaded “Islamophobia” being one.

Now, I’m not a fan of the word Islamophobia. For a good number of reasons. The first, and perhaps to me most pressing, being that as a secular individual, I believe we have the right to criticise any religion whenever we like. I’ve got no time for being told that I’m not allowed to do so, that a belief set that dictates how we should live our life is not open to criticism, that it is akin to racism to critique it. This is ardent bollocks. I object to all religion, and I object to all religion equally. Am I going to demand you stop believing in it? Make it illegal? Mock you for believing in it? Not in the slightest. You believe what you want, chums. But should your religion set itself up as the supreme authority on law, morals, ethics, behaviour – from the repressive sexual elements of all religion, to the quite frankly bizarre dictats on what you can and cannot eat – then I have the right to say “hang on”. So I am always going to be wary of being told that my rationally arrived at critique at what I Believe at best to be comforting fairy stories (and key words there are “what I believe”, again, re-iterate my point, you believe what you want, I believe what I want, my critiques can be critiqued, your beliefs can be critiqued, quid pro quo, innit?) is a phobia. It really isn’t. I was not scared as a child by a hell and damnation preacher. I was not frightened in my pram by an imam. No priest molested me, no rabbi circumcised me when I was young and scared, no guru took my money and bought a rolls-royce. I have no phobia. Sorry.

But, larger than that, beyond my own personal beliefs, is disquiet at the way it blends three seperate strands of thought together. The first strand – and, despite the various jeremiads delivered against yer Hitchens and yer Dawkins – the least malign of these is the secular tradition – the secular state, the democratic secular belief system is the best friend of religious freedom the world has ever seen. Not for us, the pogroms. Not for us, the Inquisition. Not for us, the cleansing, the crusade, the jihad. We believe whole-heartedly in your freedom to believe. We just want our freedom to believe and criticise, as adults do, in healthy, grown-up debate. However, this is now blending – in the case of “Islamophobia” with two other traditions, namely, the sectarian, and the racist.

(I’ll make the point here, by the way, that this is not just the case with Islam. It’s most constant, and pressing, with Islam. But it’s also noticeable with other religions. What we have in the UK at present is a strange mix between secular critique, sectarian – Protestant, or Church of England – assaults and racism. The reactions to the papal visit of 2010 are a very good example. On the one hand, some valid criticisms were made. On the other hand, some facile criticisms was made. And, also, this tied into a – small P – protestant anti-clericalism; lots of sneering remarks about priests and small children which – whilst informed by certain undeniable historical events – were often beyond the pale. And beneath it, a contender for England’s oldest racism with anti-semitism, anti-irish feeling, mixed with one of our more recent hates, anti-german feeling.)

Now, leaving aside the sectarian, because you essentially know what it means (“our god is bigger than your god”), people are going to look at the racist part, and make the obvious, and oft made retort “but Islam is not a race, it’s a religion”. Yes indeedy, well spotted sherlock, it is indeed a religion. A religion that – I think I’ve made perfectly clear already – I dislike and that I believe people should be both free to follow and free to criticise. And the reactions of certain elements within Islam to those criticisms are entirely beyond the pale. Let’s not pretend, however, that they are new and unique. The long trail of auto-da-fes and witch trials and inquisitions and the like stretching back to (hah) god knows when disprove that notion pretty conclusively. Yes, fatwas and mobs demanding the burning of cartoonists and asassins and etc etc etc – wrong. There. Should be stood up against. There, Should not be pandered to. There. This is a point I will return to when I address multi-cult, but, let’s move on to the racist element, shall we, just for a while?

It’s an unfortunate truth that the racists have – on several levels – assimilated the language of the secular, and on a greater level, the language of the sectarian (Nick Griffin and his language about Britain being a Christian nation spring to mind…that’s the Christianity originally devised by your Jewish pals, Nick? Because you really like the Jews don’t you? Always have, and never ever been a Holocaust denier, have you?) and are using them. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t seen anyone making a song and dance about white muslim converts. Nobody, really, is up in arms about Chinese muslims (of which there are a healthy number in the world, and, undoubtedly, a number in the UK). It’s not really been an issue about Indonesian Muslims, either. Not really. I’ve very rarely heard remarks about Muslims from the Balkans, but that was more to do with their alleged criminality.

I’ve encountered racists who use the language of being anti-Islam and no doubt you have too, and we all know what they mean. They mean, predominantly, the individuals who come from a span of land from North Africa to Pakistan. With their primary fixation, given the whole seeds of empire thing, being those from the Middle East and the Indian Sub-continent. Now, an extremely charitable reading of this would be that there are more of them here than the other sorts, and that’s why the focus is on them. That is, however, an extremely charitable reading. The actuality is, there is racism, lurking underneath the discourse (or, often as not, right there, front and centre, IN the discourse).

And there’s no point claiming, firstly, as is the wont of certain elements, that it is only Islam the issue is with. Because I have no doubt that you and I know a person whose skin colour approximately matches the above indicated targets but is in fact a Hindu, or a Sikh, or even (in the case of some of my relatives) a Roman Catholic. And the same insults have been, no doubt, shouted at them. As well as, basically, everyone who is from that enormous spread of land being a fucking Paki, they are also, often as not, a fucking Muslim.

So, cloaking their racism in universalism, in talk of human rights, in talk of how women, or homosexuals are treated under Islamic societies (because of course, there is never homophobia or sexism in the makeup of the racist), they have – to a great degree – turned a secular discussion about religion into one about race and immigration. And they have turned a very important discussion – the discussion of how a society exists with many different cultures in it, how you match liberal values with viewpoints that often challenge or seek to replace those liberal values without losing what makes your values liberal in the first place – into one about race.

A lot of this is down to the press. This, by the way, is when one of the most glaring similarities with the Julius book hoves into view. A number of newspapers – the guiltiest party by far being The Express (which after nigh on a decade having Diana on the front page every day, and after a year or so of Maddy McCann replacing her) has been consistently misinforming a section of the population about the threat of the Muzzies.

See also, stablemate The Daily Star (both owned, by the way, by pornographer Richard Desmond, who made his fortune with titles such as “Asian Babes”. One could argue that there is a degree of hypocrisy in this, or one could say he is being consistent in protecting his business, and look at market demographics for pornography – when there are a few hundred thousand brown skinned people in the country, a porn magazine filled with semi naked lovelies from the Indian sub-continent is sufficiently exotic to corner a large market. When there are several million brown skinned individuals, on the other hand, the exotic nature begins to wear off. I’d be interested to see the sales for the title, and seeing whether there has been an increase or decline as the “asian” population of the country has increased. That may sound facetious, but there is the undeniable fact that a lot of porn is based around taboo or exoticism, and glimpsing the occasional brown face may give you a fetish and a yen for that skin colour, but when you live cheek by jowl with a reasonable number of people with that skin colour, the exotic element will most definitely wear off, as you start to lose the orientalist viewpoint and just appreciate people as people…).

But mention must also be made of The Mail, The Sun (shockingly, “only to a degree”, the Sun’s real enemy in the past ten years or so has more often as not been our “bonkers” response to immigration than to immigrants itself, certainly the language used has been less demonising than that of the Express, Star and Mail), and The Telegraph (with, often, the same caveats as The Sun, but read the online comments beneath a Telegraph article and you’ll find the target audience out in force). Quite frankly, if you compare and contrast turn of 1900 articles in The Mail, with turn of the Millennium articles in the Mail, and replace the word “jew” with “muslim” (or, often as not, the words are not used, and some non-specific phrase such as immigrant put in it’s place), the language and imagery is pretty much the same. The concept – Olde Englande is under attack from foreign hordes – remains the same. The elite remain pandering to them, the honest working man is being done down by them etc etc etc

Ah, the elite pandering to them. Which brings us back to multi-cult, and the white working class disconnect.

A point was made in argument a while back, the same point I have been arguing quite vociferously for at least a decade. The “multi-culturalism has failed” trope has been kicked around at least for twice this length of time, maybe even longer. There is a two fold thing going on here. The first is, quite simply, again, racism. Make it about immigration or make it merely about race, but I have heard that phrase used by racists for the best part of 20 years.

Back in the good old days, when they were more front and centre about what they meant, they used to say “the multi-cultural experiment has failed”. Which language implied…an experiment? Therefore, there is an experimenter. And shock horror, wouldn’t you know it, the experimenter always used to turn out to be the Joooos. Sometimes it would take them another level of prevarication to get there – “Marxists” was usually the fig-leaf they used to cover it with – but given sufficient questioning, the marxists were all revealed to be of a certain ethno-religious grouping…quelle surprise there, eh kids?

Before you knew it, it was all Zionist Overgoverment and International Marxism/Finance and you were in some bizarre mash-up opinion piece, about how the country has gone to the dogs, and it’s the hidden hand, half written by Hilaire Belloc, and the other half a mix between Peter Hitchens and Peter Sutcliffe, for all the rationality that was displayed. But then there’s the second part of the equation. The second part being, to a degree, what has been sold to us as multiculturalism has failed.

Now, here’s where I got overly atheistic, and possibly stridently left wing on your asses. Sorry about that. But…the working class of this country have always lived alongside immigrants. Going way back when. Generation after generation would come in to poorer areas, be assimilated to a certain degree (and we can’t say it was never without any problems, because it quite obviously was, as the history of race riots and the like shows us), and then spread out and join the wider populace at large. Within a generation, generally, those “immigrants” would be British (or English) to a larger or greater degree. My friend from Uni, Matt, is a frightfully English boy, despite his forefathers having come over here from Holland. But when the immigrants had a different skin colour…

When the immigrants had a different skin colour, their adaption to the general populace was halted. Not in the sense that the poor areas didn’t have them come in and they didn’t become part of the community there. But…the less poor types didn’t want them moving in next door. A combination of subtle and not so subtle methods of keeping them out emerged. So after a generation, there was far less dispersal from the ghettos that had formed. Instead, there was more concentration. And more. And what do we do, to keep the immigrants happy in their ghettos? Well, we keep well out of discussions of their religion, we turn a blind eye to cultural practices that are antithetical to laws of the land, we hand over control to self appointed community leaders (one of the most ignorant, and racist tropes is the constant referral to some preacher of whatever god as a community leader – you see it in the States with the urban black community as well, ignoring the plurality of voices and viewpoints and cultures that are within any community). And this goes on and on, with the embracing of faith schools (well, it worked with the catholics, didn’t it? But then the catholics could disperse into the general population, being on the whole white, which as I have just pointed out, makes a bastard of a big difference).

But that isn’t multi-culturalism is it? That’s mono-cultural thinking. That’s saying – instead of “we welcome you here and we will adapt to you and you adapt to us, and sooner or later we are living in a nice plural democracy where people’s views and cultures are respected and allowed but there are no – apologies to hindus hah – sacred cows” – rather “you keep over there and don’t come into our area and you can do what the hell you want. That way, we don’t have to change one iota, we can bleed anything nice from your culture we want – hello cuisine, hello fashion, hello musical styles – but we don’t have to live with you. We’ll leave that to the poor, thanks. Which, by the way, by and large you will be because you’ll be living in their areas which have been starved of investment and jobs for decades” (Oh, and the kicker, remember those corrupt dictatorial regimes in the Middle East that we support with our dependence on oil? They channel money into certain areas, mosques, faith schools, so their – not representative – version of Islamic thought becomes the dominant strand in thinking. That’s what religion does. Push the faith. “Nasty” religion and “nice” religion. That’s why faith schools should never be built, why religious education should always only be about religions and not for religions, why I have as much disquiet about Islamic faith schools as Born Again Christian academies, catholic schools, jewish schools et al).

No. That isn’t multi-culturalism. That’s ghettos. That’s the same thing that happened to the jews for centuries (see how it all ties together, I wasn’t just using the Julius book to go off on one you know).

It’s inherently stupid, and inherently illiberal. It’s racist and it’s demeaning. And it’s culturally backward – look at the impact Jewish people made on the rest of European culture in the century after they were “emancipated” by Napoleon, and the control of their culture by the forces of religion fell away. This isn’t – sorry my semitic and philo-semitic friends – proof of the innate superiority of the jewish race. It’s proof that once multi-culturalism is properly applied, that great moral, intellectual and economic strides can be made, both in the individual communities and the wider community at large. Our language of human rights may have come from the Enlightenment, for instance, but often as not, since the Jewish emancipation, the most strenous and forthright activists for it have been from the Jewish community. Which benefited both the jews of the world and the cultures they lived in.

Finally, the white working class disconnect? This seems to be a big issue with newspaper columnists. Often newspaper columnists who for the past 30 years who have been at least mildly “yay capitalism!” to quote Austin Powers…Well, for 30 or so years, the governments of this country have been practicing economic practices completely antithetical to the needs and – more often than not – desires of the working class. And whilst doing so, that same working class has seen the number of brown faces around them grow (and, indeed, watching the party that is meant to represent all their class only really make any strides in winning the argument on race – and sexuality, to be completely fair to the poor derided Labour party – to a degree where even racists pretend not to be racist anymore. That’s not to say they shouldn’t have fought and won those battles, but a little more consideration for the wider picture, for the fact that a poor black or brown skinned individual is still, at heart, a poor individual, just like his poor white neighbour, would maybe have helped a fucking bit there, you know? Instead of making all the noises and none of the actions, maybe lifting people out of poverty is as much of a priority and inextricably linked to the battle on race. Rather than, say, jumping on board the neo-liberal express and announcing “we are all middle class now”. Which – sorry? to say – we aren’t). It’s understandable that a proportion of them wrongly interlink the two. Wrong, but understandable.

But really?

You want to connect with the working class, perhaps stop shitting on them economically from a great height and then pandering to the bigotry they are fed by feckless tabloids. Stop telling them they have “justifiable fears” about immigration whilst taking away their rights at work and making their life more and more insecure financially, all so a very small proportion of the population can live in gilded splendour unseen since the late 1800s.

Maybe then, they’ll stop getting misled by the – very small – proportion of actual, full on racists within their class. Just as maybe, if you stop treating a broad mass of people as though they are somehow unique and different because they believe in a different version of a sky fairy than you do (and, as a bonus, make constant societal noises about how it’s wrong to question the sky fairies, even when their sky fairy says something remarkably horrible and silly, just as your sky fairy used to, before you told off the people in charge of the sky fairies messages and they realised “hang on a bit, because i said this, nobody is interested in my sky fairy any more, perhaps I should change what my sky fairy says”), perhaps those people will act like people and individuals and not be a huge scary mass of muslims you are able to be scared shitless of.

Just an idea.

The answer is secular, egalitarian, multi-cultural plural democracy. Always has been, always will be. The problem is, we haven’t been practicing it. And we really should.

(ps: yes, the sky fairy stuff was offensive to religions. Sue me, I’m a religionophobe)

Mind the Gap – Ferdinand Mount

Ferdinand Mount is a Baronet novelist who always wrote very interesting and insightful columns for various right of centre newspapers. He’s also the author of the 1983 Conservative Party Manifesto, but I wasn’t minded to hold that against him initially when I picked up “Mind the Gap”.

It’s an interesting book, revealing in a number of ways, and I like the fact that a High Tory is both prepared to address these subjects and to admit – mildly – that the growing income inequality between rich and poor is the fault of all major governments in this country, the Blessed Margaret’s included. The only problem is, the more I read of it, the more issues I had.

The first would be the feel of the book. There’s a slightly out of date tourist style description of working class life (or, as he christens it, “Downer Life”, more of which later), which for me is summed up best in this passage, about the decor of a working class house:-

“Here the carpet will be of a violent, highly coloured design, whorled and clustered and splashy. The wallpaper will also be colourful, often of a floral design, and frequently textured with a flock finish or a crusty effect. There will be a matching three piece suite. On the walls you are most likely to see family photographs, although there may be landscapes…if there is a bookshelf, it may constain china and glass ornaments as well as books” (p.39)

Now, I didn’t really bristle at the above account, even though it was a Baronet novelist dissecting the household furnishings of those poor chaps. But what I did do was think “Yes, that sounds like many a working class house I visited….in the 1970s”. It may have escaped Ferdinand’s attention, but that’s not the house of a young working class man or woman. We do, y’know, know the way to Ikea.

Ferdinand also has a bit of a problem with identifying the subjects of his book. After first throwing out all previous notions of class, (including a passage where he makes the point that Marx wasn’t averse to mixing up his definitions of what constitutes the working class), he settles on the categories of “uppers” and “downers”. Basically, uppers are those who have control over their life, but those poor downers….well, they once did have control over their life but guess what happened?

The State.

There’s rather long paeans to working class organisation and culture before the insidious growth of the Welfare State, the co-ops and the mutuals, the togetherness and community. The sense that you get is that Mr Beveridge’s well meaning reform was idiocy and now stands in the way of the “downers” siezing control of their destiny. So far, so standard Tory position.

He’s got a point – more than a point – about the state often being the tool of the middle classes who wish to reform the working classes into something prettified, sanitised, and by far the strongest passages in the book are where he quotes various middle class and intelligensia voices that reek of fear of the mob. What he doesn’t quite explain, however, is how many of the most successful and strongest advocates for state intervention have been from that working class/lower middle class borderland – Lloyd George, Bevan, Prescott, to name 3. It also ignores the engagement of the working class with the state and with the project of the state – whilst telling us how the NHS is failing the lower orders, who does he think makes up the vast majority of NHS staff? I’d hazard a guess that your average hospital orderly isn’t a sneering member of the upper middle class intelligensia.

Similarly, he cherry picks quite substantially. His condemnation of the comprehensive school project rely on a few well-worn calumnies about progressive schools who don’t allow competitive sports and don’t allow children to compete academically and yadda yadda yadda. I grow tired of these arguments against comprehensive schools, for several reasons. The first being, they only represent a tiny minority of progressive schools – the vast majority of children who went through the comprehensive system played competitive sports, competed with each other for exam results, and were educated in pretty much the same way that children have been educated since year dot. The only difference? They weren’t *pre*streamed for wealth, social background or the occasional working class intellectual dynamo. The second objection I have is that comprehensives were never given anywhere near a chance. There was a brief ten year period of switchover, followed by the siren calls of the right (and those that pretended they were “of the left”) for a return to selection, which has been the dominant strain ever since.

This, really, goes along with the dislike of the State to give you a feel what this book is about – on the one hand, a well meaning wish for the chattering classes to stop excluding the working class, stop demeaning it and talking down to it becomes “Chavs” filtered through “Red Tory”. To make his argument, the pre-lapsarian life of the working class is portrayed in roseate nostalgia, and the way they live now (and here we see the point of the “Downer” designation, because the working class get lumped in with the underclass) is portrayed as…well..”Broken”.

And, of course, he has a point that healthy working class community has been broken. The reasons he gives, however, aside from The State and the sneering of the chattering classes can be summed up as “We took away their love of God and we sneer at their love of the Monarchy”. Again, this argument is a substantial cherry pick -Republicanism and atheism are, apparently, the territory of a sneering middle class who look down on those below them and their silly love of Throne and Pulpit.Throw in a little bit about marriage being degraded and you see, the divorce laws, ruined family life for those chaps, you know?

Bizarrely, for a book which in the first couple of chapters dismisses the idea of economic equality as either attainable or desirable (and offers as his justification the idea that “the left have agreed”, and uses as his example of the left the New Labour party of Tony Blair….), his final solutions do include the idea of a land bank, which is mildly distributionist (it’s noticeable that the land to be given away to the working chaps by this landbank will firstly be a small size – enough to build a cottage or house on – and secondly, will be taken from farmers who don’t use all their land rather, than, say, the Queen, the aristocracy, the Church, et al) but the majority of the book ignores the economic for these cultural markers.

The total feel I got, therefore, is of a wasted project. It’s of Ferdinand recognising there are problems but getting the entire thing arse about tit, and thinking that the problem is with the chaps at the bottom losing heart, rather than having the heart pummelled out of them by economics that have for the past 40 years pushed them further down. No amount of God and Monarchy and Flag is going to bring life back into the depressed towns of Northern England or Wales or Scotland. The answer lies in lifting up, not trying to ensure the proles are happier with their lot.

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