There’s a chunk in everyone’s – what, soul? mind? brain? personality? – that is conservative.
Wait, wait, bear with me. I can feel any liberal or left wing readers already eyeing the exits. Don’t. Sit down and listen. You can argue with me when I’ve finished.
I don’t mean economically, and I don’t mean socially. I don’t mean culturally. I mean, what, emotionally perhaps?
Think for a second. You are a regular at a local pub. You go in one day after a few weeks away to find the owners have refurbished. They’ve taken out the pool table and put in a family dining area. The jukebox – that jukebox that you listened to 70s classic rock or rare soul classics or the like on – that’s been replaced by a sound-system operated by the guy behind the bar. He likes his coffee-table trip-hop. That slightly bland and inoffensive stuff that followed in the wake of Massive Attack and Portishead in the late 90s. All day, while you are having your pint, you are sitting there and he’s listening to Morcheeba or Zero 7 down low, in that ‘just intrusive enough to be be irritating, just quiet enough that you can’t complain’ way that they all seem to have mastered now, serving the happy family in the corner with beer battered cod and chunky chips with mayo, and thinking “but I wanted to put ‘More than a feeling’ on and strut around the pool table knocking the balls in. I had my game face on”.
A part of your soul revolts against it. Natural. Sorry. Why must things change? I liked them just as they were.
Anyone who has ever worked can confirm this. The management brings in new working practices. They may not even be (although a little part of me is inherently sceptical of management, always) a bad thing. Doesn’t matter. In the car home, your workmate grumbles to you. The old methods were working just fine. Why do we have to do it this way now? Bloody managers.
A major retailer – a Woolworths – closes down. And we all indulge in an emotional spasm. What will the High Street be without it? You don’t really – generally – think of the staff. You just think of the presence. What will the High Street be without it? Well, you were all getting along buying things quite well without it, otherwise it wouldn’t have shut down in the first place, the bloody place would still be in profit. But it doesn’t matter. That part of you, that small c part, that emotional part. It rebels, it revolts.
Tomorrow morning we go to the polls. Oh, it isn’t an election that means as much as the general election, but it is still important on many levels. And many people – many not bigoted people – will go out and vote for a party that is drenched in bigotry. How did we get there?
The conversation that I want to have here is with the not-bigoted people.
You can’t reach the racist. He or she is more prevalent than liberal fantasy likes to believe, but he or she doesn’t make up the numbers here. But you can reach the small c people, who make up the majority of support for this party.
They may be more small c conservative, about different subjects, than lovely socially liberal me, and lovely socially liberal you, with our mildly fascistic disbelief that anyone can feel anything but the way we feel, but we have the same small c gene somewhere in us. Else Last of The Summer Wine wouldn’t have lasted seemingly longer than the 100 Years War.
Here’s a way of suggesting how:
Immigration (lets be honest here? You are a socially and culturally liberal eurosceptic and you are voting for UKIP tomorrow? Take a look at yourself. Go sit in the corner. You are knowingly voting for a party that panders to this. You don’t believe the red-meat stuff but you are doing it anyway because you feel leaving Europe is worth a shitstorm of xenophobia, hatred and mistrust arriving? Shame on you. Seriously. Shame. On. You). This is what the discussion is about. Change.
The problem we have had in this country is our main parties fluctuate between making an incredibly weak argument for the change that immigration brings, and pandering to opposition to it. This is the context in which UKIP is currently striding around, leading the polls, like a giant purple Godzilla, ready to wreak havoc on 30 years of liberal orthodoxy. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
What the major parties always needed to do, and pretty much signally failed to do, is make the case in emotional terms.
To take the small c conservative people aside and say “look, I get you, I feel your pain*, I understand that the society you live in has changed and this scares you. I’m not going to lie to you. It’s going to continue to change. Economics changes society. Demographics changes society. Technology changes society. Ideas change society. Immigration changes society. That is, unfortunately, the nature of the beast. But I’m going to help you here. We are going to help ameliorate what you feel are the negative impacts of this change. We are going to emphasise to you the positive impacts of change. That family moving in next door, the Romanians, the Bulgarians, whatever, you don’t really hate them, do you? Oh, come on, they may irritate you sometimes – I’ve never lived next door to someone who hasn’t irritated me sometimes – but give them a chance. Invite them around. Talk to them as you get in your car in the morning. You know what? It turns out the husband is a Man United fan like you, and he’s never been further north than Watford, either”.
A conversation is needed that melds the best part of the idea of multi-culturalism – the idea that vibrant communities can bring in new ideas, that culture melds and is syncretic, that we respect what is imported (and this isn’t the same as the blissfully ignorant liberal fantasia that no element of any imported culture can ever be challenged) – with the best part of integration too – proper integration, not just shuffling poor folk off to ghettos. A conversation that acknowledges that a host society has to integrate as well as others integrating into it, that culture moves, never stays stop still, and that we can mourn the passing of the old neighbourhood without hating the people who have redeveloped it, revitalised it, changed it.
And that conversation doesn’t need to be hippy-dippy and love-in. It doesn’t have to hide from the fact that a bunch of people from different backgrounds living together is always going to cause friction at some level. It does. Guess what?
So does a bunch of people from the same background. There’s a unifying theme there. And that theme isn’t immigration.
That theme is people.
We need to move beyond the part where the liberals call everyone scared of change bigots, and those scared of change retreat into atavism, and our politicians, recognising that there are more atavists than there are liberals, spend their time pandering to the latter. We need to learn to show empathy for the alienated incomer and the alienated local.
(This, by the way, works on many levels, about many things people are small c about. Hey, you, not really church-goer, but still, think of yourself as broadly Christian and you are, what? 35? 40? And you are worried about gay marriage?
Imagine what it feels like to be a gay man in his 60s. You’ve gone, in your lifetime, from having your sexuality illegal, to it being immoral, to it being mocked, to it being…what? Legal? You can get married now? Whoop and everything, but imagine how bewildering it is for them, too? Look. You’ve both got something in common, now)
And until the major parties start learning to do both, to ease the passage in, and smooth the ruffled feathers already there? To both sing the praises of and remove any friction from?
Then the small c conservatives will always be prey for the bigots. Because those fucks are always there. And always will be. And are more prevalent than we’d love to believe.
And I don’t know about you, but I think there’s enough of them bastards as it is, so I don’t fancy adding any more than necessary to the crowd of white hooded wankers, do you?
*I should really put a trigger warning in when knowingly using Bill Clinton quotes.