Murdoch by other means: the SNP’s strange crossover

I have already written – here and elsewhere – about Rupert Murdoch’s desire to isolate inconveniently semi-socialist outposts from the core of the Anglosphere and separate them geopolitically so as to provide much less inconvenience to him.  I suspect nobody is more pleased at the thought of the SNP leaving the UK in response if it leaves the EU; the West divided into a United States of the Anglosphere and a United States of Europe, with the United Kingdom partitioned between the two, would be the conclusion of his life’s work.  But the SNP have, to a very substantial extent, brought this unholy alliance on themselves; specifically, they have not fully realised how similar – even if they espouse it for different reasons – much of their rhetoric is to classic Murdochian ideas, and do not really have the right to complain that they are being used for geopolitical reasons, promoted and pushed so as to help other forces within a Great Game which, at root, has very little to do with Scotland.

I do not dispute that many SNP members and voters are genuine Scottish patriots; I do not dispute that many of them feel a genuine revulsion at neoliberalism and all its works; I do not dispute that many of them feel they have the best possible intents at heart.  I do not challenge the fact that the British state and its institutions have often treated Scotland appallingly, as much on the Left as on the Right.  I may disagree with them about whether or not their aims can be achieved without disastrous effects on the very existence – the very right to exist in their own country – of a very substantial number of people who know no country but England, but I do not doubt their sincerity in what they claim to believe.  But, and it is a very big but indeed:

National self-determination has to include a cultural element or it is nothing, and it also has to recognise where the main threats to its nation’s cultural sovereignty come from – and just as importantly, where they don’t come from (even if they once did).  And the SNP at times remind me of the owners of the Croke Park GAA stadium in Dublin in an era which already seems far distant, who before they allowed soccer and rugby to be played there (leading to one of the key reconciliations of 2007), still forbade “English sports” but happily allowed American stadium rock bands to perform there.  Both have suffered from a tendency to fight old battles so long and so far that they have lost sight of where the real intrusion is coming from now.  And in that respect they are very useful and convenient for Rupert Murdoch, much of whose drive and determination comes from the exaggeration and perpetuation of a mythical “establishment” long after it has actually ceased to exist, and appealing to Anglo-British (increasingly, openly English nationalist at least in rhetoric, though Anglosphere nationalist in practice) populist patriotism while selling a wholly foreign culture draped in the Union Jack or, increasingly, the Cross of St George, and trusting in the ability of the lumpenproletariat not to know the difference.

If others do something alarmingly similar elsewhere, just dressed in a Saltire, who can blame Murdoch for lending them his fervent support, the better that they can be used for a deeper geopolitical goal?  More specifically, the SNP and Murdoch share a profound enemy: the BBC.  The SNP will make maximum levels of political capital out of age-old resentments – many of which undoubtedly existed historically for huge and justified reasons, and may well still do so in some cases – about an institutional bias against Scotland and specifically towards south-east England.  I do not doubt that the BBC, in common with other London-centred old-establishment institutions, has in the past treated Scotland poorly and contemptuously on occasions, perpetuating nasty, played-out, unfunny jokes and stereotypes.  But attitudes are fundamentally different now; even if largely by default, the BBC has become far more committed to areas which it relatively ignored in the past (which was part of the reason why ITV tended to do better the further you got from the south-east in the duopoly days; Scotland has at least, and very much unlike northern England, retained the mass-audience commercial channel which “hammocks” the big English or globally-rooted hits with its own output, though not everyone in northern Scotland has been happy with Grampian’s absorption, something which Sky of course rendered much harder to avoid).  It is wholly unfair, in my opinion, to suggest that there is as great a cultural bias and disapproval as almost certainly existed for much of the BBC’s history.

Most importantly, the obsession with the BBC as the sole and only threat to Scotland’s cultural self-determination does not simply play into Murdoch’s hands – even if its origins are different, and even if it would keep the principle of public broadcasting alive in a way he would not, and even if the SNP’s idea of public broadcasting could be far more blatantly state-controlled because Scottish definitions of Leftism were never really influenced by libertarianism as English ones were in a way which pushed elements in the English Left towards their own kind of “same means, different ends” ambiguity about Murdoch – but it ignores the, by any standards, far greater threat to the things a reasonably culturally conservative social democratic nationalist party is supposed to defend by the proliferation of deregulated broadcasting, a door which he largely pushed open and has continued to gatekeep.  Are Scotland’s Historic Market Towns (where romantic nationalism was once strongest, but which came through for the Union when they had to) and its former heavy-industrial areas (where the new nationalism has its strongest core of support) really full of people adopting the speech, manners and dress sense of Reithian formality (and there is another irony: the BBC’s roots are very substantially in a kind of Anglo-Scottishness which England and Scotland have abandoned in about equal parts and revolted against in directions which may seem oppositional in every sense but which are brought together by Murdoch’s desire to use them both) such as have been greatly compromised even in their longest-lasting heartlands in the same era which has seen Scotland gain ever greater autonomy (and which indeed declined largely under the influence of the same government which authorised that autonomy) or the speech, manners and dress sense brought through the global tide of deregulated media, which have far fewer historic ties to Scotland and far less meaningful connection to any idea of Scottishness, but which – as in Ireland – are sometimes embraced as a “lesser evil” (The Stage and Television Today digital archive confirms that at a time of intense frustration and anger in Scotland in the wake of the rigged 1979 referendum and the effects of Thatcherism, Dallas was more likely to be the BBC’s most-watched programme in Scotland and Northern Ireland than elsewhere, which undoubtedly reflects the fact that the BBC’s own output had more of a Home Counties vibe at the time than that produced by the ITV companies combined, but also reflects an outlook which, if transferred from the closed broadcasting environment of 1982 to that which exists in 2015, is every bit as pseudo-anti-establishment as that of Murdoch himself) and which, every bit as much as in England, you can’t get on the wrong side of if you want the most circulated newspaper to support you?

And that is before we even get to the effect of Sky on how even the leading clubs of Scottish football have fallen so far behind financially in modern times (I am wholly aware of the problems built into the Old Firm’s existence, and I would not wish the way Rangers have been treated by successive owners even on that part of the working class, by far the most problematic for people like me throughout history, and I think the Scottish top flight has probably been better off without them, though it would be better off still if the team rooted in an equally ahistoric, and now deprecated, view of Ireland rather than England-as-Britain, could be challenged seriously for the title, but the fact that Rangers, and to a lesser extent at that point Celtic, once had a comparable income and financial clout to even the leading clubs in England, and well above that of the middling and lower sides in what was about to become the Premier League, seems almost unbelievable now, and it isn’t the BBC which has caused that situation).  Worse, there might even be a tendency within the SNP which thinks Murdoch is really Scottish simply because of his surname and ancestry, and feel that his struggle with the old paternalistic English establishment – which he has perpetuated in his mind long after it ceased to exist out of sheer fear of being exposed as an establishment titan in and of himself – is also their struggle, equates the two in its mind (just as Welsh nationalism generally and Plaid Cymru specifically are stunted at birth in most of Wales by the basic inability of any movement which says “we were here first and the English are really German” to make any moral claims to be above those in England who say “we were here first and people of Pakistani descent who know no country but England are really Pakistani”, you can’t really condemn English Murdochians who effectively say, with the usual racial inferences of that kind of Anglosphere nationalism, “all white Americans are really English” if you’re willing to make similar claims yourself when it suits you).

Show Murdoch anyone who makes their central enemy, the guiding force of their hatred, the mythical enemy of BBC / Home Counties Englishness (which has in reality been utterly compromised and weakened for three decades – when I happened this week to re-read Philippa Pearce’s Minnow on the Say, a book I wrote about, sort of, in a former online life fourteen years ago, I found it harder and harder to believe that it seemed relatively normal to me as a child, something that I could imagine happening at least the day before yesterday, just as I find it harder and harder to believe that Eleanor Graham’s Puffin Book of Verse, a book which among much else clearly articulated Reithian Anglo-Scottishness, seemed comparatively unremarkable and almost easy to get my head round – in line with the silent and almost entirely unacknowledged, but of course intimately Murdoch-led, transformation of Toryism into neo-Whiggery) as if 1955 had never ended, and he’ll love them in a heartbeat and never let them go.  Show him someone who recognises the vastly increased challenge that deregulated multichannel broadcasting poses to the maintenance of national cultural sovereignty (in any nation, anywhere in the world, and in this context both to the United Kingdom, for those who still believe in it, and to its constituent parts for those who believe in those in and of themselves) and he’ll make it his life’s work to freeze them out and isolate them from any kind of power, permanently and for good.

The SNP have done the former obsessively for decades, vastly exaggerating its power, strength and potency in the modern day in exactly the same way that the incarnation of The Sun which painted Nicola Sturgeon as some sort of Communist holding the country to ransom continues to do, arguably more than the version of the paper which hailed her as a conquering hero.  It has never lifted so much as a little finger to do the latter.  I have no doubt that its wariness on that point comes from a desire to seem as inclusive and right-on as it can, as indeed do many tendencies of thought in modern England which in the end, in the harsh geopolitical realities in which we live, come out as implicitly and accidentally pro-Murdoch.  I have a good deal of sympathy for the argument that any feeling on the SNP’s part that a return to the BBC/IBA model in an independent Scotland would be implicitly totalitarian and quasi-fascist comes from a place far closer to the soixante-huitard English deregulators of the Left – Marxism Today when Sky launched from Astra, basically, and it could still be imagined to be what Marx thought mercantile capitalism could be – than to the full-on cynicism of the Cameron/Osborne position.  But facing the Anglosphere, from its core to its fringes, as it is as opposed to how everyone who thinks like me wants it to be, how can the SNP, truthfully and honestly, complain when the global oligarch of neoliberalism sees it as a force he can work with?

If the SNP had realised that their central aim, however well-meant and however well-thought-out in and of their own terms, could so easily be used by forces which I have no doubt that many of its members and at least its longer-term supporters despise, and had sensibly and empirically adjusted some of its tactics in response – placing more emphasis on the damage done to a putatively independent Scotland’s cultural sovereignty by the scale of the global mass media, and moving away from the absolute, unrelenting emphasis on attacking the BBC out of a sensible realisation that there were stronger and more powerful anti-BBC forces against whom, if it came to a battle of anti-BBC positions, the SNP would have no chance whatsoever – I could admire it with far fewer doubts and far fewer reservations.  As it is, the party is fatally compromised.  Undoubtedly honest in what it believes, and undoubtedly genuine in some of its ideas.  But still fatally compromised by Salmond’s Faustian pact with forces which could make mincemeat of the party if they wanted to, which could in the end render it as desperately trapped as those in England most likely to feel an affinity with it as long as they are unaware of that pact’s full implications.  Which is the ultimate extreme definition of being desperately trapped, I think anyone could agree.

Yewtree, moral responsibility and the impossibility of a way out

It couldn’t have been timed better. We know the story well enough: the post-war liberals who fled the sterile consumerism of Australia, where even the Supremes barely charted during the 1960s, and made Britain fresher, more tolerant, more open, back before Anglospherism curdled, and another wave came from the same direction to revise our future, to replace post-war paternalism with something nastier, pettier, more closed, the opposite of the genuine improvement we’d looked likely to get before. The complicated story – in its own way, as much a battle of post-colonialism as anything involving any former British colony which does have a Left pass – hinted at in the Then Play Long and Music Sounds Better with Two pieces about the Seekers (if MSBWT had dealt with “Sun Arise” – an NME #2 – back in 2011 the same sense would have no doubt come through, but at this point it had not brought the NME charts back in, probably one of several factors – the others are more directly related to what I will write about below – in its slowing to a trickle). But BBC Four’s transmission of the first part of its Rebels of Oz series – you could say it’s about one set of rebels who fought a long pitched battle with another, and eventually won liberal-intellectual battles but lost the wider capitalist wars – seemed almost a living counterfactual when set alongside the outcome of two trials related – one by extension, one directly – to two rather different Australians, one of which showed how much the dominant forces of neoliberalism have staked on retaining their hold, and how hard it has become to even imagine removing them, the other of which would be said by some to have only happened because the British state’s ritualistic attempt to retake power had been stillborn and impotent, and showed that there was no idyll, no perfect, morally incorruptible world before neoliberalism, no lost Eden.

I know why the conspiracy theories about Yewtree exist: that it was stirred up so as to discredit, and destroy any attempts to recover, the post-war public culture, just at a time when even Elisabeth Murdoch was rehabilitating it and arguing that some aspects of it could be revived and modernised, when Charles Moore was finally beginning to realise that socialism (in its 1945 sense as opposed to its post-1968 one) is the only way his idea of standards can ever be protected, and when it was clear that the Leveson Report would call for its effective, or at least attempted, restoration by statute. There is no doubt that there was, in an incredibly short period after The Sun launched in its current form in 1969 and the Daily Mail did likewise eighteen months later, an effective revolution within British popular journalism (the third such, after the development of such newspapers in the first place at the beginning of the 20th Century – the long-term legacy of the expansion of education in 1870 expanding literacy among those who would have found The Times and its ilk unapproachable, just as most current government policies represent the endgame of those instituted during the 1980s – and the Daily Mirror‘s reinvention of itself in terms of campaigning journalism during the Second World War, with all that would lead to politically) which did more than anything else to unseat and destabilise the old paternalistic establishment and lay the foundation stone for Thatcherism and everything after. There is no doubt that the attempt at a statutory body for press regulation was an attempt to take that power back. There is no doubt that its impotence, and the lack of any real commitment towards it on the government’s part, has been a sign of how hard these forces are to defeat, and of how happy the government is to leave them in place, knowing that its own tactic of dividing and conquering – its long-term victory in the great clash of freedoms which emerged during the 1970s – would be impossible without them.

But I never believed that public culture was perfect: I always knew it had faults burnt right into it, faults on which its very existence was conditional. I always knew, specifically, that its handling of pop – and especially those parts of pop which were conspicuously “black” in the sense that that is a political identity in itself – was its greatest flaw, which would probably have rendered it unsustainable even without Thatcherism. I always had a sense that those astounding achievements that still echo today were conditional on pop being treated as a mere passing fancy, a mere fad that left no deep cultural marks, and that if the Hierarchy of Art Forms had been broken then it might have been impossible for the great canonical works in the rest of British television to be made in the same way with quite the same feeling behind them. That we had a fundamental and irreconcilable choice between two cultures which I sometimes thought I was the only person in the world to love and feel and sense equally, and want them both to thrive and prosper. And even before October 2012, it hurt me. But that was not something a lot of people could understand or grasp. If they went no further into black pop than “Sing Baby Sing” or “It’s Time for Love” or indeed “Three Times a Lady” – and that was the case with huge numbers of basically admirable people, people politically far closer to me than not; it was also, tellingly, the case with a lot of people who loved many of the same things I did and had the grounding I was raised for even as it was dying around me deep in their hearts – then the post-war public culture, even in its declining years, gave them all they really wanted or needed in pop terms.

But they know what it means now, just as much as anyone who ever revered James Brown, or in the very last years of the old duopoly Public Enemy, always knew what it meant. And it would be cruel, vicious, callous and a disgrace to all we have ever stood for to dismiss the victims of that public culture’s faults – the holes within it which were the inevitable result of the lack of equal application of moral responsibility in all fields, the belief that some fields were inherently more worthy of such responsibility than others (an attitude which, in the cases of Jimmy Savile, Stuart Hall and Rolf Harris, was simply a self-fulfilling prophecy) – as “inconvenient victims” or “the wrong kind of victims”. It would be a travesty of everything the Left should stand for, just as it was when certain people on “our” side dismissed and almost mocked the victims of the 2014 floods in England. If “liberal humanism” is to be an insult, then we might as well give up now and let “them” bring back the workhouse. We should show nothing but sympathy and understanding for those who suffered from the exploitation of those areas which paternalism could not understand or grasp the importance of, the small-time exploitation – a use of the brute force of monopoly which Reith never imagined when he enshrined that guiding principle – which the multichannel era has made much harder, and if facing the latter shakes our basic principles of what broadcasting should be, perhaps it must. Nobody said you could always go through life never having your expectations shaken. Even if some of what happened to these people is being used for the wrong reasons, we should never – for one second – use that as an excuse to pretend it didn’t happen at all, but rather as a starting point to use it for the right reasons, even if those reasons are unbearably painful and unanswerable and chimaeric.

The thing is – see the Adrian Tempany piece I wrote about here in March for an example – that certain people on “our” side had almost imagined that child molestation was invented on 3rd May 1979. That’s a deliberately exaggerated metaphor, of course, but there had been a definite tendency to imagine that humanity had fallen to earth in my lifetime, that deregulation, or the prioritisation of entertainment over Reithian ideas of culture, had almost created these terrible things and the parts of people’s minds and thoughts which drive them to do them. This was probably especially marked in my own case: born after the Winter of Discontent, I had from an early age constructed a private universe – my own kingdom, the sort of childhood I could only have in my head, not in the world that would have existed around me in any era (indeed, in any previous era it would have been very considerably worse) – based around an idealisation of a world I hadn’t been around to see, an overriding sense that I had been betrayed, cheated, denied my inheritance, even my kingdom. And of course this world whose dying embers I kept smelling as hard as I could, aware that the fire would soon be out forever, would have been a place where no bad things could ever happen: built into it was the implicit subtext that any kind of abuse of power and responsibility was a recent imposition, forced on an innocent world by the forces of neoliberalism in whose heartland I was raised but which I instinctively rejected.

Among a certain set of people older than me with interests not entirely removed from my own, the whole business has simply strengthened their paranoia at the very concept of cultural studies, their fear and anger that their childhood is being “stolen”. But life is never that simple, and we can’t go through it pretending it is. All my life I have built for myself private kingdoms, wanting everyone else to live in a common culture – the same common culture whose underbelly, of separation of high and low, of posh and pop, was exploited by the likes of Savile, Hall and Harris (Max Clifford was something entirely different, a first-generation Murdochian exploiting the early manifestation of the wholly separate culture which would eventually largely supplant BBC light-ent) – as a compensation for not being able to live in one myself. Expecting everyone else to “make up” every second of their lives for what I cannot be. Now I know that there is no way out: no way out, within the current economic and political system, of the power that was merely shaken but not exploded altogether by phone-hacking, and no way out of the problems caused by – pace Elisabeth Murdoch, in late August 2012 just before the balance of power shifted back again – the worst of the old Britain. Both are deeply problematic and disturbing. Both are inexorably bound up: step out of one, fight one, even defeat one, and you’re confronted with the other. That might be the single most appalling fact of any of our lives, which freezes you to the spot and takes you out of social interaction, out of what you thought you knew. You always thought that there was a world without either. Now you wonder.

You can build your own kingdom – if you are as I am, you have to – but you can’t sit on a crown of thorns. For a lot of people, the “other” BBC of the Yewtree years is a model, a vision, a dream. I know entirely why it is. There are many reasons why it deserves to be seen as such. For many years, it was to me. For quite a big part of me, it still is. I wish it could be so completely, then I could convince myself that these terrible abuses happened despite what was going on in the next studio, the next office, in a separate city-state in a building of fiefdoms mutually contemptuous towards each other (you remember that it took John Birt really to change that, and if it is possible an even deeper wound is opened). But there is this unsettling voice in your head telling you that they happened because of all the other stuff: that it was the same system facilitating greatness and vileness through the same methodology, and almost for the same reasons. I know the case against saying this. It’s a strong one. If I believed it entirely I could walk through the world with a good deal more confidence, could ride horses again, could blend into the crowd again. I just cannot stop myself thinking that, if the one that deserved to be stopped had been stopped, the one that didn’t deserve to be stopped would have had to be stopped too, far before its time (indeed, part of me still believes that this could be its time, if we had the will, and part of the thrill of summer 2011 to autumn 2012 was actually being able to half-believe that), and it crawls under my skin, eats away at my soul.

The post-war public culture was my kingdom (what does it say about me that the only kingdom I ever felt I had was one in which I had never actually lived?): its greatest and most emblematic space – the South Bank, back when I almost lived on trains – was my palace. I wish it still could be. But somehow I don’t feel it can anymore; somehow I can’t get that sense of myself back, can’t grab that connection before it passes. The love can still be there from a distance, but even as others love it all the more passionately as the world that existed in parallel is viciously tainted, I find I can’t love it quite as fervently now; where for others it confirms what they already knew, it makes me wonder whether I knew quite what I thought I knew. I have to find a new love, a new feeling, a new sense of myself. A new kingdom. This is, without doubt, the most nakedly honest piece I’d ever written. What a shame that it takes unthinkable abuses to others to bring it out of me.

The World Cup, the Anglosphere and the dehumanisation of thought

It wouldn’t really have mattered which Belgian player it was who didn’t score when he could have done: in the minds of Danny Murphy, and maybe even Steve Wilson, they’re that bit less “authentic”, that bit more anonymous, than those playing for the USA. That bit less to be trusted as truly human. All they are to him is numbers; because they do not come from the Anglosphere, they cannot be names. So when Danny Murphy condemned such a player for having over-thought on the ball, for having hesitated, for not coming from a world where there is a feudal class separation between thinkers and feelers, he inadvertently summed up a much deeper problem in England: the belief that thought is in itself unnatural, a betrayal of basic human authenticity, and the belief that the peoples of mainland Europe are almost universally inhuman in this respect because, in their cultures, there is much less of a separation of responsibilities (especially between a knowledge of football and a knowledge of the wider world), much more – even half a century after (and yes, I know the ironies here, of Liverpool, of Ireland, of Anglospherism as dream turned to nightmare) Lennon, pace MacDonald, drowned himself in it – a sustained simultaneity of awareness.

This is the tragedy of English football in itself, of course (there is a conspicuous tendency for certain people on certain forums to celebrate deregulation and choice as long as it comes from the Anglosphere, and to call anyone who suggests that Sky might have too many film channels a communist, but to turn into Hoggart the elder or even Reith if it is so much as suggested that there might be channels consisting of football from outside the Anglosphere): the basic need to compete on equal and level terms with peoples you see as fundamentally unnatural, not real people, lacking in the basic emotions that drive your own life, and the impotent frustration at your inevitable failure. It is as if a people, a social tribe, were trying to compete in commercial terms of global pop music while seeing, say, the Portuguese or Hungarians as more “real” and “human” than Americans.

Let it be known that I have no problem whatsoever with the USA team, that I see it and its support as a positive and progressive force within the wider American social context. The sheer insanity of the Right-wing parts of the US media’s equation of soccer with socialism, if not communism (presumably they don’t know that the dominant sport in Cuba and Venezuela is baseball; presumably they also don’t know that the English Premier League is one of the most extreme examples of neoliberalism anywhere in the world) is so far gone, so far off the scale, that there really aren’t words (though it actually has its roots in a particular form of paranoia which only occurs in declining powers: Britain had obviously fallen far further by 1956 than the US is likely to for quite some time, but I still think our equivalent paranoia was over rock’n’roll, where what in America was all about race was in Britain all about Suez). The belief that liking soccer in itself reduces someone’s American-ness fits as perfectly into the national humiliation over Syria – the realisation that they no longer hold every ace beyond question – as the belief that liking Little Richard in itself reduced someone’s Britishness fitted into the aftermath of Suez which did so much to set up the national dichotomy of which Danny Murphy is an unwitting victim (in the brief period when it existed, at least in the major centres, but Suez hadn’t happened yet, ITV had been losing money hand over fist; would that have been reversed so quickly otherwise?). Before anyone starts, I obviously wouldn’t approve of such cultural or sporting xenophobia even if it is directed against a set of powers which haven’t always had the full Left pass, and getting Juergen Klinsmann makes perfect sense just as much as it would to get a comparably great figure of, say, basketball in the United States if you wanted to develop that sport here. The one is no different from the other. Call me what you want, but don’t call me a Little Englander in Left garb.

But I still feel that there was a deep subtext coming through the Belgium-USA commentary that the peoples of the Anglosphere are somehow more “real” than peoples from outside it, that thought and rationality are “inhuman” badges of elitism and inauthenticity and must be discouraged, that football almost needs to be saved from itself (and still they wonder why they fail in the global football context; still they think they can defeat others simply through dehumanising them, as if a whole class and culture, reduced to a parody of its own political tradition, had become Anthony Eden in 1956). I think of Danny Murphy’s Liverpudlian background and I think: is the real subtext of the hatred of The Sun in Liverpool (which most certainly does not extend to a wider cultural repugnance, and nor could it) that Liverpudlians know, as people in Kent or Essex don’t, what a cultural affinity to the oppressed peoples of America over and above the hierarchies of Europe could have meant, because they were at the heart of it, and feel particularly keenly the betrayal of what it eventually curdled into? It is possible for people in south-east England to hear the Beatles and see The Sun as it exists today as their logical conclusion, because in that region they were much more a manifestation of nascent consumerism and the identification of your own self, your own kingdom; it is not I think possible where they actually came from, just as the 1994 albums of both Blur and Oasis have subtly different meanings depending on whether you lived in the same world as their makers. But whatever the ramifications of that, it is the implications and aftereffects of the dehumanisation described above which damage many lives every day.

And I still hold within me a deep and personal fear that certain people are being reminded that Jimmy Savile spoke in terms of his sense of logic and his distrust of emotion and, in line with the general prejudice on this front built into Anglosphere cultures, equating anyone who seems “strange” – at least on Danny Murphy’s terms – with that level of abuse (in every meaning of that word). I still feel that there is a dangerous equation of high-functioning autism with moral callousness, of a merely different wiring of people’s minds with active evil and exploitation, which would never be allowed in mainland Europe where what I am is, on the whole, seen as normal and unremarkable. And I have the right to be worried when (and rest assured that I am only referring to some aspects of the BBC’s World Cup coverage, which still suffers from the vestiges of the “it’s only trash culture for the plebs” outlook which allowed Savile to get away with it in the first place, here; it is only private organisations who are reading that into Savile’s abuses) a universally publicly funded organisation is exploiting it, encouraging it.

Speaking of which …

Michael Gove, the Hierarchy of Art Forms and the Murdoch connection

When I read about the overwhelmingly scathing response from what might best be called liberal-intellectual circles to Michael Gove’s removal of certain books from the GCSE curriculum, my immediate thought was that a certain set of people very much including Gove – that part of the Right which is set in equal terms against both F.R. Leavis and Stuart Hall, most prominently heard for the last three decades at The Times and The Sunday Times – owed the rest of us a deep and profound apology.  For years they had been painting liberal-intellectual Leftists not only as anti-American bigots, but as “the real nationalists”, “the real racists”, “the real xenophobes” (rather as Baroness Warsi, with all the anti-Muslim bigotry in the world potentially to confront in the Tory tabloids, cites Polly Toynbee as the worst example in the British press of such prejudice).  They had interpreted the way people on “our” side pick up on the way certain people unswervingly accept “billion” to mean a thousand million (a de-Europeanising change), but would regard driving in kilometres as a mortal sin, actually to be worse than the most xenophobic Sun headline or Daily Mail smear campaign (they were by no means universally supportive of the Mail, but when they criticised that paper it was largely over its streak of Old Tory realism in foreign affairs).  Gove himself wrote just such an article in The Times just before the 2003 invasion of Iraq.  But now they actually have power, here they were playing the conservative nationalist card of which they had previously seen themselves as the antithesis, a reinvention of their movement, and here were liberal-intellectual Leftists defending the artistic and cultural endeavour of a country which, a decade ago, “they” had accused “us” of imagining to be populated entirely by 30-stone rednecks, even on its coasts.

The sick joke of all this is, of course, that the media empire with which Gove’s entire career is indelibly and inexorably bound up is responsible for spreading far more of the stuff that pre-Thatcher conservatives would have roundly disapproved of (but which Gove’s ilk actually need to strengthen the separatism of responsibilities and interests which they instinctively depend on) than even the most relativist academic ever could.  For people like Gove, a theory or position making logical sense is an active pejorative, an active point against it, but the only conservative position which actually could hold up in practice what he expects his older supporters to imagine he believes (whereas in fact he does not believe it even in theory) is what could be called English Gaullism, opposed in about equal parts to the deregulated market and to socialism.  This never became a mass theory in England, and what foothold it had was effectively destroyed by Thatcherism (this applies as much to the anti-Blairite Left as to the active Right and to Blairites: whatever The Sun may imagine of him, Tom Watson does not support the IBA model of broadcasting any more than Rupert Murdoch himself does), but there were isolated moments in the past when it could have become dominant: the New Elizabethanism killed by Suez was (appropriately, considering the French connection) very close to it, and it could easily have thrived had Edward Heath won a second term (especially if the victory of a more consensual approach had killed Selsdonomics, or anything close to them, in the long term).  When Auberon Waugh opposed Murdoch from the Right, English Gaullism was his starting point.  A Scottish variant of this theory is not entirely unrepresented within the modern SNP.  But Gove has denounced and distanced himself from his homeland, aware that it can more easily see through his position, logic and consistency not being so instantly dehumanised there.

The idea of placing restrictions on the deregulated market so as to preserve the idea of “cultural standards” would be by no means off the scale within the mainstream of French conservatism, which is why it fits so perfectly into that “alternative 1974” counterfactual.  It has its own deep and profound faults, of course: it is possible (though I simply don’t know enough about current French politics to judge) that the drift of the mainstream French Right towards something closer to “Anglo-Saxon” neoliberalism under Sarkozy might have been a factor in the recent success of the Front National (who are not natural allies of UKIP, who they would regard both as mid-Atlantic neoliberal imposters and as straight-down-the-line rosbif thugs: despite the whiff of “fascism can only happen with those unstable, shifty continentals” that comes from him as from pretty much everyone in the Mail titles, Hitchens Minor isn’t wrong when he says the two parties come from wholly different traditions and starting points).  I propose it purely and simply as someone who recognises that, in many ways, Stalinism is closer to Mailism than it is to Trotskyism, and that Murdochism is in turn closer to Trotskyism than it is to Mailism, and who would like to see a realignment that actually reflects the fact that the Cold War has ended (Putin’s essential position is, in Owen Hatherley’s words, pre-Soviet, and many of his Western admirers see in modern Russia the Mayberrys or Walmington-on-Seas for which they imagined they were fighting the Soviet Union, not realising that the West had changed behind their backs), rather than as someone who particularly admires it himself (indeed, the libertarian, anti-State streak in English conservatism might be the saviour of myself and those who think like me in the event of Scottish independence).

There have been occasions when the anti-elitist streak in the Murdoch press has rendered it preferable to its rivals on the Right; compare The Times‘ admirable reporting of the St Paul’s School / Colet Court abuse allegations with The Spectator‘s odious response.  But its support for pop culture As Long As It Knows Its Place has made it curiously appealing – as a sort of ally of convenience – to those of the Left for whom any form of pop which isn’t “Tutti Frutti” is a straight road to an ELP triple live album, as if much of the most stimulating rock music ever made in Britain never existed (which, for the music press many of them grew up on, it might as well not have done – you might find more references to Tales from Topographic Oceans as a ubiquitous swear word in one issue of NME from that period than references to Peter Hammill or maybe even Robert Wyatt over several years’ worth of it).  More than twenty years ago, the Murdoch papers were running articles ostensibly “purely” about pop culture (there is never such a thing, in any sense), but in reality codifying a deeper political agenda, whose legacy is now running directly through the terror vandalism being directed at British education.  When I think of the virtual disappearance of the German language as a subject of study in many British schools, I think of a Caitlin Moran article which appeared in The Sunday Times in November 1992 mocking the idea of pop music even existing outside the Anglosphere and invoking pop and rock’s legacy to promote the concept of the world outside the Anglosphere as unknowable and untouchable, which at the time would have been dismissed as juvenile nonsense by anyone associated with any curriculum or exam board, but which would have been an active inspiration, cheered to the echo, for many now controlling such organisations, quite possibly including Gove himself.

Let me take a particular example from my own past (and let me also remember that, when deeply frustrated in 1996 with the apparent absence of a genuinely new cultural dichotomy at the very top of British society even a third of a century after Beatlemania, I actively assumed that such a dichotomy would have to be better than the one that came before it; I was deeply and profoundly wrong).  Ten years ago, I got into serious trouble for suggesting that someone I had encountered who expressed disquiet at the idea of hearing grime in Norfolk, even if he had been thinking in terms of the integrity and subcultural strength of the music, was invoking a dangerous crossover with the far-right.  I probably shouldn’t have compared his position directly to that of the BNP – it would have been better to invoke a less emotive and extreme comparison such as the Daily Mail or Daily Telegraph – but I still find such a vision troubling.  In isolation, it fits well within the politics of that time, where I was trying virtually single-handedly to transcend the division of “progressive cities vs. quasi-fascist countryside” – the dichotomy of foot-and-mouth, the Countryside Marches, the pro-hunting invasion of the House of Commons, Mumford and Sons as unimaginable as the Rolling Stones in 1958 – and found, aghast, that vast numbers of my fellow Leftists, people I’d have liked to love, were perfectly happy to play the exact same games as the Right, unashamedly and unabashedly playing along with people they affected to despise.  They needed an enemy, and were only really happy and content as long as they could be sure that everyone in Norfolk or Dorset was their enemy; when they found people in those places who wanted to be their friends, they were unsettled, challenged, even disturbed and frightened.  If they couldn’t pigeonhole everyone in a particular place as their enemy, they could not manage the world around them so easily – because within the context of grime itself, they were merely cultural managers attempting to push its creators in directions many of them actively did not want to take – and then where would they have been?

But years later it got really interesting.  I was told that the person with whom I had fallen out (who shall remain nameless here) had in fact been working for the News of the World at the time, and suddenly everything fell into place: as an extreme souixante-huitard who had no real understanding of older socialist ideas, working for Murdoch would have been the ultimate snob-baiting gesture, the ultimate two fingers (or, perhaps, just one finger) to the paternalism which the New Left had once defined itself against (this is why some who have their roots in the New Left would feel torn on Murdoch’s power this century: they would worry themselves – I think mistakenly, but understandably in that generation – that if he went, much as they would applaud it on purely political grounds, the elitism and hierarchy they had once kicked against would have to come back).  Moreover, because he was offended (even if for different reasons) by the same kind of thing that long-standing Times and Sunday Times readers are also offended by, he also wouldn’t have taken exception to the stuff they cynically throw in to appease the people who have been reading The Times since it still had small ads on the front page.  While he would no doubt affect to despise Michael Gove now, the underlying politics of the Murdoch organisation were not only no threat to him, he actually felt closer to them than he did to quite a number of Left-wing ideas (if we must persist with Cold War language).

What all this has been getting to is that large swathes of the British Left, while they are right to despise Gove and his policies and ideas, do not really understand where they come from; do not in fact understand the whole drift and direction of British politics and culture in most of my lifetime (and a significant chunk of theirs), and so inadvertently play into Gove’s hands.  The root cause of Gove’s position is this: he resents John Steinbeck or Harper Lee not because they are “vulgar, jumped-up colonials” but because he seems them effectively as “the wrong kind of Americans” (if they were firmly in either the pre-FDR or post-Reagan lineages he’d have nothing like the problem that an earlier generation of conservatives in this country would have had).  More specifically, Gove wants a strict separation, an absolute and unbridgeable delineation, between what young people experience and absorb in their lives outside school and what they learn about within it.  Far from feeling threatened by “it’s only pop culture, it’s just a bit of a laugh” (an approach which cannot but make us think of the moment when the Rolling Stones definitively lose the compelling, multi-layered power they had once had and become straight, unequivocal predictors of neoliberalism), Gove actively applauds and celebrates such an approach.  What is imagined to be “anti-establishment” – even “anti-Gove” – by a certain axis of the pop-cultural Left is actually welcomed by Gove because it shores up the financial and commercial security of his career’s sponsors and bankrollers.  The ongoing, tragic and regrettable misreading of punk which has long become its own kind of orthodoxy has now become an active hindrance to any critique of the ruling class.

That certain exams are dismissed as “too easy” when in fact they contain far more multi-layered ideas than Gove’s hierarchical approach would ever allow or countenance is entirely orchestrated to push the right Mail/Telegraph buttons: Gove in fact (in common with many others who affect to believe otherwise) knows full well that these exams (the best example probably being Communication and Culture) offer a precise challenge to many aspects of the lives and assumptions that young people have inherited, challenges he does not want them to take or be diverted by.  Young people are bombarded with a vast array of culture which they will not, in most cases, have the inherited parental knowledge fully to understand the meaning of (and will often, of course, have understandably rejected it if they do); if their education gives them the informed eye with which to view the wider culture which dominates the rest of their lives, they are that much less likely to give their money to the bulwarks of the capitalist system (very much including those whose dominance is confined to the internet era, should anyone doubt this) for which Gove is a mere placeman, a mere messenger boy when he should be an agent of destruction if he understood the full implications of his public neofeudalism (which I don’t think he does; he simply says whatever sounds best to perpetuate the Spectacle).  If their education has perpetuated and re-institutionalised the high/low divide, the “low” part of young people’s lives will most likely simply be a strengthening of global commerce in all its forms.  If their education has been run on wholly different principles, there is a much greater chance – the germ, at least, will be there – that their mass-cultural interests will lean much more towards those marginalised within global capitalism, those who pose an active threat to its perpetuation of inequality and divisions, those who are using the forms of mass entertainment to critique the methods by which it is consumed and sold, and therefore will make them, and their children, less likely to support the likes of Cameron, Osborne, Johnson and Gove in the long term.

I repeat: Gove doesn’t want education to ignore mass culture because he thinks mass culture is worthless trash, he wants education to ignore mass culture so that he and his ilk can more easily control and manipulate mass culture, which he thinks is great in a disgusting kind of way, that same balance of revulsion at the ugliness of the lumpenproletariat with a sort of vicarious pleasure – well, at least it’s On Its Level, at least it’s not threatening our bank balances like all those Marxist dramatists before Maggie Sorted Out The Beeb used to do – that same combination of vicarious pseudo-offence at populism with gleeful celebration of its reinforcement of their own ownership of the levers of control, which has become the default mode of many Telegraph bloggers and makes “noblesse oblige” seem the most progressive thing in the world by comparison.  Gove and his cohorts also stand to benefit massively from the perpetuation of successive generations – by now grandchildren, they hope even great-grandchildren – of neo-Claptons, my term for those principally from the middle class, and/or the small towns and shires, who take from the music and culture of the black Atlantic without giving back, and rapidly slip back into ignorance of where it came from because they have not had the educational background to contextualise it.  A strict high/low divide between what is studied and the rest of young people’s lives will make it harder for the feeling so many young people have for this music – even if that feeling in itself does not last – to be channelled into a serious break from the prejudices (whether purely racist, as perhaps in “conservative Labour veering towards UKIP” strongholds such as Rotherham, or more classist as in Gove’s own constituency in Surrey) they may have been surrounded by, and much easier for them to return to fear and insularity in the way so many sec-mod castoffs did, largely through no fault of their own, so soon after first hearing Motown.  If that tendency in British society did not exist, Gove – who, despite his current rhetoric, wouldn’t be where he is if he were a genuine paternalist – wouldn’t have a market, and neither would the entire Murdoch organisation which had given him a career long before he entered front-line politics, the career where he cleverly thought ahead long-term, in terms of how to fill the gap once the Blair illusion ended, and built his current career.

And still we have people who think “dumb rock music” will shake Gove’s private universe to its foundations, and affect to despise Gove while actually feeling threatened by the same fields of academic study – seeing them as a kind of theft, the act of dangerous interlopers merely with “middle-class” as an insult rather than “Marxist” as in Gove’s case – as he himself does!  The unfortunate truth is that a certain part of British Leftist thought is running well behind the Right’s curve on this front (I once, almost unbelievably, encountered someone on the John Peel mailing list who insisted that Cameron could not really like pop or rock music because he was so clearly of the Right: by those criteria Tony Benn in 1981 – and I can bet the person concerned supported Benn at that time – would have had to be a fascist).  Just as this part of the British Left have for years denied and refuted the fact that pop and rock music originating in the Anglosphere, and especially in Britain, have long been treated far better and with far more overall respect in the media, especially radio, of mainland Europe – have in fact seen such an approach as “posh” and “poncy”, a betrayal of the music’s “authenticity” – and just as they pretend to be “anti-establishment” while in fact actively joining in with prejudice and resentment against the one area of music which is still despised by the British establishment, they are actively pretending that Gove feels threatened by their own no-theory approach when, in fact, he loves it because it enables him to divide and conquer with far greater ease and security.  The same streak in The Guardian – a paper which still has a lot of very good things hidden in it – which thinks bad grammar or its style guide’s officious discouragement of “Hallowe’en”, “encyclopaedia” and “dreamt” (while citing Arctic Monkeys as if anyone in the present government seriously worries about them) are, like, really really rebellious, that Gove worries himself about such things every bit as much as he worries about post-structuralism and encoding and decoding infesting the academic lives of vulnerable lumpenproles.

Much the same can be said about the enforced budget cuts on the pop/youth side of the BBC which, having already appealed to populist resentment at the funding of an entire TV channel, have now resulted in the dismissal of three more 1Xtra specialists.  The inequity between the treatment of Radio 1 & 1Xtra and the ringfenced budgets of Radios 3 & 4 are clearly intended to make the latter stations’ core audiences think that the current government cares about and is concerned with their interests, that it supports their idea of fixed standards as against the passing fancies of the young.  But if the latter (or at least the conservative parts of the latter; what has made Radios 3 & 4 so singular is that they are, just as their precursors were fifty or sixty years ago, the only real place where the Guardian and Telegraph tendencies of the English bourgeoisie and intellectual elite come together, the only media outlets which really have to balance out the concerns and priorities of both) believe that, they are kidding themselves.  Gove and his ilk not only gleefully encourage the forces which really erode the old fixed standards (and which actually are the uncritical, unquestioning purveyors and promoters of mass culture which they wrongly and crudely accuse all post-68 academics of being), but they actively want such people to triumph because it would strengthen their own bosses’, their own business connections’, profit margins.  They are publicly speaking in the language of “no Paul Morley on Radio 4” diehards while viciously and vicariously laughing at them behind their backs in private.  In its way, it is a crude exploitation of snobbery, so much more cynical and harmful even than the real, putatively English Gaullist thing would be.

Nothing I have said in this probably wildly overlong piece will be news to those who have followed what has really been going on over the past two decades: huge numbers of people, on all sides, backing up people who stand for everything they don’t (whether hierarchical conservative traditionalists with Murdoch, or large swathes of a despairing, fragmented British Left with Islamists), first-past-the-post preventing any realignment beyond populist reactionary moaning, a general tone of cynicism and nihilism and negative doom-politics from all ends.  But in the case of Gove specifically, and the broader position of the present government more generally, I feel the case is more specific, more direct, nastier, more urgent.  I could as easily have written the C-word 3906 times and left it at that.  But that would have been the coward’s way out.  Just as much as was the case in 2012, this is still an emergency.  We are, frustratingly, further from a clear way out than we were then.  In England, we do not have our fate wholly in our own hands.  But we need to know what we are up against, and we need to know what it actually stands for and what it actually means, not what it suits some people’s delusionary self-image to pretend it stands for and means.  Whether 1945 socialists or souixante-huitards, we will be betraying ourselves, and history, if we do not unite.  Michael Gove, in The Times in December 2001, said that those who went on to the beaches on D-Day with the intention of creating a better society once the war was won would always, eternally, be less British than those who used it to perpetuate what he was proud to call “ancient pettinesses”.  Combine that with the current extreme manifestations of forked-tongue politics and you have something lethal and corrosive such as we have scarcely seen before.  If anyone in any of the diverging, and often actively hateful towards each other, traditions of the British Left ever doubts whether or not they should vote Labour next year, especially if its task has suddenly been made harder, they should read this piece, and think on.  Time will judge us very harshly indeed if we ignore what stands before us now.