I know ‘cos I was there: what grammar school lobbyists are really on about

I was wondering the other day why I associate bull-headed opposition to the serious study of popular culture in two different social groups and for two different reasons – specifically the twin reactionary beliefs which need each other for either to survive, both “we’re beneath it” and “it’s above us” – more with south-east England than anywhere else, and specifically with the county in which I grew up.

And then I remembered that that county has retained a 1950s education system.

It should go without saying that I abhor with all the fibre of my being the de facto privatisation of state education which the current government is continuing to accelerate.  I regard it as one of the very worst acts of vandalism among many so far committed under Cameron’s watch.  But even after the de facto privatisation of Portland’s schools, I still regard the education system here as infinitely preferable to the one I left behind (Hitchens Minor, in particular, really should wonder – which means he won’t, of course – how his portrayal of New Labour as some kind of Trotskyist fringe movement in power fits with the fact that they left the grammar schools which had effectively survived by mistake very much in place).  It is possible, of course, that a right-wing movement might take over effectively privatised state schools in places like this and use them to demonise, and de-Anglicise, urban England; I never felt, as some other elements on the Left did, that this invalidated concerns about what appears to have happened in Birmingham (although Hitchens Minor also defended that, for different reasons), but I do still feel it is an issue of concern.  But I think young people in places like this would all, pretty much universally, instantly and unequivocally reject it; even if some of their parents (I think more so, if anything, those who have moved from places like Birmingham than those with older roots here) want to take them in such a direction, virtually none of them want to go there, and I also don’t think the academy process blots out quite the same tradition of progressivism in state schools here as it does in some other places – there might, if anything, have been more teachers with those reactionary ambitions in the past than there are today.  You can’t effectively take young people with the aspirations that young Portlanders mostly have and mould them into the Wurzels, even if you want to.

The other problems are obvious enough if you think like me; I think of that letter to The Times in 1995 – 1995! – about one of the Buckinghamshire girls’ grammar schools insisting on knitting as the first module in its science GCSE, which inevitably reminds us of the fact that the anti-science culture in grammar schools, and the failure to develop technical schools properly, did more damage to Britain in the thirty years after the war probably than anything else.  It is all very well to talk about France and Germany; they don’t have the inherent social impairments built into their societies that we do.  In a society such as this, we simply cannot afford such a system as they no doubt can, because it cannot but indulge negative social tendencies here, and cannot be the relatively fair judge of aptitude that I believe it pretty much is there.  I have people in my own family who never fulfilled their considerable potential, and are still living out lives which are far narrower than they should be or need to be, precisely because they weren’t put forward for grammar school because they weren’t considered The Right Sort.  I’d love us to be the sort of society where there is no risk of that.  But there still is, even now, and you can’t wave a magic wand and turn us into France or Germany overnight.  That’s why the comparison doesn’t hold.

But if – as I believe is still broadly the case in Kent, although I do also recognise (c.f. one comment here) that even they have evolved in this respect, at least to some extent, though I would still say more because they had to than because they really wanted to – the schools which are perceived as most socially prestigious perceive the serious study of popular culture as beneath them, and the majority are educated in schools which are dominated by an overriding sense of social inferiority and isolation, and are recognised by reliable sources as considerably worse than many in inner London (East Anglian primary schools also scored very low on a recent poll, again possibly the victim of a “learning’s not for people like us” culture – there is a reason why that kind of working class has always been the Tories’ favourite kind; it’s why I have to fight it so hard – which brings on an even greater sense of relief that East Anglia abandoned its grammar schools decades ago, and that Cambridgeshire’s secondary system has long had so much to say for it), the two equally odious twin forms of reactionary sentiment specifically with regard to popular culture, the Sun version and the Telegraph version, are both strengthened in a way they don’t need to be, even (indeed, especially) as they make less and less sense in the wider world.

The chosen few will still be more likely to erect strict high-low divisions, in terms of how they handle and approach the multiple experiences of their developing lives, which they would be less likely to do in other places under other systems; the rest will be much more likely, precisely because of the educational separation, to think taking this stuff seriously “isn’t for people like us”, a betrayal of its authenticity.  Neither will be given an education which addresses what has happened in the wider culture since most of the country moved on in terms of its education system; both will set up equally unnecessary divisions, and both will trivialise mass culture, the one simply as an escape when it can be so much more than that, the other as the totality of their lives when it can be so much more than that, too.  Their tastes within mass culture might well be narrower in both cases, and different cultures within pop will cross over with each other far less, with all the racist and classist implications (worse than ever as a direct result of Blair’s legacy) that carries.  Neither social group will be given the basic grounding they would both get under fairer and newer systems, and both will be weaker and narrower for it.

On his own terms, Hitchens Minor’s vision makes perfect internal sense, and is a lot more honest than the typical pussyfooting of other right-wing hacks.  (And no, I don’t really dispute Hitchens Minor’s points on selection by postcode within the comprehensive system; where I do dispute with him, and the Mail titles as a whole, is in the argument that it would be “communist social engineering” even to attempt to challenge that.)  I think the 2012 series recently repeated on BBC Four was entirely correct that the grammar school model made much more sense in the pre-Beatles world than in the world that replaced it.  But schools have an exceedingly limited power to change and direct the world around them; almost by definition, they cannot create or set trends in themselves.  If you believe – as Hitchens Minor does – that schools should ignore the world around them and pretend that all the important things which have happened in it haven’t happened and won’t go on happening, then of course you will prefer grammar schools.  If you believe they have other responsibilities, you won’t.  It’s really remarkably simple.

And I suffered for it directly, and my education never fully recovered, even when we came here.  Quite apart from my barely-diagnosed condition doing what it did, I grew up in a house where both Bullseye and Radio 4 were on as a matter of course.  How could I possibly have fitted in such an arrangement?  Unlike a lot of people of my age and below, I know, ‘cos I was there.

Some thoughts on Scottish independence

It was reading Yvonne Ridley’s tweets on this matter which finally got me to write this. It isn’t the absolute, definitive text I’ve been promising for years, but it’s probably the best you’re going to get.

The one thing that matters about Scotland, the one thing from which everything else comes and to which everything else returns, the one thing that is always ignored by people who think they’ve found the key to this conundrum, is this: 1968 never really happened there, and therefore neither did its principal legacy in the rest of Europe (but especially England), the separation of economic Leftism from social and cultural conservatism, the rendering incompatible of these two once-allied forces. This is why England can’t be Scotland (and why Scotland can’t be England, for those soixante-huitards and Black Atlanticists who would find Scotland unsettlingly folksy and homogeneous). In the end, that is all it is, and whether or not an English Leftist supports and sympathises with Scotland’s claims to nationhood depends entirely on what sort of Leftist he or she is, which criteria (1945 or 1968, basically) he or she considers most important. Maybe that’s all I need to write.

But it isn’t quite, of course; I have to write something more because I am in equal parts both kinds of Leftist; my basic inability to take sides (in itself a very English thing rather than a Celtic thing, as detailed further below) has me taking in equal parts from the 1945 and 1968 traditions, and thus from traditions with fundamentally oppositional views of the merits and worth of Scottish independence. Yvonne Ridley, of course, is the ultimate anti-68-er (on a scale of one to ten, with the most hardline soixante-huitards rating ten, she’d be way, way down minus one); not only has she allied herself with forces of extreme social and religious conservatism (as much of the international Left has admittedly done), she has actually joined up with such forces herself, become not merely an ally of convenience but an actual believer (which the great majority of the Western Left has not) and moved to Scotland because within it her sense of the Left – the most extreme form of a world where 1968 never happened – seems to her to be protected and preserved. And there is nothing more unpleasant and extreme than the zeal of the convert, with which she is infected on two subtly-related fronts. Her take on Scottish independence is not the most appealing; there are others rooted in far more humanistic values, an approach to the world far closer to mine, which may be critical of the Israeli state but does not share her aggressive paranoia. I can easily forget it when reading Ridley’s religious self-assurance, but there are plenty of visions of Scottish independence which evoke a world in which I could happily live.

Except that that is not my grounding, and somehow it never can be (if I had taken it up as my own quasi-religious conviction, I suspect it would sound every bit as artificial and desperate as Ridley, every bit as far from its many genuinely progressive elements); I am caught between multiple worlds every second of my life, and never have I felt it so keenly and irreconcilably as over this. The most traditionalist parts of both Right and Left in England share a conspiratorial mindset, a belief that the entire modern world represents a conspiracy against them and their approach to life; reading about the Traditional Britain Group, which represents a quasi-fascist, Third Positionist undercurrent which in my worst nightmares exploits the instability of England after Scottish secession to create a totalitarian state from which Puerto Rico status seems like a positive relief and national saviour, I could not help thinking of elements of the old Left in England, lost and homeless and yearning for what their Scottish counterparts can cling to in hope of escape, the belief that everything has been permanently corrupted and the only way out is a total retaking and restaffing of all institutions (John Pilger’s sense of the entire media saturation of the present age as a grand-scale lie, an organised delusion from a deeper truth, has more than a little crossover with this part of the Right). There is a shared hatred for both economic and social liberalism, each hating the one their broader side has loved in my lifetime just as passionately as the one their broader side has hated. Both yearn for a moment in history when everything was perfect, uncorrupted: it’s just that for one that moment was a notional pre-capitalist mediaeval state of being, and for the other it was 1945; one calls the world that is out to get them “cultural Marxism”, the other calls it “neoliberalism”. But both share an elemental romanticism which has been a far stronger political undercurrent among both mainland Europeans and Celts than among the English (Searchlight notes with some accuracy that the European intellectualism of the Traditional Britain Group may very easily turn off many of the sort of people in England they are aiming to turn on).

And both, in their own ways, are trying to find answers to the question which Scottish independence, or not, asks for their neighbours, and inwardly screaming (it can only be inward: they are, after all, English) that no comparable question can give them in turn something to live for. Living alongside something so seismic is so hard to take in isolation that it can only be that very English distrust of elemental romanticism which stops both old Left (the current New Statesman editor has traces of his precursor half a century ago, in terms of feeling, with a hint of envy at Scotland where such views never came to be seen as suspect on the Left, a certain wariness at young people creating their own forms of cultural expression lest it weaken the sense of a common culture) and old Right from being far stronger forces in England than they are.

In the Scottish referendum every argument from either side can reasonably be counterbalanced by the other: the Yes campaign can say with total justification that, if you can’t block out whatever is channel 865 on Sky then you can’t block out BBC1, and the inference by some in Westminster that you could is, like so many other stances taken from that end, stupid and counter-productive (if you believe the Westminster government even want Scotland to remain in the Union; I am not averse to the conspiracy theory that certain elements within it do not). The No campaign can respond, equally reasonably, that if you can’t control the global spread of media and you don’t even attempt to, then the point of secession is negated and undermined. The Yes campaign can say, quite reasonably, that Scotland’s role in Europe is being held back by people and institutions far more sceptical of the EU and its purpose than the general Scottish population; the No campaign can respond, also with a good deal of truth behind it, that Hollywood and rock’n’roll have been as important, as foundational, to proportionately as many Scots as English people (certainly there is a tendency on the part of some Yes supporters either to deny this or almost to infer that a Yes vote could eliminate it, wipe it from the folk memory, and in the process to divert too far from the far more universally applicable economic reasons for independence; if there is a narrow No vote, this would probably be the biggest reason, just as the unfounded scaremongering, which might well partially be driven by a desire to eliminate politically inconvenient socialist tendencies from the Anglosphere, would be the main cause of a narrow Yes).

The Yes campaign can argue with some credibility that the Daily Record supports the Union because it is more concerned with the interests of its big brother the Daily Mirror, i.e. achieving a Labour government at Westminster by any means necessary, than with the interests of Scotland itself.  Simultaneously the No campaign can counterargue that The Scottish Sun‘s long-term sympathies with the SNP, and flirtation with a Yes vote, have nothing to do with Scotland and everything to do with its proprietor wanting to take as much of the United Kingdom as possible into a de jure United States of the Anglosphere, but knowing that the Scots would never accept it so wanting them out of the way to make his vision of England easier to achieve in practice.  People in my position frequently, with some justification, accuse the Yes campaign of selfishness (and also of hypocrisy, since they see themselves as above and separate from the drift in such a direction in post-1979 England) – of being concerned purely for their own social democratic idyll and of being indifferent to the fate of the rest of us. The Yes campaign can respond, perfectly reasonably, that we are the selfish ones for wanting to use others to give us what we cannot give ourselves.

Or maybe it is a matter of tone, a fundamental psychological difference between the English and the Celts (I am putting myself, in terms of my cultural grounding and emotional upbringing, wholly in the former category here; had I been closer to my father’s side of my family it might have been different)? Over and over again I find myself agreeing with the basic meat of what Scottish independence supporters have to say, but being turned off by what often (although by no means always) comes over to me as a rather arrogant, combative, dismissive tone to it. It was once said that, to understand Enoch Powell, you had to be conscious of his Welsh ancestry because it was the source of his “un-English, but Celtic, passion for going all the way”. And sometimes it seems to me that, much as part of me wants to, underneath it all I fundamentally don’t have that passion, I respect the ideas but cannot fully identify with the more emotive and exclusive elements of their application. I get on with Celts, on the whole, better than the rest of the English because I sense and feel their lack of shame at emotion: I envy them for being able to let out what I must keep in. But I still must keep it in. I look at others but cannot take what they have.

Does this mean that, underneath it all, I’m a Tory as well (at least in the gentle, diffident shire sense that Powell, the proto-Thatcherite child of a great industrial city, very definitely wasn’t part of)? Some people would say yes, no doubt, and yes I can hear all the jokes about moderation to excess starting already. But I prefer to think of myself as a liberal humanist – in TPL terms, in the tradition which runs from On the Threshold of a Dream to ELO’s Time, and the pieces about them, not the vast, unedifying swathes of proto-Cameronite muck to come. Psychologically, I’m far more German than English (I’d love to say more Scandinavian still, but I’m not sure that’s quite the case). But I do – despite myself and despite itself – cherish the English liberal humanist tradition which has been so eroded and threatened in recent times (the cabinet reshuffle pushes it further towards death’s door, and strengthens the feeling that a desperate, morally bankrupt Tory party is looking to Scottish independence as its only real hope), and I don’t want it to be weakened still further, turned more than ever into a defensive, bull-headed nationalism, defined far more by what it is against rather than what it is for, which bears disturbing resemblances to Serbian nationalism as it developed in the early 1990s. Scotland has its own traditions, and they can no doubt thrive better apart. What worries me is the survival, or not, of the liberal traditions I myself was brought up to inherit, which I fear need the help of others to thrive now because those theoretically brought up for them increasingly don’t really understand them.

The frustration caused by the gulf between my identification and sympathy with some aspects of Scottish independence aspirations – my basic belief that it represents a positive, progressive social model for those who can be part of it – and the way I must live, the way I am confined to live, is a cause of almost unbearable pain. In the end – for the purely emotional side of me, for the 1945 side of me – “I want the one I can’t have”. That Morrissey – precisely the sort of English Leftist who could only have thrived and really been understood if England had been Scotland – could be a wise chap, when he wanted to be.

The unquiet ghost of the anti-Beatles Left

To sense a tendency of thought surviving as an intellectual force, in one sense despite itself and despite history and in another sense because of itself and because of history, you have to know that it existed in the first place.  And most people today don’t know that the anti-Beatles Left ever existed at all; their caricatured conception of the 1960s allows only for antipathy towards mass culture as a statement of working-class expression and intent coming exclusively from harrumphing old colonels, the Henley Regatta rather than the Durham Miners’ Gala.  Even Paul Johnson’s The Menace of Beatlism – briefly well-known in the 1990s, if only for the light it shed on how the redefinition of the Left pushed some of its leading thinkers to the Right (and also, it must be said, for the way New Labour’s very existence had completely refuted its final conclusion, that the people listening to pop and rock music would never hold positions of high office) – has fallen from public view; its 50th anniversary at the end of February was pretty much universally ignored.

Which is a shame, because it sheds some kind of light on quite a lot of stuff being written today, which has been hopefully attempting to rehabilitate ideas and judgements on mass culture once rendered obsolete by Trotskyism and an intellectual wave ridden in the 1980s by Marxism Today, certain aspects of the NME, the Monthly Film Bulletin (though never, for one second, Sight & Sound until its 1991 Year Zero) and the TV magazine Primetime, but which have almost been forcibly reawakened in response to the embrace of pure, unfettered neoliberalism by those very former Trotskyists in government.  And however ludicrous much of it appears to be now, it very definitely reflects the true complexity of thought in 1964 Britain, where much resentment of pop culture came from Leftists who felt it was eroding the unity of the working class, its strength against exploitation and abuse.  Frederick Wragg, the retired colonel who returned his medals in protest at the Beatles’ MBEs in 1965, had been a Labour supporter (he amended his will to remove a substantial bequest he had made to the party).  Things were much more complicated than they appeared to be, for many NME-raised sub-Marxists, before the Blair conundrum clouded everything again.

Which brings me to the following article published last weekend in The Observerhttp://www.theguardian.com/football/2014/mar/08/how-football-lost-touch-young-fans (I have to link this way because, ludicrously, WordPress apparently does not allow me to put in proper links without paying, and if anyone knows otherwise I’d be delighted: I felt, as I usually do whenever I have the desire to start doing this again, that I needed to use a platform such as I hadn’t used before, to create the sense of a wholly new start, untainted by a dubious, flawed past).  Let no-one doubt that I have a considerable sympathy with many of Adrian Tempany’s arguments.  I agree with much of what he has to say about neoliberalism and its alienating social effects, and I wish – as he does – that English football could, in the parallel world I have so often envisaged in my mind, have moved away from the squalor and deprivation of its crisis years (football’s problems at the time were so completely bound up with the broader class-war scenario of that era that they cannot really be separated – and hence depoliticised – as they so often are) without falling into the hands of plutocrats and an exploitative overclass.  Like him, I wish, in short, that England had been Germany.  Obviously the unhealed wounds of class divisions, and the impossibility here of a genuine year-zero moment even in 1945 compared to its absolute necessity there, would have made it much harder, but it needn’t have been impossible.

It’s just that …

(And these are the most painful words in the world: the same “it’s just that” that, for me, was some sort of problem with the late Tony Benn, the conundrum and dilemma of whose life is of course central to these arguments; I have some lengthy thoughts on that subject but I am not sure if I want to make them public yet, it still feels too soon and too raw, but this piece has emerged in my head, as I have written it, as some sort of cypher.)

For a start, there are the general thoughts on the 1970s which have a considerable resonance and meaning for a significant part of the British working-class experience (much of the “Britain falling apart” rhetoric was basically “the ruling class is falling apart”, equating one class with the entire nation; when Max Hastings says that the Falklands War saved Britain he does, of course, mean that it saved his class, and damn everyone else), yet still do not tell the whole story.  Let it be rendered clear that I hold no brief and have no great love for Dominic Sandbrook, who I suspect is Tempany’s main target; I am not contented or satisfied with the set of social and economic norms that Sandbrook is so clearly wholly at ease with.  But the central point of Sandbrook’s work – that individualistic consumerism wasn’t invented in one afternoon in 1979 or even 1983, but had been bubbling away and building up as a force in British life for many years beforehand – is, in itself, far truer than it isn’t.  You don’t have to agree with the conclusions he uses these facts to arrive at to recognise that, in isolation, they are facts, any more than you have to agree with the conclusions reached for ideological reasons (whether far-Left, far-Right, or – these days – often both at the same time) based on the facts of war crimes, or imperial abuses of power, to recognise that the facts themselves are incontrovertible.

The “play to win with Gola” ads shown at the beginning and end of – irony of ironies – The Big Match ad breaks in 1977, presented in such a way as to resemble sponsorship bumpers today, or the consecutive ads in a summer 1976 break exhorting their audience to take home Carling Black Label (and thus break with the collective unity of pre-Sky pubs, or the handed-down social rituals of ale) or to buy Elseve Balsam because they were worth it, make this eminently clear.  There is never an unchanging idyll shattered in one second by forces of aggressive, anti-social media and politics (whether this moment is made out to be 1964, as with Peter Hitchens and other writers dimly recalled from the Daily Mail I absorbed in young-fogey childhood, 1979 as with Tempany, or both as with David Lindsay).  There is rather an unending battle of ideas, and sometimes (as very largely happened in this case) the forces that won it won almost despite themselves, or through fortuitous accidents of history.  But they were only able to win in the first place because the forces that gave birth to them had been building up for a long time, and for multiple reasons.  And this is before I even think of the significant numbers of people – many of Tempany’s own generation, many with (usually undiagnosed) conditions very similar to mine – who lived through something close to a living hell precisely because they were “abnormal”, precisely because they could not fit instantly into those collectivist norms.  You do not have to believe in all the conspiracy theories about What Happened In North Wales, or all the stuff that gets mixed up with it, to know that such a wilful “no such thing as a paedophile” vision ignores what a measurable number of people went through, and it isn’t neoliberal to point it out (no, this doesn’t mean that everything is perfect now in the treatment of people born with conditions which bring on social isolation – I know from direct personal experience that it, obviously, isn’t.  Why do certain people assume that criticism of one state of affairs amounts to absolute praise of another?).

There is a definite tendency on much of the Left to prefer being in opposition, to wallow in melancholy because in some ways it is easier to control emotionally, easier to take what pass for simple pleasures out of, than the inherently problematic position of being in power, which by its nature requires compromises with people who would rather you did not exist as a social and cultural force at all.  It is relevant to Stewart Lee’s piece, a few pages away from Tempany’s in the print edition of The Observer, which evokes very much the same dystopia of England After Britain – a permanent, thousand-year UKIP reich, institutionalised fascism in Hush Puppies – which I myself have been playing with since 2008.  But he and I must both be aware that this is not the most likely outcome, even if Scotland does secede; the institutionalised inertia in England which prevents any meaningful social progress, and makes even neoliberalism seem progressive by comparison, would also be likely to prevent something quite as extreme as that, even if it did dress itself up in the clothes and language of moderation.  It is just that there is something within us which … doesn’t quite want it exactly, but almost sees it as inevitable, takes a perverse enjoyment in active sadism.  Or thinks that those who don’t think like us deserve it, and we ourselves are powerless to change it.  The glamour of defeat, the glory of obliteration.

There are two ways to respond to having been marginalised for three decades and having all the odds of power stacked against you: either you retreat into yearning and anti-modernism – seeing the whole of mass culture as it exists now as a conspiracy against your outlook on life, thus dooming yourself to absolute defeat before you start – or you become proactive, attempting to reclaim that same hated modernity as something that can work in your favour, something that can strengthen you against them, rather than the other way round.  In the mid-1970s, many on the Right would have preferred the former approach, which would have rendered them impotent against the strength of popular culture as a working-class movement, and it took a lot of harsh, aggressive persuasion to lead them towards the latter approach which eventually redefined Britain, and much of the rest of the world, in its own image.  If the Left are now in the same position as the Right then, Tempany’s approach is – I deeply regret to say, because I want to agree with him, or at least I want to want to agree with him – very much the equivalent of the former approach, and thus hopeless for any kind of broader socio-cultural recovery of the Left; it is, very specifically, redolent of those anti-Beatles Leftists of half a century ago, people who – however well they meant – were arguably the broad Right’s long-term best friends (especially if we identify that broad Right with the Rolling Stones).

There is a definite tone of antipathy when Tempany refers to global “communities of interest” and their power among the young, but what was the driving force behind the Beatles, in the end, but an early example of global communities of interest, young working-class people bypassing the insularity of their physical environment to form alliances with those suffering comparable oppression abroad?  The English working class today are suffering enough discrimination as it is: why should they not build bridges with others suffering in similar ways in other environments?  Obviously it isn’t always anything like this in practice, but quite often it is, and lines of descent through the generations, and the absolute bonds of families and their cultural inheritances, were being challenged by the global community of interest – such as such things could exist then – that exploded into Beatlemania at a time when neoliberalism was, if anything, beyond the absolute margins of acceptable ideology.

Tempany puts great stress on young people learning and absorbing social norms, and having strong bonds with their fathers (and in the context of English football as it once was it is, very specifically, fathers).  No doubt there is much to be said for togetherness as a social force; no doubt some kind of mutual generational understanding is needed to avoid absolute social implosion; no doubt we don’t have enough of it at the moment.  But I would not regard young people as even remotely close to the main offenders on this front, and is it not also healthy for each generation to find its own means of self-definition, its own social norms and rituals and behaviours, outside the control of their predecessors?  The commercial exploitation of youth ritual over a long period has, of course, clouded these issues and made it harder to see where they came from in the first place, but “Rebel”, “My Different” or “German Whip” are, in their own way, every bit as much statements of defiance, even if recorded in an almost unimaginably harsher (at least in terms of job security, etc.) social environment, as the great Animals singles were half a century ago.  And the latter were routinely dismissed by people of Tempany’s political ilk at the time, precisely because they did not represent an entrance to the social norms of the adult world, as mere passing “entertainment” compared to passed-through-generations “culture” (of which more below).  The instinctive emotional need and desire of the young to find their own forms of identification, separate from all previous generations, was not simply created by the specific social separations of post-1979 Britain; when Eric Burdon sang “it’s my life”, he had no desire for it simply to be passed from national corporatists to global billionaires, any more than Ghetts, Rascals or Meridian Dan want to remain under the control of those same billionaires.

And what, also, of the large number of young people in places such as the one I live in, who may find themselves leaning towards outsiderdom and radicalism but who can find no deep basis for it in their own physical environment, certainly not as there is in English football’s traditional heartlands?  They – and even though I’m in my thirties, I still feel to some extent that I can say “us”, because I feel that “they” are more of an “us” than the demographic “us” I am aligned with by the forces of capitalism and plutocracy – have no option but to find global communities of interest.  Should they be dismissed as illegitimate because they involve individual acts of consumption and transaction made outside the control of a physical community and one’s elders, as though all such acts were as in hock to the ruling class as One Direction fandom?

Also redolent of the Paul Johnson Left – which very quickly found that it could no longer be the Left, and which attempts (understandable, of course, in the post-Blair context) are now being made to resurrect – is the opposition to “entertainment”, the use of the word as some kind of pejorative; “culture” good, “entertainment” bad.  However admirable the roots of such rhetoric are, they did lasting damage to the Left in the 1960s and beyond by making it appear (however unfairly) to oppose working-class cultural self-determination (this was, of course, the root of the late Stuart Hall’s challenges to many of his comrades, especially – one suspects – Bennites); had “entertainment” not been a sort of swearword among the Old Left, the Right might not have been able to promote themselves as the movement of mass consumerism (which itself required a considerable effort and a breakout of old assumptions for them) so successfully.

Tempany’s antipathy towards “entertainment”, as with his other rhetoric, was once used to promote the notion that Motown or Trojan could never truly be “culture”, could only ever be a false-consciousness distraction from the struggle; well-meant and heartfelt it obviously was, but it laid the foundation stone for those who already seemed irrelevantly old to Tempany as a child to abandon the struggle as something they could never fully participate in, because they feared they would be seen as an illegitimate, bought-out presence.  The Old Left’s division of “culture” and “entertainment” played a significant role in leaving an entire generation with no real home but a rootless, individualistic form of Toryism; Tempany should be aware of the risks of alienating another generation in a similar way.  This is especially regrettable because Motown and Trojan were culture, in the truest and deepest sense (the use of that word in roots reggae, while it may have its roots in reclamation of the language and imposed models of the imperial ruling class, seems loaded and meaningful in other ways as well); why cannot the forms being developed by young people within the internet era, outside the control or awareness or grasp of their parents, also be recognised as culture rather than passive, one-way Cowellism?  Blairism wasn’t the sole and inevitable end point of the New Left; it could have finished up in many other places, there were many other directions open for it to be taken in.

(a propos the challenge – however oblique, and however little so many people of that generation really understood it – that the “1964 moment” posed to racist and isolationist tendencies among the British working class itself – “every brother ain’t a brother”, to take a line from the most comparable American context, which would pejoratively have used the N-word to refer to British working-class racists, as a symbol of subservience and fear among any oppressed class – I note that Tempany does not, in that piece at least, mention the ugly racism so common in football grounds here in the period he writes about.  No doubt he does in the fuller content of the book he has written.  But I think its absence from the Observer piece might give something away, at least about what kind of Leftist Tempany is.)

It is the age-old dilemma of the Left, of course; even if (for example) Sky Sports is obviously built on neoliberalism and brutal divide-and-rule politics (the more internationalist BT Sport wouldn’t be quite the same thing, for all that it only exists because Sky does), should it be considered accidentally progressive, progressive by default on Marx’s model of 19th Century mercantile capitalism, if it opens people up to new territories beyond the scope of what may often be narrow and restrictive physical communities, or should it still be condemned for other, deeper reasons?  There is no one definitive answer; there is no absolute final conclusion that can close down debate forever, and nor should there be.  But ultimately, when I write a piece such as this, I cannot but think of Akala’s response to Sun and Daily Mail readers, UKIP supporters and their ilk who talk of “wanting their country back” – the brutally simple, knife-like (in that respect on a par even with Chuck D’s very best lines) “it never was yours”.  That might not fit into the narrative of romantic, nostalgic socialism whose resurgence is of course wholly understandable – the Blair government must have made all those within the Left who had seen Trotskyists as alien, bourgeois intruders feel some sort of vindication – but in the end, and especially in the case of football, it is the truth.  In the place and time Tempany remembers so fondly, the clubs were controlled by what Paul Weller, frustrated at some deep level that the striking miners could never love him as he loved them, aptly referred to as “every small town institution” – and you did not have to be remotely, or even putatively, neoliberal to feel yourself “chained and shackled by the dirt” of small-time capitalism, forever penny-pinching and undercutting new ideas.

If we had been Germany, we would have been so much more democratic in the first place that a bigger, glossier form of anti-democracy wouldn’t have seemed the only way out.  But – in the end – our history, and the wars we thought we’d won, prevented us from being Germany, and it is not the fault of the English working class who live now that we could not be so.  It is not the fault of those who know nothing but neoliberalism that they very largely choose global “communities of interest”.  You can only respond to – and, somehow, cope with – the situations that exist within your own personal experience.  The young people who are suffering from this vengeful, hateful government, wilfully denying them any kind of future (and yes, I know the 1977 ironies that scream out of that sentence), cannot be blamed for their disconnection from their elders: I know I have used this analogy before, but they were given this world, they didn’t make it.  And if their chosen ways out of it are different from those their elders might have regarded as most legitimate, that is not in itself neoliberal or anti-social.

Ultimately, it is with the greatest sadness of my life that I cannot fully agree with Adrian Tempany.  I’d love nothing more than to agree with every word of the piece that inspired this one, as a cypher and a cover for a million other pieces I could have written in a million different places and times.  It is simply my experience of life – and the things I have learned and absorbed – which mean I cannot.  I mean Adrian Tempany no ill-will or ill-thought.  It is just that, in the end, there have to be other ways.  Without them, the evolution and development of humanity – and especially of working-class culture – would cease altogether.  Yes, there are always exploitative forces overlooking them seeking to turn them into pure consumerism, pure genuflection to those who are “waiting to exploit their lives away”.  But that does not mean that is all they are.  Keep your eyes focused on plutocracy and its divide-and-rule tactics, especially as manifested in the Premier League.  Keep your razor-sharp focus on those forces, and give them the hate they deserve.  But don’t lump working-class self-determination, especially among young people, with it.  Firm up your hatred for the abuses of the modern world.  But don’t hate that entire world along with it.  Otherwise you might – through no fault of your own, and without knowing it – end up a sad ghost of yourself, surrounded by “newspaper cuttings of your glory days”.  And nobody with Tempany’s strong socialist convictions should ever end up that way.

Ultimately, it’s not any of our faults.  It’s the problem of England.  And, in the end, that’s why I’m still writing this.  Maybe I’ll hide in the summer, absent myself from this sort of environment of rhetoric, this sort of exchange of ideas.  But whatever happens, I’ll still be here after September.  Somebody has to fill this gap, and it might as well be me.