A few thoughts on why Corbyn happened

(Note that I’m honestly not sure whether I believe a word of what I’ve written below, or anything I might say or think in public: for the first time in my life, I have no clear beliefs and no internal self-confidence or certainty about anything.  Marcello wasn’t wrong about guilt: within myself I am crippled, walking through my life with sheer horror, pinching myself in angry disbelief.  And it’s not even as if I don’t want to listen to Jamz Supernova.  But I do have grave doubts about the choice of Seumas Milne and about some of Corbyn’s associations, I think.)

That Dominic Sandbrook’s new TV series actually takes its title from the works of Robbie Williams – some people just can’t let the High Blair era go, can they? – tells a very important story: Williams, like Sandbrook and like most of the people who gave him such astronomical sales, is a fully paid-up supporter of the Pop Culture Party, whatever name it happens to take  (it is, in essence, Whig, but less purely so in the Victorian sense than Thatcher saw herself to be) – so “Labour” for as long as Blair was in control and “Conservative” since – and has no real political views of any sort beyond that (I don’t dispute the implication in the No Parlez TPL entry that Rudebox – the album that turned all those people off – is far superior to most other 2006 UK number one albums, but that says more about that hellish, despicable pop year, for which I still blame Sacha Baron-Cohen and Leigh Francis – that Victor Lewis-Smith, ostensibly right-on in other respects, simply could not see what was wrong with these people’s work tells its own story about the Two Lefts, and about the people they mocked as the limit of, I fear, Corbynites’ empathy – than anything else, even if we discount the single most disavowed and disturbing number one album of all time).  Sandbrook, gloatingly quoted by John Whittingdale at the Tory conference to ram the point home, represents the single biggest reason – a new wave of Europhobic Tory nationalism which, when it talks about “our culture” which needs to be protected from marauding foreigners and meddling statists, unequivocally means the Rolling Stones rather than Elgar in a manner wholly unimaginable in 1994 – why Jeremy Corbyn is where he is.

Think about it.  Labour’s success in the late 1990s and early 2000s was as much about pop culture as the Tories’ success in the 1980s was about efficient management of a market economy; when Labour stole the latter clothes, the Tories had nowhere to go but into a heritagisation of their past which was more genuinely culturally conservative than they have ever otherwise been in my lifetime, but was electorally doomed precisely for that reason: William Hague’s leadership.  Doesn’t that sound familiar, at least on the surface?

The article published in August 2001 in The Independent claiming with confidence that “the 1960s claim their final victim: the Conservative Party” might as well have been written 140 years ago, not 14; it seemed true enough then, but the Golden Jubilee – the real birth of Cameron (it is astounding how few people point attention to the fact that the upsurge of a nationalism thought obsolete happened between April and June, exactly as it had done twenty years earlier) – already cast severe doubts.  By 2004, the social make-up of pop in its mass sense – the only sense that can work in a ruthless, unrepresentative game of targeting 800 people in Dartford or Watford – had already changed sufficiently as to make what had seemed impossible perfectly possible.  And the triptych was completed by Iraq; the use of boomer rock and its legacy to justify British involvement, together with the social shift within pop (the way Keane et al took the place in Middle England CD collections and on Middle England commercial radio of multiple Scottish bands seems analogous to the way that part of English society lost faith in the Union and cast its fellow citizens adrift before there was a real chance of the reverse; see also what I believe to be the non-existence of Scotland within the Downton Abbey universe when set against its intimate connection with Upstairs, Downstairs as a reflection of those of Julian Fellowes’ politics coming to see the Union as a hindrance, a restriction) and the way pop had helped the oldest elite of all when even they had clearly suspected if not assumed it would fail, had killed every assumption behind that article, rendered it as archaic as a prediction of continuing British imperial glory written on Coronation Day 1953, or indeed an article at the same time suggesting that there were no long-term risks to the international status of the England football team, would have seemed a comparable amount of time later.

The only way out – and it was real, that summer; the Tories still seemed fatally confused and internally divided and had not yet had enough time to create their new agenda – was not taken in the autumn of 2007, and from then on the power of pop culture was indelibly associated with the side for which it had once been seen as the final nail.  Martin Jacques, in his thoughts on Corbyn recently quoted by John Harris in The Guardian, seems to be wholly aware of this, and he must be considered a test figure in the same way that Peter Hitchens’ opposition to the golliwog or the broadcast of the N word when it is used in old films makes it even harder for those on anorak forums who defend such things to justify themselves.

Thatcher, at the start, brought together those for whom “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” was a bit much and those excited by the libertarian impulse of 1960s rock culture; Corbyn has brought together a strain of socialism for which Elvis was a severe problem and people for whom Britpop was what their parents partied to before they settled down and brought them up, people for whom the Easyjet 20th anniversary ad using “Disco 2000” is really far more ancient history than 1960s pop culture was to the Britpop generation.  Corbyn can appeal to his young supporters partially because, as a non-pop-cultural figure (and certainly not part of the Ian MacDonald idea of the political legacy of boomer rock – the one to which people still give my name, when they really should give his, not least because he got there in 1993 – in the way those of his generation who were dominant when he was in exile were and are), he can represent the antidote to the hegemony of a certain kind of pop culture within Tory nationalism for those for whom that culture is boring, irrelevant, old, effectively their Elgar (if you see what I mean).  The New Old Left is probably an inevitable byproduct of the fact that the continuing huge creativity of youth in the UK is now concentrated pretty much entirely in forms which are hard enough for a lot of people even of my age really to understand or grasp (and I am half Martin Jacques’ age), and maybe both British pop and British politics are better for it.  Certainly another Britpop couldn’t help the same side the first one did; that kind of pop is far too far gone, now.

But I would have more hope for Corbyn if there had been a movement for the socialist restructure of UK broadcasting which fired in 2004, was legally suppressed in 2007 and had inspired massive political protest and disconnection from the ruling class in the subsequent years.  I’d have more hope if there had been an unequivocally socialist recording act of some form or description – full of rage against the consensus of their time – who also exploded in 2004, had reached their apotheosis in 2012 and had since slipped noticeably on an artistic level and whose relevance was in serious doubt, but at the same time become embedded in the international jet set in the way which is usually – as it very definitely was in that case (Tony, you’re a fool to cry …) – the tipping point for genuine, top-level political impact.  And that is where the guilt and self-doubt comes back.  I keep telling myself that, if he ever did win, Corbyn could still change a lot even without that, but then I wonder where Thatcher would have found herself, and how great her legacy would really have been, had she only ever been able to do what she thought she was doing as opposed to what she actually did, and I ask myself: if the equivalent side to the one which won in Thatcher’s case also won in this case, would it not be a grand betrayal, and would that not make my whole life a lie?

But this is why it is important that a tweet by Paul Canning (who often writes, and thinks, good stuff, and is certainly right that Western Putinism is the politics of despair) criticising Seumas Milne’s appointment (about which I myself have profound doubts) quoted “The End” by the Doors, and significant that it was retweeted by someone with “Mersey” in their Twitter handle rather than, say, “Tyne”.  That is what the split between the Two Lefts is all about, and that is the single greatest dividing line in Britain today, by far.  That is also why the most important thing Milne has ever tweeted was an approving reference to William Rees-Mogg, decades after the fact, having sniffed out Thatcherism in the Stones and “soft-Leftism” in the Beatles.  It really is all the final act of what some (not me) once called Carmodism.

But maybe, in the end, none of this matters.  Maybe we are all permanently disenfranchised, permanently cursed, permanently denied happiness (if we even want it; Zizek says that we don’t, and he might well be right) by the seven-vote failure of electoral reform in 1917.  Maybe everything that is wrong in our lives to this day stems from that moment, really much more than that war itself, for all its disfiguring qualities (the First World War, in its way, orphaned the English people, but had that bill succeeded, it might have done some good, rather than leaving us with the worst of all worlds).  Bringing forward Individual Electoral Registration so it is more likely to hit the EU referendum and disproportionately disenfranchise those who are not hysterically paranoid about The Wrong Kind of Foreigners … it is obvious where this is leading and what it means.  It took guts for me even to write this.  It’s as much as I can face, as much as I can do.

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.

Our kingdom in horses

When Greg Wood wrote in The Guardian that Kauto Star was “the first, and greatest, star of National Hunt (racing)’s modern era” I thought to myself at first: wasn’t that Best Mate?  Then I realised that Wood was absolutely right; Best Mate belongs to a different and separate era, a time when – astonishing as this would go on to seem in the context of the huge jump racing boom of the Kauto era – jump racing was perceived by some to be in an inexorable and irreversible spiral of decline, a supposed victim of the alleged Tuscany Tony’s similarly alleged War on the Countryside (apropos an earlier comment on here – that third album didn’t stick around long now, did it? – Marcus Mumford was, indeed, the same age in 2002 as Mick Jagger in 1958).  Best Mate isn’t quite part of jump racing as big business; he’s part of the era when I could, briefly and fleetingly, sense such a paranoia and fear in Dorchester that I could almost imagine the 1974 Lena isn’t currently writing about directly (although she is, I think, writing about it indirectly; TPL – fifteen years later – is currently in a period of two Scottish and two Liverpudlian number one albums in quick succession, but Toryism had already become Whig to such an extent that such a dominance within pop was arguably already on borrowed time).  And he was trained by a former girls’ boarding school teacher married to a totally unreconstructed man of the old Shires (both of whose accents have disappeared every bit as completely as the traditional accents of areas with large BAME populations, if not in fact more so), neither of them genuine business people in the way Paul Nicholls is (if a certain other Somerset institution represents the roots of the new capitalism in old hippiedom, he represents its other roots in a now largely excised feudalism).

Kauto Star was about other currents within British life of his time as well – to some extent he represented mainland European sophistication set alongside the rugged traditionalism of his Irish-bred (though trained in the same English stable) rival Denman, although we mustn’t forget how important the first real wave in history of Irish capitalists making money out of the British market was in the transition of British jump racing into big business – but above all else he was about the realisation that, in fact, jump racing had had little to fear from New Labour because it had already, without anyone really noticing, become out-and-out capitalism and therefore eliminated any elements to it which might have been a threat to them even if you believed the wilder claims.  More than that, he was about The Shires losing that paranoia about modern culture and embracing and becoming part of that culture, and about that culture meeting bona fide capitalism halfway, and about the politics of capitalism dropping whatever notional hostility they had had to The Shires … about the creation of a version of capitalism which was both accepting of what capitalism actually does and broadly supported in The Shires such as there had never been before, and about the creation of a shire culture which, also for the first time, accepted the logical outcome of capitalism as much as the notional idea of capitalism itself.  In short, Kauto Star was about the entire politics of his era, his moment, from the month Cameron became leader to his second Christmas in office (his span of Grade 1 wins).  No wonder he was so symbolic, so significant.

Other National Hunt horses who have made an impact on the wider public feel like similar cyphers and metaphors (to some extent, the most recent Flat horse to have done the same – something harder for the highest-class horses even before jumping had embraced bona fide capitalism, because they always stuck around for much less time – also feels like this; the Frankel Moment was also the moment when it seemed as though Murdoch might fall and gentlemanly capitalism might actually be restored, a moment which was dead even before Henry Cecil himself was).  The fact that Mill House was Irish-bred means that it would be simplistic to identify him purely with the English ruling class, and Arkle was in fact owned by someone whose name ended with the words “Duchess of Westminster”, but there can be no doubt that Arkle’s rise felt like a moment of Irish self-assertion, stepping out of long and overpowering shadows, which might well have seemed symbolically linked with what was happening in Britain (some of it, at least in terms of pop music, driven in part by people of Irish descent).  That he transcended his ownership to become a genuine people’s hero in the Republic of Ireland was, if anything, easier at that moment, before old wounds were reopened in the North in the harshest way possible, and it would have been hard, I think, not to equate the fall of Mill House with the fall of Alec Douglas-Home, the fall which in the end was not permanent, once capitalism had, in the 2000s, lost whatever qualities it had which made it slightly unpalatable to such people.

Simply because he was trained on Merseyside and achieved his greatest successes there, Red Rum‘s career is, of course, also inexorably linked with the Irish – Catholic and Ulster Protestant alike – presence in Britain, and with the planting of the seeds for the revival of the Grand National as a great people’s festival, but he also seems to symbolise the strength and power of the working class, the small man, in the Britain of the 1970s; that he could do what he did to a horse who seemed to exude semi-aristocratic self-confidence and measured cool (although even here there are ironies; that horse was in fact New Zealand-bred, one who might once have been seen as a “jumped-up colonial”, in the year that country felt itself abandoned by Britain’s membership of the EEC and would respond initially with the last top-down, state-based Tory movement the Anglosphere is ever likely to see, before a subsequent Labour government was, in a sense, Roy Jenkins, Thatcher and Blair all in one go).  But Red Rum did what he did in a setting profoundly run down and on its last legs; it felt as though public will and affection might not be enough to keep this rotting edifice alive.  The national sense of decay which many felt in the 1970s – however driven by an essentially Tory worldview and however much some people outside that culture did not feel it, and still do not feel it in retrospect – fitted very closely with the state of Aintree and the Grand National.

Red Rum also exemplifies some of the problems and faults within the Old Labour or broader Old Northern culture; Ginger McCain was a famously reactionary and unenlightened character (and, as he came from Southport, is a good deal less likely to have been a socialist – even a reactionary one – than if he had come from Liverpool itself; “used car store owner” – and, yes, that’s a 1974 link too – also often codes as “working-class Tory” even in some of Labour’s strongest areas).  After his last hurrah at Aintree during the Blair / Countryside Alliance / Best Mate era, his son Donald McCain has been, overall, a far more successful trainer in far less time precisely through embracing jump racing’s new sense of itself as big business; even if Ginger McCain himself might not have been a socialist, plenty of Northerners of his generation with similarly questionable views on social and cultural matters were, so even though it might require a stretch, you can still make the argument that the generational shift, even if not necessarily this precise family line, represents how Northern English culture, and especially North-West English culture, has simultaneously become more driven by pure commerce and the profit motive, with its capitalism on a much greater scale rather than simply as a hobby, a pastime, while at the same time becoming more socially liberal and pluralist (a profoundly problematic dual dichotomy which I still cannot work my head round).

Certainly, a great many horse racing fans are horrible reactionaries – often, in fact especially, reactionary socialists.  It seems to attract all the most reactionary and unpleasant social tendencies on all sides and in all classes; it has historically drawn massive support from both the aristocracy and the lumpenproletariat (the reactionary tendencies of both of which have always needed those of the other to keep going, feel a sense of justification) and been largely ignored by the more liberal social tendencies in between.  A fantasy project of mine some years ago was to build on the work already done by such as Rebecca Cassidy, Kate Fox (in her blither way – she might be, in this field, a sort of Dominic Sandbrook to Cassidy’s Andy Beckett) and Wray Vamplew & Joyce Kay, and put together a definitive social history of the sport in Britain on a par with Derek Birley or even C.L.R. James’ work on cricket.  I genuinely still think there is life within such a vision, because like the origins of British pop, it certainly deserves to be rescued from some of the reactionaries (on more than one side, in both cases) who have attempted to control the territory for themselves; I just don’t think I’m really capable of writing it.  But it still needs to be written.

The bit at the top of this blog about “the horsiest Leftie in the Anglosphere, but there are many horsier ones beyond” is written advisedly; in mainland Europe (and the greater similarity here is, I think, an underrated factor in Scotland, Wales and Ireland being, on the whole, more Europhile), there is simply not the culture of separation and distinction between Left-wing politics and horse-related (and other rural) activities and enthusiasms such as there tends to be in England.  It is easy to underestimate and forget just how different English political and cultural divisions might be if this split didn’t exist; for a start, you wouldn’t have the phenomenon of Leftists saying that they don’t like other professional regional stereotypes in England but have no problem with the Wurzels, because they don’t imagine that the latter could possibly conceal anything more progressive in the way that they recognise that, say, Brian & Michael damagingly did.  This is pretty much exactly what someone says in the Popular comments to the entry for “Matchstalk Men and Matchstalk Cats and Dogs”, and is a depressingly predictable view on the English Left, and in itself part of the reason why Tory majorities can just about happen.  These things predict themselves and institutionalise themselves; each side needs the narrowness of the other.  Breaking them down has been an important part of my identity, of what I am.

Those who know me in the flesh will know that I have pulled away from this recently; I haven’t been riding for a while now, prefer to keep my distance, step back a bit.  Naturally this is down to the way I am wired and what I can cope with and cannot, not any antipathy towards the social act in and of itself.  I have no problem whatsoever with the thought of riding; the more people who think like me who can do it the better.  Finding something impossible personally is in no way a criticism of what it actually is; sometimes it can, in fact, be the precise opposite.

Kauto Star saw out Blair and saw in Cameron with rare perfection and accuracy.  But there are other cultures, even out here, which have equal validity and status within the fabric of this country.  The Left and Right alike forget them for alarmingly similar reasons.  They shouldn’t.

Thinking the Unthinkable

Those deluded and pseudo-patriotic enough to support EU withdrawal love to accuse people like me of “whataboutery”, an insult which hurts sufficiently that I try not to accuse others of it (although in some cases, on other, largely unrelated issues, it is almost unavoidable, as for example when alleged Marxists dismiss the victims of the Iranian state as “inconvenient”).  Those who believe EU withdrawal is a universal national panacea rather than the Union-unravelling chimaera it would actually be love to invoke the concept of “the art of the possible”; that what they talk about is possible and what I talk about isn’t.  They don’t always even deny that the EU is in no way or sense whatsoever the greatest threat to our “sovereignty”; they simply say, in that nauseating shrugged-shoulders way (in no culture but that of England could a party like the modern-day Conservative Party even exist), that they are concentrating on threats that actually can be reversed or turned around and I am not.

Apart from defining the terms and criteria of the anti-EU whingers – the cynically anti-political nature of it all – it also reveals their desperately narrow political horizons.  The other, far more profound and far more total, changes could still, even now, actively be reversed if only anyone had the will.  Reversing the tides of media deregulation and American-led pop culture, and of the hollowing out and stripping to nothing of our public culture and institutions, would of course require a deeper and more profound effort, a far greater commitment to changing every aspect of our lives, which is precisely why the whingers aren’t prepared to commit themselves to it – the only change they’re prepared to make is one which involves ticking one box on one day and then just doing everything exactly the same way they’re used to, which is a big part of the reason why their cause is so useless, hollow and empty.  But it is all perfectly possible.  It would simply require a genuinely patriotic government at Westminster, and we have not had one of those which was strong or potent enough to do anything on those lines, whether in the Tory or Labour traditions (if indeed we have had one at all, in either tradition) for thirty-six years.

But that’s not my fault.  It’s the whinging Europhobes’ fault, absolutely, entirely, 100%.  But I’m not going to be blamed for what I am (which is really another way of letting them define me, which I have fought against for so long).  It’s not my fault that they can only see what is directly in front of them, not what might be.  It’s not my fault that their outlook on the world is so mundane, banal, predictable.  Above all else, it’s not my fault that they are not prepared to think the unthinkable.

(apropos what I wrote below, it occurs to me more and more that the strange and overnight resurrection of Williams’ career and his first solo TPL entry, which did absolutely no business at all for its first two months, was a direct response to the wheels dramatically coming off the Oasis bandwagon at exactly the same time; in other words, he filled the gap Liam had left, and probably would always have left once the Blair government actually existed.  No doubt TPL will get to this and come up with a reasoned analysis of it, when the time comes.  But enough of that.)

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.

England, Scotland and the inadequacy of charts alone

The argument that Scottish independence would greatly damage the acceptance of the music and culture often euphemistically called “urban” in England is exhibit A for the case that mere charts, mere lists of self-selecting, fairly narrow popularity, are not enough in themselves.  Music in this style is invariably less popular in Scotland in terms of pure sales (and now, presumably, streams), sometimes very markedly and conspicuously so (the general rule is that artists of the black Atlantic sell less well unless they do Eurodance-style songs, hence why Nicki Minaj’s “Starships” was a Scottish number one without topping the UK charts, and that acts from mainland Europe sell better unless their songs have an “urban” flavour, hence Oliver Heldens’ “Gecko (Overdrive)” bucking the trend by failing to replicate its UK number one status in Scotland).  There are many reasons why this might be: a less multiracial and multicultural demographic even in urban Scotland, less pressure to like it for post-colonial reasons among people outside its core audience because Leftism stuck to its pre-68 self there and so could remain a mass, socially conservative phenomenon (if ’68 had never happened, I don’t think I personally would ever have taken to it, half a lifetime ago), a general sense where whatever is small-town music in England (currently, the David Guetta continuum, seemingly on the racks but now with its umpteenth new wind) is big-city music in Scotland, whereas Scottish small towns and villages, to some extent, actually are what their English equivalents are fondly, delusionally imagined to be by the Dorset Echo and its ilk, in terms of not being wholly dependant on global mass culture.  But surely, those who take popularity polls in isolation would say, if it is less popular in Scotland, then Scotland being in a separate state would strengthen its cultural share in England, push it further up the charts by removing the sales of sceptics, give it a measurable demographic boost?  This, I fear, is a classic example of ignoring the wider social context which charts, unless it is absolutely unavoidable (and it rarely has been in recent times), by their nature leave out.

Charts can often shine a light on the world around them, of course; the Rolling Stones’ 2005 album A Bigger Bang (the one with “Sweet Neocon”, an unexpectedly accurate dissection of the dilemma an entire generation found itself in by this point, just in the slipstream of Katrina) narrowly missed the long, late years of TPL by literally a handful of copies, the difference made entirely by its low sales in Northern Ireland which may reflect the fact that, out of the generation that would still have been interested in what the Stones might have come up with by then, a disproportionate number in Northern Ireland (of both traditions) prefer folk and/or country over rock.  Marcello Carlin has already written about a similar situation in Scotland being a reason why there was never a “Clydebeat” to compare with Merseybeat and indeed what happened in London, when Glasgow was one of the very few other places to have comparable access to black American music through being an Atlantic port, but in that 2005 situation where Northern Ireland kept an album out of TPL (and also prevented the same act having number one albums consisting wholly of new recordings over a span of over forty years, something which has never in fact come to pass) there is another intriguing element; the album that stayed at number one in the UK because it stayed at number one in Northern Ireland, just on the brink of the “heir to Blair” speech, was James Blunt’s Back to Bedlam.  The fact that this was just after the IRA had finally announced an end to its armed campaign … the idea of people from strongly Catholic or nationalist backgrounds buying an album by an Old Harrovian with a background in the British Army at such a moment, in terms of pop’s reflecting the shifts around it, is almost too carmodic to be believed.

But that is a context that everyone gets and understands; it was impossible to live in Britain for most of modern history and not get some grasp of it, however it was filtered.  One thing which is, conversely, hardly being discussed at all in the wider talk about the possible effects of Scottish independence hinges on an important difference: that between London as seat of feudal-turned-neoliberal power, and London as centre of global pop-cultural hybridisation.  The two are entirely distinct, two Londons fundamentally at odds with each other, but some Scottish independence supporters don’t appear to know the difference, as has been shown by the regrettable blurring of the edges between criticism of London dominance couched in terms of the global plutocracy and financial elite (which, always assuming it doesn’t blur over into “hidden hand” anti-Semitism, I could support wholeheartedly other than for reasons which, I know, will come over as selfish to many I’d like to love) and criticism of London dominance couched in terms of cultural fear of diversity (the other, less admirable face of Scottish nationalism which some on the English Left still don’t want to admit exists).  They are two entirely different Scottish nationalisms, and if there is a Yes vote they will rapidly fall out and hate each other as viscerally as they are now linking arms enthusiastically; they have utterly oppositional visions of an independent Scotland, which even the absence of ’68 as a divisive factor splitting the Left could not hold together if Scotland had to fend for itself.

But if you add the two Londons which feed into the two anti-Londons, and think of the fact that only in London, north-west England and north-east England (pretty much the regions with the least stereotypically “English” identities) did Labour beat UKIP in the European elections within England, you can imagine a little-discussed counterpart to the well-discussed idea of secessionist movements in northern England aiming to join Scotland; a kind of London nationalism (actively encouraged, as nationalisms often are, by one of its great enemies, in this case Peter Hitchens) opposed to the rest of the south of England, which it has often resented for living off the city’s wealth yet dismissing its diversity, taking but not giving back, and to some extent opposed both to the residual elements of feudal power in that city and its recent takeover by the global super-rich.  Like the good bits of Scottish nationalism – in a sentence, those which attack “London” as a concept for its elite rather than its mass – it would have many positive and admirable elements for those who could be truly part of it.

But that very exclusivity and exclusion – all a knock-on effect from other secessionist movements – would make me seriously worried for how my own life might end up.  Even in an age of always-on global media, when it would obviously be wholly impossible to block “urban” streams and confine my life to what those of a feudal bent would consider “appropriate”, there would still be other practical restrictions (not in terms of what could be heard on a superficial level, of course, but in terms of identities and freedoms that could be taken on, absorbed on a meaningful level which affects your judgement and understanding of the world around you), deeper resentments and fears which a barely-reformed feudal state perversely holds in and controls, renders milder and less obstructive than they might be otherwise.  In present circumstances, it is comparatively easy for me to be culturally metropolitan while still riding horses and walking on the cliffs.  If surrounded by a regressive, reflective nationalism defined against multiple others/Others, it might not be so.  Where is all this leading?  To the point that the acceptance of “urban” pop and the wider culture in England, at least in such parts of it as I live in, is dependant on multiple outside factors which have no direct connection to pop and its casual consumption or to the wider social concept of youth ritual, and that if you remove the safety valve of a place where it appears to be less widely accepted among pop’s core audience, you can open the floodgates for resentment from an “outside” audience being stronger in a place where those most intimately close to pop are more orientated towards it.

To simplify, there have always been two main approaches to pop and its place in modern history; that shaped wholly by Gambo/Rice Bros, Alan Freeman (but not his rock shows), Simon Bates, Dale Winton, Tony Blackburn und so weiter (including, for a long time as it was taking shape, the child molester), and that defined principally by John Peel and the post-punk culture which has now been struggling for the best part of twenty years to cope with its offspring suddenly being mainstreamed (which was in fact, when it happened in my teenage years, the development that led me to hip-hop).  The former has, of course, been deeply shaken and traumatised by the revelations and trials of the last two years; the latter hasn’t been immune either – even if Roy Harper isn’t found guilty, the ’68 generation / PIE connections will leave their own stain – but still feels empowered and vindicated by the discrediting of those it always saw as a State safety valve for pop and youth ritual (it would be interesting to see if such self-aggrandisement among soixante-huitards could survive a guilty verdict in the Roy Harper trial; one possible effect of such a verdict might be to reverse the rapprochement with “pre-77 Peel” which has gained strength among his post-punk audience in recent times).

The former has ignored the wider context surrounding the lists and names and numbers it treats as gospel truth; the latter has, to some extent, ignored the wider context within which its cults existed, and universalised its own experiences (a post-68, and especially post-77, dichotomy which perhaps can be most accurately described as “turning the Mirror into the Mail“).  What I have tried to do, over something like fifteen years now (fumblingly and with half-knowledge, if that, at the beginning) is to bring the two together; describe both the context of the charts and the charts of the context.  To come at Guinness with the perspective of the cult-studs academic – to flesh out the mass consciousness with the legacy of Raymond Williams and all who followed him – and simultaneously to use data so often trivialised by anoraks, and sometimes dismissed as unnecessary and implicitly Tory by the CCCS graduates, to shine a light on the context in which cult-studs developed and formed itself.  The separation of these knowledges so institutionalised by the wider class-based feudalism and tribalism of, at least, England, and especially the division between those who absolutely need strict divisions between the two parts of their lives (people educated at the “old” universities are quite often worse for this than those with no advanced education at all), and those educated in the newer, broader traditions has created a deep, profound distrust of each area of knowledge in the “other” field; a belief among exponents of both that knowing the other is a betrayal, a compromise, a sell-out.  I was given that world; I didn’t make it.  All I’ve ever tried to do, not necessarily all that well until recently, is bring the knowledges and understandings together, to know what people governed by fear – whoever and whatever that fear is of – will have trained themselves not to know.  And if I’ve failed, I can at least say that the institutionalisation of those fears is such that it might not be entirely my fault.

The thing most ignored by those who take charts in total isolation – whether they’re presented by Alan Freeman or Jameela Jamil, Tom Browne or Marvin Humes – is that the most important people in the wider context of each wave of pop and its tolerance and acceptance aren’t the people who choose to listen to it, but the people who don’t, the people whose choices are, precisely, not reflected in the charts from week to week.  And they are the reason – especially in England – why separating a place where a music and its surrounding culture are less popular won’t necessarily improve its fortunes in every respect in the place that is left behind.  And should anyone doubt what I have written above – and the reasons why people who want to live as I want to live in such a place as I want to live like it have to oppose Scottish independence, however ruefully and regretfully and even if it is with the same sadness we feel when we reconcile our huge admiration for the principles on which the Open University was built and the social good it has done with the fact that Tom O’Carroll and Peter Righton worked for it – they might ask themselves a question that only has one answer: why, when they do not have a vote on the matter and would ostensibly (so we are repeatedly told) not be directly affected by it, do Simon Heffer and Roger Scruton – people who have dreamt for decades of eliminating all hybridised modern culture from England – support Scottish independence?

Abuse: whose share of the PIE?

Watching Antonioni’s Red Desert at the weekend – his first film in colour, his last before he reimagined the eerie London which is now further away, chronologically, than the London of Humphrey Jennings was when the City exploded and Canary Wharf went up – I thought despite myself of the recent book on 1965, the year of the film’s UK release, by Mail on Sunday writer Christopher Bray, which makes connections and comes to conclusions which even a decade ago, let alone when Ian MacDonald first came to them, would have been about as likely to come from a Mail contributor as a defence of paedophilia.  Even at that early stage, there is emerging a battle of modernities: an artistic vision rarely equalled before or since, but also airs and echoes of those who would exploit it for cruder ends.  In the signs and symbols of capitalism in the films that made his name – how much more modern a 1960 cityscape after how much more total a year zero is that of La Notte compared to any in Britain at that time, how much more like the world that exists today, even as it is outsourced from the West, are the colours of Red Desert compared to those of mainstream English-language films of the era; in their very stylisation, they speak of what was to come – you can already see the barely-understood backdrop of his Anglo-American adventures, those of an interested outsider in all the right ways (and, as we shall see, many others in the same place and time as Blow-up were so in all the wrong ways), observing the battle between those for whom pop really did mean enlightenment and those for whom it simply meant profits, the twin radicalisms that would half-marry 30 years later.

The 1960s and what followed emerge more and more as a battle of liberalisms: between the one that brought Antonioni over, that aspired towards and imagineered true cosmopolitanism and recognised that the mainstream American cinema was on the brink of being rendered obsolete by actually existing popular culture, and the one that simply wanted to make as much money as possible out of individualistic aspirations and the rituals of pop, and in the process create something arguably less cosmopolitan than the tightly-structured post-war culture that both opposed. The latter won out in the long term, of course – even to the point where it took over many of the symbols and shibboleths of the former – but it wasn’t inevitable or certain, and whatever the Stalinists I once almost envied might still think, they were never the same thing, for all that they shared a set of passions and feelings and antipathies. What the story of those years and everything after does tell us, however, is how promises of liberation can blur into exploitation if people aren’t sufficiently careful, how easily dreams of a more egalitarian world can become a nastier, cruder one if people don’t know exactly what they’re doing and exactly what they mean. How easy it could be – still can be – to give the Stalinists ammunition when you thought you were destroying them for good, and how easily it could be – and this certainly still applies, not least to those on the English Left who think that what most people in this country think of as pop culture is a meaningful bulwark against UKIP – to make friends out of people who should be your sworn, ultimate enemies.

And so, inevitably, we come to another unholy alliance which haunts us today more than ever: the Paedophile Information Exchange and its legacy (immense for such a tiny organisation; how often do we say that about fringe groups that emerged from those times), and its connection to wider abuses in the same era which appear (I put it no more strongly) to have happened in and among other, more conservative institutions. For me, the best analysis of how and why these abuses could happen and become, for a time, accepted and seen as normal and even desirable in certain circles is still that written by Christian Wolmar some fourteen years ago, reproduced here. I would urge my readers to read this in full before continuing with this piece, because it explains and describes all the things I expand on and develop – in the light of new knowledges and new realisations – below; I aim not to replace it, but to fill its gaps and openings. I have myself, in the past, written about PIE as the sort of horrible phase that might have to be gone through while a series of dangerous assumptions are in the process of being overturned, however much we might wish it didn’t. For things to be better in the long term – and as Wolmar rightly says, they indisputably are; if they were not, there would not and could not be the public sympathy and feeling for the victims, whatever the environments and social contexts in which they suffered, that there is today – there may have to be terrible mistakes made in between, before the fog has lifted and a new realisation and understanding becomes clear. But somehow that doesn’t seem remotely enough; more has to be said, written and thought.

The right-wing media today have of course, for their own reasons, placed most emphasis on the New Left tendency within PIE, and a good many such people were obviously involved: Peter Righton, one of the few people in history whose very surname could be considered by some to be a sick joke in itself, will have been a major influence on many of a New Left bent through his 1974-82 stint as Director of Education at the National Institute for Social Work, a career which naturally appealed to many of such a grounding, who would have seen themselves as taking it in a more progressive direction, one much closer to the needs and desires of children, than the less specially-trained “old dears” who had held similar jobs before. He had a clear and significant influence, one of several “unknown revolutionaries” of his time with dubious views in one field or other, whose opposition to the post-war norms seeped through into the lives and practices of many people who might never hear their names; others include Oliver Smedley, and there is a sense in which, as Smedley and his fellow offshore radio entrepreneurs were not part of pop culture themselves but were attempting to use it for neoliberal ends, Righton was equally not part of it but attempting to exploit liberation politics for his own chilling intentions. Others followed in his footsteps; if the treatment of women in the newly-liberated pop culture (which merged, within BBC Radio 1, with an institutional culture already questionable from another age and for other reasons) was, often, far worse and more exploitative than that enforced by such things as the Hays Code – the 1960s needed second-wave feminism arguably even more than second-wave feminism needed the 1960s – then how much worse, potentially, could be the treatment of children?

And it is impossible, even if you were specifically aiming to mock and parody the concept, to imagine a more soixante-huitard academic position than that of Head of Sociology at the University of Essex, a position once held by a PIE supporter. (The Essex University connection has multiple layers, of course: as local resident James Wentworth Day ranted against the evils of radical students, the cover shots of Fairport Convention’s What We Did on Our Holidays were taken there, placing it firmly at the beginning of the Left-Right battle for control of the entire English ruralist territory which, like so many related things, only reached an uneasy, unsettling truce in the Cameron era with the deeply troubling halfway house of Mumford and Sons et al. And even though they were in wholly different parts of Essex – the University is not in the commuter belt but the K.M. Peyton / Martin Newell landscape which has been, or at least was during their first real upsurge in the 1980s, surprisingly resistant to the most radical and extreme forms of neoliberalism considering where it is and the associations it brings on – there are the comparisons with the other radicalism that would have its heartland in that county later on sharing an equal contempt for the paternalistic ancien regime but wishing to put something wholly different in its place. But that must be a separate argument for a separate piece.)

But in almost all cases (the principal exception must be Islington, site of far and away the worst things ever to have been done in the name of the ’68 generation), the people the soixante-huitards in PIE were in practice defending, the people with whom they were effectively allying themselves and for whom they were making excuses, seem to have been the very people they would otherwise have despised, seen as their arch enemy, the bulwarks that had to be ground down: Tory MPs, prep and public school masters, priests, figures from the BBC light-ent side of pop culture who they’d have seen as a paternalistic, State-imposed barrier in the way of revolution and liberation (if you’d asked New Leftists to define the inadequacy of the BBC’s response to pop and the related ideas of youth ritual of which the ideas some of them had of children “expressing themselves” through sexuality, as though that could be distinguished from adult exploitation, were largely an extension, many if not most would have summed it up in two words: Jimmy Savile). The prep school masters in PIE, or the choirmaster member who was so close to Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber (and who is defended by Rice – also a “good character” witness in Jonathan King’s trial – in his autobiography), seem – and this pretty much explodes the dangers of even attempting to extend the New Left’s broader worldview to this field, the blatantly obvious fact that the soixante-huitards were being humiliated on what they saw as their own ground – to have been far closer to the core of the movement. As would happen when New Leftists merged in the 1990s and 2000s with the radical capitalists who had grown up in parallel, they were being laughed at behind their back by forces they couldn’t control.  (Not that the Blair connection is the only aspect of the latterday Left indicted by the PIE legacy; I don’t think the tendency of some Leftists – in this case an alliance of third-worldists and residual ghosts of the pre-68 Left – to regard Islamists who stand for everything they don’t as beyond criticism, out of a misguided application of identity politics, will be looked back on any more positively, when we reach the middle of the present century, than the similar invocation of identity politics a comparable length of time ago in defence of PIE.)

Of those charged thus far, the one great exception to the general rule – that New Leftists were defending people with whom they barely had more in common than the modern secular Western Left has with Islamists – is Roy Harper. You could argue that Max Clifford, unlike the light-ent types, was a first-generation Murdochian who at least shared a common paternalistic enemy with the soixante-huitards, and that William Mayne – still for me the most troubling and haunting of convicted child sex offenders – was part of the post-war paternalistic culture, revered and heralded and protected by the state-led enlightenment that the soixante-huitards and Murdochians alike despised, and which even the light-ent types, who directly benefited from its preferred model of monopoly capitalism, barely tolerated.  For the record, like so many of those who would eventually respect his feeling for what Julian House and Jim Jupp would, sadly, embalm in an attempt to resuscitate – Mayne’s feeling for landscape, place, isolation and the power of the past are without rival or equal in their field, even when they’re accompanied by chilling, frightening characterisations which feel now like mere objectifications – I barely knew of, and probably wouldn’t have understood, Mayne when I was in his notional target audience.

But Harper was a bona fide soixante-huitard icon and hero; I myself knew an Essex University graduate – retaining the anti-BBC resentment so common to people of his generation and worldview (which had not in his case mutated into Thatcherism, but rather into a Leftism which denied, out of a basic desire for comfort and reassurance, that the collapse of paternalism had even happened at all) – who actively revered him on a direct, personal level. Even for me, born after his cultural peak, much of his music has meant almost everything – “One of Those Days in England (Parts 2-10)”, which I quoted on Sea Songs back in the mirage that so soon faded, is the only real caught-on-a-train people’s history in its field, and “When an Old Cricketer Leaves the Crease” is as great an evocation of a place, a time, a world, a state of being, as Mayne at his very best (the uncodified, engulfed class war of Sand, the frozen East Coast lost world of Winter Quarters, which latter could be David Peace writing I Often Dream of Trains). But Harper’s 1974 song “Forbidden Fruit” – which, if he is convicted, would feel permanently like a Peel-show “Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah)?”, and would be just as unplayable – even now, when nothing has been proved, feels like a blatant codifying of PIE’s invocation of liberation, a sort of late-night, cult-studs companion piece to Paul Gadd’s crude exploitation. It feels as if the objectification had two faces – one for the student set, one for daytime – just as PIE itself did. Quite possibly some of the more soixante-huitard PIE supporters – who’d never have touched anything remotely connected to Glitter, King or any of the Yewtree types, indeed seen those people as simply a repackaging of pre-1960s non-enlightenment – listened to “Forbidden Fruit” keenly, sensed and felt its message.

But the strange alliance of convenience that was the Paedophile Information Exchange does actually shine some kind of light on New Labour, but a light that cannot be seen or felt by those for whom neoliberalism is unchangeable and unalterable. A small number of people of the soixante-huitard generation were willing to ally themselves with those they would otherwise have condemned as the “repressive Tory establishment” because they saw a misinterpreted, misunderstood sense of liberation in what those very Tories actually, in their vileness itself, understood better – as pure exploitation of the vulnerable and isolated. Twenty years later, a much larger number of people of the same generation and tendency – when they became Blairites – were similarly willing to ally themselves with those they might otherwise have seen as their enemy – global plutocrats – because they similarly saw the radical, anti-traditionalist element in a global capitalism which, ultimately, came down to exploitation and abuse. Both movements represented – and keep in your minds here what I wrote recently about Scotland as a place where 1968 never really happened – an element of the Left allying itself with the Right at its crudest and most indifferent to the plight of the voiceless because it saw the latter’s potential to sweep away the narrowness of the world which they were the last generation to have seen in the flesh. There is not, of course, a direct comparison between even the worst manifestations of global capitalism and child molestation (and obviously, whether or not abuse was justified on soixante-huitard terms matters little to its victims; they’ll be just as permanently traumatised and damaged, just as unable to become humans as most people use the term, high-functioning or otherwise, whatever the imagined reasons). But in terms of how allegiances of convenience are formed and work in practice, there is.

And so there are connections between PIE and New Labour after all. Just not ones that the Mail titles – with the partial exception of Hitchens Minor, who delights in quoting Marx’s faith in the radical potential of capitalism, and himself likes global capitalism far less than most of the modern Left, though he baulks in fear at where that should take him, because he still thinks logic is inherently un-English – would begin to understand or grasp. Because they don’t really understand capitalism or Toryism, they still think PIE was a completely soixante-huitard project, and cannot face the wider lessons of those times for fear of being indicted themselves. One of those days in England, indeed. Sometimes I think we’re all trapped. How selfish it must seem to wish for others we respect not (Billy Bragg wildly overstates what he and his ilk could practically do on this front) to trap us more.

Why I didn’t vote in the Portland Town Council election yesterday

A level of government
That has no power or meaning
But survives as a sop
For Tories who don’t know what they voted for
But still they moan about foreigners

It should have been removed
In ’74 or ’94
But the facade must be maintained
(Compare and contrast ’86)
And still they moan about foreigners

Their vision of the world
Comes from plutocrats abroad
They think themselves to be separate
But are actually dependant
And still they moan about foreigners

They talk of independence
They talk of distinctive ways
But they live in global suburbs
And couldn’t cope beyond
And still they moan about foreigners

They think they’re taking something back
But those who have taken away
Are never fought or opposed
And the innocent are guilty
And still they moan about foreigners

They know no more their inheritance
Than deconstructionists or Trots
Blackburn knew it no more
Than Hall or Jacques or Ali, T
And still they moan about foreigners

Cadbury knew their future
As he railed at the IBA
They take “Hotel California”
To the level of “Linden Lea”
And still they moan about foreigners

They thought Liege and Lief
Was for grammar school Marxists
In their White Plains sec mods
In the first wave of Murdoch
And still they moan about foreigners

Further north are others
Who actually know what they mean
When they talk of community
And don’t have a foreign culture
And that’s why they don’t moan about foreigners

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 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 …