Free Life Commentary,
A Personal View from
The Director of the Libertarian Alliance
Issue Number 180
8th February 2009
Linking url: http://www.seangabb.co.uk/flcomm/flc180.htm
Available for debate on LA Blog at http://libertarianalliance.wordpress.com/2009/02/08/sean-gabb-on-carol-thatcher-golliwogs-and-jeremy-clarkson/
On Golliwogs, One-Eyed Scottish
and Sending Poo Through the Post
by Sean Gabb
In England, one of those weeks has just ended that define an entire period. This is no consolation for those who have suffered, and who may yet suffer worse. But I have no doubt that it is worth describing what has happened and trying to explain what it means.
Let me begin with the facts.
First, it was reported on the 3rd February 2009 that Carol Thatcher, daughter of Margaret Thatcher, had been dismissed from her job as a BBC presenter for having called a black tennis player a golliwog. She did not say this on air, but during a private conversation. Even so, the BBC defended its decision on the grounds that any language of a "racist nature" was "wholly unacceptable".
Second, demands are rising at the moment for Jeremy Clarkson, another presenter at the BBC, to be dismissed for having called the Prime Minister a "one-eyed Scottish idiot who keeps telling us everything's fine". Various Scotch politicians and spokesmen for the blind let up an immediate chorus of horror that has resulted in a conditional apology from Mr Clarkson, but may not save his career.
Third, it was reported on the 2nd February 2009 that the comedian and Labour Party supporter Jo Brand was being investigated by the police for allegedly inciting criminal acts against her political opponents. While presenting a BBC television programme on the 16th January 2009, she rejoiced that the membership list of the British National Party had been stolen and published on the Internet. Her exact words were: "Hurrah! Now we know who to send the poo to". The natural meaning of her words was that it would be a fine idea to look up members of this party and send excrement to them through the post. The British National Party put in an immediate complaint, using the hate speech laws made during the past generation. According to a BBC spokesman, "We do not comment on police matters. However, we believe the audience would have understood the satirical nature of the remarks". It is relevant to note that Mrs Brand was present when Carol Thatcher made her "golliwog" remarks, and may have had a hand in denouncing her.
Fourth, In The Times on the 6th February, someone called Matthew Syed wrote how personally oppressed he felt by words like "golliwog", and how good it was that "society" was taking a stand against them. Two pages later, someone called Frank Skinner defended the employers in the north of England who prefer to employ foreigners on the grounds that foreigners are "better looking" and "less trouble". The possibility that he has broken one of our hate speech laws will probably never be considered.
This is a gathering of facts that occurred or were made public during one week. But if we relax the time limit, similar facts pour in beyond counting. There was, for example, the pillorying last month of one of the Queen's grandsons for calling someone a "Paki". Or, to give myself as an example, there was my BBC debate of the 16th February 2004 with Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, an Asian immigrant who seems incapable of seeing any issue except in terms of white racism. During this debate, I asked her: "Yasmin, are you saying that the white majority in this country is so seething with hatred and discontent that it is only restrained by law from rising up and tearing all the ethnic minorities to pieces?" Her answer was "Yes". It is possible she did not understand my question. It is possible she would have clarified or retracted her answer had the debate been allowed to continue. Sadly for her, the BBC immediately switched off my microphone and threw me into the street. Mrs Brown was allowed to continue uninterrupted to till the end of the programme. The hundreds of complaints received by the BBC and the Commission for Racial Equality were all either ignored or dismissed with the assurance that nothing untoward had taken place in the studio. I accept that Mrs Brown might not have meant what she said. Had I made such a comment about Asians or blacks, however, I might have been facing a long stretch in prison.
But let me return to the most recent facts. The most obvious reason why these broadly similar incidents are being treated so differently is that Jo Brand and Frank Skinner are members of the new ruling class that formally took power in 1997. They can vilify their opponents as freely as Dr Goebbels did his. Any of the hate speech laws that might - objectively read - moderate their language will be regarded as nullities. The police had no choice but to investigate Mrs Brand for her alleged offence committed live on television before several million people. But they made it clear that no charges would result. According to a police spokesman, "The chances of this going further are very remote. The idea that the BNP are claiming they are the victim of a race offence is mildly amusing, to say the least". It may be amusing. The statement itself is interesting, though, as a formal admission that law in this country now means whatever the executive finds convenient.
Carol Thatcher and Jeremy Clarkson are not members of the the ruling class. They have no such immunity. Mr Clarkson may get away with his act of hate speech because he is popular and clever, and because the main object of his contempt is only the Prime Minister. Miss Thatcher may not be allowed to get away with her act. She used a word that borders on the illegal. And she is the daughter of Margaret Thatcher. She is the daughter, that is, of the woman elected and re-elected three times on the promise that she would make the British State smaller and stop it from being made the vehicle for a totalitarian revolution by stealth. Of course, she broke her promises. She did nothing to stop the takeover of the state administration by politically correct totalitarians. But there was a while when the people who actually won the cultural revolution in this country thought they would lose. They looked at her rhetoric. They noted the millions of votes she piled up in her second and third general elections. And they trembled. As said, they won. Mrs Thatcher herself is too old to suffer more than endless blackening at the hands of the victors who now comprise the ruling class. But they still tremble at the thought of how her shadow darkened their 1980s. And if they can do nothing to her now, her daughter can be ruined, and that will now be tried with every chance of success.
It might be argued that what Miss Thatcher and Mr Clarkson said was offensive, and that they are in trouble because we have a much greater regard for politeness than used to be the case. Perhaps it is offensive to say that a black man looks like a golliwog. Perhaps it is offensive to imply that Scotchmen are idiots or that people with defective sight also have defective judgement. It might be. But it might also be offensive to millions of people that the BBC - which is funded by a compulsory levy on everyone who can receive television signals - broadcasts a continual stream of nudity and obscene language; and that it pays the biggest salary in its history to Jonathan Ross, whose only public talent is for foul-mouthed buffoonery. The British ruling class - especially through the BBC, its main propaganda outreach - has a highly selective view of what is offensive.
And it is worth replying that the alleged offensiveness of the statements is minimal. Let us forget about golliwogs and implied sneers at the blind. Let us take the word "nigger". Now, this has not been a word admitted in polite company in England since about the end of the eighteenth century. Anyone who does use the word shows himself a person of low breeding. Whatever its origins, its use for centuries has been as an insult to black people. Any reasonable black man, therefore, called a nigger, has cause to take offence.
This being said, only moderate offence can be reasonable. Anyone who runs about, wailing that he has been hurt by a word as if it were a stick taken to his back, and calling for laws and social ostracism to punish the speaker, is a fool or a villain. And I can think of few other epithets that a reasonable person would greet with more than a raised eyebrow - "poof", "paki", "papist", "mohammedan", "chinkie" and the like. Anyone who finds these words at the very worst annoying should grow up. We can be quite sure that most of the Asian languages now spoken in this country contain some very unflattering words to describe the English - for example, goreh, gweilo, and so forth. There is no pressure, internal or external, for these to be dropped. And we know that there are any number of organisations set up by and for non-whites in this country from which the English are barred - for example, the National Black Police Association.
However, the highly selective use of speech codes and hate speech laws has nothing really to do with politeness. It is about power. The British ruling class may talk the language of love and diversity and inclusiveness. What it obviously wants is the unlimited power to plunder and enslave us, while scaring us into the appearance of gratitude for our dispossession. Because the tyrannised are always the majority in a tyranny, they must be somehow prevented from combining. The soviet socialists and the national socialists kept control by the arbitrary arrest and torture or murder of suspected opponents. That is not presently acceptable in England or in the English world. Control here is kept by defining all opposition as "hatred" - and by defining all acts or attitudes that might enable opposition as "hatred".
I am the Director of the Libertarian Alliance. Not surprisingly, my own opposition to the rising tide of despotism is grounded on a belief in individual rights. I may occasionally talk about my ancestral rights as an Englishman, or about how my ancestors fought and died so I could enjoy some now threatened right. I may sometimes half-believe my rhetoric. Ultimately, though, I believe that people have - or should be regarded as having - rights to life, liberty and property by virtue of their human status. Anything else I say really is just a rhetorical device. This is not the case with most other people. For them, opposing the encroachments of a ruling class is grounded on collective identity - "they can't do that to us". Now, this sense of collective identity may derive from common religion, common loyalty, common culture, but most often and most powerfully - though these other sources may also be important - from perceived commonality of blood.
Now, this collective identity is not something that is seen at times of emergency, but otherwise is in abeyance. It is important in times of emergency so far as it is always present. People work together when they must because, at all other times, they have a mass of shared rituals and understandings that hold them together. These shared things often define a people in terms of their distinctness from others. Jokes beginning "There was an Englishman, an Irishman and a Scotchman" or "What do you call a Frenchman who...?" are part of what reinforces an English identity. So too are comments and gestures and assumptions that assert the superiority of the English over other peoples. To change my focus for a moment, take the phrase "Goyishe Kopf" - Gentile brains! This is what some Jews say when they do something stupid. It can be taken as expressing hatred and contempt of non-Jews. More reasonably, it is one of those comments that reinforce the Jewish identity.
What Carol Thatcher said was part of this reminding of identity. Her exact words, so far as I can tell, were: "You also have to consider the frogs. You know, that froggy golliwog guy". The meaning she was trying to convey was: "let us consider how quaint and absurd outsiders are. Is it not nice that we are members of the same group, and that we are so clever and so beautiful?" I am not saying that I approve of what she actually said. Indeed, she would have done better for herself and the English in general had she kept her mouth shut. Calling someone "froggy" is neither here nor there. Calling him a "golliwog" is moderately hurtful. Saying this on BBC premises, and in front of people like Jo Brand, shows that Miss Thatcher is stupid or that she was drunk. Her words, as reported, do less to reinforce English identity than make the whole thing an embarrassment.
However - her name always aside - she is being punished not because her words were crass, but because they fell into the category of actions that must at all times be discouraged. Powerful or crass to the point of embarrassment, nothing must be tolerated that might tend to promote an English identity. I say an English identity. The rule does not apply to Scotch or Welsh or Irish nationalism. These are not regarded as a danger to the ruling class project of total enslavement. They are controllable by subsidy. More usefully, they are anti-English. The various ethnic nationalisms and Islamic identities are likewise allowed or encouraged. They are not perceived as a danger to the ruling class project of total domination, and may be used against the English. It is English identity that must at all costs be repressed. The English are still the largest national group in these islands, and will remain so at least until 2040, when there may be a non-white majority all through the United Kingdom. English national ways are the raw material from which every liberal doctrine has been refined. The English are an unpleasantly violent nation when pushed too far.
This explains why words and expressions are defined almost at random as "hatred", and why names of groups and places keep changing almost at random. The purpose is not to protect various minority groups from being hurt - though clever members of these groups may take advantage of the protections. The real purpose is to hobble all expression of English identity. It is to make the words and phrases that come most readily to mind unusable, or usable only with clarifications and pre-emptive cringes that rob them of all power to express protest. Or it is to force people to consult their opponents on what words are currently acceptable - and whoever is allowed to control the terms of debate is likely to win the debate.
And look how easily it can be done. Also during the past week, we have seen working class demonstrations in the north of England against the employment of foreign workers. "British jobs for British workers" they have been chanting. A few raised eyebrows and warnings from Peter Mandelson about the "politics of xenophobia", and the trade unions have straightaway sold out their members and are preparing to bully them back to work. Better that trade union members scrabble to work for a pound an hour, or whatever, than that they should be suffered to use words like "Eyeties" or "Dagoes".
I should end by suggesting what can be done to counter this strategy. I suppose the answer is not to behave like Carol Thatcher. We must accept that certain words and phrases have been demonised beyond defence. Some of them are indefensible. These must be dropped. Others that are just about permissible - Scotchman, for example - should be used and defended on all occasions. We should also at all times bear in mind that political correctness is not about protecting the weak but disarming the potentially strong, and it must be made clear to the ruling class that its management of language has been noticed and understood and rejected. A strategy of apparently casual offence, followed by partial and unconvincing apology - of the sort that we may have seen from Jeremy Clarkson - may also be appropriate.
Another strategy worth considering is the one adopted by the British National Party. In a free country, Jo Brand would be at perfect liberty to incite criminal acts against unnamed and reasonably unidentifiable people. But we do not live in a free country. There is a mass of laws that criminalise speech that was legal even a few years ago. The response to this is to invoke the laws against those who called for them. As said, people like Jo Brand and Yasmin Alibhai Brown are unlikely ever to be prosecuted for crimes of hate speech. But the authorities will occasionally be forced to go through the motions of investigating, and this can be made a form of harassment amounting to revenge. Otherwise, it is useful to establish beyond doubt that the laws are not intended to be enforced according to their apparently universal working.
There is much else to be said. But I suppose the most important thing is not to behave like Carol Thatcher. It will be unfair if she is broken by her words. But if you stick your head into a lion's mouth, you cannot really complain when you feel the teeth closing round your neck.
All told, this has been an interesting week. Understood rightly, it may turn out to have been a most productive week.
NB—Sean Gabb's book, Cultural Revolution, Culture War: How Conservatives Lost England, and How to Get It Back, can be downloaded for free from http://tinyurl.com/ya4pzuh