This election campaign seems to be moving into the realms of the surreal. Some mornings I wake up and think I am in 1906 or at least 1922 with the election seeming to be about the Liberals versus the Conservatives with this marginal party, Labour, attracting minimal interest. It is a fantasy, of course. I agree the Liberal Democrats represent a progressive voice and I support a number of their policies, but, as I have noted before, even with a 6% swing to them against both Labour and the Conservatives they will at most receive ten or twenty new seats. Yes, they may hold a balance in a hung parliament, but Nick Clegg as prime minister is only going to happen in some alternate reality, not this one. Much of the media, want us to think something very different. Even 'The Guardian' has defected from supporting Labour to backing the Liberal Democrats and in sharp contrast to 1997 no newspaper now supports Labour. Of course, this is not surprising. Newspapers have not, in reality, supported the Labour Party since the 1970s. What they backed in 1997 was the Christian Democrat Blair Party. Brown's problem is actually to bring the Labour Party back to being the Labour Party and there is no support among the elites for that and there has not been since the era of the Thatcherite/Washington consensus came into British politics from 1974/9 onwards.
More on this in future postings as I feel certain that if Cameron comes to power we will enter one of the darkest periods in British society since 1979, not only in terms of mass unemployment but also in discrimination and associated violence, ironically further fuelling the 'broken society' troubles continues to whine on about, plus a further step in the eroding of civil liberties. For the moment, however, I will look at the incident which was portrayed as seriously damaging Brown's campaign. However, at present much of the right-wing media are frustrated that Brown has battled on so well and that Cameron has not had the walk-over that was long predicted, so they light on anything Brown does to condemn him. Brown, out on the campaign trail on Wednesday was brought a 65-year old woman called Gillian Duffy, who said she was a Labour supporter. She went on about the immigration of East European people into the UK. This is not unusual, there have always been Labour supporters who have been as opposed to immigration as right-wingers, often from a misguided view that they would lose their jobs to them, unaware that it is always business leaders who bring in the immigrants to keep wages low and to unpleasant work. Anyway, Brown had been wired up for recording and was recorded complaining, quite accurately that Duffy was 'bigoted'. In this he has suffered many politicians. US President Ronald Reagan in similar circumstances was recorded as saying, in 1984: 'My fellow Americans, I'm pleased to tell you today that I've signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.' President George Bush made many such gaffes. Perhaps because US politics has always been so much more about television and recordings they have suffered more.
Anyway, unlike much of the media that saw Brown's comment as a mistake, I was very pleased he said it, I wish he had told her to her face that she was bigoted. I have noted before how the racists in our society make their comments seem as 'common sense' and seem to think they are acceptable conversation. Tax drivers constantly try to force feed me their racist views as if they were commenting on the weather. This normalising of bigoted comments leads to the normalising of racism itself and means that people are insidiously led down the path to backing discriminatory policies. Of course, many people support racist policies right out, but if we are going to have a healthy civil society there is a need to challenge the easy falling back on racist statements. When there is a mindset that discrimination is somehow 'common sense' and 'acceptable' this allows day-to-day behaviour which prejudices people and leads to damage to their health and wellbeing. The focus is currently on immigrants, but from that there is an easy extension into discrimination against British people of ethnic minorities. The BNP is already seeking to define people who are not Caucasian as not being able to be British. Though a majority of the population, attitudes to women's rights and opportunities also seem to be being eroded. Portrayals of women now are that they should either be demure housewives (the current John Lewis advertisement is an example of this) or sexually available and whorishly dressed. I have encountered social class discrimination in recent months, the assumption that someone from a non-middle class background should not even aspire to be a manager let alone hold a job of that status. We open the door to bigotry at the risk of opening floodgates. I believe at present a lot of what has been established in post-industrial Britain's civil society is now at risk. There is a desire to rush us back to the policies of the 1950s in which most people, except the wealthiest elites who were white and male, had opportunity.
Whilst David Cameron is not outlining policies suggesting this explicitly, his emphasis on Distributist policies of Philip Bond, which have echoes of John Major's approach: i.e. small town and village, nostalgic Britain with social welfare run by volunteers and not the state. This has no relevance to the bulk of British people who live in large cities and certainly not to those dependent on benefits. It does fit nicely with Cameron's pandering to the owners of large businesses and of the banks, because such a small horizon Britain would not bother itself with how big business makes it money and would be stoic in the face of the damage their methods do to our shops, services and jobs. What Cameron's vision does is promote exclusivity, whether from the small town community, from opportunities in education and careers or to challenge economic policies that damage us. In the shadow of such an attitude comes bigotry: keep out the stranger and keep those of a particular background, whether it be from an ethnic minority, from lower social classes or a woman, let alone disabled people, from rising up the levels of work.
If we are to have a tolerable, let alone tolerant, society in the UK, we need to challenge bigotry whenever we encounter it. Speak out when people start force-feeding you bigoted views, at least refuse to listen to them. Indicate that you are unhappy with people saying such things, tell them that they are not 'common sense', they are, in fact, based on a distortion of reality and are damaging to the very society these people think they are trying to strengthen. The UK is on the cusp of facing severe problems in terms of divisions in society. As rioting in the 2000s showed, these already have violent outcomes and we need to stem this slide into bigotry and all the nasty consequences it brings in its wake.
I was proud of Gordon Brown this week. When you witness bigotry: name it, shame it.