Tuesday, 9 May 2017



The bad relations with the metropolitan elite are one reason for the fury but there are others.

The first is sheer frustration and the pressure of poverty. The poor don’t want to be given moral lectures by the comfortable. They have not benefited from that which the liberals preach. Watching their phrases, tempering their emotions, following the latest codes of speech has not made them any better off. Besides, they don’t think their own codes so bad. They are capable of supporting each other, nurturing each other, and of showing kindness to strangers. But those codes are vaguer, wilder, more lonely, more fiercely isolated than before the break up of the great industrial communities in the 80s.

The decline and dispersal of the working class as a self-respecting and striving force makes for sad history. It is documented in many places and there’s no point going over it here, Enough perhaps to suggest that we are beyond the 80s now, in a new, more desolate phase of development.

That which was common has been largely hollowed out leaving a mass without a body. People have moved from communities of redundancy to redundancy without community. Individuals have shifted from short term job to short term job. People split up, hitched up and split again. This was followed by the gig economy and zero-hours contracts. Nor was anyone promising a way back. The nationalised industries were not going to return in a hurry. The world had changed. Has changed.


In one sense it has became far larger and moved beyond our understanding. Money rushes round the globe looking for places to roost. It lands then moves on. If it doesn’t like a place it simply leaves. A country is no longer a sealed unit. It is a landing strip. The desolation of old working towns is the desolation of landing strips overgrown with weeds.

In another sense however, the world has grown smaller through personalised technology. Computers, smart phones, the internet: everything is available at our fingertips. But for all its great benefits - and there are many - the web, that can create real intimacies, is more apt to create virtual ones between presences not bodies. It also produces a terrain in which the individual is ubiquitous yet insignificant. You can shout and scream all you like, as loud as you like, into the web and no one will stop you. It does not assure you. It will not love you. It simply amplifies you and your voice. It has an enormous capacity to fill the world not just with news but with alternative news. It licences and offers a ready arena for fury.


Fury is not just a reaction to perceived contempt but to the fading and vanishing of the known and trusted: the village that has turned into a weekend home for the wealthy, the town where people speak strange languages and establish shops catering primarily for themselves, the city with its disorientating, ever-changing districts and accents.

The atavistic is the familiar. The familiar is what can be controlled. We must take back control. We must be ourselves, putting ourselves first. America first, was Trump's cry, but we can substitute whatever country we like for America. It is by taking back control that we might become great again, in our own clearly demarcated region of greatness, which is chiefly composed of popular half-memory and nostalgia which must be defended with all the fury at our disposal, lest they, whoever they are - liberals, faceless bureaucrats, foreigners - take it from us.



Having criticised the smugness and disdain of the ‘metropolitan liberal elite’ doesn’t mean I think their values or instincts are wrong. On the contrary, I am, on the whole, a slow but genuine supporter of the ‘political correctness gone mad’ persuasion. I have felt the resistance to 'correctness' at times but later found myself agreeing and adapting to it. That is because not all my first instincts are to be trusted.

And it is true that though I am no longer metropolitan and never have been in that precise sense, I do often describe myself as a liberal, of the liberal-left to be precise, someone who must, I suppose, be one of the elite in that, despite the lack of a university education or family wealth, I seem to have come by a couple of degrees and a level of success as a poet, translator and occasionally public writer that I coveted in my youth. Furthermore, I live in an old unthreatening town without too much visible poverty and move (in so far as I move) in a circle of educated middle-class people who accept me as one of them. I am a fortunate guy.

So 'Furious' of Doncaster and 'Seething' of Halifax are right. I cannot appreciate their sufferings at first hand: I am only told of them and read of them. They can admonish me once and I will accept it, yea three times, but when they go on a fourth time in a tone of aggrieved fury they annoy me and I just want them to bugger off. That is partly because I have a faint claim on disadvantage myself – not that I intend to draw on that capital unless in dire need – and because I can understand a claim the first time, and indeed the next two times out of courtesy.

But their claims do not blast my opinions out of the water. I think no better of Brexit for their fury which, it turns out, has little or nothing to do with Europe and far more with the substance of my previous post. I understand the nature of fury but I don’t follow its prescriptions or yield to its claims.

It’s a delicate balance though. I am not a model of patience and I too can be angry. I was, and remain, very angry about the way the referendum was organised and the great thumping lies told by the arch-Tories leading it as well as by the repulsive Farage who is all the more repulsive for his comic grin and hail-good-fellow manner. I remain deeply concerned about the direction the country has taken since the referendum, about the threat to those who have come here to work conscientiously and to the great benefit of the nation, and about the loss of hope of a more stable, more united Europe that could be a counterweight to the giants of America, China and an increasingly expansive Russia. I am, I will admit, fiercely anti-nationalist. The very word 'nationalist' gets my back up. On the other hand I am a European by birth and temperament, but that has never stopped me being British or even, sentimentally, almost patriotically, English, since England is where I live and have lived ever since it welcomed me and my parents in the eighth year of my life.

This is chiefly about myself. I want to write one more post on this subject, not about myself but about another aspect of the fury.



I want to venture a little further here and explore the idea of the ‘metropolitan liberal elite’ and its products. Those products include, and are symbolised by, everything the Mail or Express or Sun might describe as ‘political correctness gone mad’. Those who feel themselves restricted by these things understand them as the imposition of values that run counter to certain atavistic instincts relating to gender, sexuality, race, diversity, health, dependency, ceremony, and, very importantly, to the language, that underlies them all.

It is not so much that certain people are hostile to foreigners, to women, to different social practices, to those claiming support and so forth: most people, most of the time can handle that and are capable of great kindness and generosity. I know UKIP supporters eminently capable of open generosity, people in fact more generous than I am.

It is, I suspect, the way in which liberal values are articulated and put into practice that has long galled them. The 'liberal elite' they say, don’t talk to them but dismiss them out of hand. We oppress them chiefly through law but also through opaque and often patronising language. We don’t argue, we impose, exclude and shame. And they are sick of it, they cry. Why should they stop doing something they, and possibly their parents, have always done? Why should they be made to feel ashamed of something they’ve said or thought? Why should their instincts be outlawed by those who don't live like them, live where they live, in their circumstances. We, who are comfortable and superior and elite have no right to lecture them.

This has long bothered me and I have always felt it would get us – we ‘metropolitan, liberal elites’, we ‘citizens of nowhere’ - into trouble at some stage. Now that trouble is here. Not that our values are bad but that they are good but we don’t argue them in terms to which they can relate. Because we impose them. Because we don’t care for their values or examine them. Because we are scared to even touch them with a bargepole for fear of our own censoriousness.

That, at least, is the charge and there is some truth in it. Why, you might ask, engage in Socratic dialogues with racists or sexists. Why not just tell them what they are and let them understand these are bad things to be. Why not just fire bad words at them, and indeed at any of us who don't seem to get with whichever programme is going?

Bad words are like bad eggs. Once those eggs are thrown they stink up those they have hit. We may even compliment ourselves on our aim. Hit that one fair and square, we smile, angry but smug.

You can’t come in stinking like that, says the notice on the door. But there seems to be something of a crowd outside.



On a thread on David Hirsh’s page I suggested that the issue with Brexit wasn’t so much Brexit itself as what the issue channelled. It was, I thought, a kind of fury directed not specifically at the EU and certainly not at the market that is one of its props, but at those who supported it. Those who had come to be labelled the ‘metropolitan liberal elite’.

This notorious group included Michael Gove’s famous ‘experts’ from whom, he thought, we had heard ‘quite enough’. His words pointed not just to a few economic and political forecasters but at all those who considered their opinions to be informed. They could easily be depicted as a bunch of superior privileged people with no feeling for those less fortunate and all too happy to impose their interpretation of the world on the poor. The fact that Gove and Johnson were both elite Oxbridge products was secondary. It wasn’t the education that mattered, it was their opposition to what their supporters called liberalism, the creed of those who, they felt, considered themselves morally and intellectually superior. By liberalism I don’t mean economic neo-liberalism of which both Gove and Johnson are firm supporters, but the complex package we think of as social liberalism or a belief in 'progressive ideas'.

I have experienced that fury a couple of times on Facebook and it is not hard to find it. My hunch is that the intensity of the fury – and I associate the fury far more with Leavers than Remainers whose anger is of a different kind – was and is still directed at those who supported or propagated or enforced the package. It was, I think, an essentially atavistic fury, a hankering for a lost something that could not be defined only evoked or symbolised. That sense of pride in empire. That curved or straight banana.

I use the term atavism in preference to xenophobia or racism because the atavistic instinct is not necessarily channelled through race or fear of foreigners. The atavism I mean asks certain crucial questions. Who are we? What does that mean in terms of loyalties, behaviour and expectation? Under whose thumb must we survive?

These are not unnatural questions and we all ask them, Brits or otherwise. They are vital practical questions that play on the nerves.

Atavism lies at the core of all right wing feeling from simple conservatism (with a small c) to the extremes of Fascism and Nazism. The family, the settled orders and hierarchies, the sacred practices and rituals, the status of the tribe - whatever an individual's position within it - are its natural home, to be guarded with ever fiercer jealousy as they come under pressure.

It is that insecure atavistic core of feeling that the right-wing press have been playing to for a very long time, with ever greater intensity. Those accusations of treason, treachery, and betrayal refer precisely to that.