"The people of England are never so happy as when you tell them they are ruined" - Arthur Murray, The Upholsterer, 1758
I still find myself baffled by the various left and liberal responses to the total failure of either Labour or the Liberals to issue any kind of defence of immigration or unemployment benefits, or the Mail's "Nick Clegg is a Nazi" headline.
I keep running across earnest assertions that the right wing press is a gigantic conspiracy aimed at subverting the nation to gibbering Randroid idiocy, and that the lack of humanity in our national debates stems from tabloid viciousness and contempt for reason.
And sure, there's an element of this. What this analysis misses is that outfits like the Mail are not political enterprises - they're businesses, and their priority is shifting units. Heat magazine doesn't publish all those pictures of skeletal celebs because it's desperate to publicise the horrors of anorexia, after all. They do it because there's a market for schadenfreude.
It'd be impossible for a gaggle of sexually-repressed racist fuckheads, jammed to the arsehole with royalist economics, to impose their ludicrous persecution fantasies on the nation. This suggests that there's a substantial market for extreme reactionary horseshit; that a minority are not gulled into consuming conspiratorial rage porn by covert manipulation, but rather that a subset throw themselves into the enterprise joyfully, begging to have their brains washed with the most hateful and deranged propaganda.
It suggests, in short, that lots of us are just pretty mean and nasty people, and always have been. For such people, today's enemies lists are just updates of older ones, wherein the nation's woes - and there has never been a period where we were not undermined, reviled and ripped off - were variously blamed on a treacherous cavalcade of Papists, the French, Jews, seditious Celts etc.
Standard left wing thought on human nature seems to be that we're basically a decent bunch, and that people will usually vote in favour a fair and equitable society, if the concept of fairness is well explained. This is true of the huge majority, but it's blind to the fact that a small but vocal minority of us are basically horrible, spiteful shitbags, and that the rest of us love nothing more than a good wallow in self-indulgent anger. The right wing press and their politicians have a huge advantage in recognising this, and clutch for that throbbing jugular of self-pity and bile like clammy-handed sex offenders every day of the year.
This is why the failure of politicians to defend their positions on social issues is such an utter disaster. In my experience, most people will listen to reason on most issues, from fiscal policy to football; by hurling Phil Woolas at immigration or dropping the scum-bomb on the unemployed, they're doing the reactionary's work for him. You will never, ever outflank the race-baiter or the draconian justice theorist to the right.
I talk to a lot of folk about politics, and the one thing I keep hearing again and again is the sheer, cathartic joy in people's voices when they detail the inherent malignant evil of their various bugbears, and the endless bombardment of slight and insult that is their existence. These are usually Good People too, but as prone as any of us to creating baleful threats and enemies out of thin air. Hell, I do this all the time - I built this blog on cruel humour and cursewords, and even the stupidest Tory is going to spot the numerous insults I've thrown in this post alone.
You want examples? I've spoken to a career criminal who complained of racist mistreatment over his fourteenth prosecution for shoplifting, on the basis that a "Somalian asylum seeker" wouldn't face such stern punishment. Presumably, non-white skin entitles the wearer to at least a fourteen-crime streak before the authorities lose their rag.
Just this week, a friend who's a single mother told me she intended to vote Tory because they'd crack down on benefits. "Why should I pay for these lazy bastards?" she asked, not pausing to consider whether the Tories might also put the kibosh on her son's subsidised nursery place or slash all the benefits she claims.
The work colleague who thinks immigration is out of control, yet surely isn't getting that impression from the smallest and whitest town in the near-minority-free region of East Lothian where he lives; the family member who reckons the Germans are bastards, because they're arrogant and have no sense of humour; the friend who chuckles when American soldiers are shot on duty in Baghdad; the woman who phoned me at work to complain that she'd been barred from a boozer on racist grounds, since they'd never dare bar a "Lithuanian" without making the reasons crystal clear...
None of these examples are evidence of villainy, because almost all are ordinary, good natured people who happen to hold some mildly wacky ideas. These notions certainly aren't implanted by the press or jammed into their eyeballs by crank politicians. They're the kind of generalisation we're all prone to, but they're the cracks in the foundations into which mad bigots and calculating wingnuts drive their wedges.
What separates the ordinary punter from the cackling shithead who greets every murder, economic crisis or political scandal as a glorious vindication of his fucknut worldview is the desire to embrace fucknuttery as a project. The longer people are exposed to this loopy reality, the more we see of the latter.
Ach, Hell - I could've shorterised that ramble by just observing that the godawful state of our politics - bleating about the unemployed after the super-wealthy destroyed the financial universe, for example - is the fault of those who thought they could ride the bigot vote* forever without being thrown into a huge pile of shit. Gordon, Tony - I'm looking at you.
Or, even shorter - blaming right wing lunatics for exploiting our nasty media and our nasty politics is like blaming a dog for licking its balls.