Saturday, July 02, 2016

Very Real

And so to one of the more prominent issues of the Brexit debacle: where now, for the Very Real Concerns of the British public?

(A bit of background here for new readers: every time the issue of immigration comes up, some nutless joker is guaranteed to issue baleful warnings that We Must Respect The Very Real Concerns Of The British Public Or Else, usually while finger-wagging every citizen to the left of General Franco.  It's this that has led to the comical weekly spectacle of entire Question Time panels and audiences all agreeing that they mustn't be prevented from talking about immigration, live on national television).

Leavers and Remainers may not agree on much but in the aftermath of this enormous political and financial catastrophe, I'd like to think that every half-reasonable citizen would at least agree that the Concerns have turned out to be not Very Real at all.

The fact that we've even been discussing the Concerns stems from a political calculation.  Every time a politician or other public figure mentions the public's Very Real Concerns, they're describing the universal phenomenon where notable influxes of people to any area are likely to cause resentment among the residents.  As noted in a previous post, this happens regardless of race and religion.  It's not very nice but it is a real and observable issue, and it's one that should be taken into account in planning for our future living arrangements.

Unfortunately for all of the fans of the Concerns, the EU referendum has graphically demonstrated that the Very Real Concerns don't just include resentment of outsiders and change.  They also cover everything from people being annoyed about hearing other folk on their buses speaking foreign languages, to resentment of new shops catering to immigrants, to outright racist abuse in the streets.

This being the case, it's now become quite difficult* to pretend that the Very Real Concerns are not, you know, a bit on the racist side.  If the R-word upsets you - and God knows, it drives lots of people out of their damn minds - then there are plenty of others: "prejudice", "bigotry", "unnecessarily being a cunt about it"...  You can take your pick.

So this leaves our politicians and public figures in a bit of a bind.  As a cursory glance will reveal, they've been pandering to the public's Concerns for well over a decade, and yet somehow the outrage has grown worse, to the point where Brexit is now endangering the finances of people who actually matter.  As the parties have more and more openly sought to co-opt public racism for electoral gain, it's only made us crazier and more unhinged.

The choice then is to pick - do we continue to pander to an increasingly racist public, or do we instead risk telling the public that they're wrong?

This should be an easy choice for Labour who are, after all, supposed to be in favour of the man in the street and against this kind of thing.  Racism is many things, but it's not a magic lamp that you can rub just right, and then command a genie to help the poor**.

There's no racism Laffer Curve, where you can achieve the maximum public good by pitching your politics at just the right level of prejudice.  You can feed racism or you can oppose it, but you can't co-opt it to your will, because it will end up controlling you and ruining everything that you are supposed to be working for.

Because here's the deal - during the referendum campaign, the Leave campaign quite happily  ripped off actual Nazi propaganda and propelled the nation into an unprecedented crisis, wiping out vast amounts of wealth.

And these are the people that the Very Real Concerners want to get into a game of Anti-Immigrant Bingo with?  UKIP, for example, have shown that there are few depths to which they will not sink.  Are you going to get down into the gutter alongside them?  That's not going to win many votes; it will actively repel your own supporters, and it'll inevitably spark a long downward spiral into worse hate and worse disorder.

In the end, this is what the Very Real Concerns always were - a con, just a not-very-clever way for bet-hedging politicians to keep us all pootling quietly into the sewer at a slow and steady rate.  Any attempt to play at racist one-upmanship with Nigel Farage is going to take us there on rocket propulsion.

So here we are.  The entire nation can surely see that there's no such thing as "a bit racist", only racist or not.  Which way are we going to jump?

I'm assuming that we'll go with "Continue just enough to keep the whole sorry show ticking along", but it wouldn't be the first time that I've been wrong, or the last.

*Difficult, but hardly impossible, if you're thick and shameless enough.

**I had a good think about this and pretty much the only instance of racism being successfully deployed in a way that broadly enhanced the greater public good, is the war in the Pacific in WWII.  And I don't think that's a very helpful example, what with all the mass-murder and destruction of entire cities full of civilians, and so on. 


sloppy said...

Hi Rodent,

just a quick question about your I for one welcome our snp overlords post - i was looking for it today, i remember it being one of my favourites. I can't find it ; I'm wondering what happened ?

On the subject of this specific post, however, I could argue the toss about the EU referendum but I'd be here all night...

Harmain said...

So lemme get this straight: having Very Real Concerns = racist now?

Igor Belanov said...

I'm possibly very naïve, but I still find it amazing that the political establishment has not stopped to reflect on the fact that it has cheapened political discourse so much that it can lose an exercise in competing manipulation to Nigel Farage.

The Parliamentary Labour Party takes the biscuit though. It is frightened that it might be losing touch with the voters, so it acts to seal itself off from all dissent. I think the Jews call it 'chutzpah'.

ejh said...

The entire nation can surely see that there's no such thing as "a bit racist"

When you say that, are you referring to political parties and their campaigns, rather than people?

flyingrodent said...

Sloppy - It's probably been deleted, I'm afraid.

Igor - As best I can tell, the political class seems to have responded to a Nazi murdering an MP by complaining about rudeness on social media. Going by the Newsnight interviews and so on, the idea that the UK might have a fairly serious racism problem is one that MPs aren't keen to grapple with, for some reason.

ejh - I suppose I was thinking of an idealised reasonable person, similar to the use of a "reasonable person" in law, rather than actually existing people. Which is probably the major flaw.

organic cheeseboard said...

a con, just a not-very-clever way for bet-hedging politicians to keep us all pootling quietly into the sewer at a slow and steady rate

To me they work in two ways:

1) As the main way we can see political parties 'pitching to the centre' which in practice means 'pitching to the largely incoherent and often rankly prejudiced views of some people in Essex and the midlands, while more or less ignoring everyone else' - that's how John Rentoul describes his own 'politics'


2) As a way for politicians and journos to pretend that whoever they're arguing with is somehow 'out of touch' with the country, even when those politicians and journos are likely far MORE unacquainted with 'real English people' than the people they're attacking.

Anonymous said...

"So lemme get this straight: having Very Real Concerns = racist now?"

When I talk to people in the Labour Party, "Listening to People's Very Real Concerns" is a coded way of saying that British society is actually quite right-wing so the Labour Party ought to be (or give the appearance of being) tough on criminals, concerned about labour migration, militaristic etc etc.

Dragging Corbyn off his allotment to be party leader is a to this reaction by certain sections of the party, who think that the party has already crossed some dangerous lines in listening to these concerns.

The UK actually agreed to free movement of labour in Europe on 1st January 1973. There isn't much that can be done to address concerns about labour migration without the risky move of leaving all the European trade zones. So "listening to these concerns" has so far just been hand-waving.


Anonymous said...

The dilemma is well expressed here

(Dear Labour Plotters)

The issue should have been properly addressed more than 10 years ago.


Ken said...

I have to thank this blog for having made it impossible for me ever to read the words 'very real concerns' without deep suspicion. With luck it'll become as toxic a political term as 'decent' -- another triumph of the Flying Rodent, as far as I know. The Encyclopaedia of Decency was a lifeline of sanity during the Blair years.

Re previous comment by Anonymous -

The Paul Bernal post is superb.

flyingrodent said...

Cheers Ken, although I can't really claim either Decency or the Very Real Concerns as my own, since they were both coined by the guys at Aaronovitch Watch. I have been harping on about both for a very long time however, so I must have stamina if nothing else.

Anonymous said...

Would it be cheeky to point out that, given we've had more deaths from isalmist extremism in the UK than neo nazi extremism, that the UK has a bigger problem with Muslims than it does with racists?

Or does it only take 1 nutjob white guy to kill someone and all white people are racist, but any number of young British Muslims can blow things up and we just keep sweeping it under the carpet? Not to mention Rotherham.

Im being a little facetious, of course we have problems with racism. As every country does. However I do think we need to be consistent in what we say...