Why does Paul Kenny hate wine bars so much?

by Stephen Bush

At the beginning of the twentieth century I would have been a mongrel, in the middle I would have been half-caste. Now I’m mixed-race; and it is not a coincidence that there has never been a better time to be mixed-race in Britain than today. Language, George Orwell once wrote, “becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish”. Foolish language, though, makes it all the easier for us to have foolish thoughts.

Perhaps that’s why, at Labour’s special conference, I found myself shaking with anger. Political discourse is full of foolish words designed to excuse the lack of an argument; the word “neoliberal”, say, or worse still, “metropolitan”. Eighty percent of the British population lives in an urban area, so, with the exception of badger culling, you can throw the word “metropolitan” at pretty much any argument you don’t like. “Only ethnic minorities and economists think Labour got it right on immigration,” is an embarrassing sentence for political weathervanes, but the word “metropolitan” hides all number of sins.

What we say matters: the phrase “one man, one vote” reflects that the Labour Party is still a boy’s club; the phrase “one member, one vote” suggests that it doesn’t always have to be. The words that we use, and the way we use them: they shape the kind of party we are, and the world we’re trying to create.

So what kind of party is Paul Kenny, the General Secretary of the GMB, shaping when he warns Labour delegates against engaging in “wine bar gossip”?

It could be the case that loose talk is more harmful over a glass or two of the house red than a pint of bitter; but I doubt it somehow.

Wine bars, though, seem to feature highly in the Kenny demonology; only two years ago, he derided New Labour’s agenda as nothing more than a “sea of wine bar chatter”. It may be that Kenny and I are frequenting different types of establishment, but I do not think there can be very many wine bars where the small talk consists of the Equalities Act, the national minimum wage, free museums, or signing Britain up to the Social Chapter.

Of course, Paul Kenny isn’t talking about real wine bars. He doesn’t believe that Thatcherism begins at All Bar One, or that a straw poll of gin joints, pop-up restaurants and secret cinemas would reveal an untapped reservoir of Blairism.

He is trying to imply that real Labour types don’t care one way or another who sits on the NEC or whether or not trade unionists opt-in or opt-out, and he’s using the language of supposedly “real” manhood to do so. It’s not just my support for primaries that I ought to be ashamed of; it’s that I listen to BBC Radio 3 while doing so that’s really the problem.

That language, though, like pink toy brushes for girls and blue guns for boys, does real harm. It contributes to a culture of narrowly-defined and harshly policed gender roles, and it comes from a way of thinking that is, in Orwell’s phrase, both “ugly and inaccurate”.

That I have opinions that Paul Kenny finds uncongenial is fine; where I choose to drink of an evening is not his business. In future, he should leave the wine bars out of it. Stick to the word “warmonger” instead.

Stephen Bush writes for Progress, the New Statesman and Comment is Free

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2 Responses to “Why does Paul Kenny hate wine bars so much?”

  1. Political Anorak says:

    Not quite sure how you get from metropolitan (which, by the way, is commonly used to mean ‘London’ rather than ‘urban’) to “real manhood”.

    There is a legitimate point of view that the current reforms (about single or double opt-in, for example) are a Westminster-inspired storm in a teacup with little interest for voters.

    I think it’s quite likely Paul Kenny is putting forward a form of that argument, using ‘wine bar’ as shorthand for the sort of Westminster-bubble imbeciles who fill newspaper columns (and Labour Uncut) with uninteresting opinions about this sort of thing. Taking it as a judgement on “manhood” is actually rather bizarre.

    (From a fellow Radio 3 listener, albeit one who prefers ale to wine.)

  2. Mike Stallard says:

    I have already been banned from Labour List for saying the wrong thing. I supported Secondary Modern Schools!

    I am reading about how Stalin took power when Lenin was reduced to being an invalid. Language then was a matter of life and death – Kulak – Bourgeois – even supporting a continual revolution of debating whether or not Communism could exist in just one country was enough to get you expelled from the Party.

    On Right wing sites (I am from there) a lot of Left leaning people comment regularly and are treasured and answered. I honestly think that trolls ought to be treasured and tolerated here too.

    Hegel (Marx’s inspiration) taught that Thesis – Antithesis – Synthesis was the way forward. Without Antithesis, progress is impossible.

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