Posts Tagged ‘Bloody nasty people’

The Sunday review: Joe Hayman “British Voices: the UK in its own words” and Daniel Trilling “Bloody Nasty People. The rise of Britain’s far right”

02/09/2012, 07:00:46 AM

by Anthony Painter

In Rhyl, a working-class pleasure resort, they have erected a new development between the esplanade and sea. It is called “New Drift Park”. The connection between the town and the sea has now been intruded upon. Concrete now sits where once the view was unencumbered. This barrier serves as a metaphor for modern Britain. There’s some blockage that wasn’t there before. New Drift Park is modernity grafted onto tradition. It has left us untethered. We are drifting.

The genius of Joe Hayman’s British Voices is that it allows Britons to speak for themselves. Hayman travelled across the land – an epic journey from Romford in Essex to the south-west, Shetlands, Midlands and Northern Ireland taking in Wales and Rhyl along the way – speaking to over a thousand people in the process. It is a beautiful work. The author – or perhaps interlocutor is more apt – steps back, puts his own voice on fade and lets people speak for themselves. Their voices are resonant and recognisable.

Anyone who has spent any time looking at polls, speaking with people on the doorstep, listening at family weddings and the like will appreciate the authenticity of these voices. Hayman helps us to understand Britain’s modern predicament as a result- a nation of uncertainty, anxiety and, yes, drift.

Different political perspectives have different ways of interpreting and understanding this reality. The left tends to emphasise inequality and class division. The right looks to culture, morality and the decay of traditional values. Sometimes the narrative switches over as in blue Labour and red Tory but the starting point is the most instructive aspect of those philosophies. However, the only constant is change and this is experienced through the prisms of class, cultural identity, religious conviction, and community belonging.

Just say that tomorrow Canterbury cathedral vanished. What would be the consequence of that? As a nation we’d feel a sense of bewilderment and severance. A piece of who we are, our history would vanish. The loss would be cultural. For the people of Canterbury, their very understanding of their place in the world, a stability of identity and local pride would be forsaken. The local economy would suffer considerably as tourism to the town dried up. So it has been in communities such as Longbridge in Birmingham, Stoke in Staffordshire, Glasgow, Dagenham and Burnley. Their industrial prowess was their cathedral: the loss is economic and cultural. Both the right and the left have a point.

Change both empowers and disempowers. Hayman’s book tracks the upwardly mobile – the wired-up millennials, entrepreneurial immigrant communities, and the formerly downtrodden Catholic population of Northern Ireland. And he tracks the losers from change – the white working-class of Glasgow with almost a despair of life manifested in a life-decaying diet of saturated fat and alcohol, loyalist working-class communities in Belfast, and those for whom the 1960s was moral nightmare despite their relative affluence.

Often the voices plead victimhood. Compassion shines through everywhere nonetheless. So many desire an anchor to stop the drift. The less human and social capital at your disposal, the more likely you are to be swallowed by the ocean’s currents. In that sense class absolutely matters. But it’s much more complex than that: it’s about ethnicity, nationhood, religion, sexuality, urban, town, country, technological adaptability, community and values too. Guardian columnist, Simon Jenkins, is as change adverse as the trade unionist, Bob Crowe. Yet their class-consciousness could hardly be further apart.

And actually we can choose to find a way of coping with change and division – keeping calm and carrying on. Eric Noi, who runs a boxing and personal development centre in Oldham gets it about right:

“If we don’t understand something, we fear it; we’re hardwired that way from when we lived in caves. And that has been exploited by extremists on both sides.”

And when there is vacuum of leadership then extremists are able to exploit divides, separating people and communities even further. There’s always a charlatan ready to step into void – George Galloway with his populism of the outsider in one direction and Nick Griffin with his radicalisation of the alienated in the other.

Hayman spots the disdain in which mainstream politics is held. Daniel Trilling’s Bloody Nasty People looks at how Nick Griffin and the BNP were able to exploit disdain and anxiety – with violence silhouetting his every footstep.


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