In the world of British party politics today, open homophobia is largely confined to the fascist fringe, represented most notably by the BNP. Over homosexuality, as over race and immigration, the BNP seeks to appeal to voters’ prejudices, with scare stories such as ‘”Gay Rights” Lobby Target [sic] School Children’. But is the BNP aware that we owe our national flag, the Union Flag or Union Jack, displayed prominently on the party’s website, to a king who was – depending on one’s definition – either gay or bisexual ?
As Nick Groom writes in ‘The Union Jack – The Story of the British Flag’ (Atlantic Books, London, 2007), after James VI, King of Scotland, became King of England as well in 1603, thefore uniting both countries under his personal rule, he commissioned his Lord High Admiral, Charles Howard, the Earl of Nottingham, to design what was to be called a ‘Flag of the Great Union’. After several designs were considered, the one that was eventually chosen involved the combining of the Scottish Cross of St Andrew with the English Cross of St George. In Groom’s words:
Although a formal Act of Union was not ratified until 1701, James nevertheless proclaimed the name Great Britain on coins and, despite parliamentary objections, he achieved a degree of economic union and some recognition of joint citizenship. His policy did have standing in common law, and so the two kingdoms were effectively, if precariously, united through much of the seventeenth century – which was itself a considerable achievement following hundreds of years of ireful feuding and outright warfare. And neither was the symbolic impact of the union confined to coins and to language: on 12 April 1606, James I of Great Britain flew the first Union Flag. (Groom, pp. 132-133)
The flag has been with us more or less ever since, though the existing version dates from 1801, following the union of Great Britain and Ireland, when the Cross of St Patrick was added to the design to represent the latter.
James VI and I was a gay or bisexual man. In the words of Michael B. Young in ‘James VI and I and the History of Homosexuality’ (MacMillan, London, 2000, p. 48):
Unlike most kings who have extramarital affairs, James had male favourites, not female mistresses. In fact, James might never have married if it had not been for the pragmatic need to produce heirs. His lifelong preference, which he expressed in his choice of sexual partners outside marriage, was for sex with males.
Young argues that James was homosexual rather than bisexual, though he notes that he did have regular sexual intercourse with his wife, Anne of Denmark, above all when he was less closely involved with his male favourites, and producing a string of pregnancies.
Come to think of it, James was a Scottish immigrant in England and his wife came from Denmark and was not even British.
A rather incoherent and highly abusive personal attack against me has been posted by Graham Lloyd (‘Graham’) on Harry’s Place. Lloyd claims – without providing any evidence and solely on the basis of conjecture – that my issues with him and with Harry’s Place amount to a personal vendetta. This is not true. I hope anyone reading the post below will understand the real issues involved.
A great struggle is brewing all over Europe and beyond. On the one side stands the liberal order and its defenders, representing the values of secularism, internationalism, cosmopolitanism, pluralism and respect for human rights. On the other stands the forces of reaction, which itself is composed of two rival but essentially similar wings. Extremist Muslims (an unrepresentative minority among the Muslim communities of the democratic West) and certain fellow travellers on the extreme Left represent one wing of the anti-liberal reaction, and assault the liberal order under the banner of anti-Semitism (or ‘anti-Zionism’), anti-Westernism, anti-Americanism and anti-capitalism.
But it is the other wing that is the Western liberal order’s more dangerous enemy – if only because non-Muslims vastly outnumber Muslims, so there is a much larger constituency for this current of reaction to draw from. This current represents the white nativist reaction against the liberal order: anti-cosmopolitan, anti-EU, often anti-secular, but above all extremely nationalist, anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant. It is on the basis of hostility to Islam and to immigration that the new far-right is mounting its assault on liberal values and the Western liberal world.
The new far-right is populist; it employs the language of the gutter and upholds the morality of the mob. Anti-Islamic and anti-immigrant prejudice are merely the means by which it seeks to attack the liberal order, but the real target is the liberal order itself. Borrowing from the lexicon of the radical left, it speaks in the name of the ‘people’ and the ‘working class’ – or more revealingly, of the ‘white working class’, whose values it claims to be defending from a decadent liberal elite. It presents anti-racism, religious tolerance and political correctness as elitist values, against which it asserts its own form of moral relativism: it champions racism and Islamophobia among the native white majority – sometimes termed euphemistically the ‘white working class’ – as expressions of a healthy aversion to liberal elites that allegedly are soft on Muslims and allegedly favour immigrants over natives. It repackages the far-right parties’ vulgar, racist voters as noble rebels against multiculturalism.
Into this equation we now bring the Eustonite or ‘Decent’ Left. This political current of leftists and liberals arose in opposition to the left-liberal mainstream’s betrayal of liberal values – a betrayal manifested variously in apologias for Islamist terrorism, sympathy for dictators and ethnic-cleansers and flirtation with anti-Semitism. There is a superficial confluence between the Decent Left and the new far right, in that both arose as critiques of the Western liberal mainstream. But these two critiques are opposites, for whereas the Decent Left criticises the liberal mainstream because it doesn’t uphold liberal values properly, the new far right attacks the liberal mainstream because it does uphold liberal values. The Decent Left wants a better, tougher liberalism; the new far right opposes liberalism altogether.
Nevertheless, the blog Harry’s Place provides a forum that brings the two currents of opposition to the left-liberal mainstream together. Harry’s Place bloggers are Eustonite or ‘Decent’ left-wingers, and focus in particular on exposing and opposing radical Islam and human rights abuses in the Islamic world (and elsewhere), and their Western left-wing apologists. However, the comments boxes of this blog attract members of both groups opposing the liberal mainstream: the Decent Left and the new far right. And although the two groups are in principle antithetical, there is a very real danger that this will be forgotten and that a synthesis will be formed, in which case Harry’s Place will have acted as incubator for a monster.
Apart from their common hostility to the liberal mainstream and to Islamists (or to Muslims in general, as the case may be), the Decent Left and the new far right have one other uniting factor: some members of both currents sometimes speak in the language of class, or champion the ‘working class’. But unlike for the traditional left, in this case the language of class is used not to uphold social justice, but on the contrary, to justify ignorance, vulgarity, racism and xenophobia among the white majority, now repackaged as the ‘white working class’. In a new manifestation of moral relativism, any objection to white racism or Islamophobia can be portrayed as elitist anti-working-class snobbery. Just as some will condemn as ‘Islamophobic’ any criticism of Muslim anti-Semitism or misogyny, so others will condemn as ‘elitist’ any criticism of white-working-class racism.
Harry’s Place is a blog in which comments have been posted and left undeleted by the moderators, calling for ships carrying illegal immigrants to Britain to be torpedoed, or equating ordinary Muslims with Nazis, or calling for all Palestinians to be expelled from the West Bank. Leaving such comments undeleted may be justified on the grounds of freedom of speech, but I have come reluctantly to believe that one or two of the HP bloggers are somewhat unwilling to fall out with the far-right commenters who frequent the blog – and by ‘far right’ I don’t mean the actual BNP, but the Muslim-hating, immigrant-hating bigots who are one step away from it.
I used to write guest posts for Harry’s Place, and I frequently tried to tackle the anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant bigots who frequent its comments boxes, but I found myself repeatedly undermined by some of the regular HP groupies, and by one or two of the bloggers themselves. In the debate on a splendid guest post by Andrew Murphy concerning Greek neo-Nazis and their hostility to Muslims and immigrants, the greater number of comments were expressing sympathy for the neo-Nazis on an anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant basis. I struck out at the Nazi sympathisers, and in doing so earned my very own far-right stalker, in the form of a certain ‘Mettaculture’. This individual believes that immigrants add nothing to British culture; that they are in fact destroying British culture and working-class communities; and that bigotry is a proud part of our national heritage. In an earlier attack on me, he said that as someone called ‘Attila’, I should go back to Mongolia. He also objected to my use of the term ‘Islamophobia’ and to my talk of moderate Muslims. Apparently affronted by my vocal support for immigration and my assault on the anti-immigrant bigots on the thread about Greek neo-Nazis, he then proceeded to attack me whenever I appeared at Harry’s Place, posting increasingly vicious and vulgar strings of personal abuse about me – attacking my skin colour, class background, name, etc. – descending at times to threats of violence, libel action and contacting my employers.
The reason for this particular thug’s obsession with attacking me was, I believe, that I was trying to steer Harry’s Place away from the influence of the nativist-populist, ethno-chauvinist, anti-elitist champions of the ‘white working class’ – such as himself – and to break the embryonic alliance between elements of the Decent Left and the anti-immigration far right (Mettaculture himself is a product of this synthesis – a self-declared ‘socialist’ and ‘communitarian’ who doesn’t like immigration or Muslims).
However, the problem for me was not so much that I had attracted this particular stalker – I’ve had others, and it’s something you have to put up with if you tackle controversial subjects on the internet. The real problem was that certain HP bloggers, above all Graham Lloyd (‘Graham’), but also Andrew Ward (‘Wardytron’) would step in against me each and every time I tried to defend myself against him. Though Graham would never challenge any of Mettaculture’s threats and abuse, he would invariably present my efforts at self-defence as constituting an offence equivalent to the threats and abuse themselves – though I had never once initiated any of the exchanges with Mettaculture; never been the first to use strong language; never threatened him.
The final straw for me was when Harry’s Place deleted my response to one of Graham’s snide remarks, but left Graham’s remark standing. It was completely clear to me then that any further cooperation with Harry’s Place was impossible, as I was simply being prevented from commenting freely, or from defending myself.
Wardytron is someone who believes people who vote BNP are not racist, but merely expressing a righteous and justified opposition to political correctness, and that the solution to the BNP problem is to reduce immigration. Graham, meanwhile, is someone who regularly uses ‘middle class’ as a term of abuse to bully into submission anyone who disagrees with him (while claiming himself to be ‘working class’); he uses terms like ‘rancid little middle class dickheads’. He also has a particularly nasty line in personal abuse, and has called Richard ‘Lenin’ Seymour ‘fat’ and Daniel Davies of Aaronovitch Watch ‘ginger’. When Laurie Penny was called a ‘silly cow’ on an HP thread, and complained at this use of sexist language, another HP poster claimed that using terms like ‘silly cow’ was simply the way some working-class people spoke, and that Penny’s objection to the term was an expression of her middle-class inability to understand the English working-class. Graham agrees; he described her as a ‘silly little girl’ and a ‘rather stupid spoilt little girl’ (and as plenty more besides – see update), and has more recently claimed that ‘I don’t care about someone being called a silly cow – that was rather the argument – that it wasn’t any big insult in a working-class area but cultural imperialists wanted it to be one everywhere.’ So, another moral-relativist defence of the use of sexist language, on the grounds that it’s ‘working class’, and that to say otherwise is an expression of ‘cultural imperialism’ ! Some may find Graham’s new incarnation as an anti-imperialist rather amusing.
I recently called Graham to account for his frequent resort to personal abuse; he responds by claiming my ‘prime motivation is to defend the rights of the already privileged in society’. We can expect more of this kind of non sequitur in the future, from him and others like him. Any attempt to speak out in defence of immigrants and Muslims; to condemn racism and sexism among the white majority; or to uphold civilised values generally against the ethics of the lynch mob and the language of the gutter, will invariably be painted as an expression of elitism. We had better prepare ourselves.
Update: I have managed to locate the texts of the two HP comments threads about Penny (‘Penny Shares’ and ‘Penny Dreadful’), and it appears that Graham is right on one point: he did not call Penny a ‘silly cow’. These are some of the things he did say about her:
‘Oh well looks like a silly little girl demanded the right not to be called a silly little girl, stamped her feet a bit and ended up looking more like a silly little girl than ever.’
‘I’d be less disposed to sneer not at someone’s class but rather at the idiots that turned up in vast numbers to defend this rather stupid spoilt little girl when they realised how ridiculous her article was…’
‘Speaking personally, I would never call Judy or Amie a “silly cow” (however silly they may get) because they have both earned my respect. I feel no such problem with calling someone that I have never seen before such a name.’
[In response to the following comment: ‘As is Marcus, the sole basis of whose argument seems to be “it’s alright to call people silly cows round my way, so quit complaining”. It’s the pub misogynist line. We’re close to “only having a laugh love” and then on to “stuck up bitch”.’]
‘This is all a bit silly but even to get the analogy to hold water you would have to concede that “the pub misogynist” would only be behaving that way because a silly little middle class girl flounced into the bar and called him a racist.’
‘This Penny is also an absolute out and out racist.’
‘Couldn’t she have asked daddy to buy her a newspaper to edit ?’
‘Spoilt little girl seems to me to be a simple description which does exactly what it says on the tin.’
‘I will criticise this spoilt little girl in any way I want.’
So, yes, Graham, I stand corrected: I concede your point that you did not call Penny a ‘silly cow’, and apologise for suggesting that you did and for any hurt and distress that my unwarranted accusation may have caused you (though I can’t help noticing that you didn’t exactly volunteer to make clear what you did say about her; if you had done so, the misunderstanding might have been cleared up a bit sooner).
HP has rather hastily closed the comments on Graham’s post, so I cannot say any of this there.
The text of my original post has been updated accordingly.
Today is a day of national shame for Britain: the fascist ‘British National Party’ (BNP) has won two seats in the European parliament, and 6.6% of the national vote. Led by the Holocaust-denying Nazi sympathiser Nick Griffin, who won one of the two seats, the BNP is an all-white party that calls for an immediate halt to all immigration to the UK and the repatriation of existing legal immigrants through ‘a system of voluntary resettlement’. It claims to be defending the British nation and the culture and interests of the ‘indigenous population’.
Of couse, the BNP vision of Britain is inrecognisable to any civilised British person. It is a vision of troglodytes and swamp-dwellers who still live fifty years or more in the past and are incapable of coming to terms with the reality of the twenty-first century multiethnic Britain that most of us are at home in and comfortable with. I grew up in London, and went to school in an inner-city comprehensive, where the children spoke 51 different first languages. In my first year at school, as far as I can remember, roughly three-quarters of the children were from partially or wholly non-white or immigrant families. And the proportion only increased. For the most part, the difference between a native and an immigrant in London is blurred or non-existent, and for most of us Londoners, almost everyone we know and love is at least party immigrant in their origins. A foreigner arrives here and, within a year or less, becomes a Londoner. It is the great, constantly changing ethnic mix of London, with new ethnic groups and individuals arriving continuously from all over the world, that makes this such an exciting, dynamic city to live in. An all-white Britain would be an alien world for Londoners, or for the inhabitants of any town or city in the country.
So when the fascists or their fellow-travellers say that immigration is ‘destroying traditional British culture’, they are lying. As a Londoner born and bred, I think I would know if my traditional culture were being destroyed by immigrants. And guess what ? It isn’t. The British culture that I grew up with is a culture that is inseparable from multiethicity, constantly rejuvenated by new waves of immigrants. What a joy it is, to discover the Nigerian community in Peckham, or the South Asian community in Alperton; to hear regularly Russian and Polish in the streets; to eat Somali and Eritrean food ! The Notting Hill Carnival takes place every summer in Notting Hill, the traditional centre of West Indian life in London, where I grew up, and has been running for fifty years. Inspired by the annual carnival in Trinidad and launched in response to the Notting Hill race riots of 1958 – themselves incited by an earlier generation of fascists – it is an integral part of London’s cultural life. Without immigration, we would not have it. Ending immigration – were it possible – would prevent the emergence of other such cultural phenomena in the future.
This is not to agree with those ‘politically correct’ types who, in their cultural relativism, embrace a form of self-hating anti-white racism that is not much better than the racism of the BNP. There is not a ‘white culture’, ‘black culture’, ‘Asian culture’. etc.; there is our single, great British culture, in all its glorious, constantly evolving diversity. The cultural synthesis between ‘indigenous’ Britons and immigrants works both ways. It is not just a question of indigenous Britons benefiting culturally from immigration, but also of immigrants benefiting from contact with our great British culture. Every time a woman from Pakistan or Turkey, for example, takes advantage of British freedom to escape from an unwanted arranged marriage or oppressive and sexist parents and pursue her life as a free individual; every time Tamil, Tibetan or Chechen dissidents demonstrate here against regimes that persecutes their people back home, that is a triumph for Britain and something of which we should be proud. Immigrants are fuel for Britain’s economic and cultural growth; and Britain is a place of personal and political liberation for immigrants from less free societies.
The fascists would like to destroy our London and our Britain, and to substitute for them a London and a Britain based on uniformity; a uniformity based on the most retrograde and primitive elements of our ‘indigenous’ society. Such a Britain would be impossible to create, of couse, and the very attempt would necessarily involve pogroms and bloodshed on a scale never witnessed here before. To destroy London’s Arab Bayswater, Portuguese Golborne Road, Bengali Brick Lane, Soho Chinatown and so on, would be to destroy the whole city; an experiment in totalitarian violence of the kind practised by the Nazis and Communists. Nor would it stop there. Keeping ‘British culture’ uncontaminated by foreign influences would presumably mean keeping the British people hermetically sealed from the rest of the world: no pizzas or curries for us; no American music or films; no French or Italian clothes; no Japanese electronic goods. British culture cannot be separated from global culture, and only the most medieval of barbarians would try to do so.
There are appeasers who say that the mainstream parties should steal the fascists’ thunder by adopting the fascists’ own policies on immigration. If Labour or the Conservatives became more like the BNP, there would be no need for racists to vote BNP ! This is in fact a very good reason why the mainstream parties should never allow the fascists to dictate our immigration polices: it would involved the fascisisation of British mainstream politics. If racists want to vote for a fascist party, they should be allowed to do so. However disgusting it is to think of it, they too are part of our nation. The worst part of our nation should be able to vote for the party that represents their loathsome, primitive worldview. This party may grow or shrink, but it will always remain a minority party. Meanwhile, Labour and the Conservatives will remain uncontaminated by the fascist disease.
But that does not mean that anti-fascists should remain idle, and allow the BNP to grow to the point where it does serious damage to our multiethnic society. The Labour government deserves praise for having pursued a liberal immigration regime, and allowing unprecedented numbers of immigrants to arrive here and contribute to Britain’s economy and society; it deserves praise for putting our economic and cultural interests above any temptation to appeal to the racist vote. But it also deserves criticism for not being more forthright in countering the scaremongering propaganda propounded by the Daily Mail and other tabloid newspapers, which boost their sales by playing upon the fears of ordinary British people. Just as the popular press in recent years manufactured a hysteria about paedophiles, to the point where entirely innocent people were assaulted by thugs or even falsely imprisoned in the belief that they were child-abusers, so it has helped to generate hysteria about mass immigration.
British mainstream politicians and all anti-fascists need to counter the xenophobic lies. They need to stress the contribution that hard-working immigrants make to the British economy, and the economic damage that attempts to restrict immigration would cause. They need to stress the dangers that forcing immigrants underground involves; the slavery and sexual exploitation of vulnerable young people from abroad; the loss in tax revenues from the creation of an illegal economy; the attendant rise in organised crime. For a modern capitalist economy needs to be able to import labour that cannot be provided by domestic sources; there may be native unemployed, but these very often are unwilling to do the jobs that immigrants do. We must challenge the lie that ‘immigration causes racism’: the London region, which receives a massively disproportionate share of the nation’s immigration, gave only 4.94% of its votes to the BNP; considerably fewer than the national total of 6.6%, and fewer than most other regions of the country.
So stand up for the new, exciting, diverse, forward-looking Britain against the Britain of decay, decline, uniformity, bigotry and fear. The fascists’ version of ‘British culture’ is dying. Good. Ours just keeps getting better.
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