YASMIN-ALIBHAI BROWN: Jeremy Clarkson could be Brexit’s Lord Kitchener
Patriotism and duty are strong, guiding, working-class emotions, says YASMIN ALIBHAI-BROWN. We need posters of Jeremy Clarkson saying 'YOUR COUNTRY NEEDS YOU to be in the EU'
I wonder how London's weathered cabbies reacted to the recent Jacob Rees-Mogg programme on LBC.
I bet they loved the 18th Century throwback just as they do the dulcet, reactionary intonations of Nigel Farage, another LBC presenter. Both men are privileged, conceited, chauvinistic and self-reverential. Both exude an ineffable sense of entitlement.
So how did they capture the minds and hearts of so many they consider beneath them? By affecting to represent the common woman and man and getting the susceptible to consent to their own undoing.
Part of this surrender is do with the class structure, the pyramid which consigns the many to the bottom forever with the other classes pressing down on their throbbing shoulders. As the economist Gregory Clark wrote in 2015: 'An illustration of the power of lineage even in modern England comes even from the first names children receive at birth. Naming your daughter Jade means she has one hundredth the chance of attending Oxford as a girl whose parents chose for her Eleanor. Similarly for Bradley versus Peter.'
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Most of those who are down and doomed accept their lot because they fear insecurity and because generation after generation, they have been led to believe that their betters know best. How else can you explain the insane adoration of the Royals by some of the poorest in our land? More bafflingly still are citizens who voted to leave the EU knowing that they had most to lose.
According to secret Brexit impact studies finally released to MPs by the government, the North East and the West Midlands will suffer the biggest hit to economic growth after the UK's withdrawal from the EU. The already disadvantaged, will disbelieve all such objective information. They will survive. It's self-defeating stoicism.
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Britain has a long history of this useful subservience, endlessly celebrated in honeyed dramas about squires and maids, generals and squaddies. When they came over, most ex-colonial migrants were appalled by the racism they experienced, but even more appalled that poor, white Britons fatalistically accepted their destinies.
Ten years ago, I interviewed two old British Rail workers, both called Kenneth. One was a Yorkshireman, the other a British Jamaican. White Kenneth said Commonwealth immigrants were uppity and disorderly: 'Our country had its ways. We knew who we were. The coloureds come over and start talking about rights and that. Why did they want to upset everything?'
Black Kenneth responded: 'We fought to be free in our countries. You never did that. So you didn't like us because we brought that politics to this country. Until then, everyone was in their class house, right?'
This compliance is the result of what was done over centuries to a section of the population. The First World War, for example, had volunteers who were factory and farm workers on miserably low wages. Strikes were brutally put down by the army. Yet they enlisted. Propaganda then was as ruthlessly employed as it was during the run up to Brexit. Posters of Lord Kitchener with his handlebar moustache, pointing aggressively: YOUR COUNTRY NEEDS YOU!
Men who had never had any life chances, found their emotions roused and off they went to fight and die. The 1930s too were unendurable for the low paid and unemployed. Class resentment rose. The Second World War sorted that. The Blitz hit the poorest. The rich and powerful looked after themselves. The Dorchester Hotel converted cellars into expensive luxury shelters for peers and poshos. Private, chintzy shelters were also built. The Blitz has been thoroughly fictionalised, the uncomfortable truth interred.
And then there was Margaret Thatcher's calculated depletion of union power. Many ordinary workers supported the vendetta because The Sun told them to. The iron lady triumphed.
George Osborne's brutal austerity programme, again, was backed by many Britons who depended on benefits. The Guardian journalist Zoe Williams recently wrote about a New Economics Foundation report: 'They've been able to plot how, from 2010, the Coalition Government's austerity agenda played so well into people's hopes and fears; how the public attachment to it was so tenacious. How, even as the policy was failing to stimulate the economy in the way that had been promised, it was still seemingly resistant to counter-argument. Even once it was plainly, across the country, having devastating impacts on people's lived experience... the notion itself – that we all had to tighten our belts, and that was the responsible thing to do – was curiously buoyant.'
Working class Brexit voters were similarly indoctrinated. Wicked manipulation of the artless worked again. When they start to suffer, Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Farage et al will be far away. If there is a second vote, Remainers will need to be smarter and more sensitive than before. Patriotism and duty are strong, guiding, working-class emotions.
Posters should be put up of Jeremy Clarkson pointing his finger: YOUR COUNTRY NEEDS YOU to be in the EU. It worked in 1914. Why not now?