MITCH BENN: The war on Christmas and a war on logic

Mitch Benn questions why the UK right wing have seized upon the war on Christmas narrative.

Mitch Benn questions why the UK right wing have seized upon the war on Christmas narrative. - Credit: Archant

MITCH BENN discusses how closely politics and Christmas should be linked.

I come to report a disturbing development; in previous years (yes, this is now the third December in which I've been writing this column – doesn't time fly when you're mired in existential despair) I've noted that one bit of reactionary idiocy we've thus far largely been spared in this country is the annual 'War On Christmas' panic which seizes American conservative media outlets as the festive season approaches.

Every year, any incident in which some well-intentioned progressive organisation or individual tries to make Christmas a bit more inclusive – either by dialling down the 'Christ' element or by using a different, less denominational name for the season – is seized upon by the fulminating spokesthings of the right (alt and otherwise) as evidence of how the hordes of politically correct do-gooding killjoys (who are, of course, secretly running the world despite occupying precisely no positions of political power just now) seek to destroy everything that's good about the world, starting with poor defenceless Christmas.

I'm afraid that we may not escape this lunacy much longer; we've avoided it thus far if only because Brits – thankfully – get less worked up about matters religious in general than our American cousins, but the 'War On Christmas' meme is starting to take root in our media, both social and traditional. And I'm afraid to say I may have inadvertently contributed to this.

The other day, on Twitter, a right wing journalist, who I will not name as they don't need the publicity, tweeted that they were off to the school 'Festive Fair' and asked 'I wonder which festival... any ideas?'

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Now I really shouldn't have responded to this, but I rather feel that any attempt at inclusivity – particularly in a school, where one imagines there will be pupils of many faiths (and none) – should be applauded rather than snarked at, so I replied 'The one that exercises a tiny modicum of decency and consideration so as not to make the Muslim, Sikh and Jewish kids feel like despised outsiders?'

This was subsequently quote-tweeted by the journo in question and the pile-on began. I've been muting a lot of people in the last few days. I tell you, you've never experienced irony until you've been accused of fomenting racial hatred by someone with #FreeTommy in his profile bio.

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In retrospect, I do regret and withdraw my use of the word 'despised'; it was far too strong for the point I was trying to make and it gave the pilers-on too much cheap ammunition. And it's ironic, since I've written at length, both here and elsewhere, about how I'm perfectly happy to use the word 'Christmas' and how this needn't be seen as divisive or sectarian. And the tweet did get more than 1,000 'likes' to balance out the hate-replies.

But I still find myself wondering why the UK right wing mediocracy have suddenly, this year of all years, seized upon the War On Christmas narrative?

And I've realised; it's because the Brexiteers need something else to talk about.

As the last wheels come off the Brexit bandwagon; as they find themselves obliged as a matter of faithful observance to defend a course of action which, even its proponents now admit, will plunge the country into social and economic chaos for decades, as their varying degrees of idiocy and mendacity are exposed, the Brexit cheerleaders need to find a different story to tell, preferably one in which liberals and progressives (ie. the ones who've been proven right) can be presented as the bad guys, the wreckers, the despoilers. Get their readers looking the other way.

I hope and trust that this will fail, although it's not so suicidally bad an idea as the one some bright spark in the Conservative Party press office seems to have come up with of sending Tory MPs to pose proudly for photo-ops in front of food banks.


Has there ever been such a clangingly tone-deaf political PR initiative? By all means, praise the volunteers and contributors who keep food banks going, but don't proudly associate yourself with them. The fact that in what's supposed to be one of the world's richest countries there is such a thing as food banks is nothing to be proud of.

Their existence is a stain on our national conscience, and sending Conservative MPs to stand smilingly in front of them like they've won a prize at a town fête is the worst idea Central Office has had since the 'Tory power stance'.

And yes, what the hell were they thinking there? Standing with your legs at a 90 degree split is okay if you're playing lead guitar in a heavy metal band but when you're a pin-striped minister of the crown it just makes you look like you've soiled yourself.

Meanwhile, go right ahead and call it Christmas if you want to; just don't sneer at those who choose to do something else.

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