By Michael Volpe General Director of Opera Holland Park in London.
Since Brexit I have been hearing lots of talk about “listening” to and “understanding” swathes of white working class people who voted for leaving the EU. It has accelerated since Trump won and it is becoming increasingly hysterical and alarming.
The narrative is this; people have “legitimate” concerns about immigration, they are tired of the “elite” and we must engage with them, talk to them, don’t be angry with them or call them names. These poor people have a problem and we should be helping them solve it. So I think about that. I think about it quite a lot. And then I think of the old National Front and how those people had the same concerns, equally wrongly, in my view, and how we didn’t talk to them or understand them or listen to the poor loves. In the same way that we were not prepared to listen to terrorists from Ireland who believed they had legitimate concerns, or in the same way that anybody who today tries to “understand” why young muslim men want to blow themselves up and take as many of us with them is attacked and called an apologist.
But today, Labour MPs, commentators, even the great spoof reporter Jonathan Pie, are saying it is time to stop being nasty to these angry, disaffected people. We have to talk to them, ply them with argument and fact. That’ll learn ’em.
Well, no it won’t. Brexiters were given fact after fact, statistic after statistic to prove that EU
Migration wasn’t at the heart of their shit lives. It was pointed out to them endlessly that the “political elite” who Farage told them was destroying their world included people like Farage. People pleaded with and urged the nation not to be hateful and spiteful endlessly, but that is condemned as wishy washy liberalism, the sort that ruined the poor white working class Essex man’s life (that and the Polish plumber at number 78 across the road).
In America people still voted for a man endorsed by the KKK – let that sink in for a few seconds – and was a self confessed sexual predator. They didn’t care a jot about the fact he is a racist and stupid and ignorant. He will build a wall to keep out those Mexicans who took our jobs and homes and services. He’ll do for us, not the liberal elite – we’ll take the rapacious businessman who has been accused of raping a thirteen-year old. And you think sitting down with these people will help them see the error of their ways?
So now people want to tell us we have to engage, understand their anger, and recognise they have “legitimate concerns about immigration”. Of course, the likes of Corbyn can’t possibly be the answer, even though he has acknowledged their concerns by saying that employers must not be allowed to undercut wages by exploiting poorer immigrants from the EU, that we must have fair pay to level out the field. But this is not enough, this concern he shows. It is not addressing their anger because they want him to say he will throw them out or stop them coming. For Corbyn to be acceptable, he must become like them.
So no, I will not be appeasing these people or giving them even more fact and truth, because they do not want to hear it. I will not be an apologist for bigotry in order to chase the right wing populism that caused this. I will not be swayed by the ridiculous argument that we need more of the centrist, muddy politics of Blair et al who essentially dragged everybody to a position where it was a mere short step to fascism. YOU can try to understand them. You can talk to them all you like. I have spent years doing that, but I know that when hate gets out of the box, it is very hard to put it back in. I know that the frame of reference of entire nations are shifted by the tacit acceptance of unacceptable behaviour or language (and yes, I am talking about Berlin 1933). You can suck up to Trump and Farage and give them legitimacy. I’ll just walk away and take my place behind the moral barricade that separates me from those who are too unwilling or just plain stupid to see precisely who it is that caused all the things they are angry about. Democracy? Democracy you say? Is this the ‘democracy’ that Nigel Farage wants to march on and intimidate at the Supreme Court? YOU have a little chat with them and tell them they need to be better informed, more honest or more educated or less bloody hateful. I am sure you’ll have them eating out of your hand in a trice. No, not everybody who voted Brexit is a racist (yawn) but that doesn’t mean that was is happening isn’t bloody happening and everybody who voted for Brexit, or Trump, isn’t in some way responsible. Of course, not everybody who voted Brexit actually worries about what is happening – which is partly my point. They absolve themselves of blame for the worst excesses, or refuse to believe they are happening, but whatever drove them to vote for these twin monsters of self harm appear to be just too powerful to ignore. They will take their chances.
I am not appeasing them. I’m not sucking up to them or “understanding” them. I am going to persuade as many people as possible to utterly reject and defeat them by fighting for a genuine alternative to the sort of society that New Labour and the Tories have foisted on us: something that is the polar opposite and not just a softer version of the same thing. You should too, unless what just a few short months ago you thought was objectionable and unacceptable and an affront to the nation’s history of fighting such nastiness has become a legitimate way to run a country. And neither will I stop calling a racist a racist just because enough people have now come to accept the language they use as legitimate. Thirty years ago we dismissed the National Front as beyond the pale, but now that people feel uncomfortable that they have started to agree with them does not mean I have to respect them. That, my friends, is how it begins.
So off you pop and organise a coffee morning with the EDL.