If you were looking for evidence that we are living in strange and frightening times, there are plenty of places to look at the moment. But the absolute top of the tree, the point at which the madness that has been brewing in this country over the last three or four years so or seems to have finally come to the boil, can only come with the release of some racist claptrap by a DJ who should have been put out to pasture decades ago making the headlines of almost every national daily newspaper, and his subsequent apology for having released it a few days later, which has been accompanied by a request for it to be withdrawn from sale.
Spin back thirty years ago, and Mike Read was showing his ultra-Conservative credentials by stopping a playing of Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s “Relax”, live on air, publicly denouncing the song and refusing to play it again. His employers, the BBC (a corporation that is routinely criticised by people of the same political opinions of Read as being somehow “left-wing”) decided to follow suit, banning the song from being broadcast, a decision which came to be something of an embarrassment to it when it sailed to the number one spot in the charts and stayed there for a five weeks shortly afterwards.
In releasing this anti-Europe, anti-immigration stream of aural diarrhoea, Read has shown himself up for what he is – a confused, frightened, old man. There seem to be a lot of them about at the moment. There are also seem to be a lot of people about who are more than happy to defend or even celebrate the release of this thing. So, if we can all agree that “UKIP Calypso” is (or was) unremitting dog-shit – and, with anything approaching a critical hat on, it has no musical merits whatsoever, this much is obvious – we must move onto the small matter of whether it was actually racist or not.
This isn’t a question that takes long to answer. Yes. Yes it was. It was an anti-immigration calypso sung in a cod-Jamaican accent, for God’s sake. Read could have chosen to write a perform a song in any style of his choosing, yet he chose to ape the musical heritage of people who were subject to vicious, brutal racism in this very country from the 1950s on. One can almost imagine him, in a recording studio, chuckling to himself about how this will be driving the “political correctness gone mad brigade”, the “bloody do-gooders” – if you want a sign of how mad the ultra-right of the British political spectrum has become, then look no further at the very notion that “doing good” has become an insult to them – and the “bleeding heart, tofu knitting…” (repeat until you hear the sound of the barrel of a shotgun being pushed into the mouth).
But here’s the thing. The people that presumed to be angry about that song were not really that angry about that song. We thought it was a dirge, of course, and we thought it was pretty offensive, but we’re all grown-ups around here, and we’ve come to expect this sort of rhetoric from a political party which has allied itself to a Polish political party whose leader stated that Hitler probably didn’t know about the Holocaust and that women are “too stupid to vote,” and whose leader has said publically that people would be right to be concerned if a family of Romanians moved in next door to them and subsequently repeatedly refused to apologise for his slur when invited to. In that respect, yeah, it’s offensive, it’s dreadful and the sort of people that have brought it are almost certainly the sort of people who you’d stab yourself in the leg with a fork rather than talk to at a party, but we have bigger, more significant things to be angry about the moment.
We are living in an era of political irrationality, and the single biggest problem with irrational politics is that it is exceptionally difficult to make raional arguments against, because it isn’t really interested in listening to them. Never mind the fact that there are many sober and rational reasons why immigration is extremely beneficial to this country. No-one on that side of the debate is interested. Every time their leader opens his mouth with some mildly racist half-truth, he has an audience ready, waiting and eager to disseminate it. He and his party are in the process of making the unacceptable acceptable. You can throw your so-called “facts” at people who are now inclined towards the far-right of the British political spectrum as much as you like. They won’t be listening. All it takes is a cursory check of the comments section of any newspaper article about them to see that.
What is even more troubling than any of this, though, is the absolute lack of any audible or visible opposition to this extremism. The media – including supposedly “liberal” newspapers such as the Guardian – has been completely and utterly compliant in UKIP’s rise into the political mainstream. In the case of swathes of the right-wing press, it’s because they agree with them, but even the Guardian seems unable to keep them off the front page of their website for any significant period of time because they guarantee click-throughs, and click-throughs mean money for an industry that has mismanaged itself to the point of near-insolvency over the years. And the worst offender of all has been the BBC, which has featured Nigel Farage on its flagship current affairs round-table Question Time more than any other politician in its thirty-five year long history. Indeed, if the BBC were to be broken up and sold off by some form of ultra-right wing Conservative/UKIP alliance after the next general election – or the one after that – we might even argue that it only had itself for blame for playing such a big role in legtimising far-right political viewpoints in the first place.
This morning, however, Read recanted, apologised, and requested that the song be withdrawn from sale. UKIP, however, simply can’t help themselves and a spokesman for the party stated this morning that, “We do think it is a shame that he has been treated so harshly by many in the ‘right-on’ media, but we respect his decision. We thought it was just a bit of fun, as did thousands of people, evidenced by how well it has been selling. Were it not for the synthetic outrage, the song would have generated a lot of money for charity, as profits were to be split with the Red Cross for their Ebola Outreach programme. It’s a pity those so concerned with political correctness have trodden all over this.” It’s like playing bingo, this. “Right-on”? Check. “Just a bit of fun”? Check. “Synthetic outrage”? Check. “Political correctness”? Check. All present and correct. Said spokesman could have said that this was an error of judgement that they regretted, but that doesn’t seem to be the UKIP way. Instead, they launch straight back on the attack, firing broadsides at their imaginary enemies. And, quite franky, if these are the depths to which British political discourse has sunk, there’s quite a persuasive argument for saying that we deserve everything that we end up getting as a result of it.
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