Monday, May 12, 2008

What's A Decent (again)

I was very impressed by the erudition of the replies to my last post. There were a number of lacunae in Nick Cohen's Observer/CiF piece I left unmolested which readers addressed admirably.

I am intrigued by What’s a “Decent” to do? a guest post on Harry's Place. I'm making this an open thread because I'm gobsmacked. To paraphrase Margaret Mountford, "Oxford isn't what it used to be." I did think of commenting, but there's a sort of critical mass of comments after which - ahem - comment is superfluous. But:

And, as a result of reading Harry’s Place, I came to an understanding that there were enemies to the left as well as the right. And an understanding that the left could be wrong too. A revelation, to a certain extent, though I would not wish to overstate it. I had always considered Trots weird and wrong. But I increasingly came to an understanding that the Far Left and the Hard Left and even parts of the Soft Left were a threat to the values that I wanted to promote.


So this Ben "came to ... an understanding that the left could be wrong too" while having "always considered Trots ... wrong". Further, rather than hide behind the Oliver Kamm position (if you will) that Trots are actually on the right, he seems to believe that Trots are part of the left. So, to be clear, he's always thought that part of the left (the Trots) was wrong, but it took finding Harry's Place to convince him that any part of the left could be wrong. And this guy went to Oxford?

And so it was very easy to attack those on the left for the idiocies they promoted. Because they were utterly wrong. Their disgusting communalism. Their horrific defence of the most reactionary elements of Islamist thought. Their pathetic peacnick hippy shit. Their attacks upon our demonstrably relevant nuclear deterrent. Their opposition – with no hyperbole – to our very way of life, and to the way of life we wanted others to be able to enjoy.


I'm really not sure why communalism is 'disgusting'. I say this all the time, but I would like it if the people who madden me enough to sit down and type this crap - er, I mean critique - would give examples. I don't think that anyone on the left has defended the content of reactionary Islamist thought - only the right to express such thoughts. I'll hold my hands up here (hah!) I'm pretty much a pacifist. I'm not as good at it as I'd like, but I aspire to be a peacenik. Of course, I can't see who our nuclear deterrent is deterring since the end of the Cold War.

The reason I quoted the passage above is actually to do with the last sentence. I was reading (as we've all done; nothing to be ashamed of) about Cherie Blair's forthcoming book and I noted that she was annoyed[1] by Gordon Brown's refusal to take his entitled salary. So I thought I remembered that Margaret Thatcher had done something similar, but Google really wasn't helping. Being a lazy sod, my next recourse was to get off my arse and walk across the room and pick up a book - in this case Hugo Young's Thatcher bio. It didn't help either, but the blurb on the back cover kicks off with "Triumphant saviour of a disintegrating Britain - or wilful destroyer of the nation's fabric?" I'll quietly note that the first option (the pro-Thatcher one) puts everyone she was against as opposed to "our very way of life". I believe - still - in the second option (more or less; clearly we still are a nation, and "nation's fabric" still means something - if not very much - and I'm not certain about the 'wilful' bit).

I should let this go, and leave analysis to our much-wiser commenters. But the first comment opens with

I’m tempted to say,Ben that you should address this to those Labour MPs who thought that replacing Blair with Brown was a good idea.


Um. Oliver Kamm says the same but different:

The agreement between them in 1994 was unprincipled, and Blair should not have adhered to it.


I think Oliver is right here: the agreement (the Granita one, whether it was there or somewhere else) was unprincipled. At least, the notion of choosing a leader being in the incumbent's hands rather than the party's was against Labour principles. I'm less sure that Blair should not have adhered to a promise he made a friend. Contrary to Oliver, I think Blair loses by having made the agreement in the first place (a point Oliver altogether ignores) but gains by keeping his word. Both Oliver and H'sP commenter Tim regard to Brown succession as a bad thing, but they can't agree on how it came about. Oliver - correctly, I believe - thinks it was decided in a South Bank restaurant; Tim thinks it's the Parliamentary Labour Party's fault (though I think they should have promoted a rival, if only for form's sake).

God. I meant this to be short.

[1] There are more journalistic words, like 'incensed' but 'annoyed' seems right to me.

46 Comments:

Blogger ejh said...

Presumably we're talking about the same Ben who was previously discussed here?

5/12/2008 08:54:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Precisely the question that I was going to pose: is this our friend Ben, the progressive blogger who is setting the agenda?

Guano

5/12/2008 09:27:00 PM  
Anonymous Simon said...

I spent a bit of time working for the Lib Dems in an inner city Birmingham ward this year, in a ward where both Labour and Respect were competitive. What was notable was how reliant both parties were on 'communalist' voting blocs - indeed, appeals to communalism and extended family networks among Asians were pretty much the only way Labour could get their vote out, with most of their ideological activist base long since having given up.

Decents sometimes give the impression that 'communalism' as an electoral tactic barely existed until Respect came along, when of course it had been exploited for decades by Labour, and continues to be. Respect simply did it better in the areas where they have had success.

5/12/2008 09:30:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Hyland said...

I don't get this bit:

"Their horrific defence of the most reactionary elements of Islamist thought. Their pathetic peacnick hippy shit. Their attacks upon our demonstrably relevant nuclear deterrent. Their opposition – with no hyperbole – to our very way of life, and to the way of life we wanted others to be able to enjoy."


When I read it the last time I assumed that the last sentence referred to the Islamists, but reading it again it must mean the antiwar left. So I'm wondering by opposition to way of life he thinks we want a Communist dictatorship or an Islamist Caliphate.

5/12/2008 10:37:00 PM  
Anonymous Simon said...

Also, he opposes 'peacnick hippy shit'. What's wrong with sitting in a park eating sandwiches?

5/12/2008 10:52:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

And I did that day after day for weeks on end. Because I hated him.

later on he says that he didn't know whether Oona was a good MP or not. It strikes me that a commitment to a political campaign based purely on a hatred of the opposition, with no acknowledgment of the merits of the candidate you're supporting, is exactly what's wrong with HP and 'Decency' in general.

No wonder his campaigning for Oona was unsuccessful. Witness his history as a 'stopper' which he abandoned for... er... he never really says, aside from 'reading harry's place'.

incidentally I've worked out that i know Ben, but I won't say anything more than that, not knowing the decorum of this site etc.

5/13/2008 05:49:00 AM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

I would strike this one as another person who turned to Decency after a major life stress event, by the way. One doesn't want to get too far into personal psychology but sometimes it's unavoidable.

5/13/2008 06:29:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

I was going to say that there appeared to have been an epiphany of one kind of another.

It's a useful rant, though, partly because it demonstrates my point that not all the Decents are repentant far-leftists, and that a fair proportion come from mainstream Labour or other positions. The invocation of opposition to the nuclear deterrent as a index of unacceptability certainly brings back a few memories.

5/13/2008 06:54:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know , it seems like cruel sport to look to hard at this article. a bit of a sign of the fraying of decency ( also see the recent - "torture, not so ad really" piece

http://www.hurryupharry.org/2008/05/07/moral-authority-lost-for-a-generation/ )
Ann On

5/13/2008 08:25:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shorter Ben: "I used to be on the right of the Labour Party - then the scales fell from my eyes and now I am on the right of the Labour Party."

Not really St Augustine of Hippo, is it?

Chris Williams

5/13/2008 09:32:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Brooke said...

Not really St Augustine of Hippo, is it?

Oh that made me laugh. Thankyou!

5/13/2008 10:02:00 AM  
Blogger cian said...

Where did Ben meet all these leftists who would defend the most reactionary elements of Islamist thought? I've yet to meet one, and I know some pretty stupid left-wingers. Now if he means that some people on the left think that lecturing Muslims on how they, and their religion, are backward and repellent is, um, stupid and wrong - well yeah, I'll cop to that. It doesn't work, alienates them and probably entrenches existing cultural practices. I belong to the pragmatic, rather than morally pure, wing of the left. Go figure.

I wonder if a lot of decency is misplaced machismo. "Their pathetic peacenik hippy shit. Their attacks upon our demonstrably (sic) relevant nuclear deterrent". Hippies are too girly for him I guess, and given that our nuclear weapons are no longer meaningful I'm guessing he's really in favour of nukes because they provide the pleasing fantasy that the UK still matters.

5/13/2008 11:27:00 AM  
Anonymous Simon said...

Anti-'hippy' sentiment is another recurring theme of decency. Michael Gove once did a feature about 'punks and hippies', in which everyone Decent was the former and everyone Indecent, the latter. There's also that weblog 'Never Trust A Hippy' which is vaguely Decent.

5/13/2008 11:45:00 AM  
Anonymous dd said...

The interesting thing being of course that there are still loads of hippies around, while punk is d.e.a.d. The poor old Decents can't even back a winning horse in their analogies.

5/13/2008 12:05:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Heh. I was round my brother's in Clapton last week and we passed some oldish guy with straggly white hair. "That's Pete the Hippy", said my brother. I had to check I wasn't in an episode of Life On Mars.

Mind you, Michael Moorcock says you can believe in anything you like in London, provided you stay in the right places...

5/13/2008 01:16:00 PM  
Anonymous bubby said...

Decents hate hippies and the environmental movement. They also tend to be very supportive of the UK's retention of nuclear weapons and its civilian nuclear power programme. I think this has to do with seeing themselves as terribly grown-up, mature, modernist and able to make tough choices, in marked contradistinction to wooly-minded hippies and peaceniks.

The liking for punk is interesting. My personal take is that for the Decents, most of whom have had relatively privilaged backgrounds, Punk (like decent politics) is essentially about posturing and striking a particular pose

Its also risk free which makes it doubly attractive. Affecting an anti-establishment punk pose certainly hasn't harmed Gove's career prospects.

Similarly with Iraq one can strike a noble pose, aligning oneself with suffering humanity, knowing that it won't be you brought home in a bodybag or minus significant appendages, when the whole fiasco goes tits-up.

5/13/2008 01:45:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

I suspect that many of them are of an age where they will have grown up (or at least spent their student years) listening to a lot of punk and New Wave, even if it may have been a few year after the fact. Like, ironically enough, a fair number of ex-hippies, they'vew kept the tastes but discarded the ideas that the spirit.

Which you can do, of course, in much the same way that I can love Bach without being a Catholic conservative, but there's also a sense in which it's like draining a body of blood and then not noticing that it's become a corpse.

5/13/2008 01:52:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Incidentally, Gove as a punk? As an ex-punk? Do me a favour.

5/13/2008 01:53:00 PM  
Anonymous bubby said...

Incidentally, Gove as a punk? As an ex-punk? Do me a favour.

I know!

Aside from that astonshing old footage of William Hague at the Conservative Conference circa 1979, Gove has to be the closet approximation to Harry Enfied's Tory Boy.

5/13/2008 02:30:00 PM  
Anonymous dsquared said...

listening to a lot of punk and New Wave

oh of course, it's all about David Cameron listening to The Jam and singing "Eton Rifles" to his mates while in the Eton Rifles, isn't it? Quite apart from anything, look at Paul Fucking Weller these days.

It is interesting though; if you had been forced, circa 1983, to pick a youth tribe that would still be around in 25 years, would anyone really have said Goths rather than New Romantics, headbangers, punks, soulboys etc? And yet they have gone from strength to strength.

5/13/2008 02:39:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Not sure the headbangers have gone away. Don't tell me there's none in North Wales any more. Land of my fucking dandruff.

5/13/2008 02:59:00 PM  
Anonymous bubby said...

Still plenty of soulboys about! Its just that Southport has replaced Camber Sands and the Wigan Casino.

5/13/2008 03:02:00 PM  
Anonymous dsquared said...

yeah but come on, compared to the Goths?

5/13/2008 05:04:00 PM  
Blogger cian said...

Punk is still around, it just kind of merged with hippydom to become the squat/anarcho/dog on a string scene. Quite an achievement, to take the worst aspects of both scenes and somewhat like the Decents, who seem to be combining the least attractive aspects of left politics (the moralising), with that of right politics (callousness about human beings). So there's a musical analogy for them.

I think this has to do with seeing themselves as terribly grown-up, mature, modernist and able to make tough choices, in marked contradistinction to wooly-minded hippies and peaceniks.

Very true. There's something a little insecure about it, what is that they're overcompensating for?

5/13/2008 05:17:00 PM  
Anonymous bubby said...

yeah but come on, compared to the Goths?

Yeah of course you're right. Goths, like the poor, are always with us because they will always be a section of the adolescent population who finds such stuff appealing. Well until teenage rebellion goes out fashion anyway which is unlikely to be in any great hurry. Personally speaking I'll always have a soft spot for Matt Johnson. Not all angst is bad.

5/13/2008 07:34:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Goths, like the poor, are always with us because they will always be a section of the adolescent population who finds such stuff appealing."

Whoa, ever been to Whitby? Never seen a balding goth? A sight to see, I tell you. Goths are like Teddy boys and girls of our time. they just go on and on, in the provinces, happily ignoring everything else and not bothering anybody, but with a mysterious capacity to reproduce.

rioja kid

5/13/2008 08:29:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

I've never seen a Goth in Huesca.

5/13/2008 08:47:00 PM  
Blogger pj said...

"incidentally I've worked out that i know Ben, but I won't say anything more than that, not knowing the decorum of this site etc."

Me too. I like to think I personally contributed to his disgust at the far left.

5/13/2008 09:03:00 PM  
Anonymous dd said...

I once saw two Goths lying down on the grass in Roundhay Park in Leeds, shirts off, stretched out in the sun on a blazing summer day, going "god it's good to be alive and a Goth on a day like this". It was strangely touching.

5/13/2008 09:19:00 PM  
Anonymous belle le triste said...

i once happened on a "tips for goths in florida" webpage that noted that if yr skin is pale from not often going out in daytime, you can get bad sunburn when fully clothed, as the ultraviolet rays go straight though yr black tee-shirt or frock

5/13/2008 10:47:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

I thought that said "trips" rather than "tips". I had this vision of a coachload of them all looking like Robert E Smith when he was nineteen....

5/14/2008 07:18:00 AM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

Me too. I like to think I personally contributed to his disgust at the far left.

i think i contributed to his disgust at life in general. good to see he's lost none of his 'debating skills' isn't it.

Speaking as someone who was a teenager in the mid-90s, there were very few goths around in my age group then. maybe it was just a lull.

5/14/2008 08:01:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a soft spot for the dog-on-a-string crowd. Not least because it produced some seriously good self-knowledge. From:

http://www.blythpower.co.uk/genesis/chap09.htm

We find:

"IRAN: They have had a revolution and kicked out the Shah, which must be a good thing, also they are against America, which we are too. We don’t know whether to support them or not, as they cut off people’s hands, so we will wait until we hear someone else, maybe Crass, talking about it, and then decide what our policy will be."

All going to the Decent script so far, innit? And yet Gary H continues to be a Stopper. You know, it's almost as if it's possible to recognise the inanities of Baby Bolshevik posturing and not use this as an excuse to become a reactionary.

Chris Williams

5/14/2008 08:53:00 AM  
Anonymous belle le triste said...

on the exact day that thatcher fell, i was in a motorway service station gazing slackjawed at the product when i suddenly became aware the entire shop filled with goths -- dozens of them, with scores more wandering the car-park, an actual real goth coachtrip from the north (leeds at a stereotypical guess) on the way to see the sisters of mercy at wembley

anyway, it felt like "ding dong the witch is dead" and lo! here's the old weird england re-emerging to people a liberated narnia: i actually teared up a bit (before i remembered what i thought of the sisters of mercy)

5/14/2008 10:35:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

Good grief.

I happened to mention "who's gonna rule when the government falls", an old Ruts lyric, on The Virtual Stoa.

I idly did a Google search for the lyric and what did I get? Harry's Place.

Which I think may demonstrate a point made above.

5/14/2008 06:44:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Won't somebody think of the children?

5/15/2008 02:07:00 PM  
Anonymous Phil said...

Decents sometimes give the impression that 'communalism' as an electoral tactic barely existed until Respect came along, when of course it had been exploited for decades by Labour, and continues to be. Respect simply did it better in the areas where they have had success.

Thought you might be interested in this comment on the Socialist Unity blog:

"hundreds of Muslim voters were forced to fill out their postal vote under supervision. Women and young people, where our voter base is strongest, are most disenfranchised in this way and what’s most disgusting is that all this is entirely legal. Hundreds of our votes are stolen from us each year because our supporters are simply denied the right to a secret ballot. When the pressure is such that to refuse to comply is to risk serious family fallout, many understandably think politics is just not worth it."

The writer doesn't use the word 'communalist', which is both misleading and overused, but does refer to 'breatheri' (i.e. biraderi) politics.

And 'us' here refers to, er, RESPECT actually.

5/15/2008 09:28:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Not sure what your first link there was supposed to be...

5/16/2008 07:21:00 AM  
Anonymous Jonathan E said...

Goths are like Teddy boys and girls of our time. they just go on and on, in the provinces, happily ignoring everything else and not bothering anybody, but with a mysterious capacity to reproduce.

Anonymous has it spot on here. The culture they celebrate (musically) had its day over twenty years ago. However, as someone who has spent a large part of his professional life involved with Goths (don't ask...) I can confirm that they have now spread throughout the world and any decent-sized town will contain at least two.
I would add that, contrary to received wisdom, your average male Goth is no longer "elegantly wasted" having moved decisively into XXL territory. The female of the species has been larger for longer.

I'll get my coat...

5/16/2008 11:36:00 AM  
Anonymous Phil said...

Oh. That misfired a bit.

Ahem. On the whole 'communalist'/RESPECT thing, thought you might be interested in this comment on the Socialist Unity blog.

As you were.

5/16/2008 12:24:00 PM  
Anonymous dsquared said...

culture they celebrate (musically) had its day over twenty years ago

Oh I disagree - would that it were so, because I always hated all Goth bands except "This Corrosion"-era SoM. But the Goths have proved to be quite adept at changing their musical tastes and keeping up with trends; Nine Inch Nails -- Marilyn Manson -- My Chemical Romance actually represents quite an evolution.

I seem to remember being told on adequacy.org that there were "Goths in all countries of the world" and demanding to know how many Goths there were in Bhutan or Kiribati.

5/16/2008 01:38:00 PM  
Blogger cian said...

I don't think Emo has much to do with Goth. Its theoretically a post hardcore thing, though I think that ship has long since sailed and its just generic Alt-Rock now. Hasn't got much to do with Goth, or even Marilyn Manson (who was more post-Industrial like NiN - you can be a goth and like it, but not all fans are Goths. Apparently). According to a disturbingly perky Emo that I spoke to for purposes of research, not all Emo fans dress up in black/makeup, that's just the "My Chemical Romance" fans.

Also most Emo bands seem to sing about what a bitch/shallow person their ex-girlfriend was, or how, like, the whole world doesn't understand their beautiful souls. And to give the Goths a little bit of credit, their lyric ambitions went a little beyond that.

Why I know all this crap is beyond me. The only hardcore stuff I like is where the songs were 42 seconds long and Goth is just shite.

Now if someone could tell me why there are so many fucking Goth/Emos in Brighton I'd be glad. I mean if you can be miserable and a teenager in Brighton, I don't think there's anywhere you'd be happy.

5/17/2008 10:46:00 AM  
Blogger Sir S said...

Goth is definitely still going strong, but it has mutated is all. They (really I should say we) may celebrate a musical culture from 20 years ago but there's plenty of new stuff going on and some of it is rather good, actually. Better, if anything.

But they're definitely fatter than they used to be. But isn't everyone? Watch any 80s music video with street scenes in it, and the generalthinness of everyone is quite shocking.

I would take issue with dsquared on the characterisation of My Chemical Romance as Goth. But to do so would be to turn a comments thread with the word "goth" in it into a debate about what is and isn't a goth, which would be terribly cliched.

Instead I shall ask "How many punks does it take to change a lightbulb?"

5/17/2008 10:42:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

But they're definitely fatter than they used to be.

But enough about Robert Smith.

5/18/2008 08:18:00 AM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

But they're definitely fatter than they used to be. But isn't everyone?

I'm not. In the 80s, I was a 31 or 32 inch waist; my 501s (sad, I know) are 30 waist.

Instead I shall ask "How many punks does it take to change a lightbulb?"

There's no bulbs in this flat. Were the Fall punks?

5/18/2008 08:35:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

I doubt there's anything you could say about Mark E Smith that he wouldn't find both inaccurate and offensive.

5/18/2008 10:13:00 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home