I'm not sure what to make of the BBC's drama of a couple of nights back, England Expects.
In the current climate of toothless police dramas, pointless star vehicles and anodyne political correctness, I suppose the BBC could be considered brave for tackling the raw topic of racism and its relationship to politics . TV 'drama's' tendency is to reduce racial/ racist politics to a flip manicheanism, but England Expects, at least in its first hour, made an attempt to explore the complexities of the motivations of its lead character Ray Knight (well played by Stephen Mackintosh) .
In some respects, England Expects' analysis of racist psychology shared something with Potter's in Brimstone and Treacle. Speaking in The Times, writer Frank Deasy said that, 'For the people I spoke to (Deasy conducted extensive interviews with far-right activists) there’s a great deal of nostalgia for the way things used to be.' Like Potter's Bates, Knight's deepest yearning was to turn the clock back.
Twenty years ago, the issue would have been white-black. Not in England Expects. Knight's best friend at work was black, and while he would have 'preferred a few less' blacks, it was clear that his main problem was with Muslims/Asians and, less obviously but equally significantly, with Jews. Knight saw Jews as the agents of a cosmopolitan modernity, the secret rulers of the New World Order. Interestingly, Knight's racism was strongly correlated with a hostility to globalization. Both his superiors at the Canary Wharf firm at which he worked as a security guard and his neighbours at home (on the drug-riddled estate on which he lived) were representatives of the new globalized world which had stripped him of all place, all identity. (Although, in some ways, as Deasy suggested in The Times, in the white racist imaginary, Muslims feature as a counter-modern tendency: 'one of the reasons Muslim communities are coming under attack from far-right groups is an element of envy — having extended families that work, having faith that works. They have values, a cultural identity.')
England Expects also highlighted the way in which the BNP has appropriated working class grievances which would previously have been the province of socialism. If the NF of the seventies were ultimately undermined by the incorporation of their agenda into the political mainstream by the Tories, then the opposite may be happening now. Labour's capitulation to the Right agenda, its risible attempts to appear tougher than the Tories (can anyone remember that memorable Friday Night Armistice Sketch in which N. Labour were seen threatening to kill a pet cat to demonstrate their 'strength'?), its refusal to vigorously defend the benefits of immigration, has led to a creeping legitimation of the BNP's views. The BNP are also almost certainly profiting from the deproletranization of parliamentary politics. Blair's desperate pursuit of the middle ground, his courting of the likes of Potter's Bates, his purging of the Labour Party of all associations with the working class, has left white proletarian rage nowhere to go but the Far Right, so that Knight's first instinct when things were going badly in his life was to look to racial, not class, causes. It perhaps says something for my own class pathologies that I shared Knight's anger towards the smug David Watts-type trader who got the woman he was pursuing; but Knight articulated his hostility towards him, not in terms of his wealth or success, but his jewishness.
England Expects was broadcast two days after Trevor Phillips, head of the Commission for Racial Equality, called in The Times for an end to 'multi-culturalism.' Phillips' argument seemed to equate 'multiculturalism' with 'separatism', and, the juxtaposition of a headline decrying multiculturalism with an Islamist cleric burning a union jack was uh a little inflammatory, to say the least. The Times wheeled out a self-satisfied Norman Tebbit to express his pleasure that the left were finally beginning to see the light. Jeez.
So Morrissey's new single, 'Irish Blood, English Heart,' couldn't be more topical. Who is he speaking for - Knight, Bates, Tebbit, Phillips? - when he sings the following: 'I've been dreaming of a time when/ to be English is not to be baneful/ to be standing by the flag, not feeling shameful / racist or racial.' The problem is that Morrissey's very dream is itself racist, since what would such a time be if not a time when there were far fewer black or brown faces in England, when the Empire was feverishly exploiting Africa and Asia? There's something to Phillips' claim that we require an inclusive Britishness but that will have to be articulated in terms of a future cultural identity. All appeals to a lost British past can only play to the psychopathology of our Ray Knights.Posted by mark at April 7, 2004 01:41 PM | TrackBack