Enoch Powell was wrong, so why do so many mistaken people think he was right?

Part three

I come from a working-class ex-steeltown. I am very removed from it in many ways now; a night out I enjoy is down the Middle Temple or the Oxford Colleges I used to teach for, and I was never much cop in a pub or the Catholic club (known for some reason as the KK) at home. My old catholic comprehensive has been shut down by ofsted because it was underperforming and catholic (in many people's eyes) and some of the businesses and the steelworks I spent some summers in have changed radically. None of this is the fault of immigrants. We were all immigrants, from Ireland, serbia, scotland, poland or anywhere else white after all.

And therein lies a clue. When the government began dispersing asylum-seekers in the early twenty-first century, Corby gained a Muslim community. They set up a mosque in an old housing estate from the seventies, and as is the custom in that community, left shoes outside as a mark of respect for their faith. Those shoes were straight down the market, according to my sister, and the Islamic faithful stopped that. What was surprising, though, was the visceral reaction of people I knew. Instead of accepting those who would assimilate, they marked muslims as a group that would not assimilate and started muttering about the BNP and even Powell. ]

Psychologists and sociologists would of course say that they were dispositionally attributing to a group; that is, rather than seeing people as individuals or groups as sophisticated, they were looking at people as members of a generic identity and refusing to note individuals.
Well, one reason is that muslim 'spokesmen' were encouraging them to do so and seeking to establish a commmunity identity that was separate. On television and in the press, the situation is ongoing. Silly young women adopt an article that some associate with their faith (though not many of the billion muslims in the world) and then seek compensation when they are told to take it off. The analogy is drawn with Sikhs, who have a perfect right to their turbans, or jewish hasidic dress. I think that analogy is false. Some forms of dress are forms of speech. They make a statement that someone is completely unwilling to assimilate. One does not have to have seen a James Dean film in garibaldi denims to understand that. It beggars belief that people would not understand that some would take offence at that.

Another reason is the systematic betrayal of the vast majority of people in corby by governments since the nineteen eighties. When there was a steel industry, there was an income and an industrial 'deal', limited by the trades unions. Society would be relatively safe outside of certain pubs and times; people would know each other, and respect the dignity of themselves and others in public in their dress, speech and identity; and failings in society could be resolved politically. The police would do their job, and the council would run the town.

Every one of those precepts has been systematically broken. Councils have become politically correct tax raising institutions. jobs have become insecure. People have become convinced that if they share ownership of their house with a bank to which they pay a high amount of money every month, raise further credit upon it, and fund themselves with casual jobs or salaried jobs with no management loyalty at all, they can 'progress' in life. These things are difficult to quantify and personalise. The metaphor of the immigrant as the representative of changes isn't.

Another problem must surely be the middle-class know-it alls who increasingly regulate the lives of the people with whom I grew up, and everyone else. It was once said by a poet who spent time in the company of the know-it-all egoist Charles Dilke that he reminded them of the importance of doubt and ignorance. Now, people can't enjoy themselves by smoking, they have been encouraged by supermarkets and economic pressure that their choice of what to put in their mouth is one of nonsensically 'organic' and super-expensive or rubbish food on the one hand, or calorific excess produced by the technology of the meat and oil industries on the other. Particular views of religion and sexuality have been promoted which strips one of meaning fatuously and upholds another in a silly way (sex is fun and requires moderate maturity on the part of adults, though it makes fools of everyone--nothing more). And counsels of perfection in child rearing, driving, and speech are demanded by a ghoulish press. Is it any wonder that people are antagonised and want someone to blame?

We face a monumental combination of threats as a society. We face the challenge of dealing with unstoppable natural climate change; a world economy that simply cannot continue to function on its present model; the integration of individuals from other cultures, which can be a rich and rewarding thing, as the world return to being globalised after the distortions of 1914-1989; and a massive Wahabist/salafist/Islamoglobal threat which represents a recrudescence of a very old political and military antagonism. On top of that, large parts of the USA seem to have gone mad. We will go nowhere in this country until we think of a way of burying the lazy notion that sits atop the real concern of large numbers of mistaken people that 'Enoch was right' and focus people on why they think it instead.


Reimer said…
I think I agree with some of this, in as much as the present scale of immigration & pluralism (and consequent changes) is almost an epiphenomenon of a deeper process of upheaval & atomisation concerning the relatedness & settledness of existing populations, a process that seems to have ramped up in the post-WW2 era.

It's all very well to offer verbose attemps at rationalisation like I have, but they don't reconcile me to accepting my milieu (and that of others whom I have something like empathy) being drastically changed by & for those higher up the food chain, groups who talk in terms of the recognition of individuals the better to cement their own ever-more-impenetrable networks. Performing cultural management upon the 'false consciouness' of the plebs is good for the wallet, status & for keeping elevated from those you could never feel much fellowship with in the first place.
Martin Meenagh said…
Hi Reimer
I think that the situation is complicated here at least--though I recognise things are shifting globlly--by the existence of this odd, historic and creaking state called Britain. It was an Imperial construct that allows people to hide behind a constructed and very fluid identity. I wonder if it wouldn't be a good idea to have the islands and communities of the atlantic archipelago discover independence!Also, remember that Imperialism was globalism. In a way, all this disruption since the war is the effect of two processes; the legacy of the children of the european and ottoman empires going to the homeland, and of capital returning to India and China.
I also agree with you about the way elites view ordinary people. Thanks for the comment, and keep reading!
Reimer said…

From where I'm sitting you look and sound like that elite with your airy lofty historical perspective on processes that help land so much additional unneccesary sh1t here


What makes you think Powell WAS wrong? Perhaps his forecasting was a little premature.

And WHY in God's name would independent regions of Britain want to continue this dangerous transformative process, unless they were each seized by the local counterparts of the present London scum?

Martin Meenagh said…
I don't apologise for my education, Reimer, which came from public libraries and my school as much as the BBC and the Catholic church. Nor am I much impressed by swearing or calling people 'scum' just because they're in London. This is a world city and distinct from the rest of the country.
The problem is that it runs the country because this state is unbalanced, and I think more and more the solution would be the re-emergence of England, Wales, Scotland and the islands as independent democracies with London as a city-state.

On the question of Powell, read the speech. One should assume that he knew what he was doing, He told tales of black crime against old ladies that could only inflame and mark a whole group, he called youths 'picanninies', which is a racial term, and he made no attempt to deal with an absurd claim that the 'black man would hold the whip hand over the white man' by 1986. What does that mean? If you are referring to a muslim challenge to english people in the north of the country, well that's a different cultural point. Speeches are acts and acts must be restrained and responsible when they can cause the very trouble that powell was saying was a bad thing. You wouldn't go into an old folks' home or a nursery and start shouting when you could make your point otherwise would you?

As for being a member of an elite, I try not to hate people, I do read the tabloids, I am not obsessed by class, I don't follow sport, I like the finer things in life and I think there is value in learning. Also, gutters are for escaping even when I'm falling into them! So I am at odds with English culture at the minute and probably always will be.
Martin Meenagh said…
Reimer--by the way, I went to your link. I see your point, and I apologise if I sounded smug. There is a crisis of crime in black communities and I understand your point, if that's the one you are making, of the number of immigrants and the children of immigrants who turn up in the courts. I assume that you are not one. But I am, and we don't get anywhere if we racialise things in the way Powell did. I apologise if I sounded airy and lofty when lives are being lost.
Reimer said…

Sorry for sounding so uncouth - it's coz I am (I'm of largely Irish descent meself so go on and lay into me for hypocrisy).

Point taken about the gratuitous name-calling in Powell's speech but his point about the consequences of bringing together such large numbers of different peoples into a shrinking space...

I'm sure you could blow me out of the water on this and much of the rest of these nagging matters, and therein lies the rub -

People see & feel something is happening to drastically alter what they understood to be their relation to their community, nation, state, but the elite barely akcnowledges it other than to rebut in very professional manner the plebs' comparatively-amateurish expressions of disquiet (those that are allowed through the public filters without leading to criminal charges at least). What I think I've discovered about what is going on is what I have had to dig for, which does not reassure me as to the viability of the future for a pleb like me.

As to London 'scum' - I meant the politico-business-media nexus.

Martin Meenagh said…
The thing is, Reimer, I agree with you almost entirely. And it is all very well to say 'oh well, this is the backwash of Empire', but individuals don't owe blood debts to the past and shouldn't suffer for it. People are worried and angry as sin. My mum and sister would have voted for George Bush as a consequence of this, and you could go on about community and all these great values that lawyers and politicians love, and make money from, but it's very difficult to have one if half the people in it don't belong and you don't want to live attached to some constitutional settlement like in America because there's no other way to relate to people. I also understand about the London point, I was on my high horse there.
So many people I know are either emigrating or have effectiively left any sort of civic engagement, you worry for the future. I've just had a serious conversation with intelligent american students who wonder if we don't need some big recession or something to change the economy and break the arrogance of capital and the professions; but no one in their right mind can hope for that surely?