Friday, 21 November 2014

Emily Thornberry's Heart of Darkness

A lot of dumbass things have happened in British politics over the years, but yesterday was a new low. Literally the most dumbassest fucking thing that has ever happened. Some mid table labour mp tweeted a picture of some flags and a white van, and everyone went mentile. We've seen it all before, but not in the places you might expect. The phrase that kept springing to mind was 'political correctness gone mad'. A rich white person behaving slightly inappropriately. Hypersensitivity towards an underprivileged group. Fauxtrage from political opponents who will return to not giving a stuff about the 'victims' as soon as they get their scalp. Sure, this time it's a woman on the left getting the stick, but when her team succeeded in making cultural insensitivity the worst crime going, it seems churlish to complain when it's thrown back at them. This is identity politics, but not quite as we know it.

Emily Thornberry's trip into the dark heart of working class Britain is as orientalist as hell. Swanning off to the far east, dripping in her own white liberal saviour complex, tweeting pictures of the natives and their strange customs to show to the folks back home. If left to her own devices she'd be taking facebook cover photos with smiling kids in knock-off football shirts. Noble savages, they have so little, but still keep so much dignity. It sounds stupid, and it is, it's incredibly stupid, but no more so than any other analysis along those lines.

As 21st century neoliberalism and assortive mating further widen the gap between the vaisyas and the brahmins, they come to seem less like different classes, or even castes, and more like ethnic groups. The left has abandoned a politics based on class in favour of a less challenging one based on identity, and so the cishetwhiteman in the van is left with no option but to play the same game. Politics is about who you are, not what you think, and he can only be who he is. This is where ukip comes in, moving into the gap in the market, a totally separate white working class ethnic group, and a party that isn't /openly/ contemptuous of them. Nobody ever said identity politics had to be hand-hold-y rainbow coalitions and teaching the world to sing. We've seen the exact same thing in the US, with the democrat coalition of college educated whites and minority groups facing off against the rednecks, the tea partiers, the ukip types. The eternal culturekampf just got a bit more vicious.

And, as the white working class embraces the identity politics, they do as the Romans. Protected minority status is theirs, any outsiders mocking them will be dealt with harshly. It doesn't convey any other benefits, sadly, I guess they can set up a tumblr if they want. It doesn't even matter much if my analysis here is correct, all that matters is that the clerisy shares it. This whole thing is high priest Ed Miliband's worst nightmare, and by forcing her out he proved it. By lying bare the ethnic divide at the heart of the Labour Party, Emily Thornberry has forced the left to come face to face with a monster of their own creation.

Update: Aftermath. I'm a little late on this, but it's probably worth finishing the story. Thornberry, when presented with the fauxtrage her comments provoked took route one on the left, and fled to her own form of identity politics. This is normally a pretty good idea. Don't give ground. Don't pay the danegeld. Never, ever ever ever ever give up. But, while accusing critics of being prejudiced against Islington might have seemed clever at the time, it just came across as pathetic. She sounded like a dumb men's rights activist faced with feminist criticism. Should have played the sexist card instead, it wasn't totally unwarranted. Miliband ended up sacking her, and then entered a weird state of Stockholm Syndrome. Held hostage by a bizarre outgroup he didn't understand (his own voters), he started talking about how much he respected the white van people and their proud traditional culture, untouched by the outside world.  

Two gin-scented tears trickled down the sides of his nose. But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved White Van Man.