Flocking Hell

Gordon Brown hears his own words on tape and covers his face

Beam me up, Mandy

Bigotgate” [Deliver us from the media’s standard scandal suffix!] has come to this: There’s a report on the BBC News Website that actually devotes a paragraph and two full-colour charts to a 30-minute dip in Twitter sentiment towards Gordon Brown in response to his tetchy grumbling to an aide in the back of his official car today. We are only a couple of years away from the media literally disappearing up their own arses, when they will bring us second-by-second reports on the ripples of microblogging stirred by Nick Robinson accidentally farting while interviewing a party leader.

An odd side-effect of today’s fuss has been a spike in visitors to another entry on this blog, one in which I quote Gordon Brown’s predecessor and long-time colleague Tony Blair expressing his own feelings about xenophobic voters:

A friend sent me an email on Saturday that reminded me of a story about Tony Blair during the ultimately victorious 1997 Labour General Election campaign. (Remember, this is when people were still referring to him as “Bambi”.) Perhaps in a bit of a panic about polling figures, the Tories had decided to play the race card as a last gasp measure. One of his aides asked Blair what he was going to do about it. He is supposed to have said,

“Nothing. If that’s the kind of government the voters want, then fuck ‘em”.

For me, Gordon Brown’s mistake here wasn’t that he was rude about Ms Duffy, who, let’s remember, said the following to him, without irony:

“You can’t say anything about the immigrants because you’re saying that you’re … but all these eastern European what are coming in, where are they flocking from?”

—which, bigoted or not, is undeniably stupid; it was that he was then grovellingly apologetic about his should-have-been-private verdict on her. His (or his team’s) subsequent backtracking seemed to me less motivated by politeness than by the same fear that prompts representatives of self-described anti-racist parties to respond to local election victories by racist parties by saying things like:

“We cannot dismiss all those who voted for the British National Party today as ‘racist’. Many of them have legitimate concerns that they feel are not being addressed by ourselves in the mainstream parties. We need to go away and think about these issues.”

No. Voting for racist policies is racist. The case for free, but controlled, immigration is sound—just as the case for free, but regulated, trade is sound. If mainstream politicians fail to make it, then mainstream voters will not be persuaded, and the likes of Ms Duffy will continue to spout tribalist nonsense. Despite her claim that her freedom of speech is constrained, the Thought Police haven’t arrested her yet. And I haven’t read a single media commentator suggest that she might have said something worthy of an apology.

I’ll finish with a comment that I didn’t post to the end of a thread on the Facebook page of a Tory friend who registered his approval of the “Gillian Duffy -A BIGOTED WOMAN” page on that site:

Throughout history, talentless and lazy bigots of both the Left and Right have used trade barriers, border controls, closed shops, and plain racial discrimination (both “positive” and “negative”) to protect what they believe to be the most important freedom of all, namely the freedom not to have to compete with talented and hardworking people. History shows us that their cosy dream is wrong and doomed.

UPDATE: This, from a flocking Eastern European is worth reading.

12 Comments

  1. Posted 28Apr10 at 22:53 | Permalink

    I *mostly* agree with the above. Well, apart from: No. People who vote for racist policies, whether they consider themselves to be of the Left or the Right, are racist. The case for free, but controlled, immigration is sound—just as the case for free, but regulated, trade is sound. I’m not very happy about using adverbs which easily apply to abstract nouns to people. This or that policy is racist, fine. This person is racist? Maybe in a few cases, but people are complex. “This person holds racist views” perhaps, but if they agree with racist policies, that’s somewhat tautological. Anyway, even if I allow you that those people are racist, they’re still part of the electorate, and politicians still need to address/persuade them. I think Labour has done the persuading rather badly.

    The case for free, but controlled, immigration is sound—just as the case for free, but regulated, trade is sound. Also not sure about this. I think there’s a contradiction in there. But I support the ‘free’ rather than the ‘but regulated’ part of the above.

  2. Posted 28Apr10 at 23:10 | Permalink

    This or that policy is racist, fine. This person is racist? Maybe in a few cases, but people are complex.

    Point taken. I actually phrased that part a few different ways before choosing the shortest and bluntest, but that version was, as you say, inaccurate/unfair. I’ve changed it now and, to my satisfaction, made it shorter still.

    I support the ‘free’ rather than the ‘but regulated’ part of the above.

    Until the whole World is subject to United Federation of Planets law, you’ve got to have rules about how people move in and out of different jurisdictions, just as you have to have rules about how products move in and out of markets. It has always been the case that one common reason people move from place to place is to escape justice. The rules necessary to deal with this and other inevitable, negative, and real consequences of migration should be minimal and consistent—and should have nothing to do with “race”.

  3. Josser31
    Posted 29Apr10 at 12:33 | Permalink

    I don’t understand why none of the press or Labour party have pointed out that Gordon thought she said “f*cking” not “flocking” – which makes her question seem infinitely more aggressive.

  4. Posted 29Apr10 at 14:56 | Permalink

    OK, agree with the main point of this post, and the Blair quote has it nailed on how to deal with this, but worth noting that she was going to vote Labour (and always had) – not BNP. I find it hard to condemn a woman who nipped out for a loaf of bread and ended up talking to Gordon Brown as a bigot – without better evidence.

    The problem is also compounded by the fact Brown has been peddling British Jobs for British Workers trick even before he took over as PM in 2007.

  5. Robert
    Posted 29Apr10 at 16:32 | Permalink

    “I don’t understand why none of the press or Labour party have pointed out that Gordon thought she said “f*cking” not “flocking” – which makes her question seem infinitely more aggressive.”

    If they’re going to try that strategy they should have immediately claimed he referred to her as a ‘big-hearted woman’.

  6. Posted 30Apr10 at 01:33 | Permalink

    This, from a flocking Eastern European is worth reading.

    Hmm. She seems to be upset that more people didn’t rush to support her once she’d announced she was Eastern European. What Duffy said was stupid, but it was hardly of an importance that we should feel the need to rush over and cuddle the nearest Eastern European and save them from the Gulag. I think she’s extrapolating more from this than can be expected.

    Anyway, I think the more Eastern Europeans the better, especially if they are female.

  7. Posted 30Apr10 at 03:58 | Permalink

    > The case for free, but controlled, immigration is sound

    Yes it is, and so is the case for shutting down the borders and not letting anyone in, and so is the case for only allowing immigration from Commonwealth countries, and so is the case for free and uncontrolled immigration, and so are lots of other cases for all sorts of different ideas about immigration. Which policy you prefer rather depends on what you’re aiming to achieve.

    > Voting for racist policies is racist.

    But people don’t vote for policies. They vote for people. (And a good thing, too.) Look at where I am, Northern Ireland. I find it amazes people on the mainland that some of our established and safe MPs get any votes at all. “Why did people keep voting for that awful Ian Paisley?” they ask. “They must all be bigots.” Well, no. The thing about the parties over here is that they’re all minor purely Northern Irish parties and therefore none of our MPs have a shot at the Cabinet, and they know it. So we don’t get the power-hungy careerists who see their constituency merely as a necessary step on the road to Westminster. Send a letter about some injustice to my MP, Sylvia Hermon, and she’ll bust a gut to help you out, and she’ll do it personally. Ask anyone in Lisburn about Jeffrey bloody Robinson and they’ll tell you the same thing.

    I know that the BNP have a determined strategy of winning seats by sorting out local problems: bin collections, road resurfacing, school buses… anything people are complaining about that actually directly affects their day-to-day lives. If you’re standing against a councillor who’s just doing his time until he gets selected as a parliamentary candidate or an MP who’s too busy with national and international politics in Westminster to be arsed with her bloody constituents’ parochial local problems, the votes are there for the taking. Especially since voters know that the BNP aren’t about to win a majority and that their policies regarding what they’d do if they were in power are purely hypothetical.

    This is just one of many examples of why it’s a bit more complicated than that.

  8. Posted 30Apr10 at 08:28 | Permalink

    Yes it is, and so is the case for shutting down the borders and not letting anyone in

    Can you name one country that’s worked for?

    (And don’t give me Japan. On my Facebook friends list alone, I know two people who have moved there, and one Anglo who grew up there, so she now makes her living doing cross-cultural training for others who have to move between there and the West.)

    But people don’t vote for policies. They vote for people.

    I know that the BNP have a determined strategy of winning seats by sorting out local problems

    That’s nonsense on stilts.

  9. Posted 30Apr10 at 16:35 | Permalink

    > Can you name one country that’s worked for?

    I don’t need to, because that wasn’t my point. My point was that different people have different definitions of “worked”. For every country you name where immigration has “worked” by your definition, someone else will be able to give you examples of how immigration has “not worked” in that same country by their definition. My point was that saying “The case is sound” is simply another way of saying “My aims are the right ones.” The former implies “The opposing case is unsound” with the same rigour that the latter implies “and everyone else’s are wrong.”

    And wanting to live amongst people who are similar to you in various ways is not bigotted or racist and is not something that people shouldn’t be allowed to try and achieve. I don’t want to achieve it myself — I may have stayed within the UK but, from the point of view of the relevant nationalists, I’m a migrant myself, and my dad’s descended from all over the place — but I recognise that some people might want to and don’t see that that’s any cause to insult them.

    > That’s nonsense on stilts.

    Sorry, let me rephrase. The BNP have a determined strategy of winning seats by claiming to sort out local problems. You don’t need to argue with me about the accuracy of those claims, because I’m not going to be voting for them anyway.

    I might add that, though I couldn’t be bothered reading everything on that first link, not one of the bits I did read there had anything to do with whether BNP politicians are more or less effective than those from other parties at sorting out problems for their constituents. I mean…

    Burnley Crown Court heard how Nigel Hesmondhalgh, 36, who had a British National Party sticker in the window of his Accrington home, was abusive and insulting to the couple

    Oh, come on. Let’s start listing the political affiliation of every criminal in the country, shall we? Who’d look worse then, the BNP or Labour? This is exactly the sort of criticism that makes the BNP look good, and makes me want to kick self-styled anti-fascists.

  10. Posted 30Apr10 at 17:13 | Permalink

    My point was that saying “The case is sound” is simply another way of saying “My aims are the right ones.”

    You know me well enough to know that I choose my words carefully, and, if I’d wanted to say something else, I’d have said it. “The case is sound” meant exactly that. The main thrust of this blogpost throughout was that Brown should have made the arguments because they were worth making (and implicit in that—and illustrated by this incident—was a belief that Brown’s views on this question are closer to mine that he is prepared to admit in public).

    You’re right: some people think that keeping the dirty foreigners out would be a policy that “works”. That I’m pressing for people to argue against this perfectly refutes your point. If I thought the case was self-evident, I wouldn’t be complaining about Brown’s (and others’) cowardice in failing to make it.

    (It should be evident from what I’ve written here and elsewhere, however, that I think people who have heard and reflected on the arguments and still feel that way can, as The Blessed Tony put it, go fuck themselves, because brutal economics will, in the long run, fuck them anyway.)

    I’m a migrant myself, and my dad’s descended from all over the place – but I recognise that some people might want to and don’t see that that’s any cause to insult them.

    If you’re trying to insult a woman, there are more effective ways of doing it than waving her a cheery goodbye, getting into a car, driving away from her, and complaining about her to someone who will never see her again.

    I might add that, though I couldn’t be bothered reading everything on that first link, not one of the bits I did read there had anything to do with whether BNP politicians are more or less effective than those from other parties at sorting out problems for their constituents.

    They’re directly relevant to your claim that the BNP garners votes because the electors are voting for people, not policies. (I ordered my two links to correspond to your two assertions.) Time and again, BNP representatives are known by locals who vote for them to be, let’s say, not exactly the most respectable members of their “communities”.

    Maybe I’m wrong and you’re right. Maybe people aren’t thinking about immigration policy when they get into a voting booth and put a cross next to the name of the BNP candidate; instead they’re coming over all warm-and-fuzzy at the idea of being represented by that bloke who drives around the neighbourhood with the “NAZ1″ personalised registration plate.

  11. Posted 01May10 at 19:19 | Permalink

    OK, can I just start by saying, in case this gets heated and I piss you off, that I like you and enjoy our occasional chats? Well, I do.

    Anyway…

    > If you’re trying to insult a woman, there are more effective ways of doing it than waving her a cheery goodbye, getting into a car, driving away from her, and complaining about her to someone who will never see her again.

    I didn’t say that Gordon Brown insulted her — though he did. I was referring to the nationwide insulting campaign that has taken place against her in the last few days. Speaking as someone who was quite happily and effectively ignoring this bloody election until this incident, I can assure you that hurling invective at an old woman in her sixties has had more publicity than any other aspect of the campaign so far. It’s unignorably widespread.

    On that subject, for all that you claim freedom of speech hasn’t been affected, having seen her face plastered over the national press and literally tens of thousands of people spend days villifying her character, which other little old ladies are going to risk expressing their views to MPs now? If nothing else, this character-assassination campaign has proven her right: you can’t say anything about immigrants. And, indeed, she didn’t. Merely complaining that you’re not allowed to say anything about immigrants and expressing some mild confusion about how your community is changing around you is enough to get this frankly disgusting treatment.

    On which subject,

    > This, from a flocking Eastern European is worth reading.

    Really? Speaking as an Englishman who spent years living in Scotland, I find it astounding that anyone in the modern world is thin-skinned enough to get that upset over this. How old is she? Five?

    > Time and again, BNP representatives are known by locals who vote for them to be, let’s say, not exactly the most respectable members of their “communities”.

    Well, I didn’t mention respectability; I mentioned effectiveness. When it comes to respectability, thuggishness and fraudulence are different types of crime, but they are both crimes. Nearly every sitting MP has committed what looks to the voters like fraud, even if they have got off on the appalling technicality that they didn’t actually break the rules that they themselves wrote specifically to make sure they could get away with it. Remember, I’m not defending the BNP here. I’m pointing out that there are plenty of reasons to vote for them other than racism. I bet “Every other party has been treating the taxpayers as a money-spinner” is up there in the top 10. Maybe the BNP will be just as bad or worse if they get in. But they have the huge advantage of that being hypothetical so far.

    And I take your point about respectability, but a lot of what’s on that link isn’t about candidates or councillors; it’s about people who’ve mentioned the BNP or who are known to own a BNP sticker. Please. Like I said, we could start treating all Labour voters as representatives of Labour. Glasgow’s the most violent city in the country — murder capital of Europe, last I checked — and it is chock-full of safe Labour seats. Finding a few thousand violent racist mysogynist Labour-voting thugs should be easy. And what would that prove?

    > that bloke who drives around the neighbourhood with the “NAZ1” personalised registration plate.

    “NA51″, actually, which is not personalised but is a standard plate issued by the British state. There are several reasons I can think of for going out of your way to get that plate, and “I am hiding the fact that I really am an actual Nazi but I’m also simultaneously advertising the fact for some reason” seems a lot less likely than “I have been reading the BNP guide to looking good by making your opponents froth at the mouth.” My response to that “controversy” — and I’m sure a lot of people’s reaction is the same — is to think, if they’re having to scrape the bottom of the barrel that hard, it must be empty. Which is why I can’t stand the so-called anti-Fascists: I can’t think of any group in Britain doing more to promote the cause of Fascism.

    > Maybe I’m wrong and you’re right. Maybe people aren’t thinking about immigration policy

    But I didn’t make such a strong claim. It is you who said that every single person who votes BNP does so because they are racists. All I said was that people are a bit more complicated than that. You yourself often point out, rightly, that “positive” discrimination is racist. So presumably you’ll be claiming that every single Labour voter is racist and sexist any minute now.

    > It should be evident from what I’ve written here and elsewhere, however, that I think people who have heard and reflected on the arguments and still feel that way can, as The Blessed Tony put it, go fuck themselves, because brutal economics will, in the long run, fuck them anyway.

    I don’t see how you think this could happen. If the people of, say, Truro were to vote by an overwhelming majority not to allow any more immigrants into their town, the state would rule that decision illegal and unenforceable, ignore it, and continue to send immigrants into Truro. When and how would they learn the economic consequences of disallowing immigration?

    > keeping the dirty foreigners out

    Anyone who expresses doubt about current mass immigration policy thinks foreigners are dirty?

    Anyway, I remind myself that comments of this size are exactly why I started blogging, so I shall apologise for taking up so much of your Website and leave it there.

  12. Posted 27Jun10 at 17:13 | Permalink

    I like you too, Squander, and enjoy arguing with you because you are usually rigorous and pedantic in a way that often illuminates. (You might be surprised to discover that I had some time for your case against Simon Singh, because you attended more closely to English law and language than many of his supporters.)

    Right now, I’m not enjoying arguing with you—not because you seem to be disagreeing with me; I enjoy being disagreed with by people, like you, who are usually smart enough not to waste my time, or by people who are stupid enough to give me material for jokes.

    I’m not enjoying arguing with you because your comments on this post have been wrong in a way that isn’t interesting. In part, they’re irrelevant or aimed at an invented version of my original post and subsquent comments; in part they’re obviously fallacious in ways that are boring/repetitive to enumerate. But I’m going to tackle them anyway, because the things you are utterly wrong about are important, and because it’s easy: I have evidence and logic on my side and you have flatulent rhetoric like “little old ladies”.

    You complain that you weren’t talking about Brown’s insulting Duffy. Given that the original post and thread are about Brown’s response to Duffy and the media’s response to that, my inferring otherwise was not only reasonable, but, it turns out, flattering to you.

    As if that weren’t generous enough; I’m going to tackle your orthogonal claim that Ms Duffy has been widely “insulted” by the media, even though it is not only irrelevant, but superfluous, when addressing the author of a post that begins with a rant about the absurdly disproportionate response of the media to this incident.

    You mention Duffy’s age twice in complaining of a supposed campaign of vilification against her, as though we should be more forgiving of people who should know better. Again: nonsense on stilts.

    It’s a favourite tabloid trick to describe someone they want to support against more rational critics as, say, a “grandmother (of seven)” or a “pensioner” or a “war veteran” or, as you do, “an old woman in her sixties”—I don’t think most people these days would remark upon someone in their sixties, least of all a woman, as being “old”—and as for “little old ladies”: this myth-of-virtue is so hackneyed that Viz comic built a recurring character around it.

    All the tabloids—I checked every single one on the shelves in the Co-Op—used the same tired rhetorical trick in their sympathetic portrayal of Ms Duffy. Even freaking BBC Radio 4 was referring to her as the North West of England’s answer to Mother Theresa. I’ll grant you The Guardian has probably been rude about her, but I stopped reading that long ago—as national newspapers go, it’s a moral cesspit outdone only by The Daily Mail and The Express.

    Unless she’s suffering from dementia or the normal physiological effects of extreme old age, Ms Duffy’s status as a female(!) OAP is no excuse for her ignorance and phobia and it has no relevance to the question of how we should judge her words or how polite we should be to her. Indeed, it’s rather more respectful of our elders to expect of them a wisdom and robustness we don’t expect of others. To do otherwise is to descend into identity politics, something that you and I are normally in agreement about.

    [Incidentally, one of the first and, as it turned out, most perceptive tweets I read as the story broke was from a Labour supporter, saying “Please, God, don’t let her be a grandmother”.]

    Returning to the central issue—it’s about time we did—let’s have a look at her words. There was a vague preamble about there being “too many vulnerable people” to be looked after, but she didn’t talk about some specific example of pressure on her or her local services or about some particular acute difficulty in her area caused by a recent arrival of outsiders in general, or even a single incident that had affected her personally.

    No, she specified people from a particular region of the World—people who (if they exist at all in her immediate vicinity) migrate precisely because they are anything but “vulnerable”—and spoke of them solely in terms of their perceived place of origin. It wasn’t a crisis she was complaining about; it was a geographical population. For her, their “Eastern Europeaness” was the “problem”.

    There is no excuse for this.

    There is no reason why anyone should treat that kind of attitude, expressed in the public, with anything other than contempt.

    You might have talked about her “mild confusion about her community changing around her”, but she certainly didn’t. Still, again, I am going to be generous here. Let’s fantasize that she really had made some preliminary observations that were actually pertinent before summoning up the Easter European bogeypeople. Is there evidence that “her community is changing around her”?

    Is there flock.

    Let’s look at the facts that her words supposedly refer to. What she thinks of as “Eastern” Europeans are almost certainly Central Europeans, probably mostly Poles. (We are always at a serious disadvantage when addressing the imagined threats that fuel bigotry: it’s hard to work out exactly exactly which non-existent menace out of the infinite number available that bigots need to be reassured about.) But, to Duffy, “they” are an oriental blob, whose motivations her comical rhetorical question suggests she can’t even be bothered to divine, despite the unspecified unpleasantness their supposed “flocking” has brought with it.

    I say “imagined” because this “flocking” is a figment of a tabloid-fuelled imagination. Do you seriously believe Poles (or actual Eastern Europeans) are “flocking” to Rochdale? Look at this map. Even accepting that the absolute numbers (being of registered migrants—though there’s no reason why EU citizens should hide from the authorities) plotted underestimate the extent of actual Eastern European immigration, do you notice a raging hotspot north-east of Manchester? I don’t.

    This is something I’ve spoken about here on PooterGeek before. Some of the most conspicuously xenophobic parts of the UK are not, despite the claims of apologists for saloon bar racists, the ones with comparatively high local levels of immigration; they’re often (but not always) the regions with high levels of ignorance and a lack of exposure to other cultures. I know because I grew up in one. (Ironically, Rochdale has a relatively large, non-white population, but, like Birmingham’s used to be, it tends to be concentrated in “islands” away from white areas.)

    Not only is there documented electoral evidence of this from the time when Britain elected openly racist MPs, but at least one polling organisation (possibly two) have consistently measured negative or no correlation between local immigration and racism. There’s also this, from the IPPR, but their statistics were collected in the context of a report in which they had a point to make so I’m not going to push that too hard. It’s still better than anything you have to offer in support of your claim.

    What areas like the north Midlands also have in common is precisely not that “you can’t talk about immigrants” there. What such areas have in common is that their voters talk about nothing but immigrants. I know this from talking to doorstep canvassers and from canvassing myself. When racist MPs were elected in the north Midlands, they were elected because lies about immigration went from being shared, to being socially acceptable, to being electoral priorities—all “justified” by vanishingly small numbers of actual immigrants, who, if they have any sense, go somewhere else.

    (Do you think, during the Reformation, that Britain’s top witch-finding regions had more witches than the rest of the country?)

    Your claim that my accusations about the moral character of BNP officials are “desperate” are hilarious, when set against that party’s alternately criminal and comical election campaign itself. (You might expect their behaviour to be slightly better when the attention is on them.) This is a party whose Head of Publicity was arrested for death threats against its leader. What planet are you living on?

    Having dealt with a landslide of whatabouttery—and I’m not going to be dragged back to it again by anything further you write—I am, finally, going to address the following sentence you typed because, although it is at least relevant, it illustrates perfectly that you paid scant attention to what I’ve actually written:

    It is you who said that every single person who votes BNP does so because they are racists.

    Come back again after you’ve read the first comment under the original post and my correction underneath it. Indeed, come back after you’ve read my original post and we can have a discussion about that that might be worth other people’s time. Little of the above has been worth mine.

3 Trackbacks

  1. By #bigotgate « wongaBlog on 28Apr10 at 22:57

    […] Pootergeek sums it up nicely, and I'd add two points. Firstly, reading the transcript, Gordon Brown initially replied with: A million people come from Europe but a million people, British people, have gone into Europe. You do know that there's a lot of British people staying in Europe as well? […]

  2. […] point out, all candidates have badmouthed voters behind their backs at sometime, maybe with less justification than Brown had. Instead, Brown’s most outrageous remark was: Should never have put me with that […]

  3. By Assimilation – PooterGeek on 26Jul10 at 17:23

    […] to my most recent extended comment on That Bigoted Woman, I note The Mirror reports that Gillian Duffy, who wondered during the UK […]

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