Wednesday, June 16, 2004

how we got here, part one

His answer was Ukip. I had wondered whose answer it was, since the polls were showing heavy Ukip support, and yet no one I knew or met thought that the party of Kilroy, Collins and disgraced former Tory MPs was anything but a vaudeville turn. How could you appeal to the ordinary voter's sense of the authentic by presenting them with a gaggle of chemically-bronzed, face-lifted, tooth-whitened prison-penitents?

Comrade Aaronovitch wants to know. It’s a bit of a puzzle to him how we got here. And it’s dangerous apparently. Deviation from the path of the blessed Tony is a one way street to perdition, or at least Poujade. It would be less of a puzzle if he looked for the origins of UKIP in the politics of the past few years.

Take Kilroy, for instance. It’s taken for granted that the ability to perform for media is part of a modern politician’s skill set. And the daytime TV is our Prime Minister’s own favoured arena for communing with his people. So who says a daytime telly fuhrer can’t front a political party? Eventually the professionals always take over.

And then there’s the vision-of-Britain-thing. I seem to recall that “reclaiming patriotism” was an essential part of what I believe used to be called the New Labour Project. I also seem to recall something called New Britain, a soundbite of long ago. I even seem to recall Peter Mandelson walking round the place accompanied by a bulldog with unfeasibly large testicles. Behold the balls of my bulldog, he seemed to say. Look at them swing! Do they not refute forever the notion that we in New Labour are inveterate handwringers and peaceniks?

Yes, indeed. But having whetted everybody’s appetites, what did they come up with? A lot of buzzwords. Britain was new. It was young. It was dynamic. But what it actually was and who the kind of people who represented it were was always a bit of a mystery. Gay dotcom entrepreneurs? One joke conceptual artists? Funky property developers? Permatanned makeover show hostesses? Don’t forget the ringing slogan: Hey everybody – we’ve got restaurants!

But we have reclaimed the St George’s flag. Grown men can now walk the streets, their faces painted white with a big red cross in the middle, safe in the knowledge that they’re not going to be pecked to death by lesbians. As a grown man, I say: thanks a fucking bunch.

Ukip’s own vision of Britain stuff is a big, steaming pile of John Bullshit taken straight out of the Boys Book of British Battles. But so what? The nation is an imagined community. New Labour‘s imagined community seemed to be produced by people with no imagination at all. They’re not in a position to complain when other people come along and make a better job of it. Like I say, it’s bullshit. But it’s bullshit with heritage, my friends. It’s bullshit with traction.