I rarely get to write the Anecdotage column these days because of the non-stop flow of fake data, invented news, staged protests and conspiranoid drivel in need of debunking. This is a shame, because personal posts can sometimes give younger people a strong flavour of what life was once about, such that – perhaps – they can grow to realise that the pernicious ideological relativists in our midst nowadays have so blatantly rewritten history, it’s no longer funny.
But none of that means it has to be shlock nostalgia and lachrymose rose-coloured Christmas on the one hand, or “by ‘eck, life were right grim then yer know?” stuff. Better to draw a link to what matters in relation to our grandchildren’s future, rather than live in a past littered with Perry Como and frosty windows.
Much of today’s subject is therefore about similarity rather than difference….and the arid continuity of it all.
Plus ça change, plus ça reste la meme chose.
In my final year at Uni (I was officially reading a joint honours in History and Politics, but mainly I was reading The Sporting Life) I shared a flat with a card-carrying member of The British Communist Party. The guy was called Ken, and as if to advertise his proclivities, he always sported a bright red scarf, knitted by his girlfriend. He was probably the most misogynist bloke I’d ever met at that time, but then nobody used the M word in 1968. I had no idea what it meant.
Ken’s little retinue of revolutionaries were much the same: they had all found muddled young ladies from private schools who found rough provincial and gritty Trots (followers of Trotsky, although almost none of them knew why) something of an aphrodisiac. These gels were ridiculed by the Trot blokes, and generally treated as arm candy by Ken’s Politburo. Without question they were trophies and – equally without any doubt at all – delighted to be humiliated, as this they saw as the difference between real men and their Something in the City fathers. It was all a little D H Lawrence and Mellors the gardener, if you follow.
The only genuine purist who kept himself apart from this clique was a bloke called Dave, and this he did because Ken’s mob were all running-dog lackey revisionists, whereas he was a Maoist already applying for teaching jobs in what was then still called Peking. Dave didn’t have a retinue, just disciples. He dressed in black at all times, never had a girlfriend, but did have an almost Messianic control over his followers – all of whom, like him, were keen readers and wavers of Mao Tse Tung’s Little Red Book.
Just as Peking has since been phonetically updated to Beijing, so too Mao has morphed into Moishe Dung – a version of the Great Leader’s name that has always put me in mind of a Jewish fertiliser dealer. Such thoughts never occurred to me in 1968, because – with one or two laudable exceptions – I thought all the anti-Democratic Left at that time to be silly, naive and posturing twerps who would be dangerous if there seemed the slightest danger of any of them achieving positions of power in later life.
I was unique among Liverpool University politics students at the time, because I had actually travelled behind the Iron Curtain, and had a Chinese girlfriend whose father’s family had been supporters of Chiang-Kai Shek. Quite probably, in 2020 that largely forgotten nationalist anti-Japanese imperialism leader is spelt Joingshe-Duk, but this is of little consequence: my anti-USSR credentials and sexual liaison with a dubious Chinese revisionist reading Computer Sciences was more than enough to label me as an archetypal bourgeois fascist sympathiser allied to the hated Boss Class.
Their view of me – the only hate-figure occasionally capable of uniting the Ken and Dave factions – was somewhat at odds with that of my Dad. From his perspective, I was a lost cause likely to join something unimaginably worse than the Baader-Meinhoff Gruppe at any moment. The evidence for this conclusion – unruly hair and oh my Gard a beard – he deemed more than enough to convict the accused, and his sister (my Auntie Molly) clinched the verdict by observing, on seeing me at the end of Fresher’s year, “Holy Mother, you look like a bloody sex-maniac”.
Pleading a case for the defence, I admitted to being nothing more seditious than a fully signed-up Young Liberal. My father retreated to a dark corner and wept copiously.
Red Ken stood for leadership of the Politics society in the final year, and was expected to win easily. When that result was announced, the Maoists under Black Dave launched a point of order and accused the Kennites of ballot-stuffing; I was named by the Daveistas as the crypto-fascist agent of repression and class traitor who had facilitated the perversion of socialist democracy. A sit-in ensued, followed by an investigation clearing Ken. The Mao faction dismissed this as a whitewash, and delared that they would not recognise Ken’s leadership.
As by this time I was thoroughly hacked off with Ken (he was an appallingly anti-social flatmate who regarded all housework as effeminate and regularly vomitted out of the window after a session of Threllfalls) I wound up voting for the Labour candidate. Dave’s troupe boycotted all meetings, and busied themselves trying to form a Class Sympathy Alliance with the Liverpool Dockers. A Long March from the Catholic Cathedral to the Pier Head was organised ‘in solidarity with dockers suffering police harassment’. On arriving at their destination, they were greeted by two banners: one said “Why aren’t you in lectures?” and the other, “Good old Enoch” – a reference to the much reviled anti-immigration MP, Enoch Powell.
The years passed and the revolution never arrived. Ken went on to become something rather important in the Bank of England currencies section, and Dave (who got a First) probably wound up in a paddy field after the Red Guards purges in China. I joined the grown-ups’ bit of the Liberal Party, and then the SDP. Disillusion set in around 1990, after which I did not vote again until 2016, when the Referendum offered revenge for forty-six years of betrayal, incompetence and corruption.
The referendum has changed nothing, and while the Labour Party has changed its spots somewhat, it attracts the same ideologically extreme and inflexible zealots once restricted to the lunatic fringe of communism. The causes have changed from Red to Green and Pink, but the attitudes and behaviour remain exactly the same – intolerant, violent, foul-mouthed, anti-Semitic, delusional and self-destructive.
Those of my age or similar will recognise all the late Sixties nonsense: slogan-yelling, marches, sit-ins (sits-in?), zero grasp of working class attitudes, a hatred of real free speech and democracy, idiotic and groundless accusations, toys being thrown out of the pram, and then farcical failure.
Equally, I hope that there are plenty of twenty-somethings out there who can see the infantile echoes down the years, rhyming with a long dead past: Not my President, selling the NHS to Trump, posh birds with gritty gobs, People’s Vote, all Leavers are racists….and then a 2019 election defeat at the hands of the very labouring classes they forgot about after the bourgeois intellectuals captured the Party.
The hairy student failures of my youth tried to live success vicariousy through the kids they wound up parenting, teaching and generally politicising into fearful conformity. I suppose one can say that they exorcised their own demons, who now live on as “liberal” forty-somethings. But when it comes to the future of a nation so many of them seem to hate, they have lost both the battles and the war.
In the forty odd years since Margaret Thatcher threw community baby out with TUC bathwater, the Left in Britain has not won a single UK general election….unless, that is, you regard the underachieving illusion of the Blair/Brown years as Left. Observe the policies, and New Labour was very clearly to the Right of Macmillan Conservatism. When Cameron took over in 2010, he inherited (and defended) a set of assumed “liberal” values which people are only now starting to question. In short, Labour’s sole contribution to countering Thatcherism was to accept its more dictatorial tendencies, and apply them to the glorification of feminists, gays and collectivism…while censoring all discussion of violent Jihadism and sexually anti-social Islam.
By the time the “Johnsonian image >><< neoliberal reality” gap has finally become first apparent and then unacceptable, it is quite possible that no genuinely Leftist administration will have been in power for half a century. In the 1960s, one said that sort of thing about the Liberal Party.
I find it hard to see how any brand widely deemed socialist could ever again gain power in Britain. The word ‘doom’ springs easily to mind….especially in the light of the mediocrity on display in the current leadership contest.
The best one can hope for is a millennial generation to emerge with a natural desire to cock a snook at its parents, and eager to create something new and inclusive – rather than old and divisive.
Heigh-ho. Enjoy your Sunday lunch.