October 06, 2004

Hegel remarks somewhere

One of the causes pursued by the Left in the Eighties was the right of a Constituency Labour Party to select the MP of its choice, and hence to deselect a sitting member if it chose. For this, it was almost universally condemned for being "undemocratic", an accusation so stupid as to strip all meaning from the word. Appropriately so, too, since in the discourse of mainstream political commentary undemocratic doesn't really mean undemocratic but largely means favouring the left.

It doesn't mean imposing an unwanted candidate on a constituency party: still less does it mean trying to keep third-party candidates off the ballot. It's undemocratic to have a strike without a ballot: it's not undemocratic for a ballot to go in favour of a strike and then for the strike to be called off. (And if they stuff the ballot to prevent a strike, it's an obscure story on an inside page. Where would it be if they had stuffed it to win a strike vote?) Boy, we used to have fun in the Eighties complaining about the media.

Anyway, the actual reason people wanted the right to reselection all those years ago was this: they wanted to get rid of people like Robert Kilroy-Silk. How to get rid of him now, that's a bigger problem. There's no doubt that Kilroy-Silk sees himself as the Enoch Powell de nos jours, playing the xenophobic and anti-immigrant card for all it's worth - it's the only politics he's got - and trying to establish himself as the country's leading demagogue of the Right. Nick Griffin - he's a thug. But Kilroy-Silk, charming and handsome even in his own opinion, he's somebody people might vote for.

I don't know, if some people reckon Lindbergh might have become President - or seeing as Ronald Reagan did - then I suppose we can imagine the quondam chat-show host tearing up the country over the next few years telling ever taller and shriller tales about the fiendish Europeans and the persecuted white people of old England. He wouldn't be the first would-be figurehead to have spent time as a Labour MP.

But there's something fundamentally absurd about the whole thing, something cartoonish, or closer to a sitcom, a Tooting Popular Front if Wolfie Smith had had the politics of Tim Brooke-Taylor in The Goodies. Or if not a sitcom, I'm A Celebrity, in which the joke has always been that the celebrities are has-beens, who will do anything for a chance to be back on the telly. Frank Maloney as mayoral candidate for London? Jonathan Aitken waiting in the wings?

Of course there has always been this clownish aspect to rightwing demagoguery. One thinks of PG Wodehouse:

"The trouble with you, Spode, is that because you have succeeded in inducing a handful of halfwits to disfigure the London scene by going about in black shorts, you think you're someone. You hear them shouting 'Heil, Spode!' and you imagine it is the Voice of the People. That is where you make your bloomer. What the Voice of the People is saying is: 'Look at that frightful ass Spode swanking about in footer bags! Did you ever in your puff see such a perfect perisher?"
and of Orwell, in far from his best essay:

Why is the goose-step not used in England? There are, heaven knows, plenty of army officers who would be only too glad to introduce some such thing. It is not used because the people in the street would laugh.

They're commonly-quoted passages, and one would expect to see them rolled out again in the near future, if Kilroy-Silk doesn't disappear in a puff of flashbulbs some time during the next election campaign. But it's absurd all the same. Mosley made himself ridiculous by his descent into demagoguery, and even then it was more frightening than ludicrous. But he didn't start that way. Powell, too, was a serious figure, a leading member of the Shadow Cabinet, someone who could read and think and still appeal to people who did neither.

But Kilroy-Silk has always been ridiculous. Ridiculous when writing for the ridiculous Express, ridiculous in all the years he hosted his ridiculous TV show and ridiculous when he was a Labour MP with nothing much more to his political philosophy than not being connected with the Militant (though that was more than good enough for the ridiculous Neil Kinnock). Nick Griffin, like Mosley, is at least frightening. Kilroy-Silk just makes me laugh, as if Captain Mainwaring were playing at being Hitler. He might look at himself in the mirror and think of Enoch Powell. I think of Marx and the Eighteenth Brumaire:

The first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.


At October 06, 2004 5:55 pm, Blogger Ivy Dillinger said...

Extremely well said.

At July 29, 2005 6:07 pm, Blogger Snowball said...

What Ivy Dillinger said.

There was a time when I was worried about Kilroy - when I thought he could be 'the British Pim Fortyn' (racist Dutch populist). The two had much in common, coming from social democratic parties and celebrity status to start attacking Islam and migrant workers. However, while Fortyn, before his, er, untimely demise, built a semi-successful far-right party in Holland - Kilroy failed miserably to do this with Veritas. Farcical indeed.


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