I didn’t watch Question Time last night. I don’t have a television. But I’ve heard excerpts on the radio. And I’ve been reading the blog comments. One that struck me forcibly came in response to Peter Hoskin of the Spectator coffee house who had asked: Did it do Nick Griffin and the BNP any good? In the comments Maggie wrote:
And that’s the problem generally, and not just with Question Time and Nick Griffin. If you’re not a member of Britain’s ‘liberal’ middle classes, or if you don’t have their set of approved values, you won’t get a word in edgeways about anything.
The smoking ban is the prime example. The smoking ban is something that has been inflicted on the British working classes by the easily-scared, health-faddist British middle classes. The British middle classes have largely stopped smoking, and they’ve largely stopped going to pubs as well. The middle classes spend most of their time at home, and they entertain at home. Round here, you never see any of the middle class residents of this little Devon village down at the River. They never, ever go. They even look a bit shocked at the suggestion that they might go there, like it was penal colony or something. But that wouldn’t stop them approving of smoking bans inside the pubs they never go to. Nor would it stop them approving of drinking bans inside them either.
The Righteous belong overwhelmingly to the middle classes. They are made up of people who have been educated enough to believe that they know everything that’s worth knowing, but not so well educated as to have become sceptical about what they hear or what they read. Not only do they truly believe that passive smoking poses a serious health threat, but they also believe every other scare story as well. And of course they believe in global warming too. It’s not that they actually know anything about epidemiological science, or climate physics. It is instead that they trust authorities. They find it quite inconceivable that authorities of any sort might lie to them about anything. It’s unthinkable. A year or so back, a friend of mine, one with a Ph.D. in biochemistry, told me how he’d taken his views on global warming ‘from the top’, from Scientific American. If global warming was true for Scientific American, then it was true for him too. And what is the Scientific American for one will be the Daily Telegraph or Daily Mail for another. They are authorities whose teachings are to be accepted entirely uncritically. Is it any wonder that our newspapers and mainstream media are filled with authoritative scaremongering stories from ‘experts’ or ‘scientists’ or ‘authorities’? They know it will all be lapped up by the British middle classes, and regurgitated whole at their dinner parties and soirees..
And MPs are drawn almost exclusively from the middle classes. There was no doubt a time, long ago, when Labour MPs were probably drawn from among the working class communities that they represented. But New Labour might be said to be middle class Labour. What roots did Tony Blair ever have in the working class? Or Gordon Brown, for that matter? Many of them – like Peter Hain and Jack Straw – are lifelong political activists in one fashionable cause or other. How many working class families are vegans like Kerry McCarthy?
And of course the media are overwhelmingly middle class as well. They are, like many in the middle classes, articulate and literate, and all too ready to voice their opinions at every possible opportunity.
And they all like nothing better, so as to demonstrate their open-mindedness, than to promote into their ranks anyone from a different ethnic or religious or cultural background – just so long as the newcomers will voice the same opinions as theirs. It goes to show just how liberal and inclusive they really are.
In this manner, the whole of British cultural life has become an echo chamber for the articulate, cultivated, and impressionable middle classes. They vote themselves into parliament, and as MPs they hear their own opinions reflected in the media, and they vote accordingly in the certain conviction that absolutely everybody agrees with them. Or at least anybody who’s anybody in their restricted social universe. And in the feedback of mutual back-slapping agreement they experience, the conviction of their own rightness only grows ever stronger. And with that growing righteousness, any disagreement becomes all the more shocking.
Which is where Nick Griffin walks back in. As the holder of an intolerable set of deviant opinions, he is an affront to their sanctimonious self-regard. How dare he disagree with them!
That, more than anything, is Nick Griffin’s principal crime. He does not belong to the settled, self-absorbed, middle class consensus of modern Britain. And for them that is intolerable.
But most likely Nick Griffin simply represents those people who no longer have a voice inside the echo chamber of middle class Britain. They are, not least, all the banned working class smokers who have been thrust out into the cold by middle class edict, and who have been left without anyone at all to speak on their behalf. For the BNP and UKIP are the only two parties in Britain who oppose the smoking ban. And it is this which must, in no small measure, underlie the growing popularity of both.