Monday, August 27, 2007

I’ve just had a conversation with a bloke called Ferdie.

You know how it is, you’re sitting on Maze Hill station waiting for your train up to Plumstead with your mate James, nice sunny day for a change, when the geezer two plastic seats down from you in what passes for a shelter, the guy you’ve just helped out by telling him that, yeah, there are trains running today even if there is nothing up on the board, the guy who's given you the obligatory hard-luck story about having lost his bus pass and is now sipping his can of Tennant’s Super as you quite resolutely stare at the ground suspecting he’s going to hit you up for money, suddenly strikes up a conversation.

The country’s going down the shitter as there are too many immigrants. Up in Woolwich, specifically, there are too many Africans, too many Somalians, they’re destroying the traditional British way of life, they don’t have any respect, they don’t want to assimilate, they’re undermining the country’s values. Tony Blair is to blame and nobody can see that he and the Labour party don’t give a shit about the working man. The guy’s called Ferdie. Ferdie says that the only parties he has respect for are the BNP and the Green Party. At least they stand for something.

My ears prick up at this point. Up to then I’ve been leaving James to “handle” the conversation, which he’s been doing quite nicely with a series of non-commital “yeah mates” mindful of the fact that this may not be Ferdie’s first can of the day and that he has a big scar running along his left cheek and terminating at the corner of his mouth. A pretty serious scar. I’m interested for two reasons, firstly as I’ve always suspected that the BNP and the Green Party are going to make big gains in the near future, the only parties capable of capturing any kind of fallout from the long dire years of Thatcherite Centrism and largely because a local Green councillor I work with has often said that traditional, disillusioned Labour voters will often, when canvassed, say that they’ll vote BNP first choice, Green second if anyone stands in their ward. The second reason is that Ferdie’s black.

So we start talking politics. Unusual enough for anyone to strike up a politically based conversation anywhere in civilian life these days, even more unusual for you to get a largely pro-BNP, forty year old black guy of Jamaican extraction getting into it with you. Ferdie is sure that a lot of BNP supporters wouldn’t necessarily have a problem with a black member, that there may be initial hostility but eventually once the shared values/ “Britishness” was acknowledged, then skin colour as such would become unimportant. This is largely a Blairite rhetoric of “values”, of course, though I don’t mention this and I can sense Ferdie imagining a kind of Rainbow British National Party. He thinks that in order to get elected the BNP will have to get disaffected second and third generation working class blacks and Asians on board. I nod along, keen to hear more.

And there is more. It’s not just this though, it’s the way immigrants are driving down wages. Ferdie’s brother is a painter and decorator. The going rate for a painter and decorator these days, so his brother’s boss has informed him, is forty quid a day. It used to be seventy. Ferdie’s brother can’t live on forty quid a day but Polish labourers who are, short-to-mid term, going to sleep three to a room and send the surplus money back home can. From seventy a day to forty a day? We’re going backwards! Ferdie’s prediction is that ten years down the line London is going to be even more of a radically ghettoised shit hole than it is now. After all, the authentic Brits are leaving for Australia and South Africa in droves and the people who are coming in are all waves of cheap labour from the benighted parts of the earth. It’s a feasible vision of the London of the future that Ferdie spys but doesn’t quite express. A series of barracks, all vestige of the overarchingly social or cultural gone, turned over exclusively to business and largely populated by unassimilated immigrants all working to undercut each other in “the race to the bottom.” Why even bother moving your business around to find the cheap labour. The unfettered movement of capital and labour? Save on expenses. Let them come to you.

The conversation then drifts off to the Iraq war and talk of the Illuminati, at which point my heart sinks a bit. Conspiracy theories and the BNP. It speaks volumes about the death of the Left. Then he’s getting off at Woolwich and we’re left looking at each other, James and I. What is our response to this discourse which, if it came from the mouth of a white guy of similar age would have us screaming racist and condemning him as the worst of the worst?

There’s an extent to which the fact that it’s a black guy, and a working class one at that saying these things that allows us, as white semi-liberals to listen with a degree of sympathy. Ferdie’s “black racism” (which is what his friends call it) if it really is that and not just despair with the prevailing Neo-liberal ethos looking for expression and finding the Left incapable of channelling it for him (he’s always voted Labour apparently, but wouldn’t anymore) is a head spinner and also disabling to a degree. There’s a part of me that feels I have to grant credence to views that, were they coming from a working class white guy I would immediately and violently dismiss. Is that racism on my part, some spurious “authenticity” I’m granting to Ferdie’s voice, that I feel I have the right to deny to others, or is it just the sheer novelty of it? Maybe it’s also that it allows me access to a discourse that otherwise is too contentious and too tainted to really engage with. Immigration. Any idea of “Our Culture”, a bedrock culture that needs to be protected in the face of a discourse of cultural motility and how closely that might align with a Neo liberal agenda. It’s also because there is pathos in Ferdie’s desire for a multicultural BNP that would restore British Values, look after British Jobs and support British Culture, an element that just wouldn’t be there if he were white. Ferdie’s problem may be that he’s simply more working class than he is black, that his identification is much more strongly with his class and his nationality than with his roots and his “ethnicity.” British, working-class, black. In that order.

It’s a strange and difficult, oddly moving conversation that I’m still puzzling over and getting down here in order to think over it some more when James rings me and tells me that his best friend Jodi, also black, knows a couple of other black BNP supporters. We think they may all be Jamaicans and it’s some anti-African thing (I mean but EVEN SO!) but that’s quickly scotched. The idea that the BNP is picking up votes from the Left is nothing new, that they’re doing so irrespective of ethnicity seems absurd, but then, isn’t this the stubborn ineradicable trace of class cutting through identarian politics? Suddenly the idea of a multiracial, anti-immigrant and determinedly mono-cultural British National Party is looming in my head and I don’t know what to do with it. Suddenly, vertiginously, I feel that all the old categories, all the old assumptions and allegiances, really are dead and that bizarre, counter-intuitive new political formulations are springing up.

Ten years down the line, really, what is this place going to look like?


Dominic said...

Le Pen has been making the same moves for some time: it's not (explicitly) about race any more, it's about "national culture", "shared values" and "standing up for the interests of the working man". To be a true French citizen is to have transcended race: only the immigrants are racialized (and they do it to themselves, by stubbornly clinging on to their unassimilated ethnic identities)...

So yes, I can see the BNP mobilizing black and asian Britons against the Somalis, the Afghans, the Kurds etc. - and using this to defend themselves against accusations of whites-only racial bigotry. It's tricky for them, because much of their core constituency is old-fashioned "white pride" racists, but that's definitely where their leadership is trying to take them. Once they get there, they won't seem all that different from Labour or the Conservatives on immigration "issues".

It's a depressing thought, but so far the basic political incompetence and ingrained thickery of the fash has given the organised left opposition a relatively easy ride...

Anonymous said...

Great post Carl. I've linked to it.

Dominic - I think you're spot on with your last paragraph. If the BNP lost its paranoid nutters and got its act together, they could make some serious headway.

Anonymous said...

The BNP have for several years been playing down their anti-coloured aspects and emphasising an anti-Muslim stance, so this is hardly a surprise.

It's also worth pointing out that the rainbow coalition is a bit of a myth outside the middle class socialist circles. It's widely known that Hindu, Sikhs and Muslims show some mutual suspicion. In your story you also mention a West Indian - African antipathy. From my own personal experience I have seen plenty of evidence of this. Recently I spent 30 minutes in the company of a black west Indian woman who spent the entire time complaining about Africans in proto BNP language. West Indians do not forget who sold them into slavery in the first place even if white middle class liberals do. The occasion was the reporting of an ex-West African Ligali member disrupting the slavery abolition service.

Interesting times.

Laban said...

Who's the bloke in the picture ?

Anonymous said...

Isn't it one of the BNP's candidates?

The Bournemouth Nationalist said...

If I'm not mistaken, that is picture of Sharif Gawad was the British National Party's candidate in a Bradford city council ward in the UK local elections, 2006.

Caused one hell of a stir amongst the racists of Stormfront who couldn't help themselves and naturaly assumed( as they do) he is a pakistani muslim. Sharif is in fact of Greek-Armenian heritige. His grandfather was an Armenian Christian who fled to Britain as a refugee.

Top post by the way Carl and very thought provoking on all sides I think

Anonymous said...

Never seen this blog before. I’m going to stick my oar in, if that’s OK.

I am a policeman in London. Not long ago I was out on foot (it does happen sometimes) patrolling with a female colleague (who I think highly of and if it wasn’t for “her indoors” would be chasing about!!). We were talking about all the usual rubbish (Jamie Oliver v Rick Stien v Keith “the boss” Floyd) and drifted onto what time we got up to start our day. We were both on Late shifts and due to finish at 2300. She had to get up at something silly (think it was 0530) to get her daughter (she’s a single parent) to school on time. The school was halfway across London.

I was stunned. “Was there no school closer?” I asked. She said “Yes. But there are too many black kids at them”. I was a bit surprised because my colleague is black. I asked her to explain herself. She told me about nearer schools being severely disrupted by kids from “African families just off the ‘plane who just want to rob and steal and have no respect for anyone”. She then went on about not wanting her child to be at a school where English was a second language.

It slapped me in the face like a wet kipper. Recent trends towards unrestricted migration and PC dogma are having a hugely negative effect on my colleague and her child regardless of their supposed “minority status”.

A few days later I helped an old Caribbean Woman onto a bus with her shopping (I was working and it seemed like a nice thing to do). As She sat and I stood, she launched into a tirade about Africans and Asians (from what she was saying she was talking about Muslims) and about how they’re ruining the country and London was not the place she came to in the 60’s. She even complained that the Cockney accent was no longer heard.

I think they both have a point.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post. You should be writing for the Guardian/the Times

And this kind of enlightening post is the kind of thing Londoners need to read about.

Came in via Steve at PP

Anonymous said...

...if it came from the mouth of a white guy of similar age would have us screaming racist and condemning him as the worst of the worst?


There’s a part of me that feels I have to grant credence to views that, were they coming from a working class white guy I would immediately and violently dismiss.

Yeah, OK -- I get it.

Well, on behalf of all 'white guys' who hold such views -- about "the traditional British way of life" and its value, as well as how the on-the-ground reality of what the availability of cheap immigrant labor is affecting the ability of the un- and low-skilled to earn a living -- I guess I ought to say thank you for actually thinking a bit about all of that rather than following what obviously seems to be in your case the well-rehearsed politically correct script.

You condescending ass.

Unknown said...

Anonymous, it's not easy for left wing types to admit a kind of bias against white working class as racist or dumb. I sincerely applaud this persons honesty. You on the other hand just seem to have a bee in your bonnet. But it's not the posters fault that left wing thought is generally that way at the moment. If you want things to change for the better you have to applaud those who see it that way too.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, should be:

..., as well as how the on-the-ground reality of the availability of cheap immigrant labor is affecting the ability of the un- and low-skilled to earn a living --...

Anonymous said...

If you want things to change for the better you have to applaud those who see it that way too.

I'll think about that. But right now I just 'don't see it that way'. Because IMO there is no more important issue facing Britain, and this type of debased 'thinking' has dominated the political scene for far too long already. And I lost patience with it some time ago.

Dominic said...

What a charming collection of Eustonians and Enoch-was-righters! Looking forward to your next March for Free Expression together, guys?

ba ba said...

BN wrote;

If I'm not mistaken, that is picture of Sharif Gawad was the British National Party's candidate in a Bradford city council ward in the UK local elections, 2006.

Yup, that's who he is.


Anonymous said...

Have you ever heard of internalised homophobia?

Example: I'm gay, but I'm a real guy, as opposed to those sissy queens who give us a bad reputation. (Now let's go to the leather bar and fuck as many whores as we can.)

And now, for a second act, internalised ethno-xenophobia.

Example: I'm black, but I'm not like those darkies who smell bad, eat with their hands and give us a bad reputation. (Now I have to hurry home, the Royal Variety Show's gonna be on soon and it's disrespectful to ignore the Queen.)

Amazing how self-victimisation, half-baked scape goats and a gigantic dose of narcissistic self-pity can turn responsible and creative human beings with the power to succeed into lame opportunists ready to align themselves with oppressive powers just to feel better about themselves.

If you want to vote fascist, then do, but at least be consequent and do it for nihilistic fun. I am not responsible for your shitty life and I should not have to pay for your misery by seeing conscription become a reality again and homosexuality turned into a crime once more.

ba ba said...

Does that work for internalised hatred too?

Like, you hate something, but you don't show it, so you end up hating yourself?

Just a thought.

Anonymous said...

Hi Carl
Just to clarify, I don't think I said (or didn't mean to say if I did!) that people often vote BNP then Green, just that, along with every other bizarre combination of votes (1st vote Tory, 2nd vote RESPECT was quite common in the last GLA elections)it happens.

Anonymous said...

Well the purpose of mass immigration IS to drive down wages of the working class. That's why the ruling class promote it.

The immigrants themselves ARE genuinely here to try to improve their opportunities and living standards.

It's a genuine double-bind for anybody with a social conscience. There's no cosy, ideologically sound position to take on this issue any more.

Anonymous said...

Amazing how the British left can *still* believe they have the moral high ground, even after they have completely screwed the lives of 2-3 generations of native British working class, and changed a relatively peaceful and prosperous country into a Balkanized collection of hate filled tribes.

Still, I guess if you're brought up in some leafy suburbia, and only read the Guardian and watch the BBC, then I suppose that reality need not impinge.

You are still evil slime, however - ignorance of reality is no excuse.

Dominic said...

I've got a message for you, all you tortured boys and girls...

ASHDAV said...

To j jim jameson - just when was Britain a relatively prosperous and peaceful country? Before the first waves of mass immigration British people were still fresh from the war, rebuilding their cities after being bombed by Nazis like you and queuing up at the butchers with their ration books.

And as for the left screwing the native British working class.. when has the left actually been in power? I suppose by your paranoid standards Thatcher and Blair are the left, in which case you not only have no sense of history but you're also way out on a limb, so don't give me that spurious working class hero man-on-the-street bollocks - YAWN!

And as for your standards, don't judge ordinary, decent British people by them. Most of us do not belong to hate filled tribes - we only hate people like YOU.

Anonymous said...

Sharif Gawad is an alohlic junkie has been since the age of 18 who's father is actually an egyptian muslim from Alexandria and his mother is english and he has never eaten pork. He's gone from being an hard core anacist, fundimetilist to BNP,he's a very mixed up man who'll do any thing for attention and it looks like it's working. His lying ability is out standing perfect candidate material!

Anonymous said...

this guy is also on benifits to feed his habit,what are the bnp thinking????????????