It’s hate Jim, but not as we know it.
Some of the vitriol expressed on the morning after the recent UK General Election was a tad gut-wrenching. Social media contributors whose votes had not had the desired effect told their ‘friends’ in no uncertain terms where they should go, what they should do and which implements should be inserted in which orifices. The depth of their disappointment was understandable, as few had foreseen the size of the political landslide. Hopers were hurting; and hating.
The shock was palpable from the moment the exit polls were released at 10pm on 12th December, and the dawn of Friday 13th brought a grotesque reality for those who had desired a different outcome. Persons who had placed their X in specified boxes were told they should ‘unfriend’ immediately. It’s wretchedly ironic that virtual friendships should end for academic reasons. None of it is real.
Friendship can be fickle but it is sad when it is terminally triggered by the political. If we cannot be friends with others who think differently then collaboration is incapacitated, stability is threatened, and harmony is critically endangered. The election itself, the causes of it, and the perceived need for it, were all founded on the fracturing of friendships.
The cultural convalescence that followed the Second World War saw a global surge in political affiliation. The United Nations, NATO, and the European Union were all founded between 1945 and 1960. Political leaders horrified by the ultimate expression of nationalism were eager to implement peaceful prevention in preference to painful cure. We appear to be in retreat from this kind of thinking.
The UK did not join the EU until 1973 but throughout the post-war phase there was a prevalent will to collaborate with our near-neighbours as Europe was rebuilt. The desire of some Britons to leave the EU after over forty years grew out of frustration, distrust, disagreement and, it has to be said, a degree of xenophobia. Nationalism is the expression of exclusion. It purports to be based on unity, but is actually defined by a dislike of the ‘other’. The same might be said of political affiliation.
The race card is readily played in political debates and it has brought about many highly desirable outcomes for improved relations. There are many more yet to be realised, but its use has also served to promote the notion of race as a real state of being, whereas it is an entirely artificial concept.
Race does not have an inherent physical or biological meaning. Physical attributes were not originally part of the concept. Initially the notion of race was to denote those who spoke a common language, and then those who shared the same national affiliations. Oh dear – national affiliations! The notion that our national affiliation might determine our ‘race’ is more than a little unsettling. The hatred expressed after recent political events does have unpleasant reverberations with what we might recognise as racism. All classification of human grouping is artificial. To act prejudicially towards someone simply because they are presumed to have a particular affiliation is hateful.
The electoral system in the UK was devised at a time when a voter was much more likely to be familiar with the local candidate than the leader of that person’s politically party. How many of those who voted in December 2019 know more about their MP than they do about Boris Johnson or Jeremy Corbyn? Yet under our system it is our local MP that we elect. A person cannot become a Prime Minister unless they first become a member of parliament. In the 2019 election a lot of local MPs were used as pawns in trying to determine who should or should not enter Number 10, and in doing so voters may have empowered a future prime minister while paying scant attention to that person’s qualities. Many of those votes were based on a phobia of the ‘other’.
The referendum that brought about Brexit and the election that finally secured it were both heavily influenced by a dislike of the ‘other’. Divisions in the country and within political parties perpetuate that particular reaction, and there are rumblings that more decisions hiding behind the charade of nationalism will herald even further division. National identity is determined as much as by who is not included as it is by who is. The tendency towards division within international relations, national politics and even political parties, serves to amplify differences rather than reinforce commonalities.
The greater good can surely only be served by greater numbers of collaborators working together to improve the lives of greater numbers of citizens, no matter where they reside.
So, Britannia exits the European stage and makes off into the wings where she can have complete command of her introspective dialogue, and change her costume to suit herself, but from where she can engage far fewer minds and change far fewer lives. Let’s not blame the audience if they don’t throw bouquets.
From Ice & Lemon:
I always played on my northern heritage. My audience generally wanted me to be an exotic curiosity who kept whippets and a flat cap, so I took that line to begin with.
Wherever I played there was always a degree of prejudice to be faced and I learned, as all stand-ups learn, that you can’t demolish the barrier and you certainly can’t climb over it. You have to win approval. If you do, then those who build the barriers might deconstruct them.
You are always an outsider. You are always a foreigner. If you are abroad, the distinction is obvious, but even in your own country it’s there. If you are playing in the south, you’re a northerner. If on the other hand you’re so far north you are in Scotland then you are a soft Sassenach southerner. If you’re in the North East then you’re from the North West. If you’re in the North West, you’re not from this town. If you are from this town, you’re from the wrong part of this town. Even in your own local club, you’re from the wrong street, or the wrong end, or wrong side of it.
The best tactic is to attack a local rival tribe. You can use the same gags; you just change the label. Ultimately, it’s all a kind of cruelty. All humour is cruel. Not in a strict academic sense, I’m sure, but generally it is. It relies on belittling, even if it is only the belittling of oneself. As the focus of the humour falls, so the person who laughs is raised by comparison. Cruelty is constantly with us, but always in a fashionable disguise. Fashions change but the cruel fun remains.
Did you hear the one about the English comedian who . . .
Extracted from Chapter Two: Grim up north
 Barnshaw, John (2008). “Race”. In Schaefer, Richard T. (ed.). Encyclopedia of Race, Ethnicity, and Society, Volume 1. SAGE Publications. pp. 1091–3. ISBN 978-1-45-226586-5.