BBc Drama about Fascist Radicalisation of Deprived White Youth

Next week’s Radio Times also says that next Wednesday, 10th July 2019, there’s a drama, The Left Behind, on BBC 1 at 10.35 pm after the news about young White men drawn into Fascism. The play’s set in an unnamed Welsh town, and is about a working class lad, Gethin, who becomes increasingly radicalised as his life collapses through poverty. The blurb for it on page 78 of the magazine runs

Factual drama from the Bafta award-winning team behind Killed by My Debt and Murdered by My Boyfriend. Gethin is a working-class teenager in a south Wales town with no secure job, housing or future. As he seeks solace online, he is increasingly attracted to anti-immigrant sentiment as a way of explaining why he’s been “left behind” in his own country.

The additional piece about it by Alison Graham on page 77 runs

Gethin is a nice lad, part of a fractured family, but he is close to his sister and niece. He has a handful of good mates and not much of a job – he’s on a zero-hours contract in a fast food takeaway shop.

But the fates conspire to send Gethin (Sion Daniel Young, who is excellent) completely off the rails as the fragile thread that hold his life together unravel and snap, leading to tragedy.

The Left Behind looks at the rise of far-right extremism in the poorer parts of Britain through the prism of Gethin, a young man looking for easy targets who blames outsider for robbing him of everything worthwhile.

The mag also has a feature about the programme on pages 20-21 by Claire Webb, pointing out the working class roots of the play’s author, Alan Harris. Harris’ parents were forced to sell their house in Tonteg, near Cardiff, when he was a child, and he grew up in a caravan on his grandfather’s smallholding. After he graduated, he had a series of poorly-paid jobs, including selling Santa hats in the street and working in a car park. He was also homeless for a time, sleeping on friends sofas or in their spare rooms. He got his break into theatre after training as a journalist and submitting scripts to a theatre group encouraging new writers. The article quotes him as saying ‘We don’t see honest stories of White working class men.’ It also states that he spent a lot of time talking to people using food banks and a community centre in one of Cardiff’s most deprived suburbs. He says

“They told me people feel powerless,” he says. “It is a case of being left behind, but it’s also a case of being left out. There are a lot of people in the UK who have no hope of progressing, and once hope is gone, a wedge is driven between different sections of our society and extremism is very good at exploiting that wedge. Online radicalisation does that well: it turns personal problems into a crusade.”

The article contains the chilling statistic that in 2018 there was a 36% increase in the number of far-right extremists referred to the government’s Prevent programme. Harris spoke to a counterterrorism expert working on the programme as part of his research. It says he was frightened by how quickly people can become radicalised, and how the far-right organisations have smartened up their act.

“These are well organised, respectable-looking organisations,” he explains. “They don’t turn up in red braces with a skinhead. They turn up in a suit with a much more professional attitude. They realised that the old model wasn’t working from a recruiting point of view.”

The article also states that these organisations’ supporters are concentrated in Britain’s post-industrial towns and cities, which is why the drama’s producers set in south Wales.

To the possible objection that the programme is a sympathetic treatment of a violent extremist, Harris replies that we need to under where they’re coming from if we are to tackle domestic terrorism.

“Society tries to ignore these things but they’re happening, whether we like it or not. Understanding these people is a movement towards making society better.”

For one scene, in which a chipper councillor is confronted by residents angry at the lack of social housing, the producers used working class extras drawn from that area, and asked them to improvise. And their raw, pent up anger exploded. They ripped the councillor to shreds to the point where Harris felt sorry for the actor.

Asked if he was apprehensive that Cardiff’s working class communities would be offended by the drama, Harris replies

“Not at all. I think it’s a good thing to shine a light on the problems that some people experience. Hopefully those issues of housing, of employment, will ring true with a lot of people from Cardiff and the surrounding area. Hopefully it’s bits of their lives reflected back at them. I don’t have all the answers, but at least we can ask questions.”

While this isn’t a programme I can I’d like to watch, it does seem to be an honest attempt to grapple with the underlying issues behind the far-right’s attempts to reach out and recruit disenfranchised working class Whites. But the responsibility for the growth in racism goes far beyond the Fascist right itself, right to the heart of the neoliberal establishment. At one level, the Nazis are only building on the extreme nationalism and racism that’s been pushed for decades by the Tories and the Tory press – the Scum and the Heil are two notorious examples. But it also includes the supposedly more upmarket Spectator, which, as the Sage of Crewe has pointed out, employs the anti-Semitic Taki and is increasingly Alt Right.

And among the causes of the growth of Fascism in this country is Blair and the New Labour project. Blair abandoned socialism and the party’s traditional working class base to appeal instead to Tory swing voters. They fully embraced and participated in the destruction of the NHS and the welfare state, with Gordon Brown particularly enthusiastic about encouraging a flexible job market. In other words, job insecurity. And Tony Greenstein has repeatedly pointed out how hollow and non-existent are the Blairites’ attempts to deal with Fascism. Margaret Hodge, now the darling of the anti-Semitism smear merchants, was so negligent in her treatment of the growth of Fascism in her constituency, that the BNP actually sent her flowers when seven of their stormtroopers were elected on to Tower Hamlets local council. As for Tom Watson, he was a friend of Phil Woolas, a New Labour politico, who ran a very racist campaign against a Lib Dem opponent, claiming that he was soft on immigration and encouraged Muslim radicalisation. Woolas said that his campaign was about getting White men angry. And David Rosenberg on his blog warned that the anti-Semitism witchhunt was designed to purge the Labour movement of genuine Left-wingers and anti-racists, and that this was damaging real opposition to Fascism in working class communities. The witchhunt and Blairism meant that recent anti-racist counterprotests were, for the first time, outnumbered by the Fascists. And to add insult to injury, the Nazis chanted ‘Anti-Semites! Anti-Semites!’ at their genuinely anti-racist opponents. Rosenberg has shown repeatedly on his blog how proper campaigning in working class communities, by socialists determined to give working people better opportunities and conditions, will devastate Fascist organisations by depriving them of the real, social and economic issues they exploit to misdirect rightly angry Whites into hating Blacks, Asians and other ethnic minorities.

The play looks like a good, honest account to deal with the growth in working class racism by showing that it is partly caused by the real despair in these communities at their poor and declining conditions. And tackling those and combating Fascism means attacking and combating the Tories and New Labour, who have caused them and seek to exploit the anger they’ve caused in turn by scapegoating ethnic minorities.

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