Posts Tagged ‘The Lady’

Hunter S. Thompson and Hilary Mantel on Blowing Away Maggie Thatcher

January 31, 2016

Generation Swine Cover

Remember the fearful bate the Tories got in last year over Hilary Mantel’s short story, The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher? This was a counterfactual narrative, speculating on what would have happened if someone had managed to blow away the Leaderene, as almost happened when the IRA bomb blew up the hotel the Tory delegates were staying in during their Brighton Conference. Thatcher escaped, but it left Norman Tebbitt’s wife crippled and in a wheelchair. Unable to cope with the idea that someone might actually want to off their idol, the Tories worked themselves up into a howling frenzy, baying that the prize-winning lady novelist was encouraging terrorism.

It’s hard to see how this could be so. Mantel’s one of the great figures in contemporary literary fiction. As well as winning literary prizes and awards, her book about Thomas Cromwell, Cardinal Wolsey and the dark intrigues of the Tudor court, Wolf Hall, was turned into an acclaimed drama series by the Beeb. She’s very far from a Marxist or Irish Republican radical firebrand, let alone an Islamist jihadi, spewing hate for the Kufar and demanding the destruction of the ‘Little Satan’ by fire and sword. These groups don’t need much encouragement from genteel, respectable novelists. They’ve got their own sources of propaganda, fanning their fanaticism. I somehow don’t think they’re terribly interested in modern highbrow literature. You don’t, after all, see them hurriedly putting down the Times Literary Supplement as their latest butcher gets up to vomit out his rant in the latest beheading video from ISIS. In fact, considering that one group didn’t even have a copy of the Qu’ran, and a British jihadi had to order Islam For Dummies to get acquainted with even the rudiments of the faith he claimed to be fighting for, I’m frankly amazed that any of them can even read. Possibly they do so much screaming of ‘Allahu Akbar!’ because it’s just about the only Islamic phrase they know.

But long before Mantel raised a stir discussing Thatcher’s possible assassination, Hunter S. Thompson had done the same, in a piece addressed to his illustrator, Ralph Steadman. Steadman had been having problems with his son’s behaviour. From the letter’s contents, it appeared that his son had been smashing windows. Thompson ascribed this to the boy’s father’s own profession as a cartoonist, one of whose targets was the PM.

England is the wrong place for a boy who wants to smash windows. Because he’s right, of course. He should smash window. Anybody growing up in England today without a serious urge to smash windows is probably too dumb for help.

You are reaping the whirlwind, Ralph. Where in the name of art or anything else did you ever see anything that said you could raw queer pictures of the prime minister and call her worse than a denatured pig-but your own son shouldn’t want to smash windows

And Thompson made it very clear that he shared the lad’s anger and contempt for the Saint of Finchley:

The prime minister is a denatured pig, Ralph, and you should beat her like a gong. Draw horrible cartoons of the bitch, and sell them for many dollars to The Times and Private Eye … but don’t come weeping to me when your own son takes it into his head to smash a few windows.

He goes further, and states that the lad should be taking pot shots at Maggie, instead of just acts of petty vandalism.

You snivelling hypocritical bastard. If your son had your instincts, he’d be shooting at the Prime Minister, instead of just smashing windows.

Are you ready for that? How are you going to feel when you wake up one of these mornings and flip on the telly at Old Loose Court just in time to catch a news bulletin about the prime minister being shot through the gizzard in Piccadilly Circus … and then some B.B.C. hot rod comes up with exclusive picture of the dirty freak who did it, and he turns out to be your own son?

The piece was published in April, 1986, and was included in the volume of pieces from the great man’s journalism, Generation of Swine: Tales of Shame and Degradation in the ’80s. That first came out in 1988, and was republished by Picador in 2011. To my knowledge, the Tories signally failed to work themselves up into any lather about Thompson wondering how it is that Steadman’s son hasn’t assassinated Maggie, despite the fact that this took place at about the same time the PM’s life, as well as so many others, was threatened by Northern Irish paramilitaries. Possibly it’s because they knew humour and satire when they saw it, though that’s unlikely. More likely, they just hadn’t read it. I got the impression that the staple reading of the Tory classes, when it isn’t the Sun, is the Times and Telegraph, and the glossy magazines of the County set, like Sporting Gun, Shooting & Conservative, The Lady and Country Life. Bile-soaked pieces of radical journalism, filled with the blazing hate of the man, who invented gonzo journalism for the political classes, TV preachers and the depraved and debauched creatures prowling business and the dark undergrowth of modern society, probably wasn’t on their literary horizon. They probably didn’t notice. Either that, or they were afraid of Thompson. He was a life-long gun freak, like that other countercultural literary icon and drug fiend, William S. Burroughs. Holed up in the Rockies as he was, the Tories may have been afraid of Thompson as he had more firepower available for him than they did.

So as far as I know, they ignored Thompson’s piece on Steadman’s son and the possible shooting of the Leaderene. If they were aware of it, they probably realised it was all literary artifice and satire. Thompson probably did hate Thatcher, but he wasn’t recommending that anyone should shoot her. Not if Nixon had escaped, anyway. And they should similarly have recognised that it was all literary artifice and the craft of the novelist when Mantel too wrote her piece about the assassination of Maggie. But this was too much. By the time she wrote, they’d elevated her into a virtual saint, St. Maggie of Monetarism, the high priestess of the idolatrous cult of von Hayek and Milton Friedman. Mantel uttered blasphemy, which they just had to decry.

It shows the stupidity, emotionalism and sheer selectiveness of the Tory party when it comes to any assault on Thatcher and the squalid political values she stood for. Unable to understand literary fiction, they had to censor it instead. Just as they’re doing their level best to clamp down on ordinary free speech. Thompson, had he lived, could have had a field day with this new generation of Tory swine.

Michael Bakunin on Privilege, and the Modern Privileged Hatred of the Working Class

March 14, 2014

Owen Jones devotes a whole chapter in his book, Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class (London: Verso 2012) to the way the media has also contributed to the demonization of the working class as feckless, drunken, drug-addicted promiscuous and violent wasters. He quotes expressions of such class, and also racial prejudice towards the White working class, not only from Right-wing columnists, such as James Delingpole, Amanda Platell and Janet Daley, but also Liberal anti-racists such as Yasmin Alibhai-Brown. He quotes Boris Johnson’s sister, Rachel on the very narrow class basis of the journalists now sneering at the underprivileged and the working class, stating

As Rachel Johnson (editor of the Lady and sister of Boris Johnson) puts it: ‘What we’re having is a media which is run by the middle classes, for the middle classes, of the middle classes, aren’t we?’ She is spot on. The journalists who have stirred up chav-hate are from a narrow, privileged background. Even papers with overwhelmingly working-class readerships join in the sport. Kevin Maguire told me of a Sun away day in which all the journalists dressed up as chavs. Chuckle at their venomous columns by all means, but be aware that you are revelling in the contempt of the privileged for the less fortunate. In the current climate of chav-hate the class warriors of Fleet Street can finally get away with it, openly a flagrantly: caricaturing working-class people as stupid, idle, racist, sexually promiscuous, dirty, and fond of vulgar clothes. Nothing of worth is seen to emanate from working class Britain. (p. 119).

He then goes on to describe how such hatred and contempt for ‘chavs’ has become an amusing pastime for the privileged members of the Middle Classes, including Prince William, at Oxford and Cambridge Universities.

This chav-hate has even become a fad among privileged youth. At universities like Oxford, middle-class students hold ‘chav bops’ where they dress up as this working-class caricature. Among those mocking the look was Prince William, one of the most privileged young men in the country. At a chav-theme fancy dress party to mark the end of his first term at Sandhurst, he dressed in a loose-fitting top and ‘bling jewellery’, along with the must-have ‘angled baseball cap’. But when the other cadets demanded he ‘put on a chavvy accent and stop speaking like a Royal’, he couldn’t do it. ‘William’s not actually the poshest-sounding cadet, despite his family heritage, but he struggled to pull off a working-class accent,’ one cadet told the Sun. Welcome to twenty first century Britain, where royals dress up as their working-class subjects for a laugh.

To get a more detailed sense of what the ‘chav’ phenomenon means to young people from privileged backgrounds, I had a chat with Oliver Harvey, an Old Etonian and president of the Oxford Conservative Association. ‘In the middle classes’ attitudes toward what you would have called the working-class, so-called chav culture, you’ve still got to see class as an important part of British life,’ he says. ‘Chav’ is a word Harvey often hears bandied around beneath the dreaming spires of Oxford. ‘You’d think people would be educated here, but it’s still something people find funny.’ Unlike other students, he dislikes the term because of its class meaning. ‘I think it shows a patronizing attitude and is rather offensive. It’s a word used by more fortunate people towards less fortunate people… Unfortunately it’s now a popular term that has been transplanted into people’s everyday consciousness.’

A place like Oxford is fertile ground for chav-hate. Nearly half of its students were privately educated, and there are very, very few working-class people attending the university at all. It helps unlock the truth behind the phenomenon: here are privileged people with little contact with those lower down the scale. it is easy to caricature people you do not understand. And indeed, many of these students owe their place at Oxford to the privileged circumstances that brought them a superior education. How comforting to pretend that they landed in Oxford because of their own talents, and that those at the bottom of society are there because they are thick, feckless or worse.

Bakunin Book Pic

Michael Bakunin: aristocrat and Anarchist revolutionary. Probably wouldn’t have been a fan of David Cameron

All this seems to bear out what the great 19th century Russian Anarchist revolutionary, Michael Bakunin, had to say about the corrupting effects of social privilege:

It is the peculiarity of privilege and of every privileged position to kill the intellect and the heart of man. The privileged man, whether he be privileged politically or economically, is a man depraved in intellect and heart.

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IDS: Just about everything about him corroborates Bakunin’s comments on privilege.

Clearly not everyone in the upper or middle classes is a mass of seething hatred and contempt for the working class, despite the efforts of the columnists of the Daily Mail and Telegraph. And very few would wish to see present society destroyed rather than reformed in the wave of apocalyptic violence Bakunin recommended. ‘Even destruction is a creative act’, as he described his attitude to the exploitative state and contemporary society. But it does describe the class attitude, and privileged hatred of the poor and disadvantaged shown by the very upper class members of the Tory front bench. After all, with Cameron, Clegg, Osborne and IDS presiding over an administration determined to destroy the welfare state, reforms that have resulted in as many as 38,000 deaths per year, it’s difficult not believe that Bakunin had a point about the corrupting influence of privilege. This needs changing, and fast. And it must be through the ballot box that such class hatred, oppression and exploitation must be removed.

Cameron’s Class Background, Prejudices and Osborne’s ‘Workers’ Budget’

March 10, 2014

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This morning the lead story in the i was that Cameron had been told by the Tories that he had to stop the gap between North and South widening any further. Further to this story, Osborne had been preparing a ‘Worker’s Budget’ for next week. Quite how far Cameron is from anyone, who could remotely be described as working class is explained in detail in Owen Jones’ Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class (London: Verso 2012).

Cameron’s father, grandfather and great-grandfather were all stockbrokers. His primary school was Heatherdown Preparatory School in Berkshire, whose old schoolboys include Princes Andrew and Edward. When he was eleven he flew across the Atlantic with a group of his school chums to go to the birthday party of Peter Getty, the grandson of the oil billionaire, John Paul Getty. He was, of course, like all good snobs, educated at Eton. Before he went to university, he worked as a researcher for the Tory MP Tim Rathbone, who was his godfather. A few months after this, his father arranged for him to work in Hong Kong for a multinational. Apart from his Oxford and the Bullingdon Club, he managed to get a job at Conservative Central Office following a telephone call from Buck House. When that came to an end a few years later, his girlfriend’s mother, Annabel Astor, suggested to the chairman of Carlton Television, Michael Green, that he should hire him. Which he duly did. So elevated and far from the world of us plebs is Cameron, that he described his wife’s education as ‘highly unconventional’ because she went to a day school.

Other Tory colleagues have stated that he’s an unrepentant social elitist. One of his old schoolmates is supposed to have said ‘I think there’s something very unconservative about believing that because of who you are, you are the right person to run the country. It’s the natural establishment which believes in power for power’s sake, the return of people who think they have a right to rule.’

Another Old Etonian described Cameron as ‘a strange product of my generation … He seems to represent a continuation of, or perhaps regression to, noblesse oblige Toryism. Do we really want to be ruled by Arthurian knights again?’

And naturally, Cameron has surrounded himself with ministers from the same elevated social class. 23 out of 29 of his first cabinet ministers were millionaires. 59 per cent of them went to a private school, and only 3 per cent actually went to a comprehensive.

Even Boris Johnson’s sister, who edited the Lady, is fed up of the very narrow class basis of his cabinet. She told Jones before the 2010 General Election about probably composition of his administration: ‘the prospect is Old Etonians bankrolled by stockbrokers … It’s back to the days of Macmillan and Eden.’

So this a government of toffs, led by an extremely rich toff, even by toff standards, who believes he has an automatic right to rule, simply because he is a toff. And his fellow toff, Gideon, sorry, George Osborne, will next week, according to the I, launch a ‘worker’s budget’. The whole idea is a joke. Unfortunately, as the 38,000 people or so, who may have died under Cameron’s welfare reforms, it’s a killer. And that ain’t no laughing matter.