The 14 Words

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Who’s The Bigot?

Who’s The Bigot?

I grew-up in a predominantly white, working class area of northern England, in which support for the Labour Party was taken as a given, and in which I myself supported and voted for Labour. I was even a Labour Party activist during my teenage years.

The votes were weighed, rather than counted, and it is my understanding that they still are. However, back then it was not an area in which today’s ‘Left’ would have felt at home or remotely welcome. The people, and most of their Labour politicians, held to traditional views about society and the family. They supported the collective rights of their class and folk and were outraged at the attack on trade unions by both Labour and Conservative governments. They were nationalists in the generic sense of being for their own people, but they were not specially patriotic. They tended to look favourably on European integration, seeing themselves (as many northern English do) vaguely as northern regionalists and separate from the more market-oriented southern English. They had no time for the emerging social liberalism in society and disliked anti-family policies, and innovations such as gay rights. They tended to loathe mass immigration. At that time, it was common to hear in political meetings ordinary working men speak in highly-prejudicial terms about a range of modish issues. There was, then, a class-based cleave in the Labour Party, between the traditionally conservative branches found in the working class areas and the more social-liberal perspective found in the middle-class, metropolitan branches.

If I make my birthplace sound ugly to more decadent or sensitive souls, it is not out of disloyalty, but I do have some reason. I was born in Pontefract, the town immortalised by J. S. Fletcher in his classic satiric novel, The Town of Crooked Ways. It is also the town that gave us the corrupt architectural designer, John Poulson. From my own researches, I know that Pontefract had a rough, perhaps even corrupt, political environment over the years, but particularly during the 1960s and 1970s. For a good guide to what politics in the north of England during that era was like, watch the excellent 1990s TV series, Our Friends In The North, which depicts similarly-corrupt local politics in the north-east of England. Pontefract also has a unique claim as the place to hold the first secret ballot in the Northern Hemisphere, which took place on 15 August 1872. However, the place typifies the north of England towns, with its blind tribal loyalty to the local municipal Labour Party; in its combination of quaint medieval buildings alongside brutalist 1960s architecture; and especially in the ordinary views and attitudes of its people, which cannot be dissimilar to the views of ordinary people everywhere in our country. It is an attitude of mind that the modish would describe dismissively as ‘bigotry’. For an example of this patronisation, recall if you will that during the 2010 popularity contest, the then-Prime Minister called an ordinary retiree in Rochdale, Gillian Duffy, a ‘bigoted woman’. This was once she was out of earshot. It is clear that he felt her (fairly mild) views on immigration did not deserve serious consideration, but the phrase ‘bigoted woman’ was a pejorative employed to dismiss not just Ms. Duffy’s views, but Ms. Duffy as a person. Mr. Brown was making an assessment about Ms. Duffy herself and her moral qualities; he was not merely dismissing her views.

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