South of the River – Duke of Earl

Compass-SouthComment logo 2Do you play fantasy Desert Island Discs? I do. I know I’ll never be interviewed on Radio 4, but I try to pick my eight records and justify them.

This week I was playing fantasy Honours List. I’m never going to get a call from the Palace, but I was really pleased that Hanif Malik was awarded an OBE. Hanif has worked hard over many years to build Beeston’s Hamara Centre into what it is today. I haven’t spoken to Hanif yet, but I expect he will say that the award is a reflection on the work of the whole team at Hamara.

So how would I react if I was offered an OBE? I’m afraid I would have to refuse it. Not out of modesty, but because it’s a deeply flawed system based on an out-dated and backward looking view of Britain.

There is no criticism of Hanif in this. I can entirely understand why he has accepted the honour. It’s official recognition for Hamara and for Beeston; and at time when Muslims are vilified in the media it’s a positive story.

What’s wrong with the Honours system? Its main function is to reward civil servants, senior politicians and party donors. I’ve got nothing against civil servants, but giving them an honour for long service or achieving a high position is just unnecessary. Honouring political donations is very close to corruption.

Then we have a sprinkling of celebrities to brighten up the front pages, because they don’t get enough exposure do they? And finally, bringing up the rear, the one defendable part of the list, the people like Hanif who beaver away in their communities making a real difference on the ground.

And then there are the names of the honours. Take, for example, the OBE – the Order of the British Empire. What British Empire? All that’s left is the Falkland Islands, Gibraltar and St Helena where we can even build a functioning airstrip, plus a few tax havens in the Caribbean. Perhaps we are being asked to remember when ‘we’ ruled half the world and the sun never set on the British Empire. I seem to remember the graffiti reckoned that was because the British didn’t trust the natives after dark.

I’m afraid there was nothing glorious about the Empire. Ask the Indian hand loom weavers who had their hands cut off because they were competition for Lancashire’s new cotton mills, or the Africans shipped across the Atlantic to work and die on sugar plantations. The empire was about the British ruling class building their wealth by plundering raw materials, labour and creating markets for British goods at gunpoint.

I know the Honours List is decided by a government committee these days, but they are awarded by the Queen. Now I didn’t vote for this government, but at least I took part in an election. None of us voted for the Queen. Our head of state is decided by accident of birth, it can’t be the best system can it?

I worry that the present Queen has lulled us into a false sense of security about still having a monachy. She’s been sensible enough not to get involved in politics, but that’s rare in her family. Her uncle supported Hitler and her son writes to ministers to try and change legislation in his favour.

And what about the national anthem? What an uninspiring dirge! The Euros remind us what a proper anthem should sound like. The Russian anthem had me standing up the other day, the Germans have got Beethoven and the French Marseillaise always summons up the spirit of the barricades – remember the café scene in Casablanca?

Does all this really matter? What’s wrong with a bit of nostalgia? Traditions harking back to the country’s history?

I think it does matter. At best it’s a distraction from what’s really going on for ordinary people in austerity Britain. At worst it helps to stoke the worst nationalism at a time when the country is trying to make a decision about its future place in the world.

The Leave campaign have quickly descended from arguing about trading options to running a fear of immigration campaign with frankly racist characterisations of Turkish people.

Tragically yesterday we saw what happens when you open the Pandora’s box of nationalism. You give rein to the far right to crawl out of their corners and end up with a man shouting “Britain First” as he murders an MP who stood up, not only for her constituents, but also for migrants and international solidarity.

I’ll be on back next week with more of my views from South of the River. If you’re on Twitter, you can follow me: @BeestonJeremy.


8 Replies to “South of the River – Duke of Earl”

  1. Well put as always Jeremy. May she rest in peace and her children be showered with love and care. Unite against racism and fascism. Solidarity. xx

  2. Well said Jeremy. I echo Liz’s sentiments. Jo Cox’s death is a tragic indictment of the horrors unleashed by the nationalist, anti-immigrant Leave campaign, and my heart goes out to her husband and her poor children.
    The toxic outpourings and actions of the anti-immigrant right-wing are intended to divide us and weaken us by setting worker against worker, allowing unscrupulous employers and landlords to exploit us all more easily. At a time like this it is important to remember that the British working class – particularly in the North – has a proud tradition of opposing racism and racists. The Lancashire Cotton weavers themselves went on strike, enduring over a year of hardship in the fight to end slavery in the USA. The Chartist Movement in the 1840s whose leadership included a black Londoner, William Cuffay saw gatherings of up to 100,000 workers on Holbeck, Woodhouse and Hartshead Moors. More recently workers turned out in their 100s to oppose fascists attempting to march in Holbeck during the 1930s, and again in the 1970s in Leeds. As I write I know that there are collections of money, clothing and food going on in hundreds of workplaces, homes and neighbourhoods to support the refugees stranded at Calais.This is the fine tradition of the British working-class and the tradition that Jo Cox stood in. May she rest in peace.

  3. Jeremy

    If this was perpetrated by someone shouting an Islamic slogan you’d be quick to say it isn’t representative of Islam – which would be correct. Yet the speed with which you opportunistically leap on the awful murder of Jo Cox for crude point-scoring in the EU referendum debate is truly gob-smacking – especially considering the few facts known about it in the less than half a day (at the time your article was published) since it happened.

    But then, in general, I think your views are about as reflective of those of the people of south Leeds as this lone murderer’s.


  4. Quite enjoy your updates Jeremy but quite frankly your unbiased opinions are now getting embarrassing . Paul,s comment says it all for me .

  5. I have to agree with Paul on this one.

    This is cheap copy cashing in on tragic circumstances, the sort political point scoring you can see on Facebook by mindless morons on both end of the political spectrum and quite frankly I find your opinion as absurd as Britain First and UKIP.

    It’s this sort of opinion that is pushing people to the right as they feel that you are attacking their own opinions.

    For the record, just in case you think in some right wing nut with an axe to grind I’m voting for Remain.

    Glad Liz Kitching is managing to keep your fan club afloat.

  6. Paul, Sean, Chris, thanks for your comments.

    I am not blaming everyone who supports the leave campaign for Jo Cox’s murder. As you point out that would be as ridiculous as blaming every Muslim for Lee Rigby’s murder. What I am saying is that the Leave campaign has stoked up nationalism and some people on the margins will take that as permission to undertake terrible acts.

    Both campaigns need to calm down. The British economy won’t collapse the day after a leave vote and the population of Turkey (most of whom are very nice people) won’t arrive in Britain following a remain vote.

  7. Interesting piece.

    I do think that both campaigns have been pretty lacklustre, the remain camp have often resorted to ‘so and so says this….’ rather than making a positive case to stay in.

    Meanwhile the leave camp quickly jumped from economics onto immigration, amid talk that ‘they lost the argument’ – I’d have liked us to have had the argument to be honest.

    George Osborne has been in office for six years and has continously missed his deficit reduction targets, despite revising them down year on year. Austerity – it’s a bit of a red herring. Ordinary people have suffered, but not public sector fat cats with their generous salaries, pensions, and jollies at our expense.

    EU contributions have risen, foreign aid has increased with no apparent benefit to the most needy.

    On the subject of foreign aid, I think a much better way to help the poor in Africa and Asia would be to abolish tariffs, to let them trade freely and fairly in the world rather than having to suffer because European producers can’t grow crops or produce goods efficiently.

    Spend what we do spend on genuine disaster relief. Not long back we gave about £50m to the relief fund for the earthquake in Nepal (I think) – yet we prop up bent regimes and the EU gravy train for nearly double that every day. Priorities….

    Most sickening in this, but entirely predictable, is the use of the tragic death of an MP to push the message of the Remain camp.

    ‘Oh, vote for love, and staying in the EU because that’s what Jo would have wanted’

    What Jo would have wanted would have been a free and fair referendum where people make their minds up based on facts, hence her absence from the kind of dog whistle politics demonstrated by the likes of George Osborne and Nigel Farage.

    And furthermore, a baffling situation where people who have spent years campaigning against George Osborne, are now coming out saying that they’re voting in because they don’t want to support Michael Gove – a man with intelligence and skill (and integrity) that Osborne couldn’t dream of!

    Irrespective of the outcome of this vote, the PM and Chancellor have got to go. Cameron because of his sheer dishonesty throughout the whole campaign – promises of fundamental reform and renegotiation, only to deliver spurious changes to benefits, then the ‘I rule nothing out’, followed by ‘we’ll see world war 3’… and Osborne for his threats of a punishment budget.

    One thing that won’t change will be the hypocrisy of many on the left who accuse genuinely decent people of being hateful simply because they disagree. But we live in hope…

    1. Luke

      I agree with much of what you say. However, I’m surprised you’ve used a turn of phrase so popular with the political elite and chattering classes to describe UKIP voters specifically, and wider working class in general. When they talk about ‘dog whistle’ politics, it’s us ordinary citizens they imagine as dog-like and easily stirred by the calls of demagogues; as a pogrom waiting to happen unless our passions are kept in check. It’s one of the reasons they like the EU, they see it as a potential check on the ‘irrational’ masses of Europe.


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