There’s been a somewhat confused reaction to Michael Read’s Ukip Calypso from The Voice who seem to think it’s a poor attempt at reaching out to older Black voters, to others who argue that it’s a racist appropriation of Calypso. It becomes understandable if you locate Ukip Calypso in the tradition of British black minstrelsy, a once popular form of entertainment with roots reaching back to at least the 1830’s Britain. Then blackface in theatre was a way to discuss issues of the day by transposing that onto the bodies of people blacked up on stage. It’s complex. That aspect is complex, it’s more than just merely racist. I hope to put something up on the history of British blackface minstrely shortly. In the meantime… In a jingoistic ditty whose lyrics decry the capitulation of Britain’s elite to the imagined vagaries of the EU, Read, ventriloquizing in a Caribbean dialect sings:
The leaders committed a cardinal sin
Open the borders let them all come in
Illegal immigrants in every town
Stand up and be counted Blair and Brown
The whine about the oppression of the Englishman in his home by the diversity police can already be heard across Little England. And from Ukip’s Greek chorus, “It was only a bit of fun.” Naturally, Read denies the tune is in anyway racist, recycling that old canard “some of my best chums are black” and as long as we’re talking about the minstrelsy, and not the intention of his lyrics, Ukippers will continue to vent about political correctness gone maaaad while their own racism need never be acknowledged.
Read’s minstrelsy, while inscribing racism through the caricatured performance of Black people, is also an act by which a resentful petty-bourgeoisie disrupt the “politically correct” values of the “metropolitan class”. Read’s vulgar serenading of these white men and women about a dreaded inferiorisation of whiteness brought about through racial integration; a view shared by the lower middle classes who fear losing white power and privilege. For these white men and women, to lose position and power is to be poor and to fall into white poverty is to become – how awful – black. It is an evasion of these resentments to berate Ukip Calypso as “distasteful” and “vulgar” as Chukka Umunna does. Having studied Read’s lyrics I wondered how such a witless tune could be construed as political satire until realising that it is precisely the reaction it elicits from the middle classes which forms the basis of the satire to be enjoyed. It becomes an act of resistance of the repressed lower middle class against dominant controlling cultural and social mores. It’s performative trolling. Now libidinal enjoyment is to be found in exercising one’s right to be offensive, check Suzanne Moore.
Ex-boxing promoter, Winston McKenzie, and Ukip’s Commonwealth spokesman, was parachuted into Newsnight’s studios a few nights ago to argue that claims Ukip is racist “all stems from the pc brigade and the media. You know we all got to walk away from this. People have got to grow up and be sensible.” So says the man not unused to the notoriety of the soundbite gained from being abusive and just the kind of man Farage will have within his ranks until public opprobrium makes him a media liability. McKenzie’s search for a political vehicle to propel him into power has seen him stand as a candidate for every political party in the UK, all bar the Monster Raving Looney party whom I hear wouldn’t touch him with a barge pole. In order to distance himself and the party from charges of racism, Farage relies on McKenzie to play the supporting role of the assimalable Black man.
The jingoism of Ukip Calypso is merely the anthem of the core Tory base who share the values of the Powellite/Thatcherite wing of the Conservative party with its deep antipathy to all things European rekindling the myth of the victimization of the British people at the hands of the political establishment.
Chorus: Oh yes, when we take charge
And the new prime minister is Farage
We can trade with the world again
When Nigel is at Number Ten
The British people have been let down
That’s why Ukip is making ground
From Crewe to Cleethorpes, Hull to Hendon
They don’t believe Cameron’s referendum
Powell’s 1968 Rivers of Blood speech forged an alliance between the Tory right and the National Front which enabled both to significantly extend their base particularly among poor whites. On the back of this London dock workers and meat packers took to the streets chanting “Back Britain, not Black Britain.” According to Powell, immigration had taken place behind the backs of the British working class ‘[f]or reasons which they could not comprehend and in pursuance of a decision by default, upon which they were never consulted.’ Yes, Powell who, ironically, in a previous incarnation as Minister of Health had been instrumental in encouraging NHS recruitment of Caribbean nurses to Britain at the start of the sixties.
The radical Right does not appear out of thin air. It has to be understood in direction relation to alternative political formations attempting to occupy and command the same space. It is engageed in a struggle for hegemony, within the dominant bloc, against both social democracy and the moderate wing of its own party. Not only is it operating in the same space: it is working directly on the contradictions within these competing positions. The strength of its intervention lies partly in the radicalism of its commitment to break the mould, not simply to rework the elements of the prevailing “philosophies”. In doing so, it nevertheless takes the elements which are already constructed into place, dismantles them, reconstitutes them into a new logic, and articulates the space in a new way, polarizing it to the right.
Here Stuart Hall dismantles the mechanics of Farage and the far right of the Conservative party. Taking hold of Powellite-Thatcherite elements Farage is reworking them into a new narrative in which responsibility for the destruction of British identity by menacing alien invaders is placed at the feet of a Westminster elite (the Tory liberal centrist wing) kowtowing to the EU on immigration without the consent of the British people. However, polarized by this maneouvre, Cameron is forced to distance himself from Farage’s “grand conspiracy” leaving him with few options. He can do little more than promise a referendum on a British exit (Brexit) in 2017. He can say to Barroso, “I am very clear about who I answer to and it is the British people. They want this issue fixed… and I will fix it.” What Cameron’s means by “British people” is specifically the base of the Conservative party which is crazily splintering under pressure from the Powellite-Thatcherite wing. Because a majority of the British people, seventy percent in fact, are moved by other issues.
In order to win an outright majority in 2015 the Tories will need to appeal beyond their traditional voter base. Cameron knows he can’t swing too far to the right without making the Tories unelectable and so he watches helplessly as the party, as if infected with Ebola, haemmorhages core members and voters to Ukip – left, right and centre. Labour MP Jon Trickett in The Conservative Dilemma, makes clear the extent of the Tory problem. Since 1931 there has been a steep decline in the percentage of the electorate voting Tory. In 1931 their share of the vote was 55 percent. In 2010 this figure had fallen to 35 percent. Citing Trickett, Maunders writes, “the Tories have not won a majority at a general election for over two decades now. In 1992, the last time the Conservatives managed a majority at a general election, John Major received 14.1 million votes (41.9 percent) – since then the Conservatives have never won more than 10.7 million.” (Ukip and the crisis of Conservatism, Socialist Review No. 376).
According to Lord Ashcroft, the tory core vote would not be sufficient to form a majority at the next election. 2010 was the year that Cameron was supposed to deliver a Tory majority. Even though he drew in about 2 million new voters they have more or less deserted the Tories over issues like the NHS and the impact of deeply unfair Budgets.
So when hearing the thunder emitting from various media organs and the Tories about Ukip, remember, this is a message for their core voters and not about a rightward turn of the nation. The ridiculous thing is that Labour play into it.