This blog will continue to provide rigorous, semi-partisan political commentary through the remainder of the 2015 British general election campaign and beyond.
(I will be live-blogging the election results on Thursday night, here).
This blog will never serve as cheerleader for any one political party, but will continue to proudly champion the interconnected causes of personal liberty, economic freedom and national sovereignty – and give credit where credit is due to any party or politician who is willing to pick up the tarnished torch of liberty in an increasingly hostile environment.
Many thanks to all those people who include Semi-Partisan Sam in their daily internet reading – both those who have recently discovered the blog and those few who have been reading since Day 1.
The time has come to institute an annual British Thanksgiving holiday
Take a trip to your friendly local Asda superstore in the next day or so and you will be treated to back-to-back in-store announcements about their upcoming Black Friday sale. “Get ready for Black Friday!” chirps the voiceover, as a cheerful, disembodied man tempts you with sweet promises about this magical event of a retail experience. Yes, Black Friday is coming to Britain.
This is as strong a contender for Tasteless Corporate Act of the Year (Large Retailer category) as we are likely to witness this side of Christmas. Asda, owned by Wal-Mart, has successfully imported the grubby, commercially lucrative, post-coital rump of a cherished American national holiday – Thanksgiving – while neatly skipping over all the pesky fundamentals that give it meaning in the first place: you know, those interminably dull things such as love, family, gratitude and patriotism, tiresome distractions that will never generate a good Return On Investment.
I was outnumbered, but I made the case as strongly as I could that what Britain desperately needs is a public holiday that can bring us all together as one people – not another cynical, politically correct nod to multiculturalism.
The possibilities for such a unifying British public holiday are endless – after all, what other country has as rich a history on which to draw when trying to choose a new national holiday? I suggested a few potential examples at the time of the debate, but my list is by no means exhaustive. Britain has achieved so many military, scientific, cultural and social victories that continue set us apart as a truly exceptional, indispensable nation, the only difficulty would be narrowing the crowded field to a single expression of who we are and what we have accomplished.
But this year, perhaps more than ever, we need a British Thanksgiving holiday. Despite Britain’s economic recovery, many of us continue to live in the long, cold shadow of the great recession, with squeezed, stagnant or non-existent wages spread too thinly to pay for the basics and comforts of life. As our mainstream political parties scrap over the elusive centre ground and ideologically merge with one another, the British people themselves are becoming increasingly polarised and less able to empathise with or respect those with differing political views. There is a steady trickle of young, disaffected British Muslims who feel so little allegiance to their mother country that they are stealing away to Syria to pose with guns, play soldier and fight for ISIS. And it was less than three months ago that our United Kingdom nearly tore itself apart for good, as Scotland came unnervingly close to voting to secede from the union.
Whatever the improving economic indicators say, all is not well in today’s Britain. Whether you are indignant about ongoing austerity or mad as hell about uncontrolled immigration and its effect on the labour market, chances are that you believe Britain is on the wrong path, and are probably also sceptical that things will significantly improve in the near future. Now, of course giving Britain’s hard workers another statutory day off every year won’t make all of these problems go away. But if we picked the right day, selected the right cause or event to commemorate our shared British civic heritage, it might just shore up the foundations a little bit and help us to ride out the storm together.
Americans continue to faithfully observe their national Thanksgiving holiday in good times and bad, showing the world that it doesn’t necessarily require a fat wallet to get together with loved ones and be grateful for what we have. But perhaps we British need an extra reminder of this fact – we tend to obsess a lot more than our American cousins about what we should be getting from the government, be it benefits or public services, and are consequently more likely to feel continually aggrieved and bitter at the inevitable shortfall. Maybe it would do us all good if we had imposed on us a day where we were strongly encouraged to think about our blessings, and the difference that we – not government – can make in the lives of our fellow citizens.
For the sceptics out there, there is ample precedent for starting a new holiday – Canada has also long observed a day of thanksgiving, though its present position in the calendar was not fixed until 1957. American expressions of thanksgiving were also sporadic and uncoordinated until President Abraham Lincoln fixed the date as the final Thursday in November, while the Civil War still raged. These timings proved wise – contemporary Thanksgiving in North America acts as a bulwark against the encroachment of Christmas, and stores only get into the swing of Christmas once the Black Friday sales are over, a state of affairs which would be very welcome here.
Wouldn’t a British Thanksgiving be the perfect antidote to the incessant commercialisation and forward creep of Christmas, the decorations raised in late September, supermarket mince pies that expire in November, discordant Christmas songs blasting out from every shopfront and the inevitable, vapid re-release of “Feed The World”?
After a long, hard recession, a bruising recovery and a year in which the idea of what it means to be British has become increasingly muddled and uncertain, let’s humble ourselves and dare to take a lesson from our former colony. Let us find inspiration in our storied history, our unsurpassably rich culture and also from within our own hearts. Let us find that elusive common thread of Britishness that should unite us all, transcending race and religion and politics, and cling to that thread in these difficult times.
And even though gratitude does not always come easily and the words may sometimes stick in our throats, let us remember to give thanks for one another, and for our United Kingdom, the guarantor and protector of all that we have.
Support Semi-Partisan Politics with a one-time or recurring donation:
Agree with this article? Violently disagree? Scroll down to leave a comment.
In memory of my dear friend Andy Pook, who passed away on 2nd November 2014 and whose uplifting presence is so sorely missed, more than any words of mine can express.
Deep peace of the running wave to you Deep peace of the flowing air to you Deep peace of the quiet earth to you Deep peace of the shining stars to you Deep peace of the gentle night to you Moon and stars pour their healing light on you Deep peace of Christ, of Christ the light of the world to you Deep peace of Christ to you
Week 3 of the Big Issue Online Journalism Training course saw me hitting the streets of Clapton, getting vox pops from passers by, corresponding with a local vicar by email and interviewing a local borough councillor. As well as gathering information for local publication the Hackney Citizen, our efforts led to this news article which I wrote up today. Next week: features, and the type of more in-depth writing that is closer to my heart and hopefully particularly helpful for my future work. The training continues…
Picture: Ian Aitken: Bishops Wood Almhouses on Lower Clapton Road
A seventeenth century Clapton building is facing demolition after a charity put it up for sale, claiming that renovations would be too expensive.
The Grade II listed Bishops Wood almhouses, which have housed poor elderly people for more than three centuries, are being put up for sale by owners the Dr Spurstowe and Bishop Wood Almshouse Charity which plans to use the proceeds to build a larger facility on a new site in Hackney.
However, the sale has raised fears that a private developer will purchase the building and demolish it to make room for the creation of more profitable luxury flats. Demolition would also mean the loss of the chapel, which is part of the structure and reputedly the smallest in the country.
The charity says that while the sale is regrettable, refurbishment would cost as much as £750,000 for only…
Though it has been depressing to witness the extent to which homophobia and violence against LGBT people remain so widespread in Russia as the Winter Olympics take place, it has been commensurately heartening to see the outpouring of support from so many other countries for Russia’s beleaguered gay population.
Artists, celebrities, politicians, ordinary citizens and fellow sports people have all registered their solidarity with the LGBT community and spoken out against discrimination and Russia’s strict laws against ‘homosexual propaganda’.
This is good – Russia continues its regrettable backward slide from nascent democracy into a corrupt authoritarianism, and as the IOC saw fit to make Sochi the winning bid for the Winter Olympics it is only right that the rest of the world ensures that the event does not descend into a mere forum for pro-Putin glorification.
But as the swell of voices raised in protest at Russia’s treatment of the LGBT population grows, it is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore the fact that many of those people throwing stones are living in enormous glass houses of their own – and that while it is great to revel in being less homophobic than Russia, this achievement alone is not much of an accolade.
As Laurie Penny writes in the Guardian, being less homophobic than Russia is no great feat of tolerance – the bar set by Russia can be cleared by almost anyone:
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with expressing support for LGBT people in Russia, who are facing grotesque discrimination. But being less homophobic than Russia is not necessarily something other countries should give themselves a medal for. A lot of things are less homophobic than Russia.
Queer activists call this sort of thing “pinkwashing” – playing up the gay-friendly branding of a state or corporation to make it seem more liberal than it actually is. Britain likes to think of itself as a tolerant place, but the Border Agency has been accused of almost “systematic homophobia” by the gay rights group Stonewall. Leaked Home Office documents show bisexual asylum seekers being asked degrading questions during hours of interrogation by Home Office officials – questions that included: “What is it about men’s backsides that attracts you?”
This is just one of several examples given by Penny, who points out the less-than-stellar track records of various other supposedly enlightened western countries – even the Canadians.
All too often, a generally increasing acceptance of homosexuality and LGBT people within the general population is not met with an equal acceptance in national bureaucracies and institutions. This is certainly true in Britain, as Penny points out, but is just as true in the United States, where condemnation about Russia’s awful treatment of the gays has been vociferous, but also seemingly ignorant of the many cultural and legal barriers to the full acceptance of gay rights that remain in America.
Britain’s Channel 4 television network apparently decided that the best way to respond to homophobia in Russia would be to make this video – entitled “Gay Mountain” – which has been playing nearly continuously between their scheduled programmes:
The song, which begins in the same portentous style as the Russian national anthem, quickly descends into a camp, colourful, musical extravaganza as the (shirtless) singer exhorts “Good luck Gays, on Gay Mountain”. The profound lyrics continue “Mens and all mens / And womens and all womens / Come together tonight, sing with pride”.
One YouTube user, identifying him or herself as IMB2U, commented:
We should all thank the Russian government for bringing everybody together and creating this huge wave of support and love for the LGBT community. Their hateful ignorance has brought on something wonderful.
Something wonderful? Really? Mildly amusing, perhaps. Entertaining and catchy, yes – if your tastes lean that way. But “wonderful” seems to be overdoing it a little.
While the sentiment behind Channel 4’s video – that of solidarity and support – is certainly admirable on the surface, one has to admit that it does absolutely nothing to improve the lot of gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender people in Russia. Gay Mountain works perfectly at enabling us Brits – enlightened and sophisticated as we supposedly are – to feel good by sneering at the “backward” Russian people, but does absolutely nothing about actually helping the Russian LGBT community.
Laurie Penny also questions the value of these flamboyant gestures of support which do little, if anything, to help people in real need of tangible help and intervention:
Personally I have no problem with media outlets, businesses and individuals making jokes at the expense of homophobes, or hanging out the queer pride flag. It’s a statement of support that’s fun and costs nothing. But the fact that it costs nothing is precisely the problem. As soon as there’s a price tag attached, the foot-shuffling begins. The rainbow flag is supposed to symbolise safety. Hung over a bar, it’s supposed to mean that this is a place of refuge. For western nations to brand themselves in this way while subjecting LGBT people to humiliation and imprisonment at their borders is simply disingenuous.
While western nations flap the rainbow flag defiantly in Russia’s face, actual lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are being harassed and abused at their borders when they arrive seeking safety. Supporting the rights of LGBT people worldwide is to be commended, but if that sentiment is more than pinkwashing, it should be backed up by action at home.
This just about sums it up. Statements of support from any quarters are welcome, but they don’t mean an awful lot when there is nothing to be lost by making them. Channel 4 has no business interests in Russia, the Russian people will not see the Gay Mountain video in any significant numbers, and Channel 4 has no contracts or revenues at stake in that country. In other words, they have absolutely nothing to lose. Contrast this with the behaviour of a western company such as Coca-Cola, which has a direct financial stake in Russia – both through sales of their product and sponsorship of the Sochi Games – and which has been very timid indeed when it comes to condemning the persecution of gay people there.
But what really tarnishes Channel 4’s civil rights musical extravaganza is not the pinkwashed song, but the caption that appears on screen at the very end – the words “Born Risky” superimposed on the gay rainbow flag:
What exactly does Channel 4 believe to be “risky”? They risked absolutely nothing, we know that. But we do know that Channel 4 is inordinately proud of the fact that they like to get a rise out of people by setting out to provoke and offend them:
We were set up to experiment, provoke and entertain, and to put our profits into our programmes. You may love us, you may want to punch our lights out, but we make programmes we believe in. We can do this because we were Born Risky. That doesn’t mean “risky” as in naked abseiling, it means creatively risky. Like seeking out undiscovered talent, making films about taboo subjects or championing alternative voices. Born Risky means going where other channels can’t to create something new, alternative and different.
And so the whole campaign is revealed to be not about actually improving the circumstances of gay people in Russia (which we already knew) and not even about believing in or promoting gay rights in general, but rather about product differentiation. It was about burnishing Channel 4’s image as a provocative, edgy television network that likes to push the boat out, defy normal conventions and be a hip alternative to the boring old BBC.
Gay Mountain wasn’t about concern for LGBT people – it was just the next iteration of a very slick, very successful marketing campaign. And that goes rather beyond mere pinkwashing. I’m not sure which colour best represents the soul of a television network which is happy to capitalise on the suffering of foreign LGBT people to show its domestic audience just how cool and trendy it is, but it almost certainly would not be pink.
So by all means, let’s join in another rousing chorus of Gay Mountain. Let us be proud on gay mountain, as the song exhorts us to do. But when the singing is over, let’s not fool ourselves that we have done anything other than disturb the neighbours and make ourselves feel better, comfortably smug in our relative openness and tolerance.
And at least we helped improve the ratings of a certain television network.