Columns

Britain has its first punk-rock government

14 March 2020

9:00 AM

14 March 2020

9:00 AM

The most surprising thing about the letter from Guardian and Observer journalists moaning about Suzanne Moore’s supposed ‘transphobia’ is that it contained 338 signatures. This must be the first time a newspaper has had more writers than readers. What an extraordinarily bloated institution — how does it survive? Through those often advertised workshops where Owen Jones explains to people how to write a column? Most bizarre.

Surprise number two was that these hacks were prepared to get themselves worked up about a perfectly reasonable piece, for once, by Moore — but found no problem what-soever with Steve Bell’s disgusting and frankly racist depiction of Priti Patel in a cartoon. Patel, Indian and Hindu by ancestry, was portrayed as a bull with horns and a ring through her nose. All this on International Women’s Day, too. The left likes its minorities and chicks only when they toe the line and don’t get uppity, as I have mentioned before. The left likes clients, not people.

If I had been drawing Ms Patel, it would have been with a safety pin through her nose and a spiky hairdo. With every day that passes it seems to me more and more that we are experiencing Britain’s first punk-rock administration, pogoing up and down on decrepit institutions and cheerfully gobbing in the direction of its enemies — the swamp, the blob, the establishment. It is a fairly glorious thing to behold. One hopes it endures longer than the 18 months or so in which punk was in ascendancy (roughly autumn 1976 to the spring of 1978, since you asked).

The social impact of punk was far more lasting and important than the music, which, by the time the Sex Pistols had dissolved, had already become a jaded and boring caricature of itself. The mistake people make is in seeing punk as a left-wing movement, largely because the awful old hippies at the New Musical Express and Melody Maker tried very hard to insist that it was and stamped on anyone who stepped out of line. Plus ça change etc.


In truth it was anything but left-wing. It was anti-establishment, for sure — it loathed the torpor of the 1970s, the desiccated institutions and the dead hand of an overbearing state. It loathed the BBC. It despised the big record companies and wished them gone, not because they were agents of capitalism, but because they didn’t do capitalism well: they lacked dynamism. It didn’t have much time for the trade unions — it was union workers, at their union’s behest, who refused to press the Sex Pistols’ single ‘God Save the Queen’, and the BBC (and WH Smith, which then had a big record department) which refused to play it. Before they got hammered into supine wokeness, the Jam were pro-Tory royalists, while Sham 69 were singing about the evils of socialism in ‘Red London’.

It is true that punk was anti-racist and anti-sexist, considering gender and skin colour an utter irrelevance, as we all surely should. But it was nonetheless born in the lower middle-class suburbs of our major towns and cities, among the people who a year later would propel Margaret Thatcher (from the same background) into No. 10 — a tranche of the electorate never renowned for its leftish sensibilities. In the USA, punk was far more explicitly right-of-centre and a riposte to gentle leftish hippiedom — you may search long and hard, but I doubt you’ll find a much more right-wing popular band than The Ramones — and sure enough, in 1979 Ronald Reagan ousted Jimmy Carter.

The only big exceptions to the rule in the UK were the very left-wing Clash, led by an ex-public schoolboy, Joe Strummer, and the even further left Tom Robinson Band, led by Tom — another public schoolboy, this time from Cambridge. Good bands, but wholly out of step with the real zeitgeist of the time, because of where they were from. To get a truer picture of punk, look at John Lydon — vehemently pro-Brexit — or the two best writers to emerge from those city suburbs and who chronicled punk, Julie Burchill and Tony Parsons. Not quite bleeding-heart liberals, any of them.

Popular music does not change the world. Not even the most incendiary and exciting leftie stuff from the 1960s — ‘Fortunate Son’ by Creedence Clearwater Revival, ‘Ohio’ by CSN&Y, ‘Masters of War’ by Dylan — could prevent the bombing of Cambodia by the USA. But it is useful in indicating a certain appetite for change within the population, a dissatisfaction. There are many similarities between the UK now and the UK in early 1979. Back then we had endured a paralysed minority government led by Jim Callaghan and ineffectually buttressed by David Steel’s Liberals, with all the chaos that brought: the almost perpetual union strife, the rubbish piling up on the streets. As for the past three years, we endured until December a paralysed and hopelessly divided Conservative administration, and the chaos that brought, as we tried to respect the public vote and wriggle free of the European Union.

The vote in December, then, just like the vote in May 1979, was emphatically not for continuity but for change: real, dynamic change. And that means a government prepared to battle with the institutions that will do their damnedest to arrest that change — primarily the civil service, but also the BBC, the judiciary, the infrastructure this liberal elite has built around itself. Call it the pink wall, if you like. It needs demolishing with every bit as much vigour as did the red wall in the north of England on 12 December.

Thatcher never quite quietened either the civil service or the wet reactionaries in her party. She flailed occasionally at the BBC, but rarely to great effect. This government realises far better that it is these institutions which need changing before anything else can be done. All together then, to that fine tune by the Ramones: ‘Boris is — a punk rocker, Boris is — a punk rocker!’

Spectator.co.uk/RODLIDDLE
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