Saturday, October 16, 2004

Boris, Bigley, and a sense of identity

Poor old Boris has got himself into a spot of bother thanks to a rather poorly-judged comment in The Spectator, bemoaning the country's response to Ken Bigley's death as an over-reaction.

Boris has apologised, and his boss at Conservative Central Office, Michael Howard, has apparently described it as "nonsense from beginning to end".

However, to be fair, Boris has got a point - not his silly comments about Liverpudlians being dole-scum and criminals, obviously - but he is right in pointing out that, as sad as Mr Bigley's death was (and my own views on this have already been stated), a national outpouring of grief for the death of a man in his 60s is a little bit bizarre. Why don't we have a similar reaction everytime a British soldier in his/her teens or twenties is killed? And as Boris also points out, the reaction has been utterly disproportionate when it is considered that:

"There had been a two-minute silence for Mr Bigley... according him the same respect offered annually to the million-and-a-half British servicemen who have died for their country since 1914."

But he is wrong when he says that Tony Blair and his government are not to blame for Bigley's death. Not directly, maybe. But had Blair and his cronies not launched their illegal war, there would have been no need or opportunity for Bigley to go to such a dangerous place in the first place.

Nonetheless, Boris is a silly fool if he thought that such a prominent public figure could get away with saying what many people have suggesting quietly in pubs and bars around the country for the last few weeks, namely:

"The truth is that Ken Bigley sought to make a living by undertaking work in one of the most dangerous areas on the planet. He went there against the express advice of the Foreign Office. He chose to live with a pair of Americans and seemed unconcerned about his personal security. His motives and misjudgments do not lessen the horror and injustice of his death; but they should, without lessening our sympathy for him and his family, temper the outpouring of sentimentality in which many have engaged for him."

It's almost admirable that our Boris blunders off and speaks his mind without thinking of the consequences, and because so many people find him so entertaining he'll probably get away with it.

But his comments about Liverpool and Liverpudlians (apparently they have an "excessive predilection for welfarism" and "a peculiar, and deeply unattractive, psyche", plus "wallow" in their "victim status"), and especially about the Hillsborough disaster are hardly going to do the Tories any favours in that part of the world and would, had they been about a sexual or ethnic minority group, have instantly got him sacked from his Shadow ministerial post, and quite possibly have forced the party to withdraw the whip.

Why is it OK to slag off Scousers, Geordies and Brummies, but not to slag off homosexuals, asians or blacks? People with strong Liverpool, Newcastle or Bimingham accents are often at least as discriminated against (especially in the workplace) as people from ethnic minorities, so why aren't they also protected by anti-discrimination laws? Very confusing.

In short, the comments about Ken Bigley are not where the focus should be here, but the petty regionalist attitude which still affects so much of British society. This is part of why I have no problems with the EU: Britain is made up of so many distinct regional attitudes and accents, several separate nations, and umpteen ways of life which still continue to this day, I honestly can't see any British (or Scottish or Welsh or Cornish etc.) national identity being lost were Britain to become part of a Federal Europe.

The petty regional rivalries which are hang-ons from skirmishes stretching back aeons have survived, even though England has been one nation for over a thousand years, and the United Kingdom united for three centuries. What makes anyone think these identites are so weak they wouldn't survive being absorbed by Europe? Is it really so impossible to be both British AND English AND Scouse? Of course not - and adding "European" on top of that wouldn't - in the long-run - be a problem either.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I believe that the deeper truth is that there is a certain amount of hypocracy in those who make huge public demonstration of their sadness at the death of a man who was employed in constructing US military bases in Iraq, and who slapped the British muslims on their backs for their acts of solidarity and compassion for this man, and yet have not shed one tear, uttered one prayer, or given a moments consideration (silent or not) for the 20 to 30 thousand Iraqi civilians who have been killed in an illegal war.

10/16/2004 11:47:00 pm  
Blogger Nosemonkey said...

Very true. If dear old Boris had stuck to that point alone, he would still have pissed a lot of people off, but at least he would have been justified (to an extent). Bringing Hillsborough into it was, however, out of order, and seems to have been done purely to offend.

Whether or not he actually wrote the article, I should point out, is unclear. But as editor of The Spectator he should at least have authorised it. Which could raise more questions about whether he is capable of acting as a constituency MP, a Shadow Minister, a newspaper columnist and a national magazine editor simultaneously. How can he find the time to do a decent job on all of these?

Anyway, I'm drunk, so now to watch some telly and then get some much-needed sleep.

10/16/2004 11:59:00 pm  

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