Sitcom Britain

I said years ago that if we ever had an authoritarian movement in Britain it would not have uniforms, goose-stepping marches and torchlight parades. It wouldn’t be that interesting. Ours would be a shabby poujadism, led by golf club bores, residents’ association busybodies and parish Pol Pots.

The boorish self-righteous know-all is a staple of British comedy, perhaps because every neighbourhood has at least one. It’s easy to imagine Terry MedfordMartin Bryce, Warden Hodges and Reggie Perrin’s brother-in-law Jimmy in your local UKIP branch. Basil Fawlty would have joined in the early years but left once they started letting in riffraff like Eddie Booth and Alf Garnett. But at least in the comedies even the most dislikable characters had some redeeming features and, in the end, they usually got their comeuppance, their own puffed-up stupidity eventually bringing about their downfall.

Alas, in 2017, this once-ridiculed tendency in our national culture is now calling the shots. As Rafael Behr said last week, to the rest of the world, Britain now looks urbane but unhinged. Sitcom characters, only without the comedy:

To succeed in Britain, radicalism eschews the fancy dress of martial bombast. Nigel Farage advanced the cause of Brexit not by banging podiums but by propping up the bar, nudging and winking at insurrection through a pint of ale.

Last week, the government produced two Brexit position papers described as foolish by a former government legal advisor and as destructive ambivalence by the FT. And those were just the polite reactions. As Chris Grey says, the reason for the incoherent and contradictory messages in these papers is the government’s attempt to walk a line between the national interest and the demands of the noisy Brexit fanatics:

Even the realpolitik of negotiating with the EU would not be so difficult were it not for the relentless pressure of the vociferous and ever-present Brexit ultras inside and outside the Tory party. They are so detached from reality and so implacable in their demands that even the government’s attempts to negotiate hard Brexit are regarded as a betrayal. Since they do not have to take any responsibility at all for the consequences they are free to oppose transitional periods, exit bills, or any kind of deal at all (see John Redwood here, for example). If May thought that she had bought their loyalty by rejecting the obvious, pragmatic, compromise of soft (single market) Brexit then she failed to understand that as with every concession made to them before it just produces an even wilder new demand.

This chorus, made up mostly of middle-aged men, shouts ‘treason’ at any attempt to translate Brexit into something that might limit the damage to Britain’s economy. They claim a monopoly on patriotism, wrapping themselves in the Union Jack and calling those that disagree with them anti-British.

Most distasteful of all, though, is the weaponising of ignorance. The snobbish and condescending suggestion that knowledge and expertise are somehow elitist and irrelevant to most people has taken our political debate to a new low. Plummy accents affect common cause with ‘ordinary folk’. We common plain-speaking chaps are fed up with experts, aren’t we, eh what? Oxford history graduates tweet things they surely know to be nonsense and Fellows of All Souls cast themselves as anti-Establishment. The strategy when confronted with inconvenient questions or facts, is to simply go red in the face and shout a lot, hoping to browbeat your opponent into submission. Some of the noisy old men on Twitter really don’t know what they are talking about. Worse, though, are the ones who pretend not to know things because knowing them would be inconvenient.

As if to emphasise the sitcom takeover of Britain, as soon as she came back from holiday our prime minister chose to become embroiled in the War of Big Ben’s Dong (oo-er missus). We may be 18 months away the most calamitous event to hit this country since the Second World War but our government can still find time to pontificate on a manufactured tabloid row. Never mind that the plan to repair Big Ben was signed off by parliamentary committees in 2015, that the bell has been silenced for refurbishment before or that doing delicate repair work with 120 decibel chimes going off every quarter-hour is self-evidently stupid, the pompous boors have to be appeased. Once again, those who know what they are talking about and who have done the painstaking planning are dismissed with typical bluster.

Some council jobsworths are planning to silence the town hall clock. The local rag is up in arms and retired colonels are writing letters to the Times. But don’t worry, Hyacinth Bucket and her residents’ committee are on the case. They’ll put these namby-pamby so-called experts in their place.

Hey, here’s an idea. An old Etonian hack, who has built his reputation by making up stories about foreigners and telling xenophobic jokes, somehow gets to be foreign secretary. He carries on exactly as before, which upsets lots of foreign politicians and diplomats. We could have European dignitaries with funny accents saying, “Ach so, zis is famous English joking, yah?” OK, it’s preposterous but it should get a few cheap laughs in the half hour between the serious programmes.

The trouble is, the joke is wearing thin. An aspect of our national culture that used to provide endless comedy material has gone mainstream. The bombastic, self-righteous middle-aged bore, revelling in his homespun philosophy and convinced that what he can see from his own doorstep represents a universal and timeless truth, is now calling the shots. The knowledgable and those with workable suggestions are shouted down. The people who used to provide us with midweek comedy laughs are now running the show and, when you get close up, they are really not very funny at all.


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39 Responses to Sitcom Britain

  1. Florence says:

    Well said. On another FB page someone was tossing around (oooh-er missus) the term Fascist, and when asked to define it came back with a “sort-of” drippy response that boiled down to bad people who wear uniforms. So I was especially pleased to see your acerbic account of the reality of shabby British right wingers. Including my loser brother in law, another resident of another dying seaside town, consumed with Daily Heil hate. What strange bedfellows he makes with the ” ever-present Brexit ultras inside and outside the Tory party. They are so detached from reality and so implacable in their demands”. These are indeed the upper class twits who have been sent to expensive public schools to burnish the dullards of too much interbreeding, while indoctrinating them into believing they are the dynasts set to rule us all. They are the ones who think that the poor “could consider suicide an option” – (Hamilton, UKIP, The Welsh Assembly, recently). Supported by the stupidity that transcends class, and aggregates around lives who believe they are without hope.

    They are the ones who see no problem that tens of thousands are dying because of the cuts to the Welfare State, to the loss of Social Security. Deaths by design, not by neglect or ignorance, and these modern Eugenicists have come crawling out the woodwork over the last 40 years. The crypto-fascist Jacob Rees-Mogg would indeed be a fitting leader for them all, and I for one will have no hesitation using that cartoon effigy on my bonfire on Nov 5th, despite a previous reluctance to burn effigies. Time the gloves come off.

    • Dipper says:

      So I go and post my reply about the real fascist movement below and then I read this; here it is made clear! All the basic elements of fascism are here; create an ‘other” (Neil Hamilton may be a lot of things, but upper class expensive public school he isn’t). Accuse them of things they haven’t done (“see no problem that tens of thousands are dying because of cuts to the welfare state”), remove their humanity (“stupidity that transcends class”), and then act as judge, jury, and executioner all in one with no right of appeal; at least only Jacob Rees-Moog’s effigy is being burnt here, but the suggestion that violence is the way to deal with political opponents is only too typical.

      That “loser” brother in law in his “dying shabby seaside town” has just as many rights as you do, and is as entitled to his opinion just like you. Perhaps if his dying shabby seaside town were to receive the kind of investment per head that London gets it might be him expressing triumphalist opinions about loser Florence.

      • johnb78 says:

        The redistribution of income *from* London is the only thing that pays for the ability of people to live in dying shabby seaside towns. I don’t begrudge them the subsidy, but arguing for it to be further increased at the expense of productive investment seems a bit much.

  2. Jim says:

    We already have authoritarianism in the UK, have had for about a decade or more now. Its the authoritarianism of the liberal (ha ha) Left – if you don’t agree with them and their nostrums your are subhuman scum who deserves everything they get. Hence the attitude to people who voted for Brexit, towards people in State employ who happen not to agree with all the usual PC nostrums the Left demand they bow their knee to, the shouting of Tory Scum at people having the temerity to attend a political conference the Left disapprove of, the policing of the internet by the thought police etc etc.

    The Left have always been authoritarian – they have to be, to keep a socialist society working you have to crush those who oppose it. They have played the ‘Human rights’ card very well over the years, yet those rights rarely seem to be extended to people they disagree with or don’t like.

  3. Dipper says:

    “I said years ago that if we ever had an authoritarian movement in Britain it would not have uniforms, goose-stepping marches and torchlight parades…Ours would be a shabby poujadism, led by golf club bores, residents’ association busybodies and parish Pol Pots.”

    hello? hello? is there anybody there? Have you not been watching? Jim is spot on.

    We already have an authoritarian movement – it is the Expert Academic Remainer movement. As a Leaver, I see it everyday. People assuming they know more than I and my fellow leavers, assuming they are better placed than I to judge what is right for the country, that their opinion should count more than mine, that their view should prevail without the need to persuade anyone.

    it works by demeaning opponents, insulting them with abusive terms, typically “racist”, and then justifies removing rights because of the labels that have just been unilaterally applied. It is a movement that is self appointed, knows no boundaries or controls, has no notion of justice, simply acts as self-appointed judge, jury, executioner, with no right of appeal.

    • Athens Express says:

      Jesus wept. Does the word “irony” mean nothing to you? You don’t get to stick your fingers in your ears shouting “I know you are but what am I”. Time to get real.

  4. Patricia Leighton says:

    Some sad comments here. My feeling is that until the current generation of over 60’s, still gagging on the glory days of empire and when ‘jonny foreignor’ could be put in his place things will be bad.The country will then be able to grow up These people are unlikely to be the victims of BREXIT and in any case ignorance is ignorance is ignorance. I like people who are well-informed, not this crazy rabble in power now.

  5. Dipper says:

    Brexit is not primarily about the UK, it is about the EU. All Farage had to do was point at the EU and say ‘look at that”. So people like me look at people like you lot making comments about golf clubs, over 60’s and empire, and find ourselves just going “no, over there! look at that!” And you have no answer, just “we will reform it” which was specifically vetoed by every influential purpose in the EU as not going to happen.

    All this abuse just confirms in the minds of people like me that we got the decision right, and that you folks are just asleep at the wheel, dangerously negligent, delusional about the future the EU is offering. I dislike golf-club generals just as much as the next sane person, but seriously, just look at what the future in the EU held. The other 27 are all heading towards a single EU state as Verhofstadt has repeatedly said and has never been contradicted. A single army, a single parliament, a single currency, a single central bank, a single legal process. And then there is us. How long do you think we can remain in the EU and outside the superstate? And if leaving now is hard, leaving in ten years time will be impossible. And what do you think happens to people who have no choices? How much “influence” do you think we have when we have no options?

    Al this abuse about golf clubs and empire. Just hopelessly missing the point.

    • Charlie says:

      Tell me, how long does it take writing up all those articles for the Daily Express every day?

      • Dipper says:

        The only possible conclusion from this comment is that you are a moron. Is that what you intended? Do you mean to make a point and forget to put it in?

        • Woodsman says:

          You were talking earlier about ‘the left’ demeaning opponents… and here you are calling someone a moron. Do grow up.

          • Dipper says:

            Charlie’s comment is just a non comment. Honestly, why bother typing it. I don’t normally call people morons, but what else is one to make of it?

        • johnb78 says:

          The point is, if you think the people or national leaders of the EU27 are in any way minded to form a single state in the way you’ve described (it can only happen with the unanimous consent of national leaders, so Verhofstandt’s alleged opinion on the topic is irrelevant) , you are so utterly delusional and removed from reality that calling you names is the only possible form of engagement with you.

          • Dipper says:

            Wow. Such reckless negligence. National leaders have had every opportunity to squash Juncker’s and Verhofstadt’s calls for a Federal state, and they never have. Instead we’ve seen Greece effectively destroyed as a sovereign nation, and now Poland is being told to change direction or face consequences.

    • Almar says:

      To avoid sarcastic replies, I probably need to start by stating that I voted Remain and compared to most people would count as an expert on the EU.

      Even though I disagree with Dipper’s forecast of an EU super-state, I have considerable sympathy with his complaint about the supercilious way that so many Remainers write about those who voted for Brexit. None of those whom I know personally who voted for Brexit are stupid people, several are qualified professionals, none ever expressed any nostalgia for the Empire nor are any xenophobic.

      At the moment we need to have discussion of the least-bad feasible options. Such discussions are not helped by belittling those we disagree with.

      • Charlie says:

        The Brexiteers (certainly the ones in the press and government) are shouting down any of the least-bad feasible options and have been since the referendum

        • Dipper says:

          This Leaver is happy talking about “Least Bad”options. Most of my business life has been spent working on least bad options, so this is no different. Most Leavers are well aware that Leaving is difficult. Pointing out the potential benefits of Leaving is not the same as saying they are going to be presented on a plate.

          For people being shouted down, Remainers are still making a lot of noise. My complaints about what Remainers are proposing are two-fold; firstly, much of this is EU membership by the back door, so we will still have all the constraints and hence none of the opportunities, but have no influence. Secondly, many Remainers come from an academic/professional background long on pontificating and short on delivery. Most of them fall foul of the same trap, which is to massively overestimate their ability to plan or predict the future. So there is a fundamental difference in outlook; Remainers lambast Leavers for having no plans, Leavers look on in mixed disbelief and amusement that people should think the future can be mapped and planned in detail.

          • David says:

            Have to say Dipper I admire your energy and persistence here but fear you may be wasting time and breath (like you don’t already know that !) .
            Riks otherwise worthy blog attracts few that are capable or want dialogue ; most ‘Responders’ don’t want discussion just a confirmation of their own opinions / prejudices and space to play out spittal flecked fury more suited to the playground .

          • Sorry but this notion that “most leavers are well aware that leaving is difficult” is a very recent phenomenon, exemplified by the likes of Brendan O’neil in The Spectator the other week. Having paid pretty close attention to last years debate the general thrust of the Vote Leave campaign was almost the precise opposite of this. Indeed with the notable exception of the Leave Alliance nobody on the leave aside made much mention of how difficult it was all going to be at all. Indeed I suspect the reason Vote Leave rejected the exit plan offered to them by the Leave Alliance was precisely because they did not want to go to the nation with the “it’s going to be difficult but it’ll be worth it” slogan. Preferring instead to concentrating on big numbers on the side of buses, even bigger numbers arriving from Turkey and denouncing everything anyone said that was approaching the truth as “project fear”.

            But it’s ok because we all really knew how difficult it was going to be right?

      • “At the moment we need to have discussion of the least-bad feasible options.”

        Well for starters, those who publically advocated to leave, and are now so vociferous about what kind of “leave” we should have would take umbrage at your comment “least-bad”, as far as they are concerned there is no down side. See Patrick Minford re-launching his failed thesis from last year as a prime example of this mind set.

      • David says:

        Absolutely well said Almar . But I fear this appeal is whistling in the wind . Certain parties (here) know no other way of discussion but abuse and sarcasm , and sadly its usually (but certainly not confined to) the teaching / academic trades .

        None of us should be able to state that we’ve never changed our mind about an issue and when we did it was never by being bullied or demeaned .

      • CM says:

        Good to read an intelligent and measured response from a Remainer. (Not the original article, I hasten to add.)
        I voted Brexit, although not naturally a Brexiteer.
        My reasons were very complex and politically motivated. Nuanced even; I had to make a judgement between – for want of a better phrase – two evils.

        I’m not happy I had to vote Brexit but I dont regret it; I feel I had no choice.

        However, I am more convinced of the rectitude of my analysis the more I read Remainer hysteria.
        Really there is nothing more grating than listening to well-off middle class types decrying the exercise of Democracy in opposition to their personal interests. For that is what this is.
        No poverty stricken mother in an unregulated tenancy is bemoaning the loss of travel privileges to ‘their’ resort or the spiralling price of German cars.
        It really is something to behold; the shrill siren call of self-entitled arses, stripped of the acroutements of their brilliance and status. And by the plebs! It simply must be undone!
        Bellowing about Brexiteers all being ignorant (thus stupid) and malicious (and thus not stupid, one would assume) without a whit of self-awareness at the contradictions in their own arguments.

        While Brexiteers may be poor and ignorant and biased in large part, at least they are conscious of their motives and do not feign to hide them under a veneer of respectability and self-serving ‘expertise’. I am glad I have cast my vote and rattled the hive of grandiose self-regard and cultural narcissism that passes for Remain.
        I think whatever way this goes, bringing down this class of psychopaths – these moneyed Alf Garnetts – and laying waste their junk-science ‘expertise’ is a price well worth paying.

        Or as Chris Hedges puts it –

    • Well you’re half right, it was a “look over there” ploy but you’ve got things back to front. The EU were a useful scapegoat to disguise the failings of our own politics to grapple our own problems.

      • Dipper says:

        I think the EU allowed us to ignore failings in our own politics, Now we have no choice but to face them.

        • The EU didn’t “allow” us at all, we were quite capable of screwing up our economy, manufacturing base, housing, social system etc all by ourselves. I struggle to comprehend why, as a supposed first world, democratic nation, we feel the need to apportion blame everywhere except where it belongs. When we leave, and I fully expect the “least favourable” leave imaginable, I fully expect in 2 years or so the USA, or Canada, or China or who ever to be blamed for either not acquiescing to “our” terms on what ever FTA The disgraced Liam Fox cooks up, or worse, lamenting the poor terms of some hasty deal he will have signed (see the Australia/China deal Matt Ridley recently applauded)

          In short, we will not “face up” to anything.

          • Person_XYZ says:

            I personally believe the EU will remain the bogeyman. >Any< future relationship we have with it will, inevitably, be the source of future economic and diplomatic troubles. There will never be peace in the hearts of the Leavers.

  6. Stephen Holland says:

    Hi Rick

    Spot on. I genuinely appreciate your blog. Readable, yet so comprehensive. The level of detail is astounding to a layperson such as I.



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  9. Keith says:

    Brexit represents a failure by the centre and moderate right to quell jingoism and stupidity. Now they are scrambling around trying to work out how to avoid losing the benefits of cooperation in a large voluntary association of democracies. Failure long brewed by the right. The real authoritarians are those who cannot learn to cooperate like adults as they do not wish to compromise. So you are correct fundamentally. Leaving is not a good sign of balance and good mental adjustment but the opposite. Managing the results with this mentality will be hard. The Tory party has shown no ability to assume responsibility for the job. But keep running away like the cowards and con men they are.

    • Dipper says:

      It is also a failure by the EU. The EU will be weaker without the UK. Just as the UK is spending time sorting out the relationship with the EU so the EU is having to do likewise. They gambled that they could use the referendum to lay down the law on Federalism and limit the UK’s ability to act independently, and lost.

      • Guano says:

        “The EU will be weaker without the UK.”

        “They gambled that they could use the referendum to lay down the law on Federalism and limit the UK’s ability to act independently, and lost.”


        • Dipper says:

          I think it is self-evident that the EU will be weaker without the UK due to the money we put in and the free trade currently enjoyed by EU exporters.

          In the EU Referendum the Remain side made much of “staying in a reformed EU”. Juncker spent the entire campaign saying very loudly “there will be no further reform of the EU”. The EU very clearly pulled the rug from under the Remain campaign.

          • Guano says:

            I asked for evidence for your assertions, and your reply is an assertion that it is self-evident!

            I see no sign in the rest of Europe that anyone thinks that the EU is now weaker, or that the lost nett income from the UK is significant, or that this was a failure for the EU. And I don’t know what you are talking about when you say “They gambled that they could use the referendum to lay down the law on Federalism and limit the UK’s ability to act independently.”

          • Jim Slee says:

            Well, if the lost net income from the UK is not significant then why didn’t they offer it up in the negotiations and why are the r27 arguing amongst themselves about who is going to replace it?

            If Remain had won the referendum, Juncker would have said they had made it abundantly clear that there would be no more reform of the EU and that there was a move to increasing federalism and the British people had given them a clear mandate to continue, so whenever a UK government tried to resist they would have challenged us to call another referendum.

  10. Guano says:

    “If Remain had won the referendum, Juncker would have said they had made it abundantly clear that there would be no more reform of the EU and that there was a move to increasing federalism and the British people had given them a clear mandate to continue ……. ”

    Evidence? Citations? Links?

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