New Labour’s alien extras

On Blair's debt to Star Trek, golf club bores, and Euro-insults.

Patrick West
Columnist

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Topics Politics
  • Spirit of the Enterprise

A few years ago, when work was in progress on its ground rebuilding, Arsenal FC erected an enormous mural in front of its North Bank stand depicting what the new end would look like on a full match day.

Unfortunately, the ‘fans’ painted on the mural were all Caucasian. Black and Asian faces were hastily added after some people complained that the mural failed to reflect the club’s multiracial fan base and multicultural aspirations. This move reflected one of the modern rules of race relations: that when hypothetically representing a group of people, it has to be multiracial.

The pioneers in this field were the makers of Star Trek, who famously manned the crew of the USS Enterprise with men and women of countless races. The most recent manifestation of it was during this week’s Labour Party conference, where ‘ordinary’ Labour supporters from all sections of multiracial Britain were seated on the podium.

I couldn’t help thinking that this representation was slightly bogus. Those on the podium were youngish, soberly dressed and fairly pleasing to look at, while the main audience was comprised of rather ugly, mean-looking party members, with scowls on their faces and an overwhelming air of self-importance about them. The usual trades union characters looked particularly glum, and fatter than ever.

Apologies if this sounds flippant or ‘looksist’, but if you are going to play the game, stick to the rules. It was almost as if the spindoctors in the New Labour hierarchy were inadvertently making a statement about where they wanted to take the party.

The audience represented the reality: the majority of Labour members are rather grim, bearded types who don’t suffer fools gladly. The podium represented New Labour’s aspiration, what the Blairites want its supporters to be like: bland, bourgeois, placid, lobotomised folk who don’t ask too many difficult questions – much like those alien races the USS Enterprise used to come across from time to time, the ones who lived in an Eden-like paradise that was simultaneously very fascistic.

‘We don’t need to think; number one does all the thinking for us’, they would say, prompting McCoy to go very red in the face and start shaking them by the collar, pleading ‘But you are not free, for heaven’s sakes! YOU ARE NOT FREE!’

And watching Tony Blair’s speech on TV brought to mind what New Labour owes to the spirit of the first Star Trek series. Both Blair and Captain Kirk are driven by a benign cultural imperialism, that while they both appreciate that foreign cultures must be respected, they still feel some compulsion to civilise the known world, almost as if this is their religious duty.

Still, it’s hard to dislike Blair at times. He seems a nice man, and he is evidently developing a talent for stand-up humour. It’s just I haven’t got time for his form dictatorial politics, his cultivation of a culture of unthinking deference and toadying, and his seeming contempt for democracy and the British constitution.

  • Golf club bores

Our prime minister also lavished praise on the European golfers who recently despatched the American team in the Ryder Cup. He said this was Britain in Europe at its best.

The Ryder Cup is often enthusiastically invoked by supporters of European unity as evidence of how we could all get along together. But this also reveals a more unsavoury side to the Euro-enthusiasts – how the cause for unity is based on a fear of America, and that a superstate could stand up to the USA and be bigger and better. Such envy is nothing to shout about.

Seeing the reaction after Europe beat America in the Ryder Cup reminds me of those local football derbies that mean much more to the smaller team. It’s like Walsall beating Aston Villa, or Bradford City beating Leeds United. By going on and on about this triumph in a semi-hysterical manner, you only reveal your own insecurities and admit to your own second-ratedness. While such upsets are soon forgotten by the big team, who go on to win the league, the smaller club will go on and on about it for years, while languishing in lower-league mediocrity.

  • You’re merde, and you know you are

At least football is a proper sport, unlike golf, which occupies the same hobby-cum-sport netherworld as snooker and darts. Mind you, watching Manchester United’s dreary 4-0 triumph over Olympiakos, the Champions’ League seems really nothing to get excited about.

Again, this competition seems an adjunct of some Euro-philosophy, the inference being that one pan-European club competition will eventually replace domestic leagues – which, like foxhunting and democracy, Tony Blair will probably deride as ‘belonging to the past’, because we are ‘now in the twenty-first century’.

I think the Champions’ League will never be able to replace intra-national competitions. On Tuesday night, United fans were jeering Olympiakos songs, clearly because they found them so strange and incomprehensible. This reveals a problem. The whole point of football is being able to chant obscenities at opposing fans, who will understand what foul songs you are singing about them. Football is also about teasing your mates on Monday mornings. Who cares what happens to Bayern Munich or Juventus? I bet that United would rather beat Liverpool any day.

The only hope are Dutch fans, who not only speak English perfectly, but know how to swear in it proficiently.

Patrick West is the author of Conspicuous Compassion: Why Sometimes it Really is Cruel to be Kind, Civitas, 2004. Buy this book from Amazon (UK).

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