On daft-looking fascists and Cockney Liverpool supporters.
- Fascism was never fashionable
Much has been written in connection with the death of Diana Mosley, widow of Sir Oswald, the would-be fascist dictator of Britain. We read that she had a disarming wit, boundless charm, that she was considered one of the most beguiling and dazzling society beauties of her day, but that she was also a Hitler-adoring crackpot who didn’t have the gumption to admit she was wrong about the Nazis.
She was certainly a character that attracted a lot of attention. She did so precisely because she was exceptional, an anomaly. Despite what the race worriers would have us believe, the British have never really been disposed towards fascism.
Some say this is because we have never understood big political ideologies. Being empirically minded, we prefer knowledge that can be put to use, rather than knowledge for its own sake. The British never succumbed to fascism or communism because we had no time for grand, complicated theories with their confusing dialectics or barmy utopian promises.
Additionally, our history of anti-intellectualism inoculated us from the capacity actually to understand big theories. ‘Too clever by half’ is considered a mild insult in this country, as is ‘egg-head’ or ‘two-brains’. ‘Get your head out of a book!’ we exclaim. ‘Swallowed a dictionary did we?’ we ask. The Brits are like Hobbits: plodding, plain folk who don’t like fancy ideas or funny foreign ways and a pint of ale. In a paradoxical manner, our xenophobia put us off ‘foreign’ fascism.
Yet it is not JRR Tolkien who provides the best insight in regards to this matter, but PG Wodehouse. He gave us the character Roderick Spode, a humourless brute whose ambition is to be Dictator of Britain. A spoof of Oswald Mosley, Spode is the leader of the ‘Black Shorts’. And this points to why fascism really failed in Britain: it looked silly. People thought it embarrassing to go dressing up, marching and making bellicose speeches. As Bertie Wooster once remonstrated:
‘The trouble with you, Spode, is that because you have succeeded in inducing a handful of halfwits to disfigure the London scene by going about in black shorts, you think you’re someone. You hear them shouting “Heil, Spode!” and you imagine it is the Voice of the People. That is where you make your bloomer. What the Voice of the People is saying is: “Look at that frightful ass Spode swanking about in footer bags! Did you ever in your puff see such a perfect perisher?”’
That’s why fascism only attracted oddities like Diana Mosley. It was fit for loopy eccentrics drawn to puffed-up men in uniforms. For the same reason, despite continual prognostications about the rise of the far right in Britain, the likes of John ‘I still live with my mum’ Tyndall and Nick ‘farmer’ Griffin will be regarded with a mixture of contempt and amusement.
As I predicted last week, the journey from Liverpool back to London on Saturday was a bit of an ordeal. As if the Bees getting stung 4-1 by Tranmere was not bad enough, our 7pm Virgin train from Lime Street departed half-an-hour late, wheezed its way only to Crewe, whereupon it broke down. A replacement engine was commandeered and after some time we staggered back to the capital on a sweaty, slow train, pulling into Euston at around midnight.
That wasn’t the worst of it. The train was packed with Liverpool fans returning ‘home’, having seen their side play at ‘home’ against Valencia in a friendly. Notice those contemptuous inverted commas? I am one of those purist types who has no time for Liverpool or Manchester United fans who were born and brought up in the south-east.
Normally only United fans get it in the neck on this basis. But new research from The Times (London) explodes the myth that most of their supporters come from outside Manchester. Although 22 percent of the team’s fans are from the south-east, it showed that 31 percent are from its home region. In fact, Liverpool fans are worse culprits. There are more Liverpool fans in the south-east (24 percent) than in the team’s home area (21 percent). Judging by the number of them on the train, I can well believe it.
When I asked one Cockney in a Liverpool top why he supported the scarlet Scousers, he said that he had followed them in his youth and he saw no reason to switch allegiance now. In a way, I admire the loyal attitude – having started supporting Liverpool when they were successful, he stuck with them during the barren Nineties and beyond. At the same time I think it’s righteous justice. If you’re going to support a team from the other side of the country just because they win trophies, you deserve to suffer when they don’t.
- Crowd control
Football is a classic excuse for bonding, for feeling part of the crowd, part of a community. But at least football fans will admit it is a ritual, mere theatre of sorts.
Yet ‘flash mobbers’, we are told, are pranksters, avant-garde artists or post-modern anarchists. It all seems good fun, and I don’t meant to belittle these good-natured folks, but I think it’s time for some honesty. ‘Flash mobbing’ reflects a more basic need. In these times of social fragmentation and isolation, what with Church, nation and the family having withered, there remains the urge to forge communities. No wonder football itself is more popular than ever. ‘Flash mobbing’ is a symptom of the same desire: to want to belong. The sole purpose of this activity is to be one of the crowd.
Still, it’s a far more amusing way of ‘belonging’ than going on protests, queuing up to sign condolence books for dead strangers or going on a hunt for ‘paedos’.
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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