How to be a ‘hippy fascist’
James Delingpole, author of a ‘guide to making lefty liberals history’, talks to spiked about greens, Glastonbury and his revolution-phobia.
This review is republished from the May 2007 issue of the spiked review of books. View the whole issue here.
I’m confused. James Delingpole, journalist, author and writer of the Spectator’s weekly TV review (which he freely admits is ‘more about me than TV, because TV is mostly boring’), has developed a reputation as a right-wing baiter of all things lefty-liberal. Consider the title of his latest book: How To Be Right: The Essential Guide to Making Lefty Liberals History.
So imagine my surprise when he answers his front door, not in a tweed jacket with elbow patches and brown, tattered dad-like trousers, which is the uniform of the young fogey, but rather in those three-quarter length trousers beloved of the espresso-sipping Nathan Barley set around Clerkenwell and a trendy t-shirt. What’s more, I am barely across the threshold before he is making me a cup of strong flowery tea (I think it was a mixture of mint tea and something else, but I can’t remember – where I come from we drink PG Tips with lashings of sugar and milk and anything else is for poofs), and excitedly telling me how much he loves Glastonbury where you can ‘shove drugs up your nose’ and chill out.
His home is more bohemian than Bullingdon. A three-storey building in a rare leafy oasis in the South London of recent ‘gun culture’ fame, it is all children’s drawings, a piano, a cat. Beautiful blonde children bang out tunes on said piano and on recorders (the weapon of choice of every child determined to grab an adult’s attention) and no one tells them to be quiet. Who would live in a house like this? My guess would be someone like Guardianista George Monbiot (described in Delingpole’s book as ‘posho green activist who, despite having enjoyed all the fruits of the capitalist system and English tradition in the neoclassical surroundings of Stowe public school, now wants to replace capitalism with the barter system and force everyone to travel to work by coracle, unicycle or Shanks’s pony’), or perhaps Independent columnist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (filed in Delingpole’s book under the category ‘Why oh why oh why?’). I’d never have guessed that someone like Delingpole – a self-described old-school Tory who recently confessed to having been an ‘arrogant tosser’ and a ‘hideous snob’ when he was at Oxford in the Eighties – would inhabit such a…well, ‘space’, man.
He laughs. ‘A friend of mine calls me a “hippy fascist”. That sort of sums me up. I do love Glastonbury, where you are thrown in with other people and you can do as many drugs as you like. But I am also pro-foxhunting and pro-excellence and I’m a bit of an elitist – all those things which, in the eyes of screeching intolerant liberals, make me a “fascist”.’ He giggles as he tells me about the time he and thousands of others sang the words ‘We all believe in love, so fuck you!’ as Elbow (panic sets in: I do not know who or what ‘Elbow’ is) played on the main stage at Glastonbury. Suddenly I feel like the young fogey. Glastonbury is my worst nightmare. I haven’t been near an illegal drug since I smuggled a small plastic bag of Es in my Y-fronts into a nightclub in London in the early Nineties and spent the rest of the night holding on to a sink in the piss-flooded toilets because I thought I was going to fall down. And I’m wearing a suit. A grey suit. A right-winger in New Casual wear is telling a libertarian Marxist in a suit about the joys of a muddy music festival, and the libertarian Marxist can only think to himself: I would rather remove my eyeballs with a rusty teaspoon than spend a week in a camp surrounded by barbed wire with 100,000 lazy hippies. I think I glimpsed the meaninglessness of the left/right divide there in Delingpole’s kitchen.
It would be bad, a journo-crime, to use that knackered old phrase from review-land, ‘laugh-out-loud funny’, to describe Delingpole’s book How To Be Right – especially here, in the first issue of the spiked review of books. So I won’t use it. Instead I’ll say that Delingpole’s book made me laugh, and often audibly. It is the literary equivalent of throwing a hand grenade into the Spit Lit Festival of Women’s Literature. Delingpole nails many of today’s lamest and laziest orthodoxies, including ‘access for all’ (he hates popping along to his local art gallery and finding there is yet another exhibition ‘curated in collaboration with Asian textile workers or the mentally ill homeless’), multiculturalism (‘just how stupid and destructive an idea is that?’) and environmentalism (‘bossy new world religion’). It is written in an A-to-Z style, covering everything from Aaronovitch, David to Zephaniah, Benjamin, and is designed to be a fighting guide for anyone likely to get into a rumble with what Delingpole calls ‘lefty-liberals’ but whom I prefer to call, well, almost everybody these days. Think of it as a dictionary of dickheads; a Queensberry Rules for those about to boldly go to a dinner party at which ‘lefty liberals’ will be gathered in packs, marking out their territory, and who want to arm themselves with facts and cutting thoughts on car crime, Chernobyl and the compensation culture first.
Much of the book is brilliantly observed. Entries include: Hardy, Jeremy: ‘Comedian whose humour you really need to be a Radio 4 commissioning editor to get.’ Goldsmith, Zac: ‘Posho green activist with better looks, loads more money and a much more exciting Christian name than George Monbiot, which is why poor George has to say much madder things to get himself noticed.’ Geography Teachers: ‘Today, geography has so little to do with geography that really it ought to be renamed Man Is a Murderous, Fascist, Eco-destroying, Capitalist Bastard Studies, because that’s what it’s all about.’ NSPCC: ‘Abused any kids recently? You haven’t? What kind of weirdo are you? Of course you abuse kids. We all abuse kids.’ Vegans: ‘Sweaty-shoed, no-fun vegetarians who can’t even have honey and butter on toast.’ Porritt, Jonathon: ‘Posho green activist with major social advantage over George Monbiot: he went to Eton, not Stowe.’
There are less impressive bits, too. It isn’t the fact that the entry on Iraq seems to sort of, kind of, a little bit suggest that the military intervention there was a good thing that got my back up; no, it was the entry’s erming and ahhing indecision about the bloody war that did that, with Delingpole coming across as not really knowing what to say. Where he slices open other big issues with a few sharp and shiny words, on Iraq he says: ‘We can debate [it] until hell freezes over or the polar ice caps melt and still we’ll never reach a satisfactory conclusion.’ Oh, and the Iraq entry has this line: ‘Was Saddam Hussein’s Kurd-gassing, Marsh-Arab-destroying, Shia-massacring, feeding-the-opposition-live-into-a-mincing-machine tyranny preferable to the civil-war chaos that has replaced it?’ Which made me wonder whether Delingpole reads the magazine that employs him, the Spectator, in whose pages I debunked the story of Saddam’s mincing machine more than three years ago (though I admit I kept a nervous eagle eye on Saddam’s trial last year in case the old bastard suddenly confessed to having possessed such a machine, which might have caused my journalistic reputation to go the same way as his opponents allegedly did).
Delingpole says he partly regrets giving the book the title ‘How to be right’ – by which he essentially means ‘how to be right wing’ – and the subtitle ‘the essential guide to making lefty liberals history’. ‘I think it might have put some people off, you know, people who don’t think of themselves as right wing but who do hate a lot of lefty-liberal nonsense.’ The cover is illustrated with a photo of a man’s arm stretched out and giving a clenched-fist salute (in the style of the Black Power salute, somewhat ironically). The arm is decorated by a rainbow assortment of wristbands, only the messages on these wristbands are distinctly un-PC: ‘Make Pop Stars History’; ‘Eat Wrong’; ‘Beat Seal Cubs’. You wouldn’t find smug bike-riding newsreader Jon Snow arguing the toss with his producers over his inalienable right to wear any of those wristbands live on air, as he did over the Make Poverty History wristband. (Which – have you noticed? – everyone has stopped wearing. Does that mean poverty is history, or that these people no longer care very much for making it so?) Delingpole says the title will probably be changed when the book is republished for the Christmas market, ‘to get rid of the right-wing emphasis and to give the book a fighting chance of being put in the humour section this time instead of the bloody politics section’.
Good point, I tell him: I mean, I’m not right wing and I liked the book. And that is when I discover that Delingpole is at least as confused by me as I was by his ‘Glastonbury rocks’ spiel in the kitchen. He says he is a big fan of spiked and agrees with much of what we say, especially on green stuff, multiculturalism, and excellence in education and the arts. But he can’t get his head around the fact that we emerged from a magazine called Living Marxism and, worse than that, a political group called the Revolutionary Communist Party. His conclusion? ‘You lot are closet Tories! You criticise so much lefty-liberal propaganda, and you do it well – you must surely be right-wingers in denial.’
It’s my second epiphany in the space of half an hour about how left and right tags have become meaningless. Since when were divisive policies such as multiculturalism and nature-worshipping creeds like environmentalism anything to do with being ‘left’? Such squalid political positions may now be championed most loudly (though by no means exclusively) by the clapped-out old rump of what used to be called the left – but that only shows that the left has abandoned, wholesale, the values that originally underpinned our social movement. spiked stands on the left as it was originally defined, by those who stood on the left side of the National Assembly during the explosive fervour of revolutionary France and who led the charge for reason, liberty and secularism, for Enlightenment values over the dark and stifling values of tradition, duty, Godliness.
Indeed, some of the things that spiked (and Delingpole) attacks have their origins on the right, not the left. As Patrick West points out in his book The Poverty of Multiculturalism, the politics of that divisive outlook can be traced back to the Romantic reaction against the Enlightenment. ‘The Romantics believed that human beings were principally constituted by culture, and even caged by it – and from their seed has sprouted the weed of multiculturalism’, wrote West. That might explain why Thatcher, hardly a lefty-liberal, so fervently instituted multicultural policies in the Eighties largely as a means of keeping troublesome blacks in their ‘communities’ where they belonged. Environmentalism could be said to have its origins in nineteenth- and twentieth-century movements for the conservation of land against splurging cities and mass populations. Such movements were always led by right-wing traditionalists, and often the embittered old aristocracy – you know, ‘posho greens’ educated at Eton or Stowe and born with a silver spoon in their gobs and a loathing of mass modern society in their minds. The left’s cheerleading of multiculturalism and environmentalism today shows that it has abandoned its universalist and social-based outlook in favour of adapting to the narrow agenda of the traditionalist wing of society.
My mention of the French Revolution seems to have troubled Delingpole somewhat. ‘Oh, I don’t very much care for revolutions’, he says. ‘They always turn bloody and the state ends up having too much power.’ Hmmm. Maybe his earlier professed love for Glastonbury – that safe, risk-free, fenced-off, heavily policed, one-week-long parody of freedom – was not so weird after all. After all, there’s no risk of revolutions occurring while everyone is behind barbed-wire and having repetitive beats pumped through their brains and bodies. I wonder if I should stay for another cup of that flowery tea, which was actually very nice. Unfortunately I can’t. I have grey suits to collect from the dry cleaners, which closes at 6 – and a revolution to pursue.
Brendan O’Neill is editor of spiked. Visit his personal website here.
This review is republished from the May 2007 issue of the spiked review of books. View the whole issue here.
How to Be Right: The Essential Guide to Making Lefty Liberals History by James Delingpole is published by Headline Review (buy this book from Amazon(UK)).