Tuesday 27 October 2009

How hatred really built the BNP

Much has been written lately about the BNP and the politics of hate. Yet I have always seen hatred as rather a speciality of the Labour Party.

They hate the ancient institutions of this country, which is why we have abortions like the “reformed” House of Lords and the swish new Supreme Court, which sprang into life on a whim of Tony Blair’s without even being fleshed out on the traditional fag packet.

They hate the people of the countryside and their ways, hence the crushing burden of bureaucracy on farmers and the huge waste of time to create an unworkable Hunting Act.

They hate “toffs” like David Cameron and George Osborne, but they also hate their own natural supporters getting above themselves. So they snapped the principal ladder by which working class children of my generation achieved social mobility: the grammar schools.

In fact, these days they do not seem to like the British proletariat at all. One of the striking things about Chris Mullin’s diaries, which I praised a few weeks ago, was just how much he seemed to prefer dealing with distressed asylum seekers (polite, educated and grateful) to the mass of his constituents (usually none of the above).

It should come as no surprise, then, to discover from weekend press reports that the floodgates of mass immigration were deliberately opened by Tony Blair and Jack Straw in 2000 to achieve a fundamental and irreversible shift in the make-up of the British population, for their own electoral advantage. The calculation apparently being that industrious and appreciative immigrants were more likely to support Labour than the idle and benefit-addicted denizens of the nation’s council estates.

The true brilliance of the wheeze was this: if anyone dared to suggest that this headlong rush to “multi-culturalism” was a questionable idea, they could be branded as a “racist”, the one thing that instantly puts any politician beyond the pale.

In economic matters, Mrs Thatcher wrenched the centre ground of politics to the right, so that the major parties have spent the last two decades trying to outdo each other with ever more radical schemes of privatisation and in their willingness to pander to the super-rich.

But on social and cultural matters, the entrenched consensus means that anyone who dares to speak up for traditional British (and particularly Christian) values will be shouted down as a bigot.

The new religion of man-made climate change is fast becoming another belief that cannot be challenged, so that anyone who loves the countryside and does not wish to see it industrialised with essentially useless windmills can be presented as wicked and self-centred, prepared to sacrifice the poor people of the Maldives and Bangladesh to protect their own “chocolate box” views.

Add to the mix the European Union, which now makes most of our important decisions for us, and which no mainstream political party dares to oppose effectively, and you end up with a system in which it is hard to put a cigarette paper between the serious contenders for office on most matters of policy, and in which the elite’s values have come seriously adrift from those of the mass of the people.

Most of whom, I would hazard a guess, still take some pride in their country, think it better on the whole than most of the others in the world, and quite liked it the way it was before their leaders decided to give away their sovereignty and completely change the character of their homeland without consulting them.

The predictable backlash, in these circumstances, is extremism of the type represented by the BNP. It is worth remembering that the key to their rise is not the peculiar political genius of Nick Griffin and his colleagues, but the fact that our existing leaders give the impression of, if not actually hating us, at least disliking us quite intensely.


Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

Tuesday 20 October 2009

Broon fans should snub the accountants

It is a brave man who seeks to improve an aphorism coined by Oscar Wilde, but if he were alive today I suspect that he might refine his well-known definition of that individual who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. He is clearly not just a cynic; he is an accountant.

Day in, day out accountants beaver away identifying “cost savings” and “efficiencies”, oblivious to the fact that they may well end up destroying the very essence of the product on which they are working. Nowhere is this truer than in the brewing industry.

Time and again technicians demonstrate that they can replicate the water and other ingredients of a particular beer so precisely that even the bushiest-bearded real ale aficionado cannot tell the difference between a pint lovingly brewed in that fine, old, Victorian family brewery occupying a prime piece of development land in the town centre, and a hyper-efficient, computerised new plant three counties away.

Yet every time they close a traditional ale brewery drinkers somehow do tell the difference, and sales dwindle as surely as night follows day.

Brewers of English ale have been in a fix since the 1970s, when people started acquiring the taste for lager on foreign holidays, and the traditional, thirst-generating heavy industries closed down. Some local brewers responded by creating fine, distinctive lagers of their own, about which specialist beer writers often rave, but sadly the great British public only seems to want bland, fizzy, tasteless stuff backed by massive brand advertising.

The issue of authenticity matters profoundly to real ale enthusiasts, because they care passionately about what they are consuming. It evidently matters not a jot to the average lager drinker, who just wants it to be cold and probably the best in the world, or reassuringly expensive, or the one that Australians prefer. The fact that the stuff brewed under licence over here bears scant resemblance to the foreign original seems irrelevant.

So where does that leave Newcastle Brown Ale as it moves south in obedience to the accountants’ dictates? Its fate has been utterly predictable ever since Scottish & Newcastle was allowed to remove its protected area designation, which ensured that it was as likely to be brewed in Tadcaster, Amsterdam or Minsk as in Dunston.

The reassurances of accountant-run corporations are as worthless as those of politicians. Commitments to preserve breweries usually carry as much weight as those of property developers who promise to cherish the fine listed building on their site, shortly before it mysteriously catches fire and has to be demolished in the interests of public safety.

As Broon is not a real ale, and its international success owes much to the same sort of marketing techniques that have created the global lager brands, I fear that in overall commercial terms they may well get away with it. But not, one hopes, in this region.

Because the cynical relocation of its most famous ale is a truly shocking snub to Tyneside, and one which I do not think it should take lying down – any more than I can believe that Dubliners will keep happily quaffing the black stuff if the accountants ever get their way and close the original Guinness brewery there.

The Dutch brewing conglomerate Heineken may well own the brand, but surely Newcastle, the Tyne Bridge, castle and cathedral belong to all of us. So can’t we register some sort of protected area designation and force them to remove our name and local symbols from the labels of “The One and Only” and make them call it Tadcaster Brown Ale, as it is now to become?

It is the only recourse I can think of, apart from never buying a bottle of the stuff again. Which, come to think of it, is not at all a bad idea, either.


Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

Tuesday 13 October 2009

Changing times in Alwinton and Brussels

Alwinton Show is over, and the evening of the year has begun. So I always reckoned, as I marked the second Saturday in October in my diary, though it has been some time since I made the short journey to the show ground.

Until last weekend, that is, when I had a new wife and son to introduce to one of the undoubted highlights of the Northumberland countryman’s year. But whatever happened to all those smart old men I used to see, impeccably turned out in tweed jackets or suits, with matching caps?

Sadly I think we know the answer to that.

Turning back to the first show catalogue I can find, from 1991, and comparing it with Saturday’s, there has been a noticeable slump in entries across nearly all the agricultural, horticultural and domestic classes – though more people than ever are having a go at producing loaves of bread, cheese scones and jars of chutney, so perhaps all is not lost.

Elsewhere, do we no longer have the skills, time or inclination for this sort of thing, or are the incentives simply inadequate? Although prize money has doubled in the last 18 years it is still only £4 for first place in most classes, which is perhaps not enough to set the pulse racing.

Still, we enjoyed what we saw and can only applaud the innovative thinking behind the new (to me) category of “Baking Gone Wrong”, providing a welcome fall-back position with its encouraging note “Entries taken on day”.

One thing that has not changed is the appealing directness of my fellow Northumbrians, perfectly illustrated by the Show secretary commiserating with me in the queue for the chip van because my Border terrier was too fat to be worth entering for the dog show. This came as news to both me and the dog.

Then there was the steady stream of people who approached me to admire my son, snoozing peacefully in his sling on my chest, then addressed me sympathetically as “Granddad”. I felt compelled to put them right, but it clearly did no good. I could tell by the shaking of their heads that they now had marked me down as pathetically confused as well as terminally decrepit.

I was a bit saddened by the decline in sartorial standards in the Cumberland & Westmorland wrestling ring, where I waited in vain to see someone turned out in the traditional white combinations and coloured trunks. Was I just too impatient, or has this get-up finally gone the way of admirals’ tricorn hats and the Speaker’s wig?

That is the problem with traditions. You take them for granted, comfortably assuming that they are continuing just as they always did, then find that some bright spark has done away with them in the name of “modernisation”.

We will be seeing an awful lot of that on a much broader canvas once the European Union secures its new Lisbon Treaty, through its usual unattractive mixture of lies and intimidation, and the small elite who alone can be trusted to make decisions get on with their mission of abolishing what is left of our national independence.

Yes, the quality of British politicians of all parties is such that we might well feel inclined to allow someone – anyone – else to do their job, but I will still miss my once in five years opportunity to have an indirect say in sacking the man in charge.

This is very much the evening of the United Kingdom and the political and legal systems we have known all our lives. Eurosceptics pin their final hopes on the Czech President, as the Czechs in 1938 placed their hope in us. The precedent is hardly encouraging. Still, perhaps the red glow from the bonfire of our ancient liberties will at least give us an autumn sunset to remember.


Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

Tuesday 6 October 2009

My heart was always in the North East

Overweight, mildly stressed, 50-something male who likes a drink has heart attack. As a news headline, it ranks right up there with the latest shock revelations about the Pope’s religious affiliation and the lavatorial preferences of bears.

Nevertheless, it came as a mild surprise to be told in Wansbeck Hospital last Monday that I had almost certainly suffered a heart attack. More unnerving was the verdict that this was some historical event that had passed me by, and not the cause of the chest pains that had taken me to casualty in the first place.

A disturbingly pretty doctor kept looking at the results of my electrocardiogram and muttering about “depressed PR”; which, in view of my trade and usual mental condition, struck me as the perfect cause of death. I resolved to have it inscribed on my tombstone in any case, in place of the words specified in my last will: “Not sleeping, only dead”.

My short stay in the Wansbeck was my first experience of being a hospital patient since I had my tonsils removed in the old Ear, Nose and Throat Hospital in Rye Hill 50 years ago. In those days the nurses wore uniforms much closer to those now only obtainable from Ann Summers, but that is the only point one could possibly cite in favour of the past.

As an occasional sceptic about the virtues and value of the NHS, I would like to put on record that I was most impressed with the cleanliness of the premises, the quality of the equipment, and the unfailing charm and cheerfulness of the ever helpful staff. Even the much maligned food was tasty and piping hot, though I dare say Michael Winner might have shaken his head over the sogginess of the toast at breakfast.

Having said that, I would strongly advise anyone who feels in need of sleep not to get themselves marooned overnight in the Medical Admissions Unit, where the steady stream of ex-miners suffering breathing difficulties did lead me to wonder how much of a disservice Mrs Thatcher really did this region when she arranged that another generation should not follow them down the pits.

Foolishly, no doubt, I pressed for my discharge on the grounds that I had a wife and three-month-old son who needed me at home, and that I could easily return as an out-patient to have the remaining diagnostic tests I was told that I required. Time has never passed more slowly than during the ensuing three days of sometimes intense pain before an appointment card dropped through my letterbox. On the other hand, it seems overwhelmingly likely that the condition from which I am suffering is pericarditis, and the many hypochondriacs’ websites I have consulted tell me that it is normally treated only with strong painkillers, which I have anyway.

One indisputably good thing has come out of all of this. The onset of my illness prevented us from devoting last week to the planned clearance of my Northumberland house prior to its sale, scheduled for completion next month. As the days wore on, it became increasingly clear not only that we had no hope of meeting that deadline, but that the inevitable stress of moving house was just about the last thing I needed. So I contacted the unfortunate buyer and told him that I was withdrawing my acceptance of his offer. He was very nice about it, all things considered.

So the next time I hear someone embark on that wise old saying “You can take the boy out of the North East …” I shall be able to interrupt them with “Not this boy!” Even better, if they ask me why, I shall be able to produce a sheaf of medical evidence to support my contention that “My heart wasn’t in it.”

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.