Monday, September 29, 2008

Their culture and ours

I'D hate to appear sympathetic to the words of a preposterous overweight Nazi, but from time to time I have been tempted to echo Herman Goering's remark that "When I hear the word 'culture' I finger the trigger of my revolver".

I don't own a revolver, but what I do say is that whenever I hear politicians talking about "culture", my nostrils start to twitch, as I detect a whiff of something uglier and more sordid. I'm not complaining if they want to spend money on libraries, or promote music in schools, but when I hear "culture" used as a cover for privilege and power, linked with patriotism, the last refuge of a scoundrel...

This week as the Tory party assembled in Birmingham, its shadow home secretary, Dominic Grieve declared that multiculturalism had left this country a "terrible" legacy, which allowed extremists to flourish. A type of "cultural despair" has led "long-term inhabitants" and newer arrivals to feel alienated and unsure of UK values, he told the Guardian.

So there you have it. You go setting up steel bands in schools, letting kids wear scarves, or celebrate Chanukah and Diwali and you are allowing extremists to flourish. It's down to you if jihadis explode bombs and if white racists turn over gravestones or set fire to mosques because they felt their "culture" threatened.

Because let's face it, whatever the sociological arguments about "multiculturalism" as an approach to problems, or its confusion with cultural relativism to excuse behaviour we would not tolerate otherwise,
when the politicians and the right-wing media attack multiculturalism, what they want to bring back in its place is cultural supremacism.

They will decide what is "British", which will usually involve celebrating Queen and Empire, and waving lots of flags, even as building societies are swallowed by foreign banks, multinationals take over utilities and our most jingoist media are owned by footlose gents who don't pay a penny tax in the United Kingdom. It will be up to you to conform and prove how British you are.

Still, maybe Grieve had a point when he feared people felt unsure of "UK values"? Only it isn't moral values that are worrying them.

As Birmingham Respect councillor Selma Yaqoob puts it in a letter in today's Guardian, "
But if it is odd to warn of the perils of multiculturalism while visiting one of the most multicultural cities in Europe, the timing is all too predictable. The financial system is in chaos, food and fuel prices are escalating, a looming recession leaves many people fearful of their future, and David Cameron's opinion poll lead is halved. What better time than now to raise fears about British identity?"

Top Tories like shadow chancellor George Osborne know the cultural diverrsion won't do, and have not only blamed Gordon Brown for the "age of irresponsibility" in the markets, but attacked "casino capitalism" and the "fat cat bankers" who paid themselves too much. Times really are desperate. Of course it was Tory Margaret Thatcher who released the building societies from mutuality, set about deregulation of the City, and derided the "nanny state" while proclaiming "there is no such thing as society". Then New Labour continued the Tory policies which have now been discredited, long enough to take the blame.

How far the Tories can shake off their share or change their "free enterprise" spots was questioned today by this
Daily Mirror story:

Tories' £3million booty from city sharks
By Graham Hiscott, additional reporting by Andrew Gregory and Krissy Storrar 29/09/2008

The shocking extent to which Tories are in the pockets of City speculators is today revealed.

Mega-rich traders have poured at least £3million into the party's coffers.

A Mirror investigation also details how individual members of the Tory front bench, including leader David Cameron, have enjoyed perks at the expense of high-flying dealers.

Shadow chancellor George Osborne, defence spokesman Liam Fox and ex-leader William Hague are among those to have accepted exotic trips, nights out and "personal donations".

Critics last night said it explained why the Tories have failed to join the attack on investment funds which helped drive markets into meltdown. Derek Simpson, joint general secretary of the Unite union, said: "The Tories are funding their party on the misery of British families."

Watchdogs had to clamp down on share dealing by hedge funds in the economic turmoil. Traders were accused of making a killing while helping drive down the price of banks such as HBOS and Bradford & Bingley. Both banks were crippled by financial gambles known as "short selling". The Financial Services Authority on September 18 put a temporary ban on short selling leading financial stocks.

Yet our probe reveals more than 20 hedge funds, investment firms and their founders have given millions to Tory Central Office since Mr Cameron became leader in 2005. At least 12 Tory MPs have taken money and perks which, though legal, ask questions about Tory and fat cats links.

The Tory Party is not the only fine old institution caught out, according to the
Financial Times on Friday

Church accused of hypocrisy after archbishops' attack on short selling
By James Mackintosh, Kate Burgess and Jimmy Burns in,London
Published: September 26 2008 03:00 Last updated: September 26 2008 03:00

The Church of England faced charges of hypocrisy yesterday over its leaders' attack on short selling and debt trading after hedge funds pointed out that it uses some of the same practices when investing its own assets.

At least this answers those politicians who were suggesting the archbishops didn't understand the workings of capitalism. But then we have long known that the Church as an investor must be distinguished from its preaching the gospel and comforting believers. People may not be so understanding or forgiving of political parties. Getting back to the
Mirror on Tory funding, it says:

"Among those to have given is Paul Ruddock, founder of Lansdowne Partners, whose own fortune is £350million. Records show he has donated more than £210,000 since the start of 2006. Lansdowne last week admitted its part in short selling before the ban which helped drive down Barclays and Anglo Irish Bank shares. The firm is said to have made £100 million betting Northern Rock would collapse.

"Fellow Lansdowne boss David Craigen donated £50,000 to the Tories in April last year. Mr Ruddock and Mr Craigen are members of a secretive dining club for top donors. Tonight's Dispatches programme on Channel 4 claims the Leaders Group - made up of City big wigs - get access to Mr Cameron in return for cash. Another donor entitled to membership of the club is Michael Hintze, 53, worth an estimated £275million, who has given £662,500 to the party since the start of 2006. His fund, CQS, took bets on stricken Bradford & Bingley.

"In March his firm provided a private plane to Mr Osborne for a domestic flight. Last year Mr Fox flew to Mauritania with the trip paid for by CQS. And the company footed the bill for two drinks receptions for ambassadors at a London hotel for shadow foreign secretary William Hague.

"Some money men bankrolling the Tories run hedge funds that have made fortunes betting on others industries. Among them is Alan Howard, 44, founder of Brevan Howard. Said to be worth £400million, he has given at least £73,000 to Conservative Central Office since the start of 2006.

"Mr Fox was given money for staff and his office by Mr Howard, Mr Hintze and investment fund millionaire, Stanley Fink, 51, who ran hedge fund giant Man Group until earlier this year. He has donated £226,500 since Mr Cameron was elected leader.

A Tory spokesman said: "All flights and expenses were for party business and fully declared. We have donors from a wide range of businesses. All donations are legal and comply with Electoral Commission rules."

London Mayor Boris Johnson yesterday told the Tory conference in Birmingham that over-regulation of banking could drive away jobs".

Not nearly as many as were destroyed so the finance sector could become so dominant, even before it started shedding people in the present crisis.

But take heart. I got home this evening to hear that the BBC, recalling the unemployment and repos of the Thatcher years, is promising to bring back '
Brideshead Revisited' to give us more escapism, with stately homes and young men with teddy bears. . I'm not against a bit of Class Waugh but I'd sooner watch Scoop, or Decline and Fall.

In all this there are really but two cultures, whatever the foods and flags and folklore. There are the lifestyles of big city 'fat cats' who paid themselves huge bonuses, and of the low-paid dogsbodies who cleaned their offices and did the work, struggled to make ends meet and are now losing jobs. There are people worried their mansions and property portfolios might lose value, and the families frightened they could lose their homes, and go from the Bradford and Bingley to a B&B.

A wise old Tory (though tainted I suppose with some multicural influences in his background) said it in a novel published back in 1845, the same year as Frederick Engels'
Conditions of the Working Class in England and three years before Marx and Engels' Communist Manifesto. (Those troublemaking immigrants again!)

"Two nations between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are as ignorant of each other's habits, thoughts, and feelings, as if they were dwellers in different zones, or inhabitants of different planets ...The rich and the poor".
Sybil, or the Two Nations, by Benjamin Disraeli.



At 3:17 PM, Blogger Madam Miaow said...

Yes, they really care about culture, as long as it has a price tag and the potential for profit and status.

Culture for the rest of us takes a dive as the 2012 Olympics sucks all the cash out of the arts and plonks it in the paws of the property developers.


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