Hart of Whiteness?

Its a little known fact, and not a lot of people know it, that from 1896 to 1898, while he was writing “Heart of Darkness”, Joseph Conrad lived in Stanford Le Hope in Thurrock; initially in a house he described as “a damned Jerry-built rabbit hutch”.

Thurrock has a habit of playing down its historically illustrious residents. At the back of Grays Hall was an arboretum attached to the house that Alfred Russel Wallace built near a worked out chalk pit; after working out the theory of evolution around the same time as Charles Darwin. The story goes that Darwin, having agonised about his hypothesis and hesitating to publish it for about twenty years was bounced into doing it when he heard that Russel Wallace was about to do so himself, securing himself the popular historical status and making Russel Wallace a more obscure figure that only people interested in Natural History will have heard of.

Russel Wallace lived at The Dell for four years from 1872 to 1876, describing the arboretum below it as  “a bit of a wilderness that can be made into a splendid imitation of a Welsh valley“. The house was made of concrete, as a tribute to the burgeoning local cement works, flourishing at the time and scouring out bigger, deeper pits progressively to the West; with factories getting ever larger all the way up to the huge excavation that now houses the Lakeside Shopping Centre, filling the air with dust and giving the town a definite sense of nominative determinism.

However, once he left, the arboretum fell into gloomy disuse, becoming an adventure playground, known as “the big woods” to generations of kids plucky enough to scale the 6 foot high walls (which got easier as time went on, as footholds became more secure from repeated use and the bits of broken glass set on the tops, which cut my Dad’s bottom as he tried to get across on one occasion in the mid 1930s, wore away) or brave the tunnel that was like a portal through from the playing fields of Treetops School – running through the gloom listening for the voice of outraged authority heat seeking our trespasses – which we were sure would not be forgiven.

None of us living near Russel Road, or Wallace Road on the estate alongside had a clue who Russel or Wallace were, let alone that they were the same person. And there has, possibly thankfully, been no movement of Social Russel Wallaceists.

The White Hart, shortly before it closed.

This is the pub that gave the town a bad name. A selection of Gollie dolls hanging behind the bar, like as the landlord put it “they used to hang them in Mississippi years ago“. After the notoriety gained from a Police raid that confiscated the dolls last month, they tried to carry on, replacing them with new ones, claiming that the police were over reacting, that there was nothing racist about it, that the landlord being seen wearing a Britain First T shirt was the kind of thing anyone might do – as the landlady said in an odd echo of Prince Andrew logic, “I don’t think Chris is a supporter of Britain First, he was just wearing that shirt because it was convenient at the time” – because, who wouldn’t wear one of those if it just happened to be lying around, and, indeed, who wouldn’t have one just conveniently lying around?

When I took this photo about a month ago, the pub looked stone dead already. No one was going in or out. A contrast with the Theobald’s Arms just over the road, that had a set of lively customers spilling into the road. A disgruntled looking middle aged man with a sour expression, and a face that seemed to be made of red brick dust, was staring balefully out of a first floor window like Mr Rottcod at the beginning of Gormenghast.

They shut two weeks later after two of their beer suppliers – Heineken and Carlsberg – and the company that cleaned their barrels and lines decided they didn’t want their products associated with this and boycotted them.

Probably the best boycott in the world.

Riverside Ward, where The White Hart is, a densely populated area of former council flats built in the seventies and the sort of recent flats shown in the photo above and cookie cutter housing stretching down towards the Wharf. It is the seventh most deprived of the 20 wards in Thurrock. It is 75% White, 13% Black, 8% Asian and 4% other ethnicity, with fewer pensioners and more young people than most. It has a higher incidence of smoking and binge drinking, adult and child obesity and hypertension than national averages; and life expectancy a year lower for women and three years lower for men. It has a much higher crime rate than Thurrock averages, but well below national. Only 43% feel safe going out after dark, but 49% are generally happy with the area. (1)

It returned a Labour Councillor with 1,191 votes to her Conservative opponent’s 386 in the local elections on May 4th this year. Riverside has been consistently represented by Labour, even though at the high water mark of Brexit mobilisation, the combined Conservative/UKIP vote was some way ahead. In 2016, the successful Labour candidate polled 857 votes, just ahead of UKIP on 748, with the Conservatives at 379. The turnout then was 27%. This May it was down to 19%, so nothing to be complacent about. The Conservatives have stood Black evangelicals as their candidates for several elections in a row, which might be suppressing their vote among the white racist component of their supporters.

1 Stats from here

2 Stats from here

1966 and all that.

The open rift between the England Football team and 10 Downing Street, with the team refusing to allow the Prime Minister to cash in on their popularity after his failure to condemn the “fans” who booed them when they took the knee, is a challenge to the government’s monopoly hold on notions of “Englishness”. A diverse team full of people whose families come from all over the world, and often from poverty, whose members have campaigned for free school meals, and who collectively turn the previously one dimensionally retro patriotic pre match ceremonials (national anthems) into a challenge to racism as well; have refused to be used as window dressing by the most reactionary government of my lifetime.

Suddenly, there’s a price to be paid for blowing racist dog whistles, especially if you do it on trombones. When even the Sun prints photos of the three black players who were abused with the slogan, “we got your back”, the same slogan used by Stand up to Racism, you know where the popular sentiment lies. People look at the team, then they look at the government, and think who is more like they are. Boris Johnson has 1.4 million Twitter followers. Marcus Rashford has 11.4 million. This is not a competition thats going to penalties.

Like the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony, a Conservative government finds itself a bit beyond the right wing fringe of popular sensibility about what’s good about the country they are trying to lead. As do the tiny minority of bitter and twisted racist fans who did the booing, abused fans from other countries, including children, and sent the racist tweets. The PM was slim enough to formally condemn this once he realised how strongly the wind was blowing- rather than saying they were “very fine people” – but this was too little, too late. People are starting to know who he is and what he’s about. The Teflon is looking scraped.

This is also challenge to the worst aspects of football fan culture for the last half century or so.

If you look up at the statue of Bobby Moore standing in splendid isolation outside Wembley stadium – in memory of a time when men were men and balls were made of leather in more ways than one – the epic treatment of it shows that there is something going on that’s not just about football. The heroic but modest man of destiny posture, half Roy of the Rovers, half Alexander the Great, head slightly bowed by the weight of responsibility, the ball under his foot not going anywhere without his say so.

“Community Shield 64 – Sir Bobby Moore statue” by Ronnie Macdonald is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The only time England ever won the World Cup – at home at Wem-ber-lee – was in 1966, at a point of turmoil and ferment in which all that had previously seemed solid was melting into air.

The preceding 20 years saw the British Empire shrink from direct rule over a quarter of the world to a residual global archipelago of tax havens and military bases – the Falklands, Gibraltar, the Cayman Islands and so on – with a series of brutal late colonial anti insurgency campaigns in Kenya, Malaya and Aden to add a bitter late coda to its passing. These would also be “coming home” to the North of Ireland – the weakest link of the UK’s ramshackle constitution- soon enough.

A sense of bewildered loss of status – along with a nervous sense that the countries that had lost the Second World War were – terribly unfairly – doing rather better economically than Britain was – was widespread. Morris and Austin were losing out to Volkswagen, and BSA was going under because Honda made better motor bikes. The last of the big ships were being launched and the slipways would lie empty within ten years. The obsessive concern with “the balance of payments” was not so much an economic consideration as one of standing and prestige. The phrase “who won the bloody war anyway?” was quite common, and carried with it the presumption that having done that, other countries should know their place. After all we did for them too.

At the time, this went along with a mockery for the upper class, and the old, who had lost all our places in the sun and could therefore no longer be respected, and a desire for modernity; to simultaneously erase the loss of past status while maintaining the benefits of it. The Satire wave lampooned old and feeble politicians, while films like Oh What a Lovely War and Charge of the Light Brigade sent up the ruling class as useless, incompetent, carelessly murderous, rather dense and possibly inbred chinless wonders; certain of the little they knew and oblivious to all else in a world that had moved beyond them and out of their time. This was double edged. A negation of the negative, but was not able to look much beyond it.

Winning the World Cup in the middle of all this came as a sort of compensation for it – still top of the world in something – which gave it a weight and significance that it could hardly bear. The world was no longer under our boot, but a ball was. The losses ever since confirm that even this is out of reach, but this has, if anything, deepened its hold in a manner that is almost masochistic. “We’re shit…and we know we are!”

When you look at the newspaper headlines, the phrase “55 years of hurt” from Skinner and Baddiel’s “Three Lions” song, is featured again and again. There is something so self pitying about this phrase that it is faintly nauseating. The “hurt” comes from not winning. That is the common experience of every team in every competition bar one. The notion that not being that one team is particularly hurtful implies a view of national standing that assumes that “we” are somehow better by birth. It also underlies the rather previous habit of the Newspapers of running headlines and graphics on the day of the big match that simply presume a win. The montage of the current teams heads on the photo of Moore and his team mates holding the World Cup – “Jules Rimet’s still gleaming” -is a classic in its way.

The blending with World War Two themes – “Two World Wars and One World Cup – do-da do-da” – is a mixture that is toxic for those that take it too seriously; as it locks them into a frozen narrative of who they are capable of being and a state of suspended childhood. “Achtung! Surrender!” a headline from Euro 96 was obviously written by editors who had read too many copies of the Victor and Valiant at an impressionable age. But this reflects the overall national mythology that World War 2 – with its themes of fighting Nazism and being the good guys – was our defining historical experience. This is the dominant view here. The Washington Post pointed out a couple of years ago that no other country has that impression. The view in every other country in the world is that the defining experience of British History was the Empire. Not the good guys. Hard to think that we’re the only ones in step. Britain is, after all, the country that forced a war on China so that our merchants could sell their people Opium. The promise of what Billy Bragg called a “New England” can only be realised by coming to terms with all that and rejecting it – which means internationalism, recompense, reparations and repair; and treating football as a game not a metaphor for national triumphalism. It will probably be more enjoyable that way.

On Monday morning my neighbour, who was still wearing his face paint from the night before – called out from the steps outside his flat about how well they’d done and how much they were in with a shout at the World Cup next year. Hope springs eternal. Maybe Bobby Moore will get some company. Maybe it’ll be Marcus Rashford. It won’t be Boris Johnson.

Two points on terminology. The confusion between “Britain” and “England” – reflecting the dominance of the latter within the UK -was common enough for England fans to wave Union Jacks at international football matches until Euro 96. The self conscious wallowing in WW2 themes is peculiar to England fans. The Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish fans don’t spend a lot of time singing “10 German bombers”.

When I write “we” this does not imply equal culpability for historic imperial crimes. The ruling class were – and are – in charge and are therefore directly responsible. The guilt or otherwise of subordinate classes reflects the extent to which they challenged or colluded.

Jim Crow in Woking. Voter Suppression in the UK redefines “Fundamental British Value”.

There are now over 240 bills going through Republican controlled States in the USA to bring back Jim Crow by restricting the voting rights of any demographic that is unlikely to vote for them; preparing the ground for a Trump revival in the mid terms and 2024 Presidential election. These measures in “the best democracy money can buy” has has its counterpart in a proposal currently under consideration in the UK – and being trialed in Woking (1) a Tory controlled town hitherto mostly famous for its Pizza Express – to require presentation of photo i/d to be a condition of voting in any election from 2023. The next General Election is scheduled for 2024.

This is designed to exclude anyone that does not have photo i/d from the right to vote.

The two main forms of photo i/d in the UK are passports and car licenses. So, the determining factor in whether you have the right to vote or not will be whether or not you can afford to drive a car or take overseas holidays. 24% of potential voters do neither.

So this proposal would disenfranchise one in four of the electorate. The quarter with the least resources.

So, the worst off will be most disenfranchised. When you add ethnicity to this, it becomes even more poisonous. 24% of White people do not have a driving license, compared to 39% identifying as Asian and 47% of Black people. So, Black people are twice as likely to be excluded from the right to vote as White people. Younger people are also less likely to own cars – often for very positive reasons – as are people who live in cities. In Brent, for example, 42% of households have no access to a car or van. So, its clear who this measure is designed to shuffle off the register. A cursory look at opinion polls indicates why.

The Tories like to argue that “Democracy” is a “Fundamental British Value” (with capital letters) but this is the single biggest roll back of voting rights in British history. So not so much a fundamental value, more an expendable expedient. Something they’d put up with when it offered no threat. But, Corbynism gave them a scare in 2017. And – as post Brexit, less than global Britain shrinks into a mean and twisted cartoon of its worst features – they are still haunted by the ghost of it; knowing that the future is neither bright nor orange.

  1. https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2021/mar/01/woking-council-accused-of-discouraging-vulnerable-voters-postal-vote-id

2. https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2021/mar/09/warning-over-photo-id-law-change-for-uk-wide-and-english-elections

A Tale of two demos: US Racist Policing decisions in one graph.

The attempts by the US right to banalise the attempt by the most fascist elements of Trump’s base to invade the Capitol building, stop the certification of the Presidential election and possibly kill legislators build on a solid foundation of racist presumptions that run through the whole state like writing through a stick of rock.

This graph shows the number of Police deployed to deal with – respectively – an impending and flagged up riot from the far right, and a peaceful demo by Black Lives Matter last Summer. Very little else needs to be said.


A magisterial account of how the political crisis in the USA has got to this stage is here. http://www.socialistaction.net/2021/01/14/the-georgia-elections-and-the-new-period-in-american-politics/

Institutional racism and deaths in the front line.

“Its the National Health Service not the International Health Service.” Matt Hancock.

Charity begins at home, but solidarity, by definition, doesn’t.

The disproportionate fatality rates among BAME front line workers in the Health Service is clear and shocking (1). Matt Hancock’s assertion above, and the Conservative election leaflets promising to “protect the NHS” by limiting immigration are shown up as the mean spirited disgrace they are by the deaths of so many doctors, nurses and health care support workers who have been sent into work without adequate PPE with the same insoucient carelessness with which the Conservatives have dealt with the Grenfell fire – before and after. The figures for Doctors are particularly overwhelming.

chart (7)
Death rates among Doctors and Dentists


chart (8)
BAME proportion of workforce: Doctors and Dentists

The sheer number of Doctors and Dentists from BAME communities should be enough for those benighted sections of “the white working class” unwilling to extend solidarity beyond their own ethnicity to reflect that the “immigrants overwhelming the health service” are largely the people who are working in it and a huge proportion of the people we are clapping and cheering for every Thursday night. The horrifying number who are dying in the front line of this crisis should be something to make them show a bit of respect, if they can tear themselves away from that latest bit of online Sinophobia from Tommy Robinson.

The disproportion is even more stark for BAME Nurses and Midwives, who are 20% of the workforce but 71% of the fatalities.

chart (9)
Death rates among Nurses and Midwives

chart (10)
BAME proportion of workforce: Nurses and Midwives

And Healthcare support workers, who are 17% of the workforce and 56% of the fatalities.

chart (11)
Death rates among Health care support workers

chart (12)
BAME proportion of workforce: Healthcare support workers


Caroline Nokes MP Minister for Government Resilience and Efficiency in 2017, said this in relation to emergency preparation.

‘Resilience does not come easily but the UK has long experience. Call it what you will, but whether through the fabled ‘stiff upper lip’, ‘Blitz spirit’ or just a stubborn determination, our resilience can be seen at the forefront of our handling of emergencies.’

This is essentially an admission that they never bothered to be prepared on the basis that “British pluck” would make up for an absence of PPE stocks, testing equipment, emergency systems set up and ready to go. The savage irony of all this narcissistic nationalist mythology is that the most resilient communities in the country, those that have had to deal with the Windrush scandal and the hostile environment, are those that have also had to “take it on the chin” in the coronavirus crisis too. The old normal – that we are “all in the same boat’ but, as in the Titanic, some are in first class with access to lifeboats looking down their noses at the people in steerage without, and thinking they should be damn grateful to be on the boat at all – has carried its way through this crisis. We cannot allow it to define “the new normal” too.

Remember the dead. Remember their names (2). Fight for the living. PPE for all. No end to the lockdown without WHO conditions being applied in full.

(1) The figures in this blog come from this recent study. https://www.hsj.co.uk/exclusive-deaths-of-nhs-staff-from-covid-19-analysed/7027471.article

(2) All are listed here. https://thinklab.com/ToryFibs