Here be Monsters?

Anyone who thinks that “respect” and “tolerance” are “Fundamental British Values” hasn’t spent a lot of time online. The review of Prevent by William Shawcross published on February 7th reflects the government’s alarm that referrals for right wing and racist views were beginning to outnumber referrals for Islamism by 2021. As well they might. Jihadist attacks have dropped off sharply. There have been none in the UK since 2019 and the ISIS Caliphate no longer casts any kind of bogus attraction to a community that has overwhelmingly grasped how malign it was, whereas there was a far right/Incel mass shooting of five people in Plymouth in 2021. Nevertheless, the Review has ruled out the growing concerns about the increasingly aggressive misogyny in Secondary schools, directed by boys influenced by the Incel movement against girls students and women teachers alike; even though it has increasingly gone beyond verbal abuse to violent attacks, killing 53 people across the world and injuring many more. By this definition, racism and misogyny are not worthy or referral, even though they are currently leading to the largest number of violent incidents and Prevent is supposed to be about stopping people being “radicalised” so that they commit such acts.

What’s quite overt about this is that racist views – by definition contrary to “tolerance” and “respect” – are considered by Shawcross and the government to be “mainstream right wing views” that are acceptable. Given that racist paranoia about “small boats” is one of the main knee jerk reactions the government is trying to hammer on to divert attention from its deplorable record in sustaining our living standards, not least by cutting the immigration of necessary workers, unless racism is taken out of the list of Prevent concerns, the government itself would have to be referred for grooming it.

Its hardly surprising that they should want to define themselves out of a situation in which, if Suella Braverman were in a classroom, she might find herself referred for the incendiary language that fuelled the people who firebombed refugee hostels in Knowsley and Dover. Braverman herself, who always comes across as someone living on the edge of nervous anger from having to control so many explosive contradictions in her own head with a rigid framework of far right paranoia, doesn’t seem to have twigged that the next step on from “Stop them coming” is “Send them back”. And, however much she tries to save herself by channeling pure gammon, the people she is winding up to violence won’t exempt her from the flights to Rwanda she says she dreams about.

The paradox of the government’s move is that it exposes Prevent as a divisive and “partisan” tool employed for limited political purposes, with some views demonised and others given official sanction, whether they contradict the FBVs or not. They are dropping the curtain and stand revealed. Here be monsters indeed.

Its a right of passage towards old age when someone young offers you a seat on the tube or a bus, which started happening a few years ago. When someone visibly middle aged does the same thing, as happened yesterday, you know you’re getting past it in a big way. What must I look like? And today, someone stopped their car to allow me across the road. OK, I was pulling a shopping trolley and wearing a mask, but I must be exuding a new level of decrepitude to bring forth such gratuitous courtesy.

This is the bust of late Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts that’s been on display in Kingsbury Library for the last couple of months. Watts, who definitely got old before he died in 2021, grew up locally in a now demolished row of houses off Fryent Way and went to Tyler’s Croft, the Secondary Modern School off Roe Green Park that became part of Kingsbury High School when Comprehensivisation went through well after he’d left; and my kids went to well after that. He is one of two famous alumni. The other being James Hanratty; the last man in England ever to be hanged. I see that the new Deputy Chair of the Conservative Party, Lee Anderson, would like to hang more people in the future on the invincible grounds that “nobody has ever committed a crime after being executed”. As an extra bonus, that includes all those innocent of the crime they were executed for.

The 183 bus route, run between Pinner and Golders Green in a striking display of cross border state ownership by the RATP (RĂ©gie Autonome des Transports Parisiens) has now been electrified. It feels like riding inside the future. The buses arrive swiftly, swoosh to a halt, then accelerate off again smoothly; without picking up any of the bad vibrations, rumbling, juddering, boggler, boggling you get with a diesel engine. Smells better too. At present it will take TFL, which is very good by UK standards and at least publicly owned, about another ten years to electrify all 8,000 of its buses. Shenzen, in Southern China, did all 16,000 of theirs in 2016.

Which makes the current wave of Sinophobia doubly sad and dangerous. We have things to learn from each other but, instead, we get stories designed to make us fear. A feature of the recent past is how quickly stories that first show up on really whacked out far right sites – the sort of places that combine racism and imperial nostalgia with adverts for hemorrhoid cream, and feature Nigel Farage as an embodiment of all of them – find themselves on the front pages of our mainstream press within a week or two. This one, complete with weird capitalisation, “China finds SHOCKING WAY to spy on you – and they’re already in your KITCHEN!” was replicated in the slew of headlines this week implying that use, in anything, of technology made by Chinese companies would allow surveillance by the CPC. This is weird. If Xi Jinping wants to know what’s in my fridge – and this is terribly important information for the 15th Five Year Plan – he will have to nudge Eric Schmidt, Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos out of the way, because they already know (and are using it to try to sell me stuff that I don’t realise I “need”). US based tech companies are also, of course, completely tied in the the National Security Agency, so, if Joe Biden wanted to know what’s in my fridge he could probably find out without too much trouble. If you want to be really paranoid about tech surveillance, read Surveillance Capitalism by Shoshana Zuboff. This is a bit repetitious, but reveals some quite alarming stuff, like the way interactive toys are sending messages about what a child says, and how they say it, back to the manufacturer and that devices like Alexa don’t just tabulate requests, but tones of voice…

Although I retired from teaching three and a half years ago, I still get classroom anxiety dreams. This morning’s was a classic. I was being driven in to school by a friend and everything was really relaxed until I got there – even though it was during morning break, so seriously late – and realised I was due into class in a minute and not only had no plan, but no idea what we were supposed to be teaching that week. Feeling far less panicked than I would have been if that had actually been the case I wandered into the classroom, getting a reproachful look from a younger version of BB, my old head teacher, who’d been covering, and asked what we were supposed to be doing. “Stories”. That’s ok. Everything is a story. Best to start with a question. As the kids drifted in chatting and sitting on the mat, I asked them “Where do you find a monster?” while thinking that wherever we find them, they are already in our heads…

Then I woke up and it was all a dream. THE END.