This is our truth, tell us yours
It’s irritating when two things come together that you want to blog about. One is the issue of how you engage with UKIP voters, inspired by an Ed Miliband speech yesterday, the other the latest faux outrage of the middle brow tabloids and Radio 5 Undead at mumbling in TV dramas on that well known revolutionary TV channel, the BBC.
On Twitter last night an irate Trot from West Wales cited this passage from Ed Miliband as an example of him giving in to racism. “People talk to me about the way the country has been changing. They talk to me about builders from eastern Europe who are here and part of the community, care workers from overseas who sometimes don’t speak fluent English. What does that say? That says there are big changes happening in this community. These are the realities of work, of family and of community.” I can only envy the enthusiasm and energy of a left wing campaigner in Llanelli who opposes all linguistic qualifications for work as evidence of giving into racism – in a community where the local authority is legally bilingual and a language qualification is routinely applied to jobs, despite the number of monoglot Welsh speakers being miniscule, that takes real passion.
Linguistic jokes at Trotskyite fuckwittery aside, the issue of whether care workers can speak English or not is clearly one of those memes that takes hold and is pernicious, but it isn’t best challenged by pretending it doesn’t exist. Some of the people who repeat that idea will never have met a care worker in their lives, and will be racists repeating it to fuel their outrage, but some will also be people concerned that their parents and loved ones receive the proper care. Listening to that concern, sorting the genuine concerns from the fake and pointing people towards the most serious problem in domestic care (the 15 minute visit, which Miliband has pledged to ban) requires a persistent and deliberate engagement that you can’t achieve by shouting from the sidelines. Regular readers might see parallels in my argument with Ben Gun about a need for engagement, not grandstanding -the principle and the practice are the same, that you need to engage before challenging, rather than prizing the challenge and the inevitable conflict as evidence of your principled approach.
Miliband is right, too, to highlight the creeping fear of change that haunts middle England. The tears and tantrums about actors ‘mumbling’ in Jamaica Inn and now Quirke is, arguably, evidence of longing for a time when actors were proper actors who only spoke the Queens English, with none of this ghastly realism intruding into our living rooms. Hilariously, the BBC’s latest stab at an M62 drama, Happy Valley, has drawn huge criticism for its realistic levels of violence even while its actors have wibbled on in best drama school stabs at accents that make Last of the Summer Wine sound authentic. There again, the outrage about the violence in Happy Valley is precisely because M62 dramas (think Scott and Bailey, or Band of Gold) are supposed to be cosy and not too challenging, with their identikit characters, (the inept addict who’s implausibly clean, the hapless shoplifter, the small town thug with ambitions) ‘gritty’ locations and domestic backdrop all providing a stage for someone who used to be in Corrie or Emmerdale to practice their skills. Middle England, the spiritual home of Farageism doesn’t like being challenged, or required to listen, and demands that its actors speak up and Geordies be subtitled.
There’s an important point to this amble around language, speech and bad TV. the UK is a racist country. Labour has been a racist party in the past, and contains any number of members who are unconsciously racists, and sometimes openly racist. Pretending that any political party could be purer than pure is foolish, and we try to avoid that here. However, and it’s a big however, you cannot have a debate if you’re shouting from the sidelines – debate requires engagement. Shouting from the sidelines is a good way of saying ‘we’re not like them’ but it doesn’t actually produce change.