I made the mistake, today, of agreeing with Stephen Glenn on Twitter about the stupidity of a particularly repellent piece of racist campaign literature by Racist UKIP. I say it was a mistake, because I then spent most of the day being bombarded with messages from members of Racist UKIP, trying to claim that their clearly racist policies are, in fact, not racist.
But, you know, fair enough. If they want to go around being racist and then denying it, they can go ahead. That is, after all, what racists do.
But what I won’t accept is them – or any other ‘anti-immigrant’ (racist) party – trying to claim they’re patriotic. I’m no patriot myself – patriotism is one of those things for which I am just not wired – but I understand it to involve loving your country. Now. when *I* think of Britain, I think of things like:
Parliamentary democracy – our Parliament, of course, being created by Simon de Montfort, a Frenchman.
Winston Churchill – son of an American immigrant
Doctor Who – created by a Canadian, first episode written by an Australian and directed by a gay Indian
the Carry On films – starring Sid James, a South African
Queen – lead singer Farrokh Bulsara from Zanzibar
our great theatrical tradition – playwrights like Shaw, Wilde, Beckett…
The Beatles – ‘Lennon’ and ‘McCartney’ of course being good old Irish names
The Goons – created by Spike Milligan, an Irishman born in India
Prince Philip – a Greek
Our pioneering scientists – such as James Watson, who co-discovered the structure of DNA in Cambridge, and was American
2000AD, featuring Judge Dredd – created by an American and a Spaniard
Queen Victoria – daughter of Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld
Fish and Chips – invented by 19th century Jewish immigrants
The brave Spitfire pilots in World War II – especially all the Polish ones
Presumably Racist UKIP, and the ‘B’NP, don’t like any of those things, what with them all being the work of the immigrants who they wish to keep out. I’m just wondering what, precisely, about the UK they *do* like then?
A bit later than I thought, here’s the second part of this. Before I start, some people were interested in exactly what happens in a balanced parliament situation – here’s a report from the Hansard Society (pdf) that sets it all out.
I’m going to try here to set out what all the major parties in the UK General Election believe, as simply as I can. I’m going to try to avoid words like ‘socialism’ or ‘capitalism’ because I want this to be useful to as many people as possible – I genuinely know quite a few people who don’t know even what the most basic ideas of what the parties stand for even at this late stage. It should also, though, help my foreign friends understand things a bit better. If you’re a member or supporter of one of the parties listed and you think I’m being unfair or inaccurate (within the very simplistic way I’m doing this) please leave a comment.
The Conservative Party are the simplest party to explain. They believe that, more or less, the way things are is the best way they could be. They think that the people with power at the moment (not just politicians, but religious leaders, business leaders, banks and so on – ‘important’ people) are the people who should keep power. This also means that even though it’s not actually their policy, a lot of them think that middle-aged white straight men deserve more power than anyone who isn’t a middle-aged white straight male, though some individual Conservatives, including their current leader, don’t think that. The Conservatives are also called the Tories, and over Britain’s history they have been in government most of the time. Their leader is David Cameron.
The Labour Party are the hardest to explain. They used to believe that working people deserved to get a better share of the money than they do, and that government should make sure of that, but that otherwise it would be better to give people more freedom. Labour governments brought in the National Health Service, created the Open University, ended capital punishment (hanging) and legalised homosexuality and abortion. (Many of these were Liberal ideas originally, but Labour brought them in). However, after the Conservatives were in power for eighteen years, the leaders of the party decided that people didn’t want a government like that any more, and Labour became more-or-less identical to the Conservatives. There are some slight differences – they brought in the minimum wage and civil partnerships for gay people – but otherwise they have behaved almost exactly like the Conservatives (increasing the gap between rich and poor, supporting the Americans in illegal wars). Many Labour *members* though still hope the party will go back to the way it used to be. Labour have been in government for the last 13 years, and their leader is Gordon Brown.
The Liberal Democrats are both Britain’s oldest and newest party, being formed in 1989 from a merger between two other parties, the Liberals (Britain’s oldest party) and the Social Democrats (a new party formed by some ex-Labour members). We believe in freedom – that the government should not interfere in you doing what you want with your life. We realise, though, that you can’t be free without enough food to eat or somewhere to live or medicine if you’re sick, so we think the government should do what it can to make sure everybody has those things, even if it means interfering a bit with rich people’s freedom (by taking some of their money away) to make sure poor people have them. We also think it’s worth making sure we have a better environment for everyone, because the freedoms not to choke on fumes or to have your home not be flooded by dangerous weather are also important. We also want a fairer voting system, to give everyone the freedom to have a say in how they’re governed.
We also want to make sure that *everyone* has more freedom, so we support gay people, and transsexual people, and disabled people, and other people who have a hard time at the moment, and we want to make sure they have the same rights as everyone else and can also do what *they* want to with their lives.
The Liberal Democrats have never been in government, although the Liberals were a long, LONG time ago, and Nick Clegg is our leader.
The Green Party want to protect the environment, and to share money out more so poor people have more and rich people have less. They share a lot of the same ideals as the Liberal Democrats, but we think some of the ways they want to do things won’t work properly, while they think we’re too similar to the Conservatives and Labour and not radical enough. The Greens don’t have any Members of Parliament at the moment, but are hoping to get some. Caroline Lucas is their leader.
The Scottish Nationalist Party and Plaid Cymru are nationalists – they believe that Scotland (for the SNP) and Wales (for Plaid Cymru) should become separate countries. As you would imagine, they don’t have many MPs (Scotland and Wales don’t have many people in compared to England), but they both have a lot of members of their respective assemblies (the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly). Alex Salmond leads the SNP, and Ieuan Wyn Jones leads Plaid Cymru.
There are *lots* of smaller parties in Northern Ireland, where the major mainland parties don’t stand. Roughly speaking the Unionist parties (those that want Northern Ireland to stay part of the UK, mostly Protestants) will support the Conservatives in Parliament, while the Republican parties (those that want Northern Ireland to join with the Republic of Ireland, mostly Catholics) will support Labour, but some Republican parties (like Sinn Fein) won’t take their seats in Parliament because you have to swear allegiance to the Queen. The Alliance Party, which tries to work with both communities and bring them together, are formally linked to the Liberal Democrats.
Racist UKIP The official name of this party is the United Kingdom Independence Party, but I refuse to refer to them as anything other than Racist UKIP, because I was threatened with legal action for saying they are racists. Racist UKIP’s policy is mostly centred around not liking foreigners, so they don’t want to be part of the European Union and they want to stop any foreign people coming over here and get rid of some of the ones who already are. Other than that, they’re mostly the same as the Conservatives. Their leader is Lord Pearson Of Rannoch , and they don’t have any MPs in the Commons but do have members in the House of Lords.
The Bastard Nazi Party, officially the British National Party, are a party that formed mainly to hate black people, though in recent years they have branched out and now hate Muslims too. Their leader is DickIbegyourpardonNick Griffin, and they are bastard Nazis. They don’t have any MPs at the moment, and if you vote for them you are scum.
So I was looking forward to Herring’s new show, but at the same time apprehensive. The conceit of the show is simply that Herring decided he wanted to ‘reclaim’ the Hitler moustache for comedy, giving it back to Charlie Chaplin, because for it to be associated with Hitler meant that Hitler had won a tiny victory. So he was going to grow a toothbrush moustache and see what the reaction would be.
To my mind, this was a regressive idea – Herring was one of the first of the many comedians who have recently done shows or written books about themselves trying to do impossible feats, and this seemed similar to the kind of thing he did in his earlier show The Twelve Tasks Of Hercules Terrace, except that this time he was not being driven by the total breakdown of his life that had precipitated the earlier show. I thought that at best he would be just ‘satirising racism like some kind of Rory Bremners’ (as Herring himself would put it) and at worst it would be a Danny Wallace-esque ‘look at me being wacky’ show.
And to be honest, I suspect that Herring originally saw the show that way himself – possibly as something light after the emotionally draining show he did last year. He references Hercules Terrace in the first half of the show, and the (free) programme for the show – created before he wrote the script, when he only had the concept – doesn’t touch on much of the subject matter of the show, being a mixture of old blog posts and bits about his podcast with Andrew Collins.
The first half of the show, in fact, seems to fit that kind of show rather well. It’s loosely themed around Hitler and racism, and has some great lines on the subject (saying that if only everyone saw themselves as racists did, there’d be no more wars – India and Pakistan would say “Why are we fighting? I’m a Paki, you’re a Paki!”) it goes off on tangents about subjects like Madeline McCann, Michael Jackson, and just funny lines – “I don’t know the meaning of the word hubris. Which is unfortunate, as I’m entering a ‘define the meaning of the word hubris’ contest, straight after the show. I think I’ll win anyway, though.”
It was funny, and contained a lot of strong material, but was seemingly unfocused and more about getting individual laughs than having a strong through-line. That’s often the case with Herring’s shows though – his first halves often seem flabby, but often the less-impressive stuff from the first half is setting things up for very delayed punchlines later on, and his second halves are usually phenomenal.
In the case of this show, there was a natural break, as Herring had planned to wear the moustache for two periods – a short trial one, after which he shaved for some family commitments, followed by a longer one for the show’s run at Edinburgh and subsequent tour.
The day he shaved down to the moustache the second time was the day the results of the European elections were announced, and this triggers a total change of tone in the second half, which starts with him almost screaming at the audience “This was all your fault. Statistically, at least half of you didn’t vote, because oh dear boo hoo the politicians bought duck moats so they’re all the same. Really? They’re all exactly the same? There are TWENTY FUCKING NAMES ON THAT PAPER and there’s not ONE of them you’d prefer to the Nazis? You don’t think ‘maybe we should give the Greens a chance’? It’s YOUR fault the BNP got in YOU UTTER FUCKING CUNTS! And no, I’m not joking.” Before going on to talk about those who fought in the Spanish CIvil War for democracy and freedom, and comparing them to those who can’t even be bothered to walk to their local primary school.
As you can imagine, I was very much in agreement with this routine, given that this was almost word for word what I wrote on the day the results were announced, and I clapped, very loudly, for what felt like minutes (but was probably just seconds) on my own before a handful of others joined in. Herring went on to demolish people who spoil their ballot paper, as well as the idea of no-platforming these absurd, disgusting individuals.
And from this (rather preachy, but by God *SOMEONE* needs to be saying this stuff, without any caveats about ‘well, you can understand them…’) the second half of the show was hilariously funny (at times I laughed so much my vision went blurry through choking) and managed to take some of the formally clever stuff he’d done in earlier shows and make it about something more than just being itself. One routine, where he argues with himself, is very similar to the end of Menage A Un (and has a punchline from Someone Likes Yoghurt), but it takes on added resonance as he’s comparing his own use of the word ‘Paki’ (quoted earlier) to Carol Thatcher referring to a black man as a ‘golliwog’, and trying to work out how one can be justified and the other can’t, deconstructing the show and the argument itself.
The show turns into one of the all too few truly robust defences of liberal democracy (lower-case – Herring supports the Greens rather than us, but nobody’s perfect) I’ve heard recently that don’t come with either mealy-mouthed caveats or with threats to bomb anyone who isn’t as tolerant as us. One would *hope* that in 2009 basic ideas like democracy being better than fascism and racism being bad wouldn’t *need* defending, but unfortunately they do, and Herring does as good a job as could be hoped for.
And at the end he gives Chaplin the credit he’s due, for sticking his neck out and making The Great DIctator (and in the process ties in the Michael Jackson material by saying of Chaplin “Yes, he was a bit of a paedophile, but he was talented and he’s dead, so it doesn’t matter, as we’ve recently learned”) by reading out a chunk of Chaplin’s big speech from that film. I’ve never been a huge fan of Chaplin (rating him far below the Marx Brothers, Laurel & Hardy and Buster Keaton – I regard him as the Woody Allen of pre-war cinema, in many ways), but that speech still resonates today.
This may not be Herring’s funniest show (I think that’s still Menage A Un) but it’s probably his best, and certainly his most necessary. Go and see it if you can, and if not buy the DVD when it comes out next year (Herring’s shows get released by Go Faster Stripe usually just after he starts touring the next show – his last one, The Headmaster’s Son, should be out soon). It’s well worth it.