Matthew Parris and the Rise of Jingoism

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I follow the estimable Mike Harding on Facebook, because he’s a man I respect a great deal, for a number of reasons. He’s also someone who is a major part of my childhood. Anyway, on his facebook timeline, he shared a link to Matthew Parris’ article in the Times last Saturday, (24 March)[WARNING: this article may be behind a paywall for you].

A number of people on the thread commented that we couldn’t see the article in question, so he shared a transcript of it. I read it.

And Parris is right. Utterly and unequivocally right. It’s a masterful piece of writing.

See, here’s the thing. Matthew Parris may be a Tory, but he’s someone I have read and listened to over the years. I haven’t always agreed with him (because he is still a Tory, after all, and I’m not), but he usually has something interesting, insightful and useful to contribute to the discussion. It’s for a similar reason that I actually quite like Gyles Brandreth. They are interesting people, and interesting people are always worth the effort, even if you don’t always think the same way as they do.

That’s part of the problem with debate now. It has been polarised into a state where almost no nuance is possible. I will happily admit that I voted Remain, but I am also willing to admit that some people who voted for Brexit did so for reasons that were valid for them. Some of them even had valid points about the EU to make in their arguments. Some even managed to make sensible points about what a civilised “divorce” from the EU could look like. I didn’t agree with them, but they were at least worth considering.

Jacob Rees-Mogg is NOT one of those people. If he had not had the fortune (both literally and figuratively) to be born a scion of the erstwhile editor of the Times (a man who, let’s not forget, was responsible for the famous “Butterfly on a Wheel” Times leader), and to be packed off to a school whose fees are what the average person in this country earns in an entire year, where would he be? I’m quite prepared to bet that Jacobus, the landica sine parilis, wouldn’t be an MP. I rather suspect he’d be a pushy middle manager in some humdrum redbrick office somewhere in an anonymous town in the Midlands, making the lives of the people in his team a miasma of ongoing low-level misery - like being stuck in winter drizzle in Redditch for all eternity without a brolly. He is almost the textbook example of a man elevated far beyond the bounds of his knowledge, experience or competence.

And Parris knows this. He has seen enough mediocre minds like Rees-Mogg grease their way through the routes to power, not because they are talented, but because they are connected. He also knows the intellectual and cultural wasteland of Westminster politics assumes that only people of his sort are worthy to climb higher, to even be allowed to play the game at all. And, being of that ilk, he also knows that there will be no shortage of toadies ready to do the dirty work with which he would not sully his own hands. Rees-Mogg is comfortable in his bubble of effortless, complacent self-assured superiority,

Johnson is the same. I refuse to refer to him only by given name, and buy into to that ersatz chumminess, the meretricious sophistry of him reinforcing his own tawdry, slack-jawed “brand”, tarnished though it is now.

But again I come back to Parris. He’s right. and it pains me that he is. It pains me that so many are willing to believe the lies, and condone the sneering, boorish philistinism of their foot-soldiers. At the precise time that the world has become a more dangerous place, and we need friends to stand with, and who will stand with us, these people want us to alienate and belittle them.

Why? To line their own pockets; to protect their own interests; to pursue a vision of a Britain that never really was: selling it to people some of whom are only now starting to see that it’s a vision that never can work, because the world they want to hark back to is simply no longer there. It has moved on. It has evolved, if it ever existed at all. They try to sell a vision of Britain prospering like it did before we joined the EU, in the “good old days”. Well, that’s because before we joined there wasn’t an EU at all. And the days weren’t that great if we’re being frank. We helped to create the EU as it is now. When we leave, that EU will still be there. They will survive without us; they will not be what they were before.

But we seem to be mired in a hatred and distrust of the intellectual. We have, after all, had enough of experts, or so we are told. Is this true? There are possibly still enough of us who refuse to buy into this brutish, angrier vision of an atavistic, bellicose country. That’s not the country I know. That’s not the country I was proud to live in. But now I’m not. I’m not English* any more. Not English in the way these people want me to be. And that is not the kind of English I will be.

I refuse.

NON SERVIAM.

You know exactly what that means, Jacob. And you know exactly where you can stick it, son.

*the use of “English” is very deliberate here, because it’s a very English kind of Jingoism that we’re talking about. It’s not a reaction that I’m seeing from the Scots, for example, but seems to be endemic in the like of Johnson, Rees-Mogg, and the execrable John Redwood, amongst others.