Fascism Ain’t What it Used to Be

Uncanny Similarities Between Europe’s Past and Brexit Britain

If you pretend that [fascism] is merely an aberration which will presently pass off of its own accord, you are dreaming a dream from which you will awake when somebody coshes you with a rubber truncheon (George Orwell, 1936).

    These are troubled times in Europe. Democracy itself is in danger, just at the point where it seems to have peaked in its spread across the continent. Along with an upsurge in populism has come an alteration in what it is deemed acceptable to say. Here in Britain, there has been the extended agony of Brexit and unprecedented calls, according to the Hansard Society, for a ‘strong leader’ who could cut through the conventions and the rules to fulfil the referendum result and take the country out of the European Union.

 

    The tone of public debate has audibly changed. It has coarsened. The referendum itself revealed a bitter divide in the country and there has been a well-documented rise in hate crime. At the same time, a beleaguered prime minister has fallen and, at the point of writing (things move fast), one of the contenders for her job has suggested that parliament be by-passed altogether in order for the country to exit without a deal. This would be achieved through a ‘proroguing’ of parliament; in other words, sending elected members home. If that sounds extra-parliamentary, it is. The referendum, like all referenda, did not sit easily with the parliamentary system of government from the start. It was Clement Attlee who once said that fascists like plebiscites. Could this divisive referendum have marked the beginning of the end for parliamentary democracy?    

 

    I haven’t enjoyed researching this article. I only read such stuff so you, dear reader, wouldn’t have to. My idea was to go back almost a hundred years to another place and time and to see if it held any lessons. The obvious period to return to was the Weimar Republic. It is a complex topic. The factors that contributed to the failure of the republic and the rise of Nazism are probably unrepeatable. The blood-letting they led to have no parallel in history. Nonetheless, the queasy feeling one gets seeing intolerance on the rise is a reminder that these were people too, and they were able to do this to each other. Theodor Adorno said there could be no poetry after Auschwitz. There has been plenty, of course, but made possible by forgetting; the same forgetting which makes the opposite of poetry possible.

 

    A sense of dread has returned. In Britain, the voices of hatred are more audible than before. The famous Python who gave the world Basil Fawlty appears to transform into his own creation and starts complaining that London is no longer an English city. Morrissey, who also gets upset about the capital for similar reasons, openly declares his support for a far-right party no one has ever heard of, called For Britain, and worries about the free speech being denied to a well-known bigot by the name of Tommy Robinson.

 

    At the same time Elton John, who once sang proudly how he was ‘made in England’, says: “I’m ashamed of my country for what it has done. It’s torn people apart … I am sick to death of politicians, especially British politicians. I am sick to death of Brexit. I am a European. I am not a stupid, colonial, imperialist English idiot.”

 

    How much of this idiocy is, as Orwell said, ‘merely an aberration which will presently pass off of its own accord’? By comparing the Thirties and the ideology that thrived in them, I hope to prove that we are still at a point where the bigots can be laughed at – just about. We might even get away with throwing milkshakes at them. They are, for the time being, like P. G. Wodehouse’s Roderick Spode (otherwise known as Lord Sidcup), an ‘amateur dictator’ and leader of a fictional fascist group in London called the Saviours of Britain, also known as the Black Shorts:

 

About seven feet in height, and swathed in a plaid ulster which made him look about six feet across, he caught the eye and arrested it. It was as if Nature had intended to make a gorilla, and had changed its mind at the last moment.

 

This image of Spode is not unlike that of the burly Carl Benjamin, the rising star of UKIP, who recently tweeted that he would not even rape a female member of parliament, then corrected himself in a video by admitting “with enough pressure I might cave”. Benjamin passed this off as a joke. He has the natural sense of fun, and the generously rounded physique, of a poorly paid night club bouncer, but rather than risk gratifying his ego, here is a picture of Spode:

 

    Wodehouse goes on to say that the way Spode eats asparagus “alters one’s whole conception of Man as Nature's last word.” It’s a nice image, but clearly inappropriate in this case, as no one could imagine Carl Benjamin eating anything that wasn’t made of meat. 

 

DIMINISHED RESPONSIBILITY

    It is fashionable these days, among the pundits, to talk about the political stage being populated by “pygmies”. Of course, this is not very kind to members of that diminutive tribe, but they are surely used to it by now. Our politicians are routinely called inferior, puny, lacking in stature and vision. If Nigel Farage was really so intent on speaking for ‘the little people’, he would be sticking up for the politicians, rather than telling his followers to ‘put the fear of God in them’.

    For the fact is that, in the absence of any towering figures in the political landscape, the people have ceased respecting the political class altogether. Since the Fifties, the electorate have gone from deference and forelock tugging to utter disrespect. The last person who knew how to defer or tug their forelock died around the same time as the last speaker of Cornish. It has become unimaginable to feel awe. Just referring to the ‘great’ departments of state sounds like ludicrous hyperbole when the likes of Theresa May, or Boris Johnson, or even Gavin Whatsisname, can preside over them. No wonder it’s so hard for satirists. Their job was to cut the politicians down to size, but how does one go about belittling a pygmy?

    And yet, it is easy to say we ought to speak up for them, they are our servants and they are trying to do a good job, and so on. This would be possible if the dwindling of the powerful was merely a trick of perspective. Father Dougal McGuire (the idiotic priest in Father Ted) might struggle with the idea that the cows in the distant field are not tiny, they are far away, but in modern politics the colossi really are small and insignificant. All across the old world, similar mental pygmies are in the ascendant, but in a country once famed for its big ideas, we have been at the cutting edge when it comes to elevating small minds to the highest office. There was a time when you were required to rise to a great height to reach Number Ten. It was the apogee of political ambition. It was such a struggle, fraught with danger, involving a climb up a ‘greasy pole’, that few attempted it, and the ones that did hardly knew why. They simply did it because it was there.

    But that was then. Nowadays, there is a queue for the summit almost as long as the one for Mount Everest. As we have seen in the unseemly huddle to replace Theresa May, only a refusal by Sherpas to accompany them can possibly put them off trying.

 



A metaphor for the Conservative leadership race? Photo of the queue for Mount Everest by Nirmal ‘Nims’ Purja

    Prime ministers ascend and descend with the same vaulting ambition as before, yet the holders of the job are, to say the least, pusillanimous. That is to say, they are much reduced in moral stature. When they arrive at Number Ten, it’s as much as a modern prime minister can do to reach the door handle. It’s quite possible that one day soon becoming prime minister will be as routine as summitting Everest and people will remain in office just long enough to take in the view before being elbowed aside. Indeed, I’m considering it myself; I think ‘I might be good at it’, to quote a recent incumbent.

    If I seem to be exaggerating and you still have a certain reverence for the role, try a little thought experiment as if you were a member of the Conservative Party (one of the few who are not already dead, that is): ‘Boris’ in Downing Street.

 

    And it’s not just politics that’s in historic decline. It's the entire civilisation. And, of course, the natural world. With the megafauna dying out, how long before the mini-fauna get the same treatment? Insects, obviously. Then there’s the birds. I used to get woken up by birdsong in the mornings, but now that the reduction event is in full swing, it is no longer such a problem. Silence reigns. It is the Golden Age of silence, which is the only thing that’s truly golden.

 

    In truth, I am beginning to adapt to this diminished world. I can see the advantages. For one thing, I can avoid the pain of feeling small and insignificant. We are all small and insignificant. Paradoxically, this certainty that people are smaller than they once were makes me feel bigger than I actually am, so the discomfort in my limbs is less of a problem these days. I have grown accustomed to the vague sensation of being pinned to the ground by Lilliputians. They don’t scare me. They need me. If Windsor Castle ever catches fire again, I complacently assure myself, who else will be able to douse the flames? 

 

    This complacency lasts only as long as I can manage to stay away from my mobile phone, or from a similar online device. As ever, it is the Internet that ushers in the Age of Lead. As soon as I pick up my phone, I begin to hear their little voices in my ears, because even the little people have voices now, twittering in the ether. Bird-brained, self-appointed pundits, the Lilliputians freely express their opinions on everything, while complaining that they are prevented from doing so. As birds drop like stones from the sky, their irritating tweets are replaced by misquotes, soaring opinions, rumours, fake news, conspiracy theories, false allegations, more opinions, hate speech, threats of rape and murder, the recommendations of influencers and mysterious neologisms like ‘covfefe’.

 

    It would be a mercy if the spring had really fallen silent as we were promised. Instead, it has been replaced by the raucous cacophony of the Kakocracy. The whole Anglosphere is abuzz with it.     

 

    When the United Kingdom does, eventually, manage to disunite itself and each constituent part goes its own way, I suggest we grasp the opportunity and stop referring to this particular part as England. We should be bold and adopt the name Lilliput. Then the few people like me who can remember better times can be tied down and made secure, for the good of public health and civic order. We can do everything that we used to do, but responsibly, and the illusion that we ever had any greatness can finally be put to bed, or quietly euthanised. What a mercy killing it would be. We Britons would finally be able to retire from the world stage. We don't want your seat on the Security Council, thank you very much. You never liked us, so we're going. Toodle-pip! Exeunt omnes.

 

    Only when the sun finally sets on the last part of the empire – i.e. on ourselves – shall we finally get our voices back. No one will be able to judge us anymore. No one will care. We shan’t have to be on our best behaviour ever again. We will have free reign (we always spelt it wrong) not to tow (we can spell that wrong too) the line. No more shall we feel the need to be polite, no more shall we be responsible, no more will we be serious. We will have done with giving the world the benefit of our expertise, our ingenuity and our precious rule of law. Finally, we can sneak behind the bicycle sheds during History class and sniff as much glue as we please. It was all we ever really wanted.

 

    Meantime, we can squeak our ill-founded and inexpert opinions at the tops of our shrill little lungs without restraint. It will no longer be a Gulliver experience, waking up in this once great country, as we will all be Gulliver and, simultaneously, Lilliputians. It was only ever a trick of the light, that world power thing. No longer will there be either grandeur or pettiness, these concepts have had their day. We ex-Britons will climb down off our hallucinatory pedestal, relax, and finally enjoy the universal feeling of the whole human race: insignificance. No more strutting our stuff. We can share the commonly held conviction that the normal dimensions of human life are nasty, brutish and the opposite of tall. We can admit, with some pride, that the world is but a speck in the eye of the cosmos and there are no aliens coming from a more advanced corner of it, ready and willing to abduct us. Instead, we have been abducted by pygmies. No, better than that, we are the pygmies, led by our dear (but not very great) leader, Nigel Farage.

 

    Be bold, I say, for are we not examples, each and every one of us, of how good things come in small packages? We are here, and we are bent on revenge for all the trouble the world has put us to over the years, trying to punch above our weight the whole time, trying to maintain order. A thankless task.

 

    So, from now on we’re going to show you another kind of order. It’s called disorder. We’ll lead the way to a new kind of greatness. It’s called pettiness. No more vaulting ambition. No more ‘because it was there’. We’ve seen the view from the summit and it wasn’t as pretty as we’d hoped, but that’s alright, because we’ve managed our expectations. It’s really beautiful, being small.

 

    Onwards and downwards. We are in a new battle for Britain and we have our very own Churchill for the job. He’s even written a biography of the other Churchill. Admittedly, he is not quite of his hero’s lofty stature. He’s all mouth, frankly. But we need someone who can break the rules and get us through this crisis he got us into. First time tragedy, second time – well, fascist. 

 

 FASCISM’S GOOD OLE DAYS

    That Boris Johnson, what a card, eh? Always ready with a funny word you don’t expect, never failing to tell it like it is, as he did in a press conference on 12th June announcing his bid for the leadership of the country and explaining why he was well within his rights to describe women in burkas as looking like bank robbers:

 

…one of the reasons the public feels alienated now from us all as a breed of politicians is because too often they feel we are muffling and veiling our language, if I might put it that way [applause].  

 

Veiling. Did I mention, Boris never knowingly did the dance of the seven veils? Cocaine just made him sneeze. He’s straight as a die, is our Boris, unlike certain lesser politicians he could mention:

 

Not speaking as we find, err, covering everything up in bureaucratic platitudes, when what they [the public] want to hear is what we genuinely think... Of course, I'm sorry for the offence I've caused, but...

 

You see, there’s nothing to worry about; he’s just a journalist. When Johnson was accused of falsely claiming a no-deal Brexit was the most popular option among the British public, brandishing a fictional poll to prove it, The Daily Telegraph said he was ‘entitled to make sweeping generalisations based on his opinions’. They added that none of the claims in Johnson’s column should be taken seriously, as the piece ‘was clearly comically polemical, and could not be reasonably read as a serious, empirical, in-depth analysis of hard factual matters’. He had said it in jest, you see. He’s just a journalist.

    Didn’t that Mussolini start out as a journalist?

    Look, don’t worry your pretty little head. The present situation is not nearly as bad as you’re painting it. Those fascists of the twentieth century, they had a lot more going for them than a dodgy line in patriotism and a big ego. They had reading lists. Those old fascists had done their homework. They’d moved on from journalism long before they took power. They hated journalists. But this is England. You are not going to wake up one day and fail to recognise your surroundings.  

    The day Hitler came to power, on 30th January 1933, a Jewish journalist and novelist by the name of Joseph Roth did just that. Consequently, he boarded a train in Berlin and headed straight for Paris. He would never return to Germany. After years of poverty, exiled in the French capital and with his health failing, he wrote:

 

The country whose nationality we haul around, we can leave, albeit with a wrench. But the epoch in which we were born, that we cannot leave, unless we happen to die. Whether we move from left’ to ‘right’, or remain in the ‘centre’ […] we’re all children of the epoch whose mark or stigma we carry. Our epoch is our homeland, and our ‘statesmen’ would better be known as ‘epoch-men’. And our obligation […] is to act as patriots and to reside in the domain that we know is inhabited by good and listen for its call.

 

In the Little England of the not-so-distant future, there are no ‘epoch-men’ to be seen, only ‘bad boys’ who rampage across the island, taunting the losers and worshipping the dead head of their porcine god, Brexit.

    If the Hansard Society is right, and the British people really are in search of a strong leader who can break the rules, then who can disagree with Martin Kettle when he writes (The Guardian, 16th May 2019) that the political landscapes of Brexit Britain and of the Weimar Germany are ‘scarily similar’? Surely Joseph Roth would have diagnosed the sickness in the British soul, given all the talk lately of Empire and of recovered greatness. As an uprooted Austrian, Roth witnessed the escalation of violence and intolerance in the German-speaking lands and the absorption of his own country into that same Teutonic madness, culminating in the Anschluss, an absorption mandated by the very kind of plebiscite Attlee would identify as the favourite instrument of fascists. Roth had anatomised with growing horror the decomposition of the ‘German soul’, predicting the death of German literature and even, chillingly, the ‘national pyromania’ that would eventually incinerate his own books, before getting around to incinerating actual people.

    The flies buzzing around the Brexit head are no less dirty and noisy than the carrion feeders of Roth’s day, but history is not repeatable. Any comparison with the Weimar Republic has to recognise the contrasts too. Martin Kettle is moved by a picture of a demonstration in support of democracy in Berlin in 1922:

 



An immense “Rally for the Republic” in 1922.’ Photograph: Ullstein Bild/TopFoto

In Britain, he points out, there have been no such demonstrations in defence of parliamentary democracy, but the crowds in the picture are defending a democracy in its infancy, and one already menaced by rival gangs with extreme political ideologies, some of whom saw democracy itself as a sign of sickness.

    For one ideologue, Weimar was the Judenrepublik, a nadir in history that represented the utter defeat of German civilisation. That ideologue’s name was Chamberlain, but he was not a relative of the Prime Minister who was to bring back a famous piece of paper signed by Herr Hitler. This one’s full name was Houston Stewart Chamberlain, and he is worth some attention as the writer and thinker whose most popular book, The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century, was studied and hugely admired by Wilhelm II, the last German Emperor or Kaiser. It would also become, unsurprisingly, a favourite bedtime read for the Führer. 

    I say he merits ‘some attention’, but one must read these old fascists with care, not for fear of succumbing to their potions, but to guard against clinical depression. Chamberlain knew the Wagnerians, he even married Wagner’s daughter. Like her he dabbled in völkisch theory and rabid anti-Semitism. He later met Hitler and Goebbels and enjoyed their applause. But there is obvious paranoia in his abhorrence of everything Jewish. He saw the Jewish people as engaged in a war to the death with Aryan civilisation. He went so far as to lose sleep over it, convinced the Jews were plotting to kill him. Since he didn’t much like the Chinese either, in his magnum opus he announced that Chinese civilisation had been founded by the Jews, because just like the Jews the Chinese had ‘the total absence of all culture’. As part of their plan to destroy the Aryans, Chamberlain also claimed that the Jews had founded the Roman Catholic Church, which only preached a ‘Judaised’ Christianity that had nothing to do with the Christianity created by the Aryan Christ. Naturally, the saviour had the right pedigree. In 1923, the ex-Kaiser, perhaps Chamberlain’s biggest fan, wrote to him of his belief that the Jews were ‘not our religious forebears’ and that Jesus was ‘not a Jew’. He was instead an Aryan ‘of exceptional beauty, tall and slim with a noble face inspiring respect and love; his hair blond shading into chestnut brown, his arms and hands noble and exquisitely formed…’

    I could go on.

    One can only hope that Steve Bannon eventually gets his way and manages to open a monastery for the training of alt-right ‘gladiators’ in Italy. The level of knowledge among aspiring twenty-first century fascists is lamentable compared with their forbears. What do they know of Christ’s hair colour? I dare say they have never even come across the Jewish origins of Chinese civilisation. That doesn’t mean they don’t try. Some of them (such as Bannon himself) have even heard of Julius Evola.

    Now Evola was the real thing, a proper fascist philosopher. According to his Wikipedia entry, he wrote ‘prodigiously on Eastern mysticism, Tantra, hermeticism, the myth of the Holy Grail and Western esotericism’. Though he viewed Jews as corrosive and anti-traditional, he described Hitler’s more fanatical anti-Semitism as an idée fixe that damaged the reputation of the Third Reich. The Jews were simply “the carriers of a world view ... a spirit [that] corresponded to the ‘worst’ and ‘most decadent’ features of modernity: democracy, egalitarianism and materialism.”

    In May, 1951, Evola was arrested and charged with promoting the revival of the Fascist Party, and of glorifying Fascism. Defending himself at the trial, he stated that his work belonged to a long tradition of anti-democratic writers who certainly could be linked to fascism — at least fascism interpreted according to certain Evolian criteria — but who certainly could not be identified with the Fascist regime under Mussolini. Evola then declared that he was not a Fascist but a “super fascist”. This may, or may not have been, immodesty. He was later acquitted.

    Where, one might ask, are the super fascists in this benighted epoch of ours? All one ever sees are liars, gangsters and choleric tweeters. I sincerely hope the Italian Cultural Heritage Ministry is overruled by Matteo Salvini and Steve Bannon is able to open his alt-right monastic retreat. They need educating, these knuckleheads, and Bannon, a Catholic himself, is surely the man to do it.

 

    Soon as it opens, I intend to infiltrate the place. Like a political version of a school inspector, I want to see if the classes are up to standard. I shall tonsure my head for the purpose, so as not to arouse suspicion, and become a Judeo-Christian gladiator. Or something.

THE LOVABLE GANGSTER

 

    What are the main differences between those times, back in the first half of the previous century, and these? Could one difference be that the nearest thing to a British Wagner – and he’s not even anti-Semitic – is a slightly long-in-the-tooth pop singer who seems to like pettiness in his heroes?  

    It seems a very long time since Morrissey twirled a bunch of gladioli in the air whilst singing:

 

Why pamper life’s complexity

When the leather runs smooth

On the passenger seat? (‘This Charming Man’)

 

That ‘pamper’ sounded suspiciously like a malapropism, but it hardly mattered. There was something incredibly cool about Morrissey back then, when he was still a Smith. I vividly remember the thrill of arriving at a party and first hearing the other-worldly guitars on ‘How Soon Is Now’, with Morrissey’s tormented voice singing:

 

There’s a club if you’d like to go,

You could meet somebody who really loves you.

So you go and you stand on your own,

And you leave on your own,

And you go home, and you cry, and you want to die’.

 

I must have been in my mid-twenties at the time; the psychic wound of adolescence had long since healed, but Morrissey allowed one to feel that pain, now cauterised, all over again, this time as a kind of pleasure. He was peerless in his miserabilism, a poet of adolescent anguish. What she’d said to him at the end of the day, Caligula would have blushed. He’d been looking for a job, and he’d found a job, and now, heaven knows, he was miserable.

    He was also very mouthy. This much he had confessed in a song actually entitled ‘Big Mouth Strikes Again’, where he confided that he really had ‘no right to take my place in the human race.’

    Morrissey had strong views. He was opinionated. At a time when a lot of pop singers were expected to do little more than divulge their favourite colour or what they did for fun at the seaside in the course of interviews considerably less challenging than the ones conducted by hairdressers, Morrissey had a go at the royal family, for instance, or darkly suggested he was not entirely enamoured of the pop business. I used to read this kind of stuff with pleasure. I quite liked the way he’d bang on about animal rights and proclaim that meat was murder. He still does. But there is a phenomenon here akin to the transformation of John Cleese into Basil Fawlty. Here, for instance, is Basil Morrissey getting irate about walking through Knightsbridge:

 

If you walk through Knightsbridge on any bland day of the week you won't hear an English accent. You'll hear every accent under the sun apart from the British accent.

 

    Compare Nigel Farage feeling uncomfortable when he hears foreign languages spoken in his train carriage. Perhaps he thinks he’s suddenly been transported back to Brussels.

    Or just compare this, from John Cleese:    

 

I don’t know what’s going on in London, because London is no longer an English city. That’s how we got the Olympics. They said we were the most cosmopolitan city on Earth. But it doesn’t feel English. I had a Californian friend come over two months ago, walk down the King’s Road and say, "Where are all the English people?" I mean, I love having different cultures around. But when the parent culture kind of dissipates, you’re left thinking, "Well, what’s going on?"' (Daily Mail, 2 September 2011)

 

   Or more recently, in a tweet:

 

Some years ago, I opined that London was not really an English city any more. Since then, virtually all my friends from abroad have confirmed my observation. So there must be some truth in it... I note also that London was the UK city that voted most strongly to remain in the EU.

 

    Basil Morrissey has also been in gestation for many years. I hardly need go into too many examples, they are well known by now, ask any disillusioned fan about the incident with the union flag or the song about the Bengali in platforms.

    The problem is, of course, that as the miserable pop star’s tooth lengthens ever longer, so one wonders if the signs were there all along and whether, just as Basil Fawlty seemed to be pure send-up and has now proved closer to reality, so some of the less savoury sentiments in Morrissey’s early work were not ironic after all. What if he meant it when he sang so jollily about his girlfriend being in a coma? What if he really did want to kick people in the eye from time to time?

    It is not a painless procedure, the surgical removal of irony. In most cases, with a caustic wit like Morrissey’s, an anaesthetic is strongly recommended. But to extend the metaphor of long in the tooth well beyond anything an aging narcissist could ever countenance, what I am about to do is the equivalent of dentistry in the years immediately following the fall of communism in Czechoslovakia. There can be no relief for the pain I am about to inflict.

    Because there is a particular brand of fascist thinking which has little to do with the intellectual elaborations of Chamberlain or Evola. It is, in fact, so far from thinking as such that it might better be described as fervour, an emotion, in fact, that one can recall from youth but would not wish to encounter in the grown man. This emotion is, I suspect, homoerotic, and it attaches to a certain kind of love object: a pretty thug.

    I do not mean to suggest that this strain of fascism was missing from the early, good ole fascists I have described above. The Brown Shirts were notorious for it. In fact, even their leader, Ernst Röhm, who was dispatched along with hundreds more on the Night of the Long Knives, was well known to have little interest in the ladies. He was also an old friend of the Führer and the only man who referred to him as Adolf, or even as Adi. He used the ‘du’ form in addressing his old comrade. Indeed, their association was so close that some began to speculate that Hitler himself was that way inclined. Hitler had an expeditious way of stilling wagging tongues, of course. Guns, not knives, were handy for the purpose.

    There is a streak of violent imagery that runs all the way through the lyrics of The Smiths, but it was when Morrissey broke free and began his solo career that the desire for the pretty thug became more explicit, and the song I would focus on, ‘The Last of the Famous International Playboys’, name checks two actual (and notorious) thugs, namely the Kray Twins.

 



Reggie and Ronnie Kray, pictured in their prime by David Bailey

In the song, Morrissey is writing to one or other of these ne’er-do-wells:

 

Dear hero imprisoned, with all the new crimes that you are perfecting, oh, I can’t help quoting you, because everything that you said rings true. And now in my cell (well, I followed you) and here’s a list of who I slew. Reggie Kray, do you know my name? Oh, don’t say you don’t, please say you do. Oh, I am the last of the famous international playboys. And in my cell (well, I loved you) and every man with a job to do. Ronnie Kray, do you know my face? Oh, don’t say you don’t, please say you do? […] I never wanted to kill. I am not naturally evil. These things I do just to make myself more attractive to you. Have I failed?

 

Is any song more breathless with hero-worship than this one? Extract the irony for a moment as I suggested, hear it as the plain-spoken truth, and Morrissey is virtually ecstatic with masochistic man love. He is fully prepared to kill for the Krays. The list of ‘who I slew’ has that slightly archaic, malaprop quality again, but this time he is gleefully admitting to rubbing out undesirables to please his heroes.

    I know it’s a song. I know it’s a persona and Morrissey has never killed in his life. Suffice to say, the Krays had killed in their lives.

    Elsewhere, one encounters similar sentiments. I recommend anyone who doubts the existence of a theme in Morrissey’s work has a listen to a more recent song called ‘First of the Gang to Die’ which speaks of the singer’s love for Hector, who is idolised as the

 

… first of the gang with a gun in his hand,

And the first to do time,

And the first of the gang to die.

 

    He doesn’t really admire petty thieves like Hector. It’s their defiance of the rules he likes. He did once urge the shoplifters of the world to ‘unite and take a bow’, but it was all just silly pop. The pretty thug, the lovable gangster – how could anyone take such nonsense seriously? The fact that Brecht satirised Hitler as a Chicago gangster, involved in the cauliflower racket, is beside the point. Hector is no fascist thug. He’s just a bit of rough, and Morrissey has always liked the glamour of bad boys. The fact that he supports For Britain, a right-wing party possessed by Islamophobia, is just another example of his provocative interview technique.

 

Anne Marie Waters [leader of For Britain] seeks open discussion about all aspects of modern Britain, whereas other parties will not allow diverse opinion. She is like a humane version of Thatcher ... if such a concept could be. She is absolute leadership, she doesn’t read from a script, she believes in British heritage, freedom of speech, and she wants everyone in the UK to live under the same law. I find this compelling.

 

It’s confused, but then aren’t we all?

As for the fact that he defends Tommy Robinson – real name Yaxley-Lennon, as The Guardian habitually points out – that’s also on the basis that the man ought to be allowed free speech. He’s described the media’s treatment of the EDL founder as ‘shocking’. Surely you can’t, you know, be suggesting? Nah, I mean the bloke’s little more than a petty criminal with a thinly-veiled racist agenda. He’s a moral pygmy. A waste of a good milkshake. Who in their right mind could ever look up to him?  

    But, in naked truth, Morrissey may be doing more than looking up to Robinson. When the word ‘love’ creeps into his lyrics, a kind of fawning and morbid admiration of masculine potency is never far behind. Because, as he menacingly observes in his hymn to Hector, ‘You have never been in love until you’ve seen the sunlight thrown over smashed human bone…’

 

That’s the best thing about lovable gangsters: they live fast, die young and leave such a good-looking corpse.

 

 

 

 


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