When I got home from work on Wednesday night I started to go through some of the coverage of that day’s anti-austerity protests. The story which appeared again and again was one about UKIP’s solitary MP, Douglas Carswell, who made the amateur mistake of standing at bus stop in central London whilst lots of people voiced their anger at the Queen’s Speech, which was being read in Parliament. Said people appear to have taken this opportunity to tell him what they thought of him
Carswell’s summing up of events included the repeated comparison of his experience with that of someone who was about to be lynched. ‘Their intentions were pretty murderous’, ‘it was like a lynch mob on the streets of London”it was an attempted lynching’ are but a few choice quotes from the poor darling yesterday evening.
Before I go into why this comparison was such a disgrace, lets have a look at the some of his other tedious whining. Firstly, call me a pedant, but I think there’s a problem with the idea that somebody can be ‘pretty’ murderous. In my book, murder and it’s associated adjective and are absolute. You can be pretty annoyed, pretty pissed off or pretty angry, and things can get pretty bad, but pretty murderous? As I understand a murder conviction requires evidence of intention. i.e you either have the intention or you don’t – there isn’t a middle ground. There are plenty of videos of the incident available, a couple of them taken by Carswell himself. I won’t repost them, as I suspect they’ll be used to further his victim fantasy, potentially in a court of law – but take a look yourself. There are lots of people shouting and waving placards, and one person close to Carswell gets what I’d describe as ‘pretty angry’. If this bloke’s words represent what Carswell considers to be murderous intention, I’d be happy to forward him a list of pubs in Bradford, Leeds and Liverpool that he should almost certainly avoid if he plans to visit the north and wishes to protect his delicate constitution.
What a lynch mob is not
So now to Carswell’s putrid assertion that what he experienced was ‘like a lynching‘. Whilst the term is argued to have originated from William Lynch, a justice of the peace who ordered the summary killing of British loyalists during the American Revolution, it has a very specific history extending from ante and post-bellum America – where white mobs would take black people captive before hanging them from a tree. Although it’s limited, even Google’s definition pays at least lip service to the fact that a lynching is defined as an extra-judicial racist murder.
gerund or present participle: lynching; noun: lynching
(of a group of people) kill (someone) for an alleged offence without a legal trial, especially by hanging.
“her father had been lynched by whites”
Another factor to consider in his bandying around of this term is the role of the police in the situation. When lynchings took place under Jim Crow in the U.S they very often happened under direct police protection and where they did not, the perpetrators certainly enjoyed the ‘benefit of the doubt’ on the rare occasions that were thoroughly investigated. A quick look at one of the host of videos from Wednesday’s events, or at the reams of press coverage in the subsequent two days, shows that far from the ‘pretty murderous’ crowd being under the protection of the thin blue line, it was, unsurprisingly, Carswell who was quickly whisked out of jeering distance by the London Met.
So, just to be clear…
1. Was Carswell’s life being threatened because he is a member of an oppressed and disenfranchised racial minority
No, it was not.
2. Was the crowd of potential ‘murderers’ acting under the protection of the police?
No, they were not
3. At any point was there the suggestion that Carswell might be summarily hung from a tree?
No, there was not.
So there we have it. It categorically not a lynching, not like a lynching, and in fact the situation, or at least what I saw in the many videos was a considerable distance from even being describable as an assault – nobody laid a finger on him or threatened his safety. For future reference, perhaps Mr Carswell would like me to print this simple check list out for him so he can stick it above his bed and quickly run through it the next time he feels like trying to frame himself as a victim of something he is not, and never will be.
The sanitisation of public politics
It must have come as a bit of shock to the Right Honourable member for Clacton when he encountered the unmoderated opinions of the masses on his way home. In my view they were doing exactly what a responsible, politically aware member of society should do when they come across a politician they detest – heckle them, heckle them and heckle them again – confront them with their rotten ideas and make them feel thoroughly uncomfortable. Without open meetings or hustings, opportunities to do this are few and far between nowadays, and looking back only fifteen years we can see how sanitized the public political arena has become. Whilst, to say the least, I’m no fan of Lord Prescott, I don’t recall hearing him whine about murderous crowds when he got an egg lobbed at him by a Tory farmer in the 2001 election campaign – he thumped him, there was a scuffle, and everyone moved on. A few years later, during the 2005 election campaign I was wrongly arrested for heckling Michael Howard outside Leeds College of Music and. To his credit, Howard didn’t publicly suggest that I may have intended to kill him, but I did spend a day in custody and acquire an escort of two plain clothes cops at demonstrations I attended throughout the rest of the campaign. And in the last year we have witnessed just how airtight politics has become, with the police intervening on behalf of politicians to have tweets removed from the internet.
Carswell’s choice of words
This brings me to the question, what was behind his words? Why choose the ones that he did? Because however much I detest this man and his party, one thing that can’t be said of him is that he is stupid. When in public he chooses his words far more carefully than his buffoon of a boss, and on the whole he seems keen to distance himself from the bombast associated with the likes of ex UKIPer Godfrey Bloom or deputy leader Paul Nuttall. In this era of PR and meticulously planned public appearances, the possibility that these utterances were not made in the heat of the moment, or down to the ‘shock’ of being shouted at, but that they were carefully picked.
In taking a phrase so inherently connected to murderous violence, disconnecting it from his history and labelling an entirely inappropriate situation with it, a powerful and hideously distorted image can be created. Of course, Carswell isn’t the first person to bandy this word around without warrant, but within the context of UKIP, its policies and the way it campaigns, his deployment of these words is significant and fits neatly alongside a host of other examples from members of his organisation.
Throughout not only the election campaign, but at least the last five years we’ve been subject to an endless string of UKIP ‘gaffes’ ranging from midly offensive confused ramblings to virulently racist, misogynistic, homophobic and anti-working class comments. I think that whilst these words came from ‘racists and fruitcakes’, to paraphrase our dear Prime Minister, they were carefully framed and positioned by people with a clear and calculated objective: to deliberately introduce or misappropriate particular words, phrases, images and concepts with the aim of constructing an identity, that of the straight, white, male victim. With every new supposed fuck-up, Farage rolls out the apologism, diplomatically taking the edge of what had been said, before proceeding to agree with the essence of it. Whips have been removed and suspensions and de-selections have taken place, but always in such a way as to make it clear to supporters that they are simply humouring ‘the establishment’. Do we need more confirmation than the sturdy 3.9 million votes they took to understand that they are not just a shower of error-prone morons?
Pre-election, many of these pronouncements were given a comic veneer by UKIP opponents, often in a way which unconsciously bolstered the victim hood the party was busy inventing. Whilst I’m not criticising anyone for sharing some of the terrible things UKIP have come out with, I think doing it with either a hand-wringing sense of despair, or in a sneering ‘they’re all fucking idiots’ manner often helps them more than it hinders them. I think one factor in people feeling comfortable to attack them superficially was that across the political board there was a general agreement on wanting to keep UKIP out and indeed some of the most base and limp criticism of them came not from those who would have joined Wednesday’s protests, but from those aligned to the three main parties.
Post election we see something else. The response to this incident has been marked by support, compromise or silence from non-UKIP political figures. Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, Sajid Javid tweeted ‘Outrageous attack by mob on Douglas Carswell – no respect for freedom of speech or democracy’, whilst Boris Johnson congratulated the London Met for ‘protecting’ Carswell. Even Owen Jones failed to mention his disgraceful comparison with lynching, and still entertained the narrative of Carswell having come ‘under attack‘ whilst attempting to offer a critique of the MP’s response to events in the Guardian ‘the attack on Douglas Carswell was wrong, but that doesn’t make him right’. The motivation behind Javid and Johnson’s comments of support is very clear – Carswell’s wolf crying fits perfectly with the government’s insidious ‘anti-extremist’ agenda – launched with with Cameron’s ominous declaration that ‘For too long, we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens: long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone‘. Jones on the other hand, who’s good intentions I don’t doubt, tries to defend protesters by harking to a mythical past where protest and direct action weren’t rowdy and raucous and didn’t involve lots of shouting and anger. In using the word ‘attack’ in the title of his article he does the protesters involved a great disservice and does Carswell a favour by reinforcing his fairytale. I’m quite happy to say I support the actions of every one of the protesters involved in heckling Carswell on Wednesday and I’d like to see it happen to every politician who sticks up for austerity, racism, homophobia and misogyny. Nobody is attacking their freedom speech or their democratic rights when they do this, they’re only exercising their own.