Billy Bragg Battles the BNP over England's Soul--But Does it Have One Anymore?
By Ed West
How is it that the loudest cries for diversity come from the drivers of Land Rovers? Or, at least, people who live in areas where everyone else does. Billy Bragg is campaigning in Barking against the BNP and although the folk singer doesn't drive a Chelsea tractor so far as I know, he does, in the words of Gary Bushell, "live in a lovely big house in West Dorset".
Of course Bragg can argue that he has a right to speak about the subject, as he didn't leave Barking because of immigration, but because he's wealthy and wanted somewhere nice and spacious. After all, Mick Jagger grew up across the river in the still very monocultural Dartford, but hasn't stuck around for all the Kent town's greater social solidarity - he's off on a beach in Mustique or wherever it is, as any sensible person would be.
And not many readers of this paper will begrudge Bragg his success. He's a working-class Essex lad who made his way out through hard graft and talent, which makes him (whether he likes it or not) a Tory poster boy.
But his hard-earned wealth does mean he now has what philosophers call "moral luck", while poor people in Barking and many other BNP targets don't. Bad moral luck is what people in dictatorships and wartime suffer - it means siding with a choice of two evil regimes, or deciding whether to lose your life or your honour. It means fate forcing you into making immoral decisions, which is what many working-class whites must now make.
Laban Tall has an interesting take on it, pointing out that Bragg now echoes the revised Labour policy. The official line used to be "multiculturalism is great for everyone"; these days it's "we realise now that mass immigration is actually pretty terrible for the poor, but we've gone this far, so you'll have to put it up with it; or vote for a party founded by a man who used to spend his weekends dressing up in brown shirt uniforms."
Many people considering that party are not, I suspect, very keen on "sending back" their ethnic friends, but on stopping the Government importing any more people. And they know Labour are not going to stop now - they're too much in thrall to the race relations industry and too many MPs rely on ethnic minority votes. They've invested too much in mass immigration. To admit mistakes would be like a cult member entertaining the possibility that the guy who says we're all going to be beamed up to heaven in a spaceship is not, after all, the reincarnation of Jesus, but a mental case.
I wonder how long before Bragg sees the light. He's a decent, thoughtful and patriotic man, and his opposition to racism is part of a decent English radical tradition; we all know about the Levellers and Chartists, but less well known is the solidarity of British workers with Jamaicans in the Morant Bay rebellion, or of Lancashire workers' selfless support for the anti-slavery North in the American Civil War.
Bragg is part of a tradition that wanted to reduce social inequality in Britain and foster friendships abroad; but multiculturalism and mass immigration is having quite the opposite effect, reducing social solidarity and destroying many of the decent aspects of life that once comprised, in Bragg's words, "England's soul". Whatever decision people in Barking make, that soul has gone.