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Why I am Not a Conservative

4,022 words

L. S. Lowry, "Our Town," 1943 [1]

L. S. Lowry, Our Town, 1943

Editor’s Note:

This text continues the transcript by V. S. of Jonathan Bowden’s interview at the Union Jack Club in London on Saturday, November 21, 2009, after his lecture/performance on Punch and Judy [2]. At this point, the interview became very conversational. I have edited out many of the small exchanges. The complete version will be available in the print edition. The title is editorial.

JB: I never write my speech till I stand up.

Q: How do you do that? Give us some sort of idea.

JB: I do. But I like performance. It’s not an effort for me. Although today tired me. Today I was sort of performing, you know, in the performance. It was a sort of performance in the performance. It was a bit ugh. But I like doing it, you know. I don’t have to do it. I’m not one of these pathetic performers. Actors and performers are two types. They’re sadist or masochists, really, and I’m a sadist, you see? Whereas most performers are masochists. They’re on pills, everyone must love them, if they have a “boo” in the audience they’re prostrated for a day, and all this sort of thing. They reinvent themselves each time they go before the camera. Whereas the other polarity is Orson Welles: an egomaniac who believes the world must look at him and so on, and I’m like that. Hahahahaha! 

Q: Do you actually start off with something in your head and then you build on from that? 

JB: No. Well, I know I’m going to talk about Punch and Judy, but otherwise I don’t really know. I know some of the skits. Jewish comedians would call it shtick. The sort of stuff you come out with. Because there are routines. Punch is on the ground, the crocodile’s eating him, and the doctor comes up. I know those routines, and I’ll fit them in somewhere. But no, I don’t know what I’m going to do.

Q: You just get up and do it.

JB: I just get up and do it. But I like doing it, you see. It’s natural for me to do it. Whereas most people, they would literally be . . . They talk, “Oh, he’s nothing. I could do it.” They get up there, and they’d be utterly terrified. I’ve seen BNP organizers, great hulking blokes who’d take you apart . . .

I remember an Essex meeting, some bikers meeting, and everyone’s chanting and you know. I sometimes think, you know, my father’s a very posh bank manager, and I’m here in this meeting. I’ve spoken in some utter dens, pits. I spoke in one place in Burnley with barbed wire all over the meeting. I said to the organizer, “Why’s there so much barbed wire over the meeting place?” He said, “It’s to keep the scum out!” But he didn’t tell me which part of the population he was referring to. Shutters on the windows, you know. There was one shebeen of a place in south London, Merton or something, I spoke at. Good Lord! It was sort of “Yeah, he’s right!!!” You know, some bloke would get up and say, “You know what I mean, all right?” And the other bloke would say, “I don’t agree with that, mate! I think you need sortin’ out!” And they’d almost be fighting in the middle of the meeting. The organizer would go down and sort of kick them like a dog. He actually dragged one bloke out. Hitched him up. You’d better turn this off, actually. Hitched him up and threw him out the meeting saying, “Get out! You’re getting’ out, boy!” It’s a beer cellar, you know. Sort of semi-uncontrollable.

And yet you do have a power over them. They listen to you. It’s interesting, because, you know, there’s a few heavies there like Steve and so on, but they have a sort of admiration for you in a way, because they want you to say what they can’t. That’s what it boils down to.

Q: The vocabulary . . .

JB: Yes, and they admire you for it as well. There’s also a class love/hate relationship as well, because a part of them doesn’t like you and a part of them adores you. The one vies with the other.

But then patriotism is the only socialism, really, because it holds people together in their difference, because people are different. Did you see that statistic that lower, lower white working class boys now are under-performing every other ethnic group in the society? These are C3s. Homework is a word they don’t even know the meaning of.

Q: Yes, when they asked that question on Question Time. They didn’t address it at all. They just swept it under the carpet. They said “Education as a whole is failing.” When it’s black . . . “Oh, they’re failing.”

JB: Yes, it’s racist. Well, they say racist structures from the past, patriarchy, and post-imperial ideas, these people are dumbed down and so on.

I think what’s happening with the lower whites is they are literally sort of dying mentally, you know, giving up. All these other groups have come in. A proportion of the Asians that have come in are not stupid at all, some of them are Baboo-like, but they’re not stupid, some of them, in a bourgeois way. 

Q: There’s a hierarchy of working class, of upper middle class . . .

JB: Yes, they’ve just left the bottom there. Caucasians are, I think, a radical group. So, there’s a sort of soaring towards the stars, but there’s also a down in the ditch. And I think there are some who decide, “F— it! I’ll go right down into the pit. See if I care!” To reach very high-grade activity . . . 90% of the most elite books in the British Library are all written by our group, even though it is a Western-concentric library and all the rest of it. But still if that wasn’t true it wouldn’t be true even in a Eurocentric context. And yet, at the same time, if you can’t reach that, and your status and credibility is tied up with being white, and now in a mixed group society that’s no longer true, a proportion of the bottom will just go down and down and down. “Why should I read a book? Why should I do anything!? F—the lot!” And off the cliff. I think proportion right at the bottom are doing that. A lot of the people above them don’t care, because they’ve written these people off. They don’t care about them at all.

Q2: I’ve worked in these pupil referral units for these kids who’ve just fucked off school, basically. I find some of them are very intelligent because they know how to play the system. They know that if you go to the PRU and wear your track suit all day they only have to do a half-day of school, get outings to reward them for misbehavior. I find them quite intelligent. It’s almost like they’ve seen the system for what it is and say, “Yeah, I’m just going to drop out.” There are a lot of White lads who are doing that.

JB: I’m 47-and-a-half. What will life be like for them when they’re 47-and-a-half?

Q2: What will life be like for any 16 year old when they’re 47-and-a-half?

JB: Ha! Don’t say that!

Q2: I think they’re asking that question now and have decided. They’re rejecting the system, because they’ve seen it’s rejected them and they’re kinda jumping for the push, the lot of them. I was quite surprised. I’ve talked to some of these lads. Very intelligent guys, you know. They often put their intelligence to criminal purposes.

JB: Yes. Of course. The only industry left.

Q2: Yeah. People feel they’re the scum, but they’re not. They’re intelligent people who use their intelligence in different ways, but they’ve seen what’s happened to the system. I think they could be very useful to us.

JB: Yes, liberals are worried about that group, because they wonder who they might vote for if they ever got the gander to vote, to “engage.” Because they would be very radical types indeed.

Q2: Well, they certainly don’t mind saying what they think about certain things. They actually just don’t care about social approval. They say it like it is and they’re quite tough lads a lot of them. I’m talking about when I was working in Salford, which is quite a white working class area. Certainly some of their views wouldn’t be out of place in a meeting like this, except they’ll express them differently.

JB: Yes. The last time I was in Salford I went to the Lowry Museum, which is very interesting, isn’t it? Very interesting, because it’s an attempt to redeem these post-industrial areas. It looks like something on Canary Wharf, basically. You go in there and it’s this Barbican Center in the middle of Manchester. I know there’s great tension between Salford and Manchester.

My mother was from Moston. We lived in Manchester when I was 19. So, there’s a northern streak to me. I’m very direct for a southerner. I come straight out with it, which is slightly odd. And maybe it’s my mother, because my mother had two personalities. People would ring up, and she’d say, “Dorothy Bowden. Henley, 4132.” And then she’d say, “Get up! Get down here now!” “Dorothy Bowden, 4162.” So, she had these two sort of personalities.

But yes, Lowry is very interesting because he’s a very interesting artist. I know he’s been made into a cult and so on, but the pictures of distance, the pictures are misanthropic, the pictures see the people in the streets almost like ants.

Q2: Well, he’s dehumanized them by the way he just literally gets them down to their essence. They’re matchstick men, basically.

JB: They’re dehumanized. Yes. These incredible pictures of Trade Union and other marches in Manchester and in Salford in the 1930s, and there’s no heroic element at all. It’s sad, whey-faced types who are for the rubbish heap, marching before they get there. Lowry’s been made a humanist cult that he’s celebrating Northern grit, that he’s celebrating human resistance to the ugliness of industrialization. Bollocks really. If you look at it, it looks like a man who’s seeing what’s in front of him.

Q2: Yes, he tells it like it is, I think.

JB: That’s what art is, you see. It’s closer to, not science, but it’s closer to objectivism than people think. That’s what he saw; that’s what he painted. It wasn’t pleasant, and when he did it everybody hated them.

Q2: Sort of like an avant-garde social realism.

JB: That’s exactly right. That’s very good! That’s exactly right, yes. That’s exactly what it is. And you see these twits going around saying, “Oh, it’s so marvelous! His esteem for the Mancunian poor!” And the Mancunian poor are presented like beetles, basically, amidst these towers. There’s an amazing picture where they’re going into that football match, into the Latics, into Bolden. That’s an amazing picture.

It’s funny because these BNP activists dropped me out there, because this is that artsy fuddy-duddy stuff that he likes. He can go and see it. This is they’re attitude. It’s quite funny, actually. I came out, and they said, “What did you think of it then. We think Lowry’s really awful!” And I said I really liked it and I could see them going, “Uhh, yeah . . .” But I liked it in a different way, because it was so interesting. And you couldn’t give them away. You couldn’t give them away!

Do you know where Platt Fields is? Yes, we used to live there. We used to live in St. Ives Road which was next to Fallowfield down from Maine Road where Manchester City used to be.

Oh God, what a toilet that was! It was an utter tip even then. We were there in 1981-’82. I don’t think I’m that soft a Southerner, but when the first time I came there . . . You saw scenes of poverty you’d never see in the South, never seen in my entire life. I thought to myself, “Christ.” I saw one bloke. Do you remember those expressionist communist paintings by people like Grosz and so on from the 1920s of veterans who had been wounded in war and on boards with no limbs with wheels on the bottom and that sort of thing? I saw a bloke in Gorton like that in 1980. I thought to myself, “Bloody hell! This is 1980! The Boer War ended in 1902, and there’s this bloke like that!” I thought, “Dear, dear, dear.” I’ve never seen poverty like that except in certain pockets in the East End in Old Brick Lane and that sort of thing.

I saw a chap on crutches once in Brick Lane market with no legs. No legs but crutches. You know, the NHS has provided false limbs since 1948, but either he didn’t know, or he couldn’t get through bureaucracy, or he hadn’t been. It was Dickensian. It was straight out of Dickens.

Q2: Well, then there’s places like Miles Platting.

JB: Oh, Miles Platting. I know Miles Platting very well, yes. It’s beaten down to a point that it doesn’t exist. It’s unbelievable. All of this is part of the inner reason why “I’m not a Tory.” Do you see what I mean? I saw this very early in my life.

It’s got worse now. It’s become extended. If you go down from almost the center, because if you drive from the center of Miles Platting the other way up towards the center by the time you get to the center you’re in Piccadilly. You’re right in the center. Miles Platting goes for miles of just boarded up, devastated, post-industrial dereliction. And they’ve got this zone policy, haven’t they, because they’re trying to get everybody out to redevelop the city. Trendy Manchester, and the BBC is moving north, and they’re forcing all the stars to go up to the studios. Because there used to be a big studio on the Oxford Road, wasn’t there?

And you get this sort of Atlanta type feel. You’ve got a billionaire living in his flat on the top of this block, and he looks down through devastation to some heroin addict injecting on a bed at the bottom, and it’s all part of the funky scene, you know? It adds to the frisson. For the bloke who’s living in the flat!

Q2: There’s not as much of a social divide is there? That’s the thing. It’s the social divide. I think people are more economically within the same . . .

JB: Well, the divide is New Labour sort of post-modern elite against the rest. Because there are no Tories in Manchester. They don’t exist. They’re a species that ceased to exist.

Q2: Until you’re out in Stretford.

JB: Yes. You have to go right out on the edge. Well, the middle class went to Cheshire, didn’t it? To escape. That’s where they went.

Because when we lived in Manchester in the early ’80s the whole sewer system in the city was Victorian. I mean, Manchester was a great Victorian city, one of the greatest, and that all collapsed in the early ’80s. The dignity of the city, because there was no money to pay for anything, just went straight down the toilet. And just up the road Liverpool was taken over by a Trotskyist group in the same era. This is what happened to our great cities.

Because the Tories aren’t concerned about those cities, basically, at all. All they’re concerned about is the zone in the middle of England and the south, east and west, and around London. And they can form a government with that. So, they’ve written off these areas in the north. A swathe in the northwest, northeast, central north, much of Yorkshire, the northern part of the East and West Midlands is as far as they’re concerned they don’t really exist.

Labour just managed them in their decline, and most of their social engineering is destructive. To get people out of Miles Platting they’ve flooded the whole are with Somalians.

And these great blocks, you know they’ll sell to somebody. This block of derelict flats, ex-council flats, legacy of Wilson’s planning and all that, they often sell them for 10 pounds. 10 pounds to a developer. Because there’s endless deals going on.

Wasn’t there that alternative comedian Mel Smith? There was a program in the 1980s called Muck and Brass and a lot of Mancunian type politics. It’s just like that. “What can I do for you?” “Well, I’ll have a think.”

I remember a sort of Masonic, this pride culture. I remember I once watched the mayor of Manchester enter the university on the Oxford Road. He was like a Prescott type. He came with his seal of office and the fat wife. “Oh, it’s so posh, isn’t it?” And they came out of this big car, and they loved it. You could just see it. It’s that culture of Labour sort of municipalism in action, and he’s some Trade Union bloke. This is his favor at the end of his slog. You know, all those boring committees he sat on. This is the moment when they cash in. Credibility wise.

The moment for me was in 1980 we walked up the Oxford Road. It’s very big. It’s the central road that goes through the academic area of Manchester University, Polytechnic, Eye College, Art College, further education college, and so on. I saw these two Third World groups demonstrating against each other. The Iranian Revolution had just happened, and all the ones who were pro were marching up and down with pictures of Khomeini, and all the ones who were mujahedeen, were a Left-wing group, were anti. They were all marching up and down showing pictures of blokes being tortured and all this.

I could see the GMP, the Greater Manchester Police. James Anderton, that Protestant fundamentalist, was then Commissioner. They were sort of pushing and shoving, and you could see these coppers were thinking, “Why are these people here? Why are they fighting about the future of Iran in the middle of Manchester?” You could see these very dim coppers trying, “What’s going on? What’s going on here?” But they were too busy holding the crowds back from killing each other.

This was 30 years ago now. Thatcher, the alleged Right-winger, is in charge of the country. I remember when Leon Brittan came to Manchester University. He’s a Jewish internationalist who’s in favor of much of the present set-up. But to the Leftist demonstrators he was a Tory, you know, a fascist. And they rioted on the Oxford Road. There was blood all over the front of the union steps. The Greater Manchester Police special patrol group type squad beat them and pushed them back. There was an attempt to storm Brittan’s car. When he was interviewed on News at Ten later he was quite shaken, you could see it. You know, it was rough business that’d been going on. It was almost a sort of violent comedy.

Q2: It’s interesting that that radicalism has died down though. I remember you used to go up Oxford Road, and everything that could be posted had a Socialist Workers’ Party poster on it. You never see them now.

JB: Yes, of course. No. They were all printed in East London by East London Offset because they always used to have those big bars of black, didn’t they? SOCIALISM and in big bars of black: THE PEOPLE’S PEACE. REJECT THATCHER’S CUTS. And all the usual stuff.

It’s amazing, because this new generation has emerged. It’s very tiny now. It’s about a tenth of what it was. For every 100 far Leftists in 1980 there’s about one now. But a new generation has emerged, and for them, of course, it’s a historical symbol. It’s like their own revisionism, isn’t it? It’s their own restorationism of the red, white, and blue.

When Steve and I were trying to get in at about 9 in the morning the mob was gathering. I suddenly noticed they all had these communist flags, and they’re all about 20. Because they’ve never really known what it was like, you see. They were all born in 1990, aren’t they really?

[. . .]

I remember a Sun journalist approached me once and said, “What do you think of our Sun then?” I said, “It’s utter drivel.” And I said, “And you’re a cretin.” And he went, “Oh right, so you’re a snob are you?” I said, “I’m far worse than a snob.” And he went, “You are? Are you a fascist?” I said, “Well . . . that depends.” I was a bit more cautious then. I said, “I’ve invited Jean-Marie Le Pen to dinner.” In that big dinner that Western Goals did in 1991. It was all over the media. He said, “Oh, you are a fascist then!” He said, “Will you admit to being a fascist in my column?” I said, “Not yet.” And he went, “Oh . . .” [Bowden makes a long, droopy sad face.] But he really was a tabloid journalist. Stained mac, sort of rat-like. He really was sort of almost sub-human. He really was sort of “Ehhh!” The sort that would be outside the widow’s door, and the door opens, and he says, “How do ya feel, love?” One of those. A real sort of scumbag. It was so interesting to see what you always thought they were like.

[G.B.] once took me 20 years ago around the newsroom at The Sun. Very interesting. “Hello, G–!” and all this. Half of them were upper middle class. They were blokes with dickey bow ties, and they’re doing The Sun. The other blokes were wide boys and blokes with their bacon sandwiches on the computer and sort of, “All right! Have an effin’ good one, mate!” And the next one is a bloke with a bow tie doing The Sun and this sort of thing.

It’s sort of heavily fortified. When we went in there, because of course they’d had the prints dispute not long before and there was real violence. There was fights at the end where anarchists and heavy mob, early Class War, they all turned up and they were hurling absolute bricks at the police. It really was rioting. They threw acid at the gates. This was heavy duty stuff, because they sacked a whole generation of print workers. Mind you, half of them hadn’t done a job for a long time.

You know they used to have ghosting? A bloke used to sign in, and you’d take a mattress into work, “Working’s a mug’s game, boy!” And they certainly believe that. That’s why the economy fell apart in the ’70s and why people voted for Thatcher. Because things didn’t work. We were heading for Venezuela.

My father would say, “I’m going to vote Thatcher. I don’t want to. I think she might be a bit cruel.” He’s always worried about that sort of militancy which he saw as a bank manager. When in the mid-1980s he’d sit in board meetings and so on and bankers would say, “Crush the unions! It’s our revenge for the ’60s and ’70s and Wilson,” and all this nonsense. Sort of unbridled middle class power, really. And he always felt very awkward and sort of queasy about that. “Break the unions!” “Privatize the NHS!” one bloke once said to him. “Make granny pay for her hip!”

And my father was appalled at this, but he was in no sense any sort of a socialist or anything socialistic at all. “I didn’t think it was morally right,” he said to me. “It’s too merciless. I didn’t like the cut of their jib,” he said. But it’s all hesitant and unformed. They regard him as a bloody liberal, wet, a wet Tory in their sense, because they were dry. Drier than dry. It was a reaction to the extreme unionist stuff in the 1970s. “One out, all out!” Yes, “I’m all right, Jack.”