The aspidistra, in Orwell’s novel, is an icon for lower middle-class values, as well as representing the surrender of the pathetic and unlikeable pseudo-Marxist protagonist to those values.
In our Barnet garden we have lemon trees and chilli bushes and geraniums and broad beans, but (metaphorically) towering above them all is the aspidistra. Nice people live here, our aspidistra signals. Yes, they do, our neighbour’s plant replies. Could you keep your voices down? comes the murmur from next-door-but-one.
Nice people live here. Quiet, suburban nice people, who don’t spit on the street, sodcast on buses, or require access to illegal drugs. Who give up their seats on the tube, and frown at loud and public swearing. Nice people who are disgusted at Cambridge students’ rejection of Remembrance Day, who are reflexively but unshowily patriotic, who wouldn’t dream of having a tea-towel with the Queen Mum’s face on it, but who are able to enjoy a Royal wedding without the need to simulate irony. Whose lips curl in distaste when yet another Left-wing comedian signals his horror at finding himself in a cab driven by a Brexit voter.
The lower middle-class aren’t the sole guardians of public civility and private decency, of course; we’re the close comrades of the ‘respectable working classes’, since most of us have parents or grandparents who originated there. My grandmother was in service. My parents worked shifts and open-before-dawn shops, so that I could have the luxury of university.
From birth, these people inhale the aspidistra law: you’re not fashionable. You are the butt of the joke. Oh, and you pay for everything that the oligarch spivs slide out from funding, either through your income tax or through corporation tax, whose bounty for the Exchequer is financed by your labour.
While the country depends on you, its elite will deride you: seared in my mind is Jonathan Miller’s hatred of Thatcher, her “odious suburban gentility and sentimental, saccharine patriotism, catering to the worst elements of commuter idiocy”. Those idiot commuters, those suburban patriots – that’s my class Dr Miller was sneering at; I’ll take our values over his any day.
So I cheered when Mrs May stood in Downing Street and said: “If you’re from an ordinary working-class family, life is much harder than many people in Westminster realise. You have a job but you don’t always have job security. You have your own home, but you worry about paying a mortgage.”
Maggie was back! I wrote an optimistic piece for ConservativeHome that urged Mrs May to use the aspidistra as the party logo and, well, to smash the cultural hegemony of our class enemies.
Rarely has my judgement been so wrong. Recent hate crime incident statistics, suggest that in “a trend that has now lasted several years”, British people have become more hateful to minorities in the wake of terrorist incidents. The inference is clear: we’re a panicky nation, ready to lash out spitefully at anyone who’s not the full Gammon, unable to differentiate between Islamic terrorists and people who aren’t.
Except, of course, these are hate crime “incidents”, not cases taken to court which result in a conviction. We know that police forces advertise widely to encourage people to report anything horrible, whether or not it’s a crime. Are we quite so horrible to one another as the newspaper headline and the Home Office commentary make out? I don’t mean that unpleasant people don’t say and do disgusting things. But are matters getting worse?
Not according to the Crime Survey, whose more reliable figures “indicate a drop of 40 per cent in hate crime incidents in the past decade.” To which evidential source would you give most credit? And how would an aspidistra government react?
An aspidistra Home Secretary – who’d probably look a bit like the current Attorney General – would address Parliament thus:
“I’ve no idea why police services waste money advertising for people to ring in with unsubstantiable complaints, and I’d recommend that voters signal to their Police and Crime Commissioner that they wish the practice to stop. The reliable Crime Survey indicates an overall continuing increase in the ability of British citizens to live well with one another. Of course, there are specific crimes whose existence we particularly abhor, such as acts of violence and intimidation against members of our religious communities, and these we will continue to prioritise and crack down on. We will investigate, for example, why Jewish communities require to have guards at their schools, and I’m pleased to announce today an enquiry into the worrying signs of religious extremism in the prison estate.”
What actually happened: the enquiry into prison radicalisation blocked. The hate crime ‘statistics’ were used as evidence that more hate crime laws covering more topics are needed.
At every opportunity to diverge from the New Labour approach to identity politics and its associated values, Mrs May has instead taken the opportunity to double down on it. The Gender Recognition Act is a particularly egregious example; not “How can we protect the dignity of transgender citizens?” (a worthy objective), but “Which lobby group’s policies should we implement wholesale, regardless of their connection to our values?”
Voters with working- and lower middle-class values aren’t automatically Tory; they can and do vote for any party: but the party which secures their support would be on to a winner. At the moment, such voters are completely unrepresented by the mainstream: the LibDems obsessed with Europe; Labour a disgusting mixture of hard-Left creeps and robotic Blairite leftovers. We looked to you, Mrs May. And you turned your back on us.
The Prime Minister’s failure to unwind the Blairite cultural settlement will be part of her political obituary, and the entirety of her political tragedy. The class enemies of working- and lower-middle class Britons are winning, still; that they are winning by default is all the more depressing.