Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s Brexit.

In News by redsocks

Picture taken by TT. On the piss with Legal Friends, in the Square Sail. Lincoln. 2019. (We love a Punk)!

By Fintan O’Toole:
The UK’s decision to leave the EU is like living through the anarchy of punk all over again


If you are English and in your 50s or early 60s, two things are likely to be true of you. One is that in 2016 you voted to leave the European Union: 60 per cent of both men and women in the UK aged between 50 and 64 did so.

The other is that you were, in the immediate period after the UK joined the Common Market, a punk. Or if not an actual punk, then a vicarious one, living off the thrills of the most powerful and original English cultural movement of modern times.

These two truths are closely related. At the level of high politics, Brexit may be defined by upper-class twittery.
It seems more PG Wodehouse than Johnny Rotten. But at the level of popular culture, it is pure punk. John Lydon (formerly Rotten), having initially opposed Brexit, later identified himself with it: “Well, here it goes, the working class have spoken and I’m one of them and I’m with them.”

They are all bad boys. It is not accidental that the far-right Faragist side of the Brexit movement chose to paint itself as a political wing of the Sex Pistols
In a sense, this is the wrong way round – they are with him, or at least with the Johnny Rotten of the mid-1970s. Had it not had the genius of taking Back Control, a perfect slogan for the Leave campaign would have been Never Minding the Bollocks, Here’s Brexit! For it is in punk that we find not just the nihilistic energy that helped to drive the
Brexit impulse but, more to the point, the popularisation of masochism. What heroic failure and fantasies of Nazi invasion did for the middle and upper classes, punk did for the young and the working class.

Many Brexit voters were formed by its most breath-taking, counterintuitive stylistic gesture – the idea of masochism as revolt, of bondage as freedom. Punk took bondage gear out of the bedroom and on to the street; Brexit took coterie self-pity out of the media-political boudoir and into real politics.

Objectively, the great mystery of Brexit is the bond it created between working-class revolt on the one side and upper- class self-indulgence on the other. There would seem to be an unbridgeable gulf of style and manner – let alone of actual economic interests – between the stockbroker superciliousness of Nigel Farage or the self-parodic snootiness of Jacob Rees-Mogg on the one side and the raw two-fingered defiance of working-class patriotism on the other. Brexit depended on an ostensibly improbable alliance between Sunderland and Gloucestershire, between hard old steel towns and rolling Cotswold hills, between people with tattooed arms and golf club buffers.

One great binding agent was Anarchy in the UK, the sheer joy of being able to f**k everything up. Boris Johnson, who used The Clash’s London Calling as the theme song for his successful campaign to be mayor of London, also chose the same band’s version of Pressure Drop on Desert Island Discs in October 2005.

The supercilious Nigel Farage and the snooty Jacob Rees-Mogg represent just one aspect of the Leave side. Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty.

On that programme, in a rare moment of self-reflection, Johnson spoke of the pleasure of making trouble that motivated his mendacity: “So everything I wrote from Brussels, I found was sort of chucking these rocks over the garden wall and I listened to this amazing crash from the greenhouse next door over in England as everything I wrote from Brussels was having this amazing, explosive effect on the Tory party, and it really gave me this, I suppose, rather weird sense of power.”

Essentially, this differs not at all – either as a psychological satisfaction or as a career move – from the way Johnny Rotten made himself famous: “Johnny Rotten, a member of the group,” the Guardian reported in 1976 after The Sex Pistols had exploded into wider British consciousness in an outrageously offensive TV

interview, “said in a BBC interview that he had launched himself to stardom by walking up and down the King’s Road in Chelsea, spitting at people. ‘I did it because they were stupid’.”

Throwing rocks over the garden wall to hear the crash from the neighbour’s greenhouse windows is the upper-middle-class Home Counties version of spitting at people on the King’s Road because they are stupid. And each has the same performative quality of edgy clowning in which everything is at once very funny and highly sinister.

The somewhat despairing question that Bill Grundy asked in his notorious Sex Pistols TV interview – “Are you serious or are you just… trying to make me laugh?” – hangs over Johnson’s entire political and journalistic career. Tory anarchism always had a taste for the outrageous: before the Sex Pistols said “f**k” on television, the last person to do so was Sir Peregrine Worsthorne, then deputy editor of the Sunday Telegraph and an obvious journalistic model for Johnson.

They are all bad boys. It is not accidental that the far-right Faragist side of the Brexit movement chose to paint itself as a political wing of the Sex Pistols. Its supplier of dark money, Arron Banks, called his hastily cobbled-together book The Bad Boys of Brexit: Tales of Mischief, Mayhem & Guerrilla Warfare in the EU Referendum Campaign. “Let’s shake this up,” Banks records himself saying to Farage in July 2015, as they are planning what would become an openly racist campaign.

“The more outrageous we are, the more attention we’ll get; the more attention we get, the more outrageous we’ll be.”
Love it Fintan! (Can we trash the office now)?

H&G.