Not Saussure

January 2, 2007

The BNP Ballerina

Filed under: civil liberties, Politics, press, UK — notsaussure @ 8:30 pm

The Daily Mail has discovered a new standard of political analysis:

When one of the country’s principal ballerinas [Simone Clarke], a 36-year-old woman who spent much of her recent working life as the Sugar Plum Fairy, decides to join the British neo-fascists, there is an argument that something has gone badly wrong with democratic British politics.

No; not quite. There’s an argument that, talented a dancer though Ms Clarke no doubt is, she’s not got a great deal of common sense or political awareness; Ms Clarke explains

“I joined about 18 months ago,” she says. “Yat and I were watching the television. As usual I was moaning about something that I had seen on the news and he just said, “Well, stop moaning and do something about it.”

“I didn’t really know anything about the BNP but they had come up in conversation a few times because they had just won some local council seats.

“We went on to the computer and we looked them up and I read their manifesto. I’m not too proud to say that a lot of it went over my head but some of the things they mentioned were the things I think about all the time, mainly mass immigration, crime and increased taxes. Those three issues were enough to make me join so I paid my £25 there and then. “

I’m fully prepared to believe her; sounds very similar to Maureen Stowe, who managed to stand as a BNP candidate in the local elections and get elected before she realised what they were about. Sounds extraordinarily dopey of her, but people who should certainly have known better managed to blind themselves to the faults of equally unpleasant parties and ideologies — later to excuse themselves with lame excuses like ‘I used to believe in Santa Claus, too’ (so did most of us, but not at the age of 26) or even

“As we were not members of the Party, it was not our duty to write about Soviet labor camps; we were free to remain aloof from the quarrels over the nature of the system, provided no events of sociological significance occurred.”

— I think she may be forgiven a bit of dopiness and blindness to the faults of her new friends. Doubtless they’ll become clear enough once she takes

her partner and co-dancer Yat-Sen Chang – who, extraordinarily, is a Cuban immigrant whose father is Chinese.

to a few BNP socials and a few of the chaps have drink taken. Remarks, I suspect, will be passed, no matter how strictly they’ve been told to be on their best behaviour.

No, I can’t get any more upset about Ms Clarke going off and joining the BNP than can I about Vanessa Redgrave’s or Frances De La Tour’s somewhat eccentric political views (fine actresses, indeed, but really…).

Indeed, in some ways it’s quiet pleasing to watch the Mail’s disquiet about this alarming political development; Ms Clarke was impressed because (My thanks to the excellent Five Chinese Crackers for the following references)

some of the things they mentioned were the things I think about all the time, mainly mass immigration, crime and increased taxes

Things a reader of the Daily Mail might have on her mind too, perhaps, along with how she has

been labeled a racist and a fascist because I have a view on immigration – and I mean mass immigration – but isn’t that something that a lot of people worry about?

Particularly, I venture, if they read the Mail;

When I think about it I wonder, “Well, who’s going to look after people like me?” People who work hard, who like to celebrate Christmas; people who are law-abiding citizens who pay their taxes – more and more of them – but feel that no one is speaking for them.”

Blimey, isn’t that the Mail’s constituency? People who not only think

“I don’t know why it’s OK to be shot for your mobile phone and the thief be given a few months in prison but I’m not allowed to say, ‘I don’t agree with that’.”

but are also so detached from reality that they think such a sentence could legally be passed?

Here’s this young woman who’d normally be a Daily Mail role model, coming out with all the sort of things the Mail bashes on about endlessly, and she in effect says — perfectly logically — ‘I believe everything I read in the Daily Mail so I’ll go off and join the BNP’. No wonder they’re bothered. Sort of, ‘Oops, wrong dog-whistle’.

Right, enough of the Mail’s reaction. What of the reaction of others? We learn from The Guardian, who outed Ms Clarke in the first place, that

Officials from the English National Ballet faced calls to sack one of their leading dancers yesterday after Simone Clarke defied criticism and gave a detailed interview defending her support for the British National party.

Calls from

Lee Jasper, equalities director for the mayor of London and chairman of the National Assembly Against Racism, [who] said: “The ENB must seriously consider whether having such a vociferous member of an avowedly racist party in such a prominent role is compatible with the ethics of its organisation. I seriously doubt that it is and that should lead to her position being immediately reviewed. I think she should be sacked.” He called on funders and David Lammy, the arts minister, to intervene.

and from

Inayat Bunglawala, of the Muslim Council of Britain, [who] said people had a right to their private political views but added: “This will taint the ENB in the eyes of many minority communities. Questions need to be asked about how someone in that position can be allowed to abuse that position to promote the BNP.”

and from

Jon Cruddas, Labour MP for Dagenham in east London, where the BNP forms the official opposition on the council, said: “We need to know how these statements square with the more laudable positions taken by the ENB and other leading arts organisations. What she completely ignores is the underbelly of the BNP in terms of the violence, the physical attacks and the criminality of many of its supporters.”

Meanwhile,

A spokeswoman for the Commission for Racial Equality, which polices race relations legislation, said it was monitoring events. “We will be interested to see what action the ENB takes given that it has a member expressing such views in public.”

What on earth is going on? She didn’t, as far as I can, set out to publicise her views in the slightest; we can thank the Guardian for that. All she’s guilty of is giving a dopey interview to The Daily Mail, in which, it should be noted, she didn’t actually express any racist or fascist views. OK, the woman’s terminally naïve; indeed, the memorable phrase (which I first heard in her native Leeds, as a matter of fact), ‘Sweet lass but if she were any dimmer you’d have to water her’ might well be appropriate. But that’s hardly a sacking offence, justifying calls for ministerial intervention and heaven knows what. Her colleagues, the principle dancers at the ENO (9 out 10 of whom are immigrants, according to The Guardian) seem quite relaxed about her views;

“There are a lot of foreign dancers who have probably never even heard of the BNP”

she apparently told the Mail, which hardly suggests she goose steps (or performs grands jetés) about the Colosseum trying to propangandise them or telling them bugger off back where they came from. It’s synthetic indignation, to my mind; I cannot believe that, out of all the reasons Mr Bunglawala’s co-religionists might justifiably feel aggrieved, or out of all the reasons Mr Cruddas’ constituents in Dagenham are voting for the BNP, that the political views of the woman dancing Giselle at that ENB feature high in the list.

To my mind, the matter is perfectly clear; while I don’t know what sort of contract of employment members of the ENB have, it’s difficult to imagine that membership of a political party, no matter how unpleasant or extreme may be its views, is on its own grounds for dismissal. As the Court of Appeal (Civil Division) said in the case of the BNP councilor who was sacked by the bus company for which he worked as a driver (before explaining that, unfortunately, this didn’t apply to him, since he hadn’t worked for them long enough to qualify for protection against unfair dismissal, and his claim under the Race Relations Act was ill-founded),

It is not, in general, fair to dismiss a person from employment for engaging in political activities or for being a member of a political party propagating policies that are unacceptable to his employer, to his fellow employees, to trade union officials and members, or even to most of the population. We aspire to live in peace with one another in a politically free and tolerant society. Unpopular political opinions are lawful, even if they are intolerant of others and give offence to many. The right to stand for political office in a democratic election and to engage in political debate is entitled to respect, however unpalatable the person’s political convictions may be to many others.

Whatever the law, if Ms Clarke’s political views were causing problems within the company, then that would be a different matter; how best it should be resolved would have to depend on the individuals concerned, but clearly ballet dancers are as capable as anyone else of being professional and not letting personal differences get in the way of doing a professional job (my personal preference would be, by the way, to knock their heads together and tell them to keep political and personal arguments out of the workplace — if anyone thinks they’re a prima donna, they bugger off to the ENO).

It’s clear what’s going on, I think; Gracchi discussed this strategy of condemnation in an excellent post a couple of weeks ago when the Guardian story first broke. As he says,

There are arguments that condemnation works. The BNP is attempting to get into posh London council boroughs- the Guardian mentions Chelsea and Kensington amongst others- and those are just the kind of places where social stigma really matters. Where the tactic of making BNP support unthinkable has a real effect upon people. Where politics is partly a matter of fashion, isolating the BNP has an impact in pulling people towards the Tories and away from that kind of logic.

But, as he rightly continues,

there is also a case for the rest of us concentrating on calmly exposing what the BNP say and what the press often report about say asylum seekers which buttress the BNP’s claims. If members and supporters of the BNP believe that they are oppressed, then shouting at them and coalescing against them won’t necessarily persuade them of anything. But demonstrating that the general climate of fear about immigration is exaggerated, that Islam is a religion containing both peaceful and violent factions and that most Muslims in the UK are of the first not the second persuasion, destroying some of the historical illusions- the ideas of unique Western civilisation, those are the ways forward. Sometimes a reasoned discussion can obtain more success than a denunciation

He makes a similar case to one made very well a couple of years ago by Catherine Fieschi, now Director of Demos, in an excellent pamphlet for the Fabian Society, The Resistible Rise of the BNP, in which, to quote the summary, she

analyses the weakness of Europe’s far right, explaining its failure to build on recent electoral successes in countries like France and Austria. She argues that campaigners against the BNP in Britain should be careful to avoid giving the party a significance and thunder it does not deserve.

The Mail, it seems to me, ‘wants to make your flesh creep’ with lurid tales of hoards of Poles, Muslims and whoever else who’re coming to murder us all in our beds. People who enjoy being scared by that sort of nonsense buy the Mail. The Guardian, similarly, likes now and again to scare us with tales of how we’re virtually reliving the last days of the Weimar Republic. People who like that sort of thing presumably like it very much. Ms Clarke has been foolish enough to mistake the Mail’s tosh for reality and to act on it; there’s no need for people to react the same way to The Guardian’s equivalent baloney.

In general, I think the way to approach this is as I’d approach the problem of people belonging to extreme Islamist organisations. By and large, the rank and file aren’t evil people — naive, certainly, but reacting to real, though misguided, fears and concerns; in both cases the people who run the organisations are an unsavoury mixture of fanatics, crooks and thugs, but their followers aren’t necessarily like them. They’ve just accepted a simple and imaginary solution to real and complex problems. In neither case does demonising them or allowing them to set the agenda — either directly or indirectly — get you very far; listening and talking to people — as opposed to their self-appointed spokesmen — is usually far better than shouting at them.

Were we living in a different time and a different place, then I’d be far less pleasant and reasonable, but, thank God, we’re not and it’s foolish to pretend we are.

ballerina2.jpgPS: Complete sidetrack, but the Mail puzzles me. They describe Ms Clarke as ‘raven-haired’. Is it just me, or does the Mail reporter have odd ideas about what colour ravens are supposed to be?


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2 Comments »

  1. Fine post. I seem to have fallen a little into the “Weimar Republic” trap in my own post, but oh well.

    Comment by . — January 3, 2007 @ 12:09 am

  2. ‘will be asked to explain how one of its highest profile employees was able to use her position as a platform for the far right party.’!!?

    Cough! Excuse me but if I recall correctly it was the Searchlight/Guardian undercover hit squad who publicised her private political beliefs.

    This story has been bubbling away for a while but this has made me think about what is really going on here. I don’t vote for the BNP , you probably don’t either and some, or more like all, of their ideas are on just the wrong side of completely bonkers, but they’re politicians after all so that’s no surprise, and politicians unlikely to get into government and do anything reckless like invade other countries or take way all our civil rights or erm ok maybe I’m not helping the argument here.

    A group of people called Unite Against Faschism, which sounds like a faschist slogan if ever I heard one, is planning to hold a rally outside a ballet performance in London to protest about the membership of the BNP of Simone Clarke, one of the dancers. Perhaps they could explain what is un-faschist about blockading an arts venue to force the sacking of a dancer because of the political party she supports. It is admirable though that their equal opportunites policy means it’s possible to rise to the very top of this organisation despite suffering the very real handicap of posessing no discernible sense of irony. The BNP is a legal party with 50 local councillors across the country, compared to Unite Against Faschism’s none. They probably don’t like my views either so are they going to stop me singing in the bath or going to work?
    As an occasional concertgoer I’ve often wondered how the classic FM demographic that comprises the bulk of classical music audiences would cope if living next door to some of the very respectable composers they rustle their sweet wrappers to, with their late nights, noisy practising, chaotic personal lives, radical politics, exotic substance consumption and disreputable associates. Perhaps when we go to a concert or exhibition we wish not so much to look into someone else’s thoughts as to look into a mirror which says you are the fairest of them all because you go to the ballet. I suppose we like to think our ballet dancers have the same thoughts on all matters as the audience; wealthy, metropolitan, liberal. Champagne must be served cold, the arts must be served left wing. It’s no different, I suppose, to not wanting to hear the dancers’ footsteps on the stage, it spoils the illusion.

    I’m going to shut up now lest I get labelled an extreme rightwing fruitcake instead of just a regular fruitcake but you have to wonder what artist, performer, or writer will be deemed ideologically unsound next and who else will feature in Unite Against Faschism’s own degenerate art exhibition.

    Comment by withheld — January 9, 2007 @ 2:55 pm


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