Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Print the Fit that's All to News

The New York Times's much-reported crisis must be real, I am forced to concede. They have published a truly odd, six-page profile of none other than Robert Kilroy-Silk! And, worryingly, they seem to take him at face value. ("The Raging Squire", I kid you not.) Things start going wrong from the first sentence. Is UKIP really "Britain's most-talked-about political party"? And is this a reasonable assessment?
"It is just possible that he and UKIP will transform the politics of Britain and of Europe."
Eh? To US readers, I should explain that this is completely antic. It's true UKIP have had a good year, but they are still a weird little sect of (usually) ageing hard-right fanatics. And Kilroy is - well, Kilroy. Try, if you can bring yourself to, imagining the Financial Times running a full-page article by Timothy Garton Ash on how Ricki Lake is about to transform the politics of North America as the Reform Party's top candidate in the 2006 congressionals. It's that ridiculous.

Part of the explanation may be that the author (Christopher Caldwell of the Weekly Standard) was over impressed by RKS's posh country residence and, uh, manly charms:
"Kilroy-Silk lives at Beel House, a 17th-century manor in Buckinghamshire (when he isn't at his spread in Marbella, Spain). The house's previous owners include Ozzy Osbourne and Dirk Bogarde. You approach the place down a wooded driveway of about a quarter-mile that ends in a ring of coral-colored pebbles beneath several gargantuan cedars of Lebanon, their lower boughs carefully propped on posts. ''Politics has never been my whole life,'' Kilroy-Silk said in the front room. ''A very important part. But I've always had a lot of other interests. Look around you.'' There was a herd of fallow deer across a meadow. Out back were the Vietnamese pheasants and bantams that Kilroy-Silk breeds.

At 62, he is an exotically handsome man, with a very un-English facial glow and ice blue eyes."
Bizarrely, given all this property porn, Caldwell has this to say:
"Just as a strong European Union could wind up bringing back the pre-Thatcher British malaise of overregulation, in the view of many UKIPpers, so the bien-pensant snobs who promote the European ideal could be reasserting a version of the old country-house condescension."
Country-house condescension, eh? Entirely unlike his country house, I take it. And there is of course no mention of the unusually high proportion of dukes in his party (when was the last time a party fielded three aristocrats in adjacent constituencies, as the SELs did at the last general election?). There are a neat pair of contradictory memes here, and both are something of a stereotype view. We have all heard Americans who seem to believe that British society is rather what it was in 1890 or thereabouts, unlike their own classless utopia where any poor Southern boy could become president etc. We have also heard of, at least, Americans who are fascinated by tourist-Britain pomp and circumstance. I get the impression that Caldwell has successfully fallen for both - ooohing over RKS's elegant driveway and rare breeds and simultaneously assuming that the landed gentry rule Britain. If he knew what he was on about, of course, he'd know that some of our poshest politicians are Eurosceptics. UKIP, as I mentioned above, seem to attract aristocrats, especially those who lost their House of Lords seats.

But then, if he knew what he was on about, I presume he'd have heard about Godfrey Bloom being a ridiculous woman-hating twit rather than the serious person he apparently thinks he is. Or that Mike Nattrass's previous political career includes parties advocating the expulsion of (not to put too fine a point on it) blacks, and a weird organisation with aspirations of military rule. Or the unpleasantly racist tone of their campaign literature. Or that one of their candidates at the last general election was the editor of a magazine dedicated to "Nordicism". Or that their candidate for London mayor didn't "want to campaign around gay people" because "they don't do a lot for society". But there you go. He certainly seems to have some slightly odd ideas about the issues, too. Who would have thought that:
"The European Union has been around in some form for half a century, but the Continent's nonbureaucratic citizens are only just beginning to take it seriously."
, for example? Damn, I suppose all those Frenchmen and Germans just thought it was a joke for all those years.

Seriously, what the hell happened back there?

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