“Then sighing, said the other, ‘Have thy will,
I am the love that dare not speak its name.’”
These words from a poem written by Lord Alfred Douglas towards the end of the 19th century got the Irish playwright, Oscar Wilde, into a spot of bother. First, some unwanted publicity of the wrong kind in a London law court, followed by a two year prison sentence and topped off with destitution, illness and an early death in exile.
Today, the love that dare not speak its name is code for homosexual love. Its name is spoken out loud in many parts of the western world and you don’t end up in court for sharing this emotion. Well, you could if you practiced this common enough behavior in Northern Ireland, which in many ways is still struggling to enter the 20th century. Such is the law in that part of the world.
But it wasn’t love or anything like it that saw off Oscar. It was another emotion; fear, the thought or dread of pain and suffering. Now as much a means of control in this globalised society and digital world as it was a hundred and thirty years ago in Victorian England.
The young Alfred was an aristocrat. Oscar came from a prominent upper class Irish family. Both were Oxford University educated men and they mixed socially and in Oscar’s case very publically, with the literati chapter of the British Establishment.
This was Britain with a coal fired economy, based on the factory system of production, supplied in great part from raw materials plundered from its empire. Dangerous working conditions, inhuman domestic and urban squalor were the order of the day at home. Social disruption, subjugation and never ending poverty were the stuff of empire, on which it is said, the sun never set and the blood never dried.
If this was the grim and gritty base then a genteel superstructure was required, as they say, to keep a lid on things. Step forward a ruling class with culture, a considerate but firm guiding hand. Thus was nurtured, under the ordered rule of law, Victorian respectably and cohesion. I nearly said coercion.
So, neither time nor space for any expression of emotions outside the accepted norms. And certainly, neither time nor space for any upper crust behavior that might serve as a bad example to lesser mortals. The Establishment had an obligation, a duty even, to take control of its own. So it was two years of jail time with hard labour for Oscar Wilde, the maximum penalty under the law for gross indecency. Let that be a lesson to others. Let there be fear in the land.
During the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence the three main British political parties came together under the slogan of “Better Together.” Better keep the United Kingdom together, they harmonized. The fear of a collapsed economy; your job, your savings, your pension, your health services, all down the drain. This worked a treat with some of Scotland’s older voters.
Project Fear, as the Establishment campaign came to be labeled, won the vote to stay in the union, by 10%. But it appears to have wiped out the once dominant Labour party in Scotland, especially among the younger votes. Following on from that, Project Fear has entered the language of political commentators. British newspapers now use it to describe the campaign to keep the country in the European Union in the forthcoming “In-Out” referendum. UK exports, UK jobs, funding for social projects; all depend on staying in the EU say the informed, the erudite, the representatives of the well off.
Those most enthusiastically stirring the fear factor broth in both of the above campaigns turn out to be the usual neo liberal suspects, politicians of the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democratic parties. Stoking the cauldron fires are corporate media, big business and of course the bankers. So it is safe to say fear is a class issue and the propaganda weapon of choice among the ruling elite.
Like a contagious disease fear is easily transmitted. Take the case of Jeremy Corbyn. For thirty odd years he sat on Labour’s back benches. Election after election he was voted into parliament by the constituents of Islington North. A mild mannered man with a penchant for a left perspective on the affairs of the day; anti austerity, pro public services and nuclear disarmament. He has also shown a rebellious streak, apparently voting around 500 times against his own party’s line.
He is now leader of the Labour party and the opposition in parliament at Westminster. Jeremy Corbyn is not that popular among other members of the Parliamentary Labour party at Westminster. But under his leadership Labour’s numbers have increases dramatically, at least in England. The young are particularly attracted to his new way of doing politics and his call for radical reform.
Initially treated as a joke among the British Establishment he was subjected to all sorts of ridicule. His beard, he seldom wears a tie, he calls for renationalization of Britain’s railways, not to mention saying he wouldn’t use the UK’s puny arsenal of nuclear weapons. Such is the stuff of headline news.
But the mood is changing, politics is changing. Those at Westminster, many are a handpicked residue left over from the increasingly discredited days of prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, are feeling threatened and uncomfortable. Even the Conservatives are sitting up and taking notice.
It’s moved from Jeremy is a joke to Corbyn could be a changer. That twitch in the tummy may well precede a major discharge further downstream. That’s a condition affecting some Labour MPs and much as the Conservatives.
Referring to Jeremy Corbyn, Conservative Prime Minister said it best at his party’s annual conference last October, “We cannot let that man inflict his security-threatening, terrorist-sympathising, Britain-hating ideology on the country we love.”
Few in Britain have a better understanding of class than the Conservatives. So now we know it. It’s official. Britain’s Prime Minister has told us. Class fear is out in the open and high on the political agenda.