In short, yes, my exclusion from the Labour Leadership election because I support Jeremy Corbyn has changed me as a fiction writer, but there is a precedent, and a wider discourse.
To recap, I’ve apparently been suspended for “racist, abusive, foul language” in a retweet containing asterisks relating to the war in Syria, and one I wrote with asterisks about the infamously sweary Tracey Emin, nothing that contravenes Labour Party rules, and hopefully offends no-one.
I wasn’t surprised that I’d been excluded in that way, because the precedent has been set. I’ve been aware of accusations of abuse and anti-Semitism that appear to be levelled at ‘the left’ and working class British vernacular writers since 2002 when James Kelman at Goldsmith’s, University of London, talked about how important it is to remain engaged with vernacular writing. Scottish author James Kelman is a Booker prize winner (Dirt Road, How Late It Was, How Late), whose lecture on vernacularism at Goldsmith’s inspired me.
In his excellent article in the New Yorker about Kelman, vernacularism, and accusations of racism, James Wood noticed that even Kelman’s non-working class detractors expressed themselves in the vernacular: “Each to his own vernacular”. Or, I would say, one rule for one, one for everyone else.
I taught Creative Writing at Reading University in 2004, and the vernacular style appeared to attract hostile reactions there too. A white South-African student suddenly said, “Think about what you owe Jews over the holocaust”, a similar accusation levelled at Jackie Walker on Facebook that led to her first suspension. In the lecture, I hadn’t even mentioned the holocaust, war, race, history, or anything relating to anti-Semitism in any way.
On another occasion, a white South-African said, “The white-European working classes are responsible for the holocaust”. We weren’t even talking about that. We were talking about how to establish location, and Will Self’s use of the word “sputum” in “Grey Area” appeared to inspire the unease.
So I leanred that vernacular writing inspires emotions, and I’ve long been aware that its use in dialogue is controversial. Of course it is. It’s common sense. Remember the furore over Tony Harrison’s brilliant poem ‘V’?
“Or, more expansively, there’s LEEDS v.
the opponent of last week, this week, or next,
and a repertoire of blunt four-letter curses
on the team or race that makes the sprayer vexed.”
I’m also aware that the white European working class male has a very poor profile in some quarters. This may be due to the tactics chosen by politicians like Churchill who sought to bring the New World into World War II (Hobsbawm, Age of Extremes), or it may be the behavior of football fans. I don’t know. I’m speculating. All I know is that I have a responsibility as a white, European working class male writer to get it right.
So what’s changed? Well, I mustn’t be so easily distracted from my writing, and I mustn’t take things so personally, even a Labour Party suspension. Accusations of anti-Semitism cannot just be about class and language used. There is a wider discourse. For example, Prime Minister Theresa May receives her share on behalf of the Tory Party, and she’s definitely not working class, and she definitely doesn’t use vernacular expressions, and neither does the Tory Party, although I have encountered abuse from people who oppose my views.
In her letter to Theresa May in the Jewish Chronicle, Melanie Phillips points to “progressive circles”:
“I wonder, though, if you fully realise the sources, extent and consequences of these poisonous attitudes towards Israel and the Jewish people? They are by no means confined to the Corbynistas. They have characterised progressive circles for decades and have spread within the Tory party too.”
It’s ongoing. I’m looking forward to receiving an explanation about my suspension. It’s been very distracting and distressing, but I’m not giving up on the Labour Party, or my support of Corbyn, or my opposition to personal abuse and anti-Semitism.