Theatre in Wales

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In Westminster Square for Out of the Union

A Political Diary

Crowds and Commentators , the Politics of Wales and the Union , February 5, 2020
A Political Diary by Crowds and Commentators January 31: I am at the Ambassadors Theatre in Saint Martin's Lane. The play ends at 21:45 and I walk south. Whitehall is closed to traffic, the night is dry and not cold. While the right side of Whitehall is made of ministries after the Wetherspoons, the left side has a half-dozen pubs between Trafalgar Square and Westminster Square. The drinkers who spill onto the pavement are men, many with shaven heads. The majority of the flags are of the Union Jack but a good number are of the Cross of Saint George.

It is hard to gauge the numbers assembled for the time of exit, 11:00 PM, from the European Union. It probably runs to a few thousand. The make-up is ninety percent male, one hundred percent white, the exception being a few tourists. The authorities have allowed the event but not been overly helpful, fireworks for instance being disallowed.

In a normal crowd I would talk and sample the words of those attending. A month back I was in the same place at a demonstration against anti-Semitism. In truth this time I am inhibited.

On the platform “Land of Hope and Glory” plays through the loudspeakers. The organisers want the crowd to sing-along but it does not work. A little after 10:00 PM Anne Widdicombe opens with “We did it!”

Last spring, before the European elections, she was in front of a packed venue in Newport, Gwent. “If this lot had been in charge in 1940”, she told her audience. “they'd have thrown the towel in after Dunkirk.” It is all on YouTube; the Welsh crowd loving it; not the kind of footage that anyone much welcomes in official Wales.

The language to be heard on the ground is ripe. To a man with a bicycle “watch it, yer wanker.” The c-word flies around freely. Before 11:00, the moment of departure, I am watching the news reports across several news channels. Revealingly, the cameras which perch on the periphery do not capture the gathering in its true flavour.

February 2nd: weekend reading Doulas Murray “The Madness of Crowds”. He has some good points, one being the approach to history led by a stance of moral superiority:

“The strange retributive instinct of our time towards the past which suggests that we believe ourselves to better than people in history because we know how they behaved and we know that we would have behaved better. There is a gigantic fallacy at work here. For people only think that they would have acted better in history because they know how history ended up. “

On page 235 he ends with a kick at the over-riding focus on self:

“the aim of identity politics would appear to be to politicise everything. To turn every aspect of human interaction into a matter of politics.”

This is not wholly new. I remember being told “the personal is the political” and that was in the 1970s. But it is amplified by the narrowness that social media offers.

In Wales Simon Brooks had the same to say in plainer terms. In Planet Extra 19th Dec 2018:

“I have read every single reference to ethnic minorities ever to appear in the archive in Welsh, and a great many in English, and some in German too (we really are a Moby Dick of a nation; our archives are as encyclopaedic as those of that great American novel, illuminating a Welsh-language civilization, as worthy of respect as any other). They taught me that history is complex; but identity politics today is about essentialism and ontological certainty, and I am good and you are bad, and not really about the emancipation of minority communities at all.”

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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