The Centrist Provocateur

BY JAMES BEMBRIDGE

It is one of life’s great mysteries: how much of the BBC’s anti-Britishness is due to Marxist subversion and how much is merely the perfunctory prattishness of liberals? Probably it is more of the latter but with enough of the former to ensure that incidents like the recent Proms controversy will continue to rile the average TV licence payer.

Despite their latest antics, one can feel no more animosity towards the BBC than one can towards the garden slug. The BBC will exist somehow – with or without the licence fee. As unpleasant as it is for the pests to gnaw away at that which we have cultivated, it is in their nature to do so and their gnawing is to be expected. People should instead reserve their rancour for those on the right side of politics – and, they claim, History – who have no wish to win the culture war but instead delight in drawing it out like the exhausted career of a slattern Z-list starlet. The Big Brother hags and right-wing hacks share much in common: they are desperate for something to write about or be written about them, they bare their pendulous breasts and unmask their priggish mugs to wander the streets in the quiet hope of scandal.

What does the political commentator have to offer in this war other than to act as a cheerleader for the political persuasions of their readership? So much of the culture war pieces penned (or ranted on YouTube) by right-wing polemicists consist of little more than pub wisdom; things the public all say to one another in their local haunt anyway and to which the landlord grunts agreeably. Observing that the BBC has a left-wing bias for instance or that it is mired in political correctness is about as profound a point as noting that, unlike the garden slug, few lesbians concern themselves with lettuce.

It seems to be an unwritten rule that the term woke should be employed within the first two paragraphs of such pieces, its effect diminishing with every outrage op-ed in which it features. To describe those who are irrevocably opposed to Western culture as ‘woke’ implies their actions and ideas are as modish as the word itself, a sickly fad that with enough resolve will pass us like Tamagotchi or Beth Ditto. And yet if one were to make the point that what is often described as woke is merely an extension of Neo Marxism – nothing new at all – then most of these journos would no doubt concede that this is the case. But still they crow to their simpering crowd ‘when will wokeness end?’ with all the sincerity of an arms dealer calling for peace in Yemen.

In this game of Capitalist and Marxist a third player has emerged, though like woke, they may just be a new iteration of something old: the centrist provocateur. This may sound like an oxymoron, but such people do exist and – like reformed remainers – are as tiresome as their name suggests.

The centrist provocateur is at heart a classical liberal and, though they would feverishly deny it, there is only a hair’s breadth of difference between them and the average Conservative Party member. When making an argument, no matter how anodyne, the CP must first festoon himself within a series of caveats to ensure he stays ‘on brand’.

It is a curious truth that though they strive to distance themselves from the far-left at every opportunity, to show any hint of pro-Boris sympathy would somehow be an even greater sin for the average CPer. They are in constant conflict with themselves to comment on political events but do so in a way that never strays too left or right; as such, they often settle for tweeting about some fatuous chick flick instead. The point that the far-left and far-right are one in the same can only be made so many times by these bores before one is urged to punch the computer screen at their tweets or, in bouts of frustrated masochism, expose oneself, say, to the squawking of Madeleina Kay.

It was the Proms fiasco that exposed the true precariousness of the CP’s position. On social media, a narrative was spun that the idea of the BBC dropping Rule Britannia was nothing but Chinese whispers cynically spread to rev up the reactionary right. This of course excited the centrist provocateur immensely. Finally they had a position to push and one that was firmly centrist. They did so with their usual affected insouciance, as if they were a thoroughly reasonable force stuck between two monstrous siblings. The notion that the Proms controversy was merely confected by right-wing reactionaries became somewhat untenable when a BBC producer then publicly likened Rule Britannia to Nazism.

What may be gathered from this unedifying episode is that the culture war benefits too many parties – left, right, and the insipid so-called ‘middle’ – to ever end within our lifetime. As long as the public have time on their hands, some of them will be drawn to the ranters.

Still, one shouldn’t get too down. As was recently noted by a centrist provocateur: whenever there is a culture war, the right always wins.