“Corbyn is a narcissist, which is extraordinary given what he looks like.”
A night with Will Self.
Adamant to smell out and shame that marked stench of hypocrisy lingering like a thick fog throughout the high-ceilings and opulent architecture, Will Self, a 6ft 5 Tim Burton-esque character, took to the grand stage of the Will’s Memorial building at the University of Bristol to talk to us all about ‘Champagne Socialism’.
Without addressing the hall, Self’s very first words made a deliberately controversial observation: “I can see about two or three non-white faces here tonight, so much for cultural diversity…”. Within the first five minutes, Self had said “fuck” at least five times and stated rather gleefully that his aim in the hour was to make the audience feel deeply uncomfortable, before making a joke about something on his Wikipedia page: “They say I’m a TV personality. Possibly one of the most awful oxymorons in the English language.”
This man is eccentric, wherein lies his honesty and self-conscious attitude. He was not standing there to please anyone. “Organization is bullshit”, “we are now seeing the rise of the idiots”, and, my personal favourite, a sign Self put up in his own front window in 1997: “A vote for Labour is not necessarily a vote for the sanctimonious git Blair”.
As a self-confessed, gloomy, sarcastic and unapologetic fifty-something, Will Self mused on a great deal of shortcomings we are now currently facing. And yet, they are things we have been grappling with for decades. “The ’79 point was tragedy, now it’s just farcical.” In 1979 Margaret Thatcher was elected. Nearly forty years later, and the failure of the Left is still just as potent. “If I squint my ears when May is talking”, Self said, “I can hear Margaret Thatcher”.
Self criticizes the Left, along with many others, for its failure to burst out of its bubble of pseudo-inclusivity. Since 1989, the fall of the Berlin Wall, Leftist policy has been lacking in coherency. Self described it with the vague phrase: “a watered down Marxism”. We are in an era of perpetual Punch and Judy politics, where dualism is an ingrained philosophy which grips people’s thinking: are you ‘Left’ or ‘Right’? ‘Out’ or ‘in’? Self brands this sort of philosophy, essentially identity politics, as “unsustainable”. Sex, gender and race, also a part of this ‘identity politics’, are all irrelevant for Self in this context. They are just vanities politics can do without.
Self also condemns the Left for assuming that UK citizens during the Brexit voters were rational enough ‘to do the right thing’, whilst the Right, seizing a missed opportunity on the Left’s part, fed off this emotion, whipping voters into an ignorant, but nonetheless convincing, frenzy. “Where have you been?” Self asks the voters still upset with the Brexit outcome, when the rich have only got richer and the poor have only got poorer.
This leads Self to admit: “I’m pessimistic about the mode of thinking we’ve got ourselves into”. The new generation are marchers and ‘clictivists’, “we’re terrified of dying and we don’t believe in anything transcendent anymore”. The NHS, Self uses as an example, will never be enough, and it’s important that some politicians admit that. Dying is an inevitable part of life.
In response to the title of the lecture, ‘Champagne Socialism’, Self probed his audience of ‘Socialists’: “If you think that socialism is a possible economic and social way of living then you should be willing to live at, or below, the minimum income.” Yet, there is no motivation shown by higher stratas of society to wish for this. Self even acknowledges his own hypocrisy in simply saying this when he lives quite comfortably in central London.
Self is bitter-sweet. Whilst this hour was a turbulent and disjointed one, catapulting us through a variety of political problems with very little in the way of practical solutions, one very important final message was achieved. However romanticized it may seem, Self dictated that we can only achieve change from the bottom upwards, that we have to make a conscious effort be nicer as individual people, and thus achieve a nicer, more well-rounded society of human beings.
As for the turmoil that is the current political climate, an audience member asked Self: “If you don’t believe in Corbyn or Blair, what’s left for the Labour Party?”, to which he replied: “Well, it’s toast, isn’t it.”