Tom Sharpe, comic novelist, born March 30 1928, died June 6 2013
Tom “PG Wodehouse on Acid“ Sharpe, who died today, was the laugh-out-loud author of farce-cum-satire, probably best known for his ‘Wilt’ books about further education and ‘Porterhouse Blue’ set in an Cambridge College. But he was also a savagely witty critic of apartheid in South Africa, where he lived and was politically active in a low-key sort of way (as a social worker) between 1951 and 1961, when he was deported.
He excoriated white South African racism, arrogance and stupidity in two wonderful books, ‘Riotous Assembly’ (1971) and ‘Indecent Exposure’ (1973). Here’s a little taster for you:
Riotous Assembly (excerpt from Chapter 2)
Miss Hazelstone was telephoning to report that she had just shot her Zulu cook. Konstabel Els was perfectly capable of handling the matter. He had in his time as a police officer shot any number of Zulu cooks. Besides there was a regular procedure for dealing with such reports. Konstabel Els went into the routine.
‘You wish to report the death of a kaffir,’ he began.
‘I have just murdered my Zulu cook,’ snapped Miss Hazelstone.
Els was placatory. ‘That’s what I said. You wish to report the death of a coon.’
‘I wish to do nothing of the sort. I told you I have just murdered Fivepence.’
Els tried again. ‘The loss of a few coins doesn’t count as murder.’
‘Fivepence was my cook.’
‘Killing a cook doesn’t count as murder either.’
‘What does it count as, then?’ Miss Hazelstone’s confidence in her own guilt was beginning to wilt under Konstabel Els’ favourable diagnosis of the situation.
‘Killing a white cook can be murder. It’s unlikely but it can be. Killing a black cook can’t. Not under any circumstances. Killing a black cook comes under self-defence, justifiable homicide or garbage disposal.’ Els permitted himself a giggle. ‘Have you tried the Health Department?’ he inquired.
It was obvious to the Kommandant that Els had lost what little sense of social deference he had ever possessed. He pushed Els aside and took the call himself.
‘Kommandant van Heerden here,’ he said. ‘I understand that there has been a slight accident with your cook.’
Miss Hazelstone was adamant. ‘I have just murdered my Zulu cook.’
Kommandant van Heerden ignored the self-accusation. ‘The body is in the house?’ he inquired.
‘The body is on the lawn,’ said Miss Hazelstone. The Kommandant sighed. It was always the same. Why couldn’t people shoot blacks inside their houses where they were supposed to shoot them?
‘I will be up at Jacaranda House in forty minutes,’ he said, ‘and when I arrive I will find the body in the house.’
‘You won’t,’ Miss Hazelstone insisted, ‘you’ll find it on the back lawn.’
Kommandant van Heerden tried again.
‘When I arrive the body will be in the house.’ He said it very slowly this time.
Miss Hazelstone was not impressed. ‘Are you suggesting that I move the body?’ she asked angrily.
The Kommandant was appalled at the suggestion. ‘Certainly not,’ he said. ‘I have no wish to put you to any inconvenience and besides there might be fingerprints. You can get the servants to move it for you.’
There was a pause while Miss Hazelstone considered the implications of this remark. ‘It sounds to me as though you are suggesting that I should tamper with the evidence of a crime,’ she said slowly and menacingly. ‘It sounds to me as though you are trying to get me to interfere with the course of justice.’
‘Madam,’ interrupted the Kommandant, ‘I am merely trying to help you to obey the law.’ He paused, groping for words. ‘The law says that it is a crime to shoot kaffirs outside your house. But the law also says it is perfectly permissible and proper to shoot them inside your house if they have entered illegally.’
‘Fivepence was my cook and had every legal right to enter the house.’
‘I’m afraid you’re wrong there,’ Kommandant van Heerden went on. ‘Your house is a white area and no kaffir is entitled to enter a white area without permission. By shooting your cook you were refusing him permission to enter your house. I think it is safe to assume that.’
There was a silence at the other end of the line. Miss Hazelstone was evidently convinced.
‘I’ll be up in forty minutes,’ continued van Heerden, adding hopefully, ‘and I trust the body-’
‘You’ll be up here in five minutes and Fivepence will be on the lawn where I shot him,’ snarled Miss Hazelstone and slammed down the phone.
The Kommandant looked at the receiver and sighed. He put it down wearily and turning to Konstabel Els he ordered his car.
As they drove up the hill to Jacaranda Park, Kommandant van Heerden knew he was faced with a difficult case. He studied the back of Konstabel Els’ head and found some consolation in its shape and colour.
If the worst came to the worst he could always make use of Els’ great gift of incompetence and if in spite of all his efforts to prevent it. Miss Hazelstone insisted on being tried for murder, she would have as the chief prosecution witness against her, befuddled and besotted, Konstabel Els. If nothing else could save her, if she pleaded guilty in open court, if she signed confession after confession, Konstabel Els under cross-examination by no matter how half-witted a defence attorney would convince the most biased jury or the most inflexible judge that she was the innocent victim of police incompetence and unbridled perjury. The State Attorney was known to have referred to Konstabel Els in the witness box as the Instant Alibi.
Telegraph obit here …
and the Graun‘s here
The HOPE Not Hate community — you guys — are incredible. Yesterday, more than 36,000 people signed the pro-hope, anti-EDL letter published in today’s Daily Mirror. THANK YOU. (That number includes your name, Jim.)
But today is the day that counts. Today, there will be racist marches across Britain. We must, must make our voices louder than the ignorant hatemongers out on the streets. Their intolerant Britain is not our Britain. We are the many.
There are four things you can do right now to stand in solidarity with us. I’ve done them myself, and they take all of a few minutes. They matter. Will you do as many as you can?
1. Speak out on on Twitter
The EDL are marching today, but they don’t speak for Britain — or for me. Unite with us against hate: http://bit.ly/17aTVpX #WeAreTheMany
2. Speak out on Facebook
3. Stand in solidarity: change your Facebook or Twitter profile picture
First, right click the image below and choose “save as”.
4. Finally: please forward this email to as many people as possible!
You reached the end and did them all! You’re amazing — thank you.
Model motion for union and Labour Party branches, drawn up by the AWL:
Unite against the EDL and Islamism: defend civil liberties
This ****** condemns:
1. The murder of off-duty soldier Lee Rigby in Woolwich on 22 May.
2. The reactionary politics of Islamism, in this case extreme, ultra-violent Islamism, which seems to have inspired the killing.
3. The ramping up of racist hostility towards Muslims, from abuse and harassment in the street to the firebombing of a mosque in Grimsby to demonstrations by the English Defence League and British National Party. According to the interfaith group Faith Matters, on 30 May there have been 201 anti-Muslim incidents since the murder, a 15-fold increase.
4. Possible attacks on civil liberties, including reviving the Communications Data Bill, which would allow police and security services access to all electronic communications.
1. That the main threat posed by Islamism is directed against working-class organisations, women, LGBT people, atheists and secularists, dissidents and critical-minded people in Muslim countries and some communities in the UK.
2. That acknowledging that British foreign policy has created conditions which help Islamists to grow should not mean failing to condemn Islamist politics.
3. That opposing the racist backlash and attacks on civil liberties must be top priorities for the labour movement.
4. That this is a wake up call – if the left and labour movement cannot build a force in working-class communities capable of appealing to the angry and dispossessed, then reactionary ideas like Islamism and nationalist racism will continue to spread.
1. To issue a statement based on this motion.
2. To support and publicise protests against the racist and fascist threat, and oppose attacks on civil liberties.
3. To contact local Muslim organisations and mosques to offer support in defence against racists and the far right.
Two items in today’s Graun in the aftermath of Woolwich. I’m not attaching too much significance to either – and in particular, I’m not trying to suggest that tea and custard creams are usually the way to deal with racists (see #2 below); but I found both these items intriguing and, in their different ways, strangely encouraging:
1/ Interview with Ingrid Loyau-Kennett
She’s the woman who jumped off her bus, initially with the intention of giving first aid to Lee Rigby, but who then found herself engaging in debate with the killers in order to prevent further mayhem. “It’s only you and there are many of us” she (now) famously told one of them.
The Graun interview shows her to be complex (Catholic, single parent) and in many ways admirable (many sensible opinions) …and a Tory:
Loyau-Kennett says she is “naturally rightwing”. She adds: “I don’t agree with the socialist thing where they praise everything rather than praising hard work. I’m proud that we are now represented by David Cameron rather than Gordon Brown. I voted for him.”
The killers should now face “severe punishment”, she says. “I will not waste any of my energy in hating, or even thinking further about these men. Yes, they deserve to be in jail because they killed a man who did a lot for society and who could have done a lot more in his life, and been an excellent father. The trouble with jail is that we have to pay for their keep. Will they stay in jail for ever? I don’t think so, because of the judicial system these days.”
Before her bus had arrived, one of the men had talked into an onlooker’s cameraphone, quoting “an eye for an eye” in an attempt to justify his actions. Loyau-Kennett believes the killers should face the same retribution.
“If it were possible, then, yes, they should die a painful death,” she says. “But we can’t do that, unfortunately. They wanted to behead someone, so they should face the same. If they want to do something like this, they should have gone to where the action is [in Afghanistan, etc]. That is cowardice. They were egotistical. They are like the men who drive round thinking they are king of the road. It’s just me, me, me. It’s that thing where young men are bored. They should be jailed for murder, just as I think people who drive when drunk and kill someone should be jailed for ever for murder. No television in jail. Nothing. They must pay for what they did. But will that happen in this era of so-called human rights?”
2/ Mosque offers tea to would-be protesters
All too predictably, the far-right have been cashing in, targeting individual Asians and Mosques. The EDL has been given a new lease of life, and members of the BNP and UKIP have mobilised to stir up hatred and racism. In Grimsby, petrol bombs were thrown into a Mosque and those inside, including children, were lucky to escape with their lives.
A Mosque in York was targeted…
(NB: the following is in today’s print edition of the Graun, but not the on-line version)
Around half a dozen people arrived for the protest. A St George’s flag was nailed to the wooden fence in front of the mosque. However, other members of the group accepted an invitation into the mosque, tensions were rapidly defused over tea and plates of custard creams, followed by an impromptu game of football.
Leanne Staven, who had come for the protest, said that she had not come to cause trouble but because “we need a voice”. “I think white British who have any concerns feel we can’t speak freely,” she said.
Mohammed el-Gomati, a York University lecturer, said: “There is the possibility of having a dialogue. Even the EDL who were having a shouting match started talking and we found out that we share and are prepared to agree that violent extremism is wrong. We have to start there.”
Intelligent comment from behind enemy lines.
We occasionally publish worthwhile comment from unlikely sources. It should go without saying that this does not mean that we endorse the overall politics of the author, or indeed, everything in the article itself…
By Iain Martin (Daily Telegraph 24 May)
Above: can’t we go back to ‘Team GB’?
Tune into any BBC London programme at the moment and one word dominates. That word is community. Even on a normal day on the capital’s airwaves you will hear it a great deal, but in the aftermath of the Woolwich terror attack its use has gone into overdrive. On the BBC London news last night it – or the frequently used variant communities – was averaging 11 mentions per minute.
When did this word get such a grip that even passers-by vox-popped by a TV crew will deploy it a couple of times in a sentence when they are asked to asses the impact of a particular event? I wonder whether it really is widely used in everyday discourse or whether it is just what people feel they ought to say when tensions are high and a microphone is put under their nose. Having said that, yesterday I did overhear youngsters at a bus-stop discussing their horror at the Woolwich murder, and both used the word community, as in the perpetrators were a “disgrace to their community” (in the words of one). So perhaps it really has seeped into everyday speech through constant repetition in schools and on television.
The word took hold after the riots of the early 1980s, when there was a breakdown of trust, in certain inner cities, in the police and traditional institutions. After various inquiries, public policy was reconfigured to ensure that “communities” must be consulted on policing and much else besides. The traditional approach – in which people clustered together in a particular place voted for councillors and MPs who would then represent their interests – was out. With it went the widely held understanding that to live alongside each other none of us can get everything that we want.
From that point, other techniques were developed to make “excluded” people feel included. To facilitate this there suddenly emerged the “community leader”, someone unelected and usually possessing the gift of the gab. If they were smart they might get a well-paid gig with local government, or even national government, advising on “community relations”. Inevitably, under successive governments over three decades which all wanted to avoid tensions, this hardened into an orthodoxy, underwritten by third-rate academics in new disciplines. “Community” was the key word, used over and over again.
Of course, like many linguistic devices pushed by ultraliberals it actually has ended up with the opposite meaning from the one many people seem to intend when they use it. Rather than suggesting togetherness the term is actually highly divisive. Rather than emphasising common endeavour it sets one person’s alleged “community” against that of his neighbour.
I actively dislike the term and would refuse to be described as, say, a member of the claret-drinking community. Indeed, the traditional approach is still favoured by many, many millions of us in Britain of all creeds and colours. We think of life in terms of family, friends, neighbours, colleagues, perhaps religion, charity, hobbies such as sport or music and then the nation. Sometimes the various groups and circles involved are distinct and sometimes they overlap. We also accept common institutions as a bulwark of liberty, of course. And it is all wrapped up, ultimately, in that word that I used at the end of the list: the nation. How wonderful it was for a few weeks during the Olympics. The dreaded word “communities” disappeared. We heard instead of Team GB. Can’t we go back to that?
Nigel Farage is used to getting an easy ride. Most of the British press fawn over him and even political opponents (including Labour) have evidently decided to avoid direct attacks and criticism.
So the heckling and minor jostling he and his supporters received on Thursday in an Edinburgh pub, and some mildly critical remarks from a BBC Radio Scotland interviewer, seemed to come as a terrible shock: the saloon bar loudmouth suddenly turned into a priggish prima donna and left Scotland in a frightful huff.
I don’t know who the people who organised the Edinburgh protest are. They have been described as “left wing nationalists” so I suspect I for one wouldn’t agree with them on Scottish independence. But their representative on last night’s Newsnight came over as quite reasonable, and another organiser, Liam O’Hare is quoted in today’s Graun saying: “The people who demonstrated were internationalist. We opposed Nigel Farage coming as we believe in a society that welcomes immigrants, that welcomes people from all walks of life, wherever they come from, but doesn’t welcome racists like Nigel Farage.”
Farage and Ukip are not (quite) fascists. But they are thoroughgoing racists and general-purpose ultra-reactionaries. The nearest recent UK precedent would be Enoch Powell and the semi-official movement he built round himself in the late sixties and early seventies. The left didn’t pussy-foot about when it came to Powell: so why are most of us so polite when it comes to Farage and Ukip?
P.S: Check out Mr Galloway’s craven comments, here.
Letter to the Morning Star:
From the archives:
NO ROOM FOR ASIANS? RUBBISH! NO ROOM FOR RACISM!
Many things have changed in the four decades since this 1973 “open letter” to Britain’s foremost racist agitator of the time, the Tory MP Enoch Powell, was written.
It appeared in the paper Workers’ Fight, published by what is now the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, in two of the industrial papers, for dockers and steel workers, that they also published, and in leaflets given out on demonstrations.
The labour movement was then at the peak of its strength and militancy. Within a year we would bring down the Tory Government and replace it with the Wilson Labour Government. The same chauvinist abuse, scapegoating, and hostility hurled now at immigrants from Eastern Europe was then directed at Asians and Afro-Caribbeans. Then, however, the shameless nationalism and racism, though it was very influential, came mainly from right-wing political fringes. Now it also comes from mainstream politicians and even, in a thinly-disguised form, from some on the anti-EU “left”
Powell, a leading figure in the Conservative Party, was dismissed from the Tory Shadow Cabinet by Edward Heath in 1968 because he made an inflammatory racist speech. Today Prime Minister Cameron is one of the worst chauvinist demagogues. The “Open Letter”, written by Sean Matgamna, appeared under the names of Tony Duffy, editor of Real Steel News and Harold Youd, editor of The Hook.
AN OPEN LETTER TO ENOCH POWELL
The Tory Government and the bosses it serves now desperately need all the help you can give them. We have – so far – thwarted its plans and defeated it, again and again. We have spat on its laws. And we will drive it from office before long.
WE? The working class. The men and women of all creeds and colours who do the work in Britain, who man the factories, drive the trains, clean the streets, erect the buildings, care for the sick in hospitals, build the ships and load and unload them, stoke the furnaces and dig the coal. We, the real people of Britain, the “Lower classes”, on whose backs your class stands.
Millions upon millions of workers hate and despise this Tory Government. They recognise it as their most bitter enemy, and they demand its immediate resignation.
And that’s where you crawl out of your rat hole. You see the tragedy of the Uganda Asians as another chance to whip up racialist hysteria In Britain. Wrapped in the cloak of a far-seeing ‘patriot’, a man who speaks for the ‘People’, your service to the bosses is to try to get the Tories off the hook by dividing worker against worker, white against black; to deflect the anger of the working class, to head off its discontent and to pit one part of our ranks against another, to our common injury and to the benefit of your class.
Your message is the sick message of hatred and division. In the name of averting a “national catastrophe” you want to promote a working class catastrophe — that of racial conflict. You harvest race hatred and you sow it. You have become the prophet of a race war which you do your best and worst to set alight.
After your 1968 speeches, fascists organised anti-black demonstrations, and racialist gangs took to assaulting black workers and youths – IN YOUR NAME.
That, Powell, is where you link arms with the Mosley fascists and the National Front, those sick and obscene gangs of misfits, Hitler-lovers who get their kicks from hatred of blacks and Jews, and who want to destroy the trade unions and labour movement.
That is why you are one of the most dangerous enemies of the British working class – black and white – right now. You are the carrier of a disease of racialism that could ravage the working class and cripple our ability to go on standing up to the attacks of Heath’s Government.
You are also the biggest fraud and con-man in the whole Tory party. You are a shameless, habitual, bare-faced liar. AND WE CAN PROVE IT.
YOU SAY: Immigration equals national catastrophe. Why? How? For whom? Immigrants to any healthy society are an asset and a “bonus”. They are fully grown, educated (and they are educated) and capable of working, whereas additions to the population by natural increase need years of education, care and social benefits.
You play on the fears and the insecurity of workers under capitalism. But you, Powell, are a fanatical defender of capitalism and enemy of socialism, which is the real solution to the problems of the working class.
You believe in the free market, even if it means 3 million unemployed. You care nothing for the working class or for the effects of capitalism. You are against the Trade Unions, you were a minister in a Tory government whose every anti-working class act you supported.
You are no “friend of the ordinary man”. No — you have nothing but a spiv’s contempt for working people. You have one concern only – to divide our class on the Idiotic basis of skin colour, to cripple us in the real fight.
Keeping out immigrants will not solve unemployment or any other problem: If workers listen to you they will be less able to fight unemployment. Instead of attacking its real cause they will start attacking each other.
You are not the exponent of a cure for our ills: you are an ulcerated carrier of the disease – capitalism – which afflicts British society.
YOU SAY: Britain is overcrowded. But what about the thousands who LEAVE every year?
YOU SAY: That immigrants differ in culture and background. Yes, they do. (So do the Welsh, English, Scots and Irish, and the large numbers of European workers who came here after the war.) But not nearly so much as the culture, lifestyle and values of the British workers differ from those of our British boss class.
The breadth of understanding, the real culture, even the general knowledge, of the British working class is in fact all the better, is all the richer, for the mixing. Our understanding of a common interest with workers of other countries is sharper for the experience. Our grasp of the need for INTERNATIONAL working-class solidarity is stronger for the contact.
In the Common Market the working class will only be able to defend itself by cutting across narrow nationalism and forging strong links with European trade unionists.
That’s what worries you, Powell, and your class, – as does the sight of black and white and Asian workers united on flying pickets. The working class maxim UNITY IS STRENGTH applies outside the country, as well as in it.
You SAY: The British people are denied the facts about what is happening in their country. But whose country is It, Powell? Two or three per cent of the people — those you represent — own all the substantial wealth of the country. They contribute little or nothing to the wealth of the country, to the well being of the majority of its people.
50,000 immigrants who work for just so much as one year (and they do work) will contribute more to the common wealth of the British people than will the whole gaggle of spivs and parasites that make up the ruling class during all the natural lives of a whole useless generation of them.
Black workers have more right to live in this country than all the winter-in-the-Bahamas set, all the Reggie Maudlings, the Arnold Welnstocks. the Lord Vesteys and the Enoch Powells – they have earned that right through hard work. And one day, quite soon perhaps, they will help “us” make it really OUR country by taking it out of the hands of rats like you.
In 1968 some muddled workers joined with fascists in supporting you. Since then the working class has felt its own strength, it has got a clearer picture of its real enemy now than for a long time past. It has the experience of a series of victorious struggles in common with tens of thousands of black and Asian workers.
Many militants must and will rally to protect our black brothers if the fascist gangs and backward workers of ’68 once again try to use the ‘respectable’ cover you provide to attack blacks and Asians.
This time working class militants, black and white, can create defence groups to drive your fascist followers back into the sewers from which you encourage them to emerge. If they don’t, they are allowing you, Powell, and your class, to inflict a wound on the working class which can turn septic.
With all our hearts we, working class militants from the port and steel industries, pledge ourselves to fight to root out, and to wipe out, the racialist poison you represent for our class.
The black workers are our brothers in the struggle of the working class. You, Powell, contemptible gutter-rat that you are, are one of the most diseased representatives of everything we are struggling against.