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Wednesday, November 08, 2006


The Chingford Paradox

Norman Tebbit blames the unemployed for their state, offering the advice that they should get on their bike and look for work. Norman Tebbit despises those who get on their bike and look for work, vehemently opposing immigration to Britain.

Far be it from me to defend Norman Tebbit, but that's not quite what he said, I'm afraid. As Wikipedia explains,

'In the aftermath of urban riots (Handsworth riots and Brixton riot) in the summer of 1981, Tebbit responded to a suggestion that the rioting was caused by unemployment by saying:

I grew up in the 1930s with an unemployed father. He did not riot. He got on his bike and looked for work, and he went on looking until he found it.

'This exchange was the origin of the attribution to Tebbit of the slogan On yer bike!. Tebbit is often misquoted as saying directly to the unemployed "get on your bike and look for work" as a consequence of his speech.'
I know the origin of Tebbit's 'on your bike' 'quote'.

However, I fail to see how this changes it being an injunction to the unemployed. He was not providing an apolitical biography of his father. He was reasoning from the particular to the general in a deliberate political intervention to minimise the hardship and degredation of unemployment, suggesting that those in economically depressed areas should act as 'homo economicus' by casting aside social, cultural and community ties to place and people and migrating to seek economic advantage.

If Tebbit was not suggesting that the unemployed ought to solve their problems in the manner that his father did, then what is the point of his intervention?

If it is not an injunction, a suggestion to the unemployed, then it is an obscurantist statement of mind-boggling stupidity; an argument that unemployment in Brixton was not a cause of riots in 1981 because his father did not riot when he was unemployed in the 1930s.

So, the solution to The Chingford Paradox is to point out that Tebbit is a obscurantist idiot. I think that such a charge is plausible. But no less plausible that the understanding of his speech as an injunction.

Of course, a second way out of The Chingford Paradox is to say that is was an injunction, but one not directed at the unemployed. This is because he knew full well that people have strong ties to place and people - he probably 'knew' this more than is reasonable being of a mindset that is more than a little 'blood and soil' - and are unlikely to make uncertain journeys to new, unfamilar places except to escape the worst degradation or to receive great rewards. The unemployed of early Eighties Britain might have had a miserable life, but they were not going to escape this by trekking to another part of the UK. But is was an injunction to the unemployed, but it was directed at his employed polity, of the kind that the Daily Mail and the Daily Express manage to drive into fits of envy at the luxury of a squalid life on poverty-line benefits.
I'd always favoured the obscurantist idiot explanation, myself, but I see the reasoning behind your second way out.

As to the paradox itself, I think David Rennie made the point very concisely in the Telegraph a couple of months ago a propos people from the new EU member states:

As a convinced free-marketeer, I must admit to moral qualms about welcoming people to live in my country, then turning them into criminals, just because they want to work for a living.

Another view would be that Tebbit hates and fears the people who are below him in society and therefore his opinions are not primarily informed by either reason or consistency.
It's called having your cake and eating it. Another example this.
thanks Fatih Nakış Nakış işleme
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