Poets and Politics

It is an interesting truth, rarely commented on, that poets are allowed to have any political leanings they wish, so long as they are left-leaning.  Witness the reaction to my concern, expressed briefly enough, that the election of Hollande would a) galvanise the extreme right in France, and b) unsettle the European markets: both mainstream views that have been reiterated in The Economist, the FT and on the BBC this last week.  Indeed, opposition to a 75% tax rate for millionaires is enough to brand one, in the new lynch mob of Facebook, as an Il Duce-loving Pound figure.

Frankly this is absurd.  Any reader of Eyewear over the years will know that my views skew to the centre-left.  I did not vote for Boris Johnson, for instance.  Nor do I support the darker anti-immigrant statements of Sarkozy (even his own party did not), which reminded me at times of David Blunkett.  Indeed, I have been an outspoken critic of a French ban on the veil.  Sadly, it seems that only being anti-banking, and anti-austerity measures is "politically correct" among many poets.

However, concern for the house of cards that is the Eurozone means I do not want to see Greece default, the Euro collapse, and agreement between Germany and France break down - which would lead to more extremist options prevailing, as has happened today in Greece; as I predicted yesterday.  As for punitive tax regimes about 60%, they are symbolically effective but make little money, and simply send the message that France is not open for business - hardly a wise move in a recession.


The Editors said…
I don't think anyone in their right mind would accuse you of being a Poundian, Todd. (Besides anything else, Pound's Fascism grew out of exactly the same kind of economic populism that calls for a 75% upper tax bracket; a rejection of those policies might more realsitically be termed classically liberal, or libertarian.) Nor would I deny you the right to choose whatever political persuasion you like, but I did have concern with your analysis of the far right's presence in France, who have, to reiterate, been troubling the polls for some years now, regardless of whether the left or the right has been in power at any given time: a socialist president isn't going to change that one way or the other, and to suggest otherwise is, to my mind, a somewhat alarmist (mis)reading of the situation. Given the strictures placed upon presidential power - checks and balances and so forth - and the fact that national governance in France is partly restrained by its EU membership anyway, I'm not sure if Hollande's more headline-grabbing schemes will make any headway at all. What's of greater moment, I would argue, is the fact that a dialogue (however tentative) can begin on the matter of austerity and the future of Europe, which will replace the neo-liberal monologue that has dominated until today. For what it's worth, I entirely agree with you about the punitive top tax bracket, and with your analysis of the troubling liberal consensus within poetry / literary circles - I find I'm invariably on the right (which means I'm in the wrong) of any discussion with fellow writers, my co-editor included: my quarrel was with the facts of your analysis, rather than its ideological colouring.

By the way, Lung Jazz kicks ass.

All the best,

Simon @ G&P
KEB said…
Todd, a political argument is not a lynch mob. You stated a position, not terribly well argued, and then people disagreed with it.

Whatever your position, it is also empirically true that Sarkozy was wildly unpopular, profligate in his spending while imposing hardship on others, and in latter weeks was trying to win appeal to the far right. You say the far right will make a resurgence with Hollande in power but at least he isn't encouraging them.

Also, given the situation in Europe I think it has to be a good thing that there is now a leader who will question the status quo of austerity and at least open a dialogue about what will and won't work, and how and why. Austerity and the current misery have now gone on longer than the Depression, longer than WW1. It's about time for a leader who will question that and possibly start to propose alternative methods. There will be plenty of world-class economists to back him up.

If you then consider last week's votes in the UK, it is an interesting sign that the popular tide is beginning to turn. People are fed up, and for the same reasons in both countries. This too is empirical, regardless of your own views.

As for Facebook, I personally have poet, writer and artist friends who hold a variety of political opinions. Whatever you think about this or that, in the middle of immediate and general jubilation, you *have* to have known you were voicing a controversial opinion. And it was just an opinion, not strongly argued, not rhetorically underpinned. So why the surprise when people took issue?
Todd Swift said…
Katy, I am not sure it is fair to say my position was not "terribly well argued" - since it was not an argument. It was a statement of my concerns. I am not a political scientist or economist, nor are you. It is not empirically true, despite what you say, that Sarkozy was "wildly unpopular" - he received nearly 50% of the vote, and lost the final election by a few percentiles. He was, in fact, popular, just not with the British media, and a little over half the voters of France. Sarkozy, despite a few egregious remarks, was the man who more than any other leader, liberated Libya. He also advocated a more "Anglo-Saxon" business model for France, which is essential, because French work culture is helplessly unreconstructed. It is all very well for British poets to carp, but the lack of innovation in French markets and the workplace was stifling, and Sarkozy attempted to open that up. As for Austerity being questioned, that is now happening in Greece, and it is about to lead to that country's collapse. Austerity means cutting back when you can't afford your debt load - it is not a take it or leave it position. I agree that banking can be regulated further - but stunts like trying to reopen the EU agreements with Merkel will lead to needless suffering for millions of pensioners who will lose a great deal of money, as the markets react and lurch. Finally, I don't think it was a controversial position to bemoan a socialist winning the keys to the Elysee Palace. Mitterand was a bird-eating monster. De Gaulle, despite his terrible record in Algeria and Quebec, was a great man. To support his party is a noble and traditional position. I find the attempt to demonise Sarkozy ignorant, and very British - a tendency to demean world leaders. Sarkozy was not as far to the right as Cameron or Obama.
Anonymous said…
Gee Wizz, Swifty, you're every bit as brilliant a political, social and cultural analyst as you are a poet!!
The Editors said…
Hi Todd and Katy,

A couple of points: Katy, you're absolutely right that alternative methods are necessary. The finance-engineered crash and subsequent recession has so far failed to be matched its Roosevelt - Obama for a while seemed to be heading in that direction, but was hampered by a combination of his own timidity and 'market' unease -and whilst I don't think Hollande is comparable in any way (FDR's something of a hero: aside from his politics, that man could really carry off a cigarette holder), it's good that alternative (moderate, centre-left) views are being brought to the table.

Todd: first I wanted to know what you meant by describing Mitterand as 'a bird-eating monster'? Was he a big fan of KFC? Is he part tarantula? We need clarity. In addition, your assertion that austerity 'is not a take it or leave it position' is all well and good, but surely you have to admit that there are other ways of going about things than the current neo-liberal status quo - like, for example, actually holding the banks to account for their reckless mismanagement, or investing properly in infrastrcuture and industry rather than shoring up 'the markets' with borrowed finance so that there might be a servicable economy to fall back on should there be another recession in the future? At the moment, the problem is that the 'answers' are all coming from the very people and organisations that created the mess; austerity, really, a Trojan horse, an ideologically-motivated attack on the post-war welfare state dressed up as emergency necessity. You don't have to reject austerity as a programme outright to notice that the people being hit again and again by its measures tend to be the less well-off. More importantly, from the point of view of the 'markets', is the fact that in many instances austerity in its unrestrained form has been proven to fail: the double-dip recession in this country is testament to that.

Simon @ G&P
Todd Swift said…
Simon, it is well-known that Mitterand cruelly ate rare birds.

The Editors said…
Hi Todd,

Cheers for that: I genuinely had no idea. The man was clearly a prong of the first degree.

Simon @ G&P
Whilst I don't agree with Swift on a lot of his pronouncements, what I do admire and find very refreshing about him, is his willingness to actually express an opinion, risk looking daft, and his openness in the critical arena. Unlike many contemporary online poets timidly fearful of expressing anything counter to the group-think Facebook inculcates in 'em, he is up for having a conversation in an ungated, non-friends-only 'community' space where anyone can voice an opinion and, more importantly, where Swift will publish it even when (gasp shock horror) it doesn't mirror exactly his own.

From the off, for as long as I've been following him, he got it in the neck for all sorts of reasons that, as far as I could see, boiled down to upsetting the egos of a London-centric po-biz crowd who used to talk at the poets on fire forum until that gaffe died due to an absence of chat. During the years 2007-9 it seemed all the young po-biz wannabes joined that debating chamber, only to keep silent, as though there was an unspoken rule that you had to be seen to join that group in order to be accepted by their peers. You may recall there were all kinds of made up rules and regulations handed down in diktats from the owner, all centered around the idea of showing 'respect', but which only served to make the timid newbies more frightened of saying the wrong thing and drawing the ire of its owner. An entire generation of young poets reared to be silent and now, the once healthy cut and thrust of British poetry criticism has atrophied to strategic likes and smileys the kids learned was the primary currency in the critical debate moderated by a one person poetry executive over at poets on fire.

It is ironic that many contemporary middle aged poets have this vicarious liberal persona online, lots of links to the worthy causes thousands of miles away, petitions to be signed, friends to accept, lots of politicking to be done in the name of some wishy washy lip-service utopia; whereas when it comes to tolerating an opinion that runs counter to their own, omg! it's like you murdered their pet cat.

Where's the innovative voices, the ones forged in the heat of critical difference and going their own way? Nowhere because the kids are soo scared of upsetting the egos huffing and puffing on fb.
Poetry Pleases! said…
Dear Todd

I agree with Katy when she says that people honestly dissenting from your point of view does not equate to forming a lynch mob. Surely it is possible to fundamentally disagree with someone about something without being totally disagreeable!

Best wishes from Simon
Kevin Higgins said…
on the subject of lynch mobs and the like this may be of interest http://www.indymedia.ie/article/93296 The relevant poem was actually one Todd published on Nthposition.com when he was editing the poetry there.