Damning a dancer for her politics

I'm saddened by the ugly noises emitted by the bloggers, writers of letters to the newspapers and contributors to phone-in programmes who are denouncing the English National Ballet (ENB) for employing as one of their 'principal dancers' Simone Clarke who, it has emerged, is a member of the far-right anti-immigration British National Party, and Simone Clarke, principal dancer with the ENBdemanding that the ENB dismiss her.  Fanatical witch-hunters actually bought seats for one (or more?) of her performances in order to hiss and boo her — for her political views, not for the quality of her dancing, generally regarded as delectable.  This in turn has prompted the nasty bovver-boys from the BNP to stage demonstrations in her support outside the theatre where she has been performing, with counter-demonstrations by the witch-hunters. 

Persecuting an artist, or indeed anyone else, by seeking to get her or him sacked from a legitimate job because of her or his political views or membership of a legal political party, however obnoxious its policies and attitudes, is despicable.  Attacking an organisation (whether the English National Ballet or any other) because it employs someone whose politics are objectionable, and trying to pressure it into sacking the person concerned because of the person's poilitical views, is even worse:  it's a 5-carat copy of McCarthyism —  the wicked old Senator from Wisconsin indeed used very similar tactics.  Ms Clarke's politics are her own business.  Campaign against the BNP, by all means, but leave Simone and the ENB to get on with the dancing. Start to force employers to investigate the political views and affiliations of their workers, with a view to sacking those not judged correct, and who shall 'scape whipping?

Tim Worstall does a characteristically vigorous hatchet job on the witch-hunters in an uncompromising blog post here.  In contrast, here's a particularly emetic example of persecution mania from a public official who should know better:

Lee Jasper, equalities director for the mayor of London and chairman of the National Assembly Against Racism, said: "The ENB must seriously consider whether having such a vociferous member of an avowedly racist party in such a prominent role is compatible with the ethics of its organisation. I seriously doubt that it is and that should lead to her position being immediately reviewed. I think she should be sacked." He called on funders and David Lammy, the arts minister, to intervene.  (Guardian report, 1 January 2007)

This whole noxious campaign is a grim reminder of the self-righteous, bully-boy streak that runs through so much of the anti-racism industry and too many of its fellow-travellers.  The fact that the ENB gets a subsidy from public funds (like most other ballet and opera companies) is completely irrelevant: the subsidy supports ballet, not the BNP, and to pretend otherwise is political illiteracy — or worse.  There's more than a whiff of real live fascism in the air, and it's not coming from a politically misguided but artistically talented ballet dancer.  You don't have to sympathise with the diluted, down-market fascism of the BNP, or share its racist proclivities, to be disgusted by this display of contempt for the vital principle of freedom of speech and opinion.  If that principle is thrown out with the BNP bath-water, and vanishes down the drain along with all the other fundamental liberties under attack from our illiberal government, we are all going to be in serious trouble — and the first to suffer will be those who can't endure the idea of a beautiful dancer with stupid political ideas.


8 Responses

  1. Peter Harvey says:

    It’s nothing so foreign  as fascism. It’s good old traditional English Roundheadism that the Labour Party has reintroduced. Next stop, major generals (not of the modern model variety).

  2. If the ENB is worried about fascist hordes in its midst will it also be expelling its New Labour members?

  3. Peter Harvey says:

    I suspect there’s a good bit of good old traditional British class warfare here too. I wonder whether the Guardian would have been so eager to out a top darts or rugby league player who was a BNP member – even though his name would probably have been known to a larger number of people than that of a ballet dancer. But ballet is posh and élitist and is thus a fair target for the class-warriors.

  4. John Miles says:

    Peter Harvey seems to criticize the Guardian for outing Simone Clarke’s membership of the BNP.

    I haven’t studied the article to which he refers, but didn’t Ms Clarke out herself some while ago when she gave an interview to the Mail on Sunday?

    And isn’t it also true that ballet – unlike, I imagine, darts or Rugby League – is publicly funded and so legally bound to promote good race relations?

    How would we feel if the committee of our local golf club were members of the BNP?

    I agree though that, whatever may be the answer to these questions, it’s wrong, and almost certainly counter-productive, for people who disagree with her to persecute her the way they are alleged to be doing.

  5. Peter Harvey says:

    I admit that I may be wrong but I thought that this became known when the Observer (the Guardian on Sunday) had an exposé a few weeks ago in which a reporter had infiltrated the BNP in London and found (shock, horror, sensation) that this dancer was a member. They wouldn't have done anything about rugby league because that would have meant travelling out of London.

    The money was given to the ballet, not to a member individually: Has the ENB as an institution done anything to the detriment of promoting good race relations?

    I was once a member of a bowls club (in Zambia) that was stuffed to the gills with white racists. I played bowls with them and chatted about all sorts of things, avoiding politics as far as possible.

    Mel Gibson has some very odd religious ideas but that doesn't mean that he shouldn't be allowed to make films, even about religion.

    Brian writes:  I too was under the impression that it was the Observer infiltration exposé that first 'outed' Ms Clarke as a member of the BNP, a completely gratuitous and unpleasant thing to do. 

  6. I agree with you Brian, and I posted a comment on the Guardian site:


    Brian writes: Your Guardian blog comment makes extremely telling and eloquent points, John, about your (and, indeed, my) time in Moscow in Soviet communist days when artists of all kinds were subjected to ruthless persecution if they were deemed not to be following the officially approved line;  some paid for their heresies with their lives.  It's sad to see the Guardian, of all newspapers, teetering on the brink of this particular slippery slope. 

  7. John Miles says:

    I have to more or less agree with everything everybody has to say about Ms Clarke, but I'm not at all comfortable about it.

    Suppose one of your more plebeian friends were to ask you something like, "Look here, Brian, all this ballet malarkey leaves me cold – I'm much more into pigeon-racing.

    Why does the government fund ballet when I have to pay full whack for my pigeons?"

    The likes of Tessa Jowell would probably answer, "Because ballet's good for the tourist industry."

    You and I might be more likely to say something like, "Because it helps make our country a more civilised place to live in."

    At which your friend might quite reasonably say, "Come off it Brian, do you really think these highly paid celebs…

    (Ms Clarke is probably not mega-rich by your standards or mine, but I'd bet she gets at least double what most of the taxpayers who support her – and have little or no interest in ballet – get)

    …who preach that Nazi rubbish we all had to go out and fight against, really make this country a more civilised place to live in?

    Slippery slopes: a nice example is Peter Harvey's suggestion that the ENB can promote civilised race relations even though its people actually support the BNP.

    Next thing, we'll be told the Met isn't institutionally racist, it's only the policemen.

    Brian writes:  John, you raise a different but perhaps even more interesting point here:  what is the justification for making taxpayers subsidise 'high culture', such as ballet and opera, which provides pleasure exclusively for a small élite, of which 99 per cent probably already have incomes and wealth far in excess of that available to the vast majority of the taxpayers who are helping to pay for it?  There's no easy or persuasive answer to this one, sadly.  The answer you predict — "Because it helps make our country a more civilised place to live in" — would be correct and definitive if, but only if, the price of seats at the country's leading opera and ballet houses was within easy reach of the average working person as a result of the subsidy.  Unfortunately this is not the case, and consequently as things stand the subsidy can't be justified.  Two measures are needed:  a massive reduction in the (currently ridiculous) cost of mounting a major opera or ballet production, including a sharp cut in the fees paid to a few rapacious opera and ballet stars (which might require some form of international agreement), and enforcement through a regulator of the principle that if large sums of public money are to continue to enable ballet and opera to be performed at international standards in Britain, the resulting productions must be priced in such a way as to enable people on average incomes or less to afford to go and see them — and not just in London.  One way to achieve this might be to impose a punitive tax on those who contrive to charge the cost of their opera and ballet tickets to their employers (under the guise of 'entertaining customers'), and to stop employers who pay for those tickets from claiming them for tax relief, a system which enables Covent Garden and other such venues to charge astronomical prices, even for quite mediocre seats, and still to sell them.  In the bad old days of communism, countries such as the former Soviet Union and Poland managed to arrange their large opera and ballet subsidies in such a way as to enable perfectly ordinary working people to go regularly to their performances:  at the Bolshoi or the Kirov or their Warsaw equivalent, the Teatr Wielki, one would often find oneself sitting next to working men and women still in their work clothes and enthusiastically applauding exceptionally fine performances, so it can't be beyond the wit of man.  (Of course there were other features of the communist system that were less worthy of emulation!)

    Going back to the theme of racism in public places, I suspect that you inadvertently make a sound point when you say: " Next thing, we'll be told the Met isn't institutionally racist, it's only the policemen."  The concept of 'institutional racism' as introduced and defined by the Macpherson Report and now incorporated in Holy Writ is intellectually sloppy, and verges on the meaningless, since it is applied to institutions many or most of whose members are not racists, whose rules, constitutions and procedures have no racist elements, and which disown and punish racist practices by their members if and whenever they occur.  There is no possible way in logic or common sense in which an institution of that kind can defend itself against the charge of institutional racism, since it can be levelled with complete impunity against any institution which the accuser happens to dislike.  (The Macpherson definition of a 'racist incident', now enshrined in law — "A racist incident is any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person"– is even more nonsensical.) 

  8. Jack Lee says:

    The Guardian is now the McCarthyist rag of the extreme left – as bad as the extreme right.

    If Ms Clarke wishes to be a member of the BNP, or even the Nazi party, that is her affair. And nothing to do with her dancing.

    A person’s politics are a matter for themselves. All that can possibly change a person’s politics is good argument – not some enforced political correctness