Ridley Road: A Leftover Fantasy
It’s almost funny. Many of the remaining bourgeois really consider themselves indomitable anti-fascists. They really think their five-year fight against Brexit was against the far right, and not, uh, against democracy. Because that’s what Brexit was to them – the re-emergence of the darkest political impulses of the 20th century.
New thriller from BBC One Ridley Road – who, according to the Guardian, “Resonates in our present dark age” – offers a window into these Remainer’s illusions.
Based on a 2014 novel of the same name by Jo Bloom, Ridley Road tells the story of Vivien Epstein, a Jewish hairdresser from Manchester in the 1960s, who finds himself on board and spies on Colin Jordan’s National Socialist movement in London.
It claims to be based on real events. And it is, to some extent. Colin Jordan was a real Hitlerite nut, who for a time led a gang of racist thugs under the banner of the so-called National Socialist Movement. And it is also true that a group of courageous Jewish men, known as Group 62, took direct action against the NSM in the 1960s.
But that’s where the historical reality ends, and Remainer, the anti-fascist fiction begins.
As Ridley Road a, fascism was a growing and significant threat during the 1960s. The opening episode says so, and the whole series is imbued with a sense of threat, from inexplicably lairy boys on a train to little demagogues. settling in the international Jewish community. The point is quite simple – fascism is an ingrained and pervasive presence in British social and political life, begging to explode. As Vivien’s lover explains, fascism is germinating everywhere: “These are normal people. Teachers. Blokes down the pub. You see the disgust. Rabies. The way they sigh and wish something could be done.
When a man crosses Vivien in the street and shouts: “Rest assured, my love, that may never happen”, the implication is clear: the worst To happened, as evidenced by a traumatized Holocaust survivor who lives with Vivien’s family. And it can happen again, here in England. “Everything looks perfectly fine until it doesn’t,” warns Sol, one of the leaders of the Jewish group fighting back at the NSM. “And by then, it’s too late. “
In this political parable, the fight against fascism is permanent. Therefore, none of the main characters speak naturally. Everyone speaks out of time and place, as if addressing the public directly about the fascism that is still hidden today.
But it is a rewrite of recent history. Since World War II, fascism has been politically insignificant in the UK. Jordan himself was a largely isolated, ignored and ridiculed figure, not a populist brand. He attempted a violent confrontation in the early 1960s, which is the time for Ridley Road. And he flirted in vain with electoral politics in the late 1960s and early 1970s, before taking refuge in unfulfilled dreams of a violent vanguard-led insurgency. But everything he tried was still in vain, until his death in 2009.
Jordan belongs to this line of “failed führers”, as one scholar describes the future British fascist leaders. It should come as no great surprise that after an explicitly fought war on fascism, fascist movements have struggled to find even any semblance of public support. Even Britain’s own supporters of fascism saw their movement as a failure. “During the 20 years which followed the war”, writes one in The Patriot in 1997, ‘[far-right] nationalism had little to show except a few punches in Trafalgar Square, a few riots, several unsuccessful electoral forays and a couple of convictions for sub-revolutionary activity ”.
Corn Ridley Road is not motivated by historical accuracy. It is fueled by the psycho-political demands of today’s bourgeois Remainers. Their need for the fascist enemy within is so desperate that they had to make it appear, in the form of a semi-mythical and semi-permanent neo-Nazi threat.
Tellingly, these neo-Nazis do not speak the language of racial purity or totalitarianism. They talk like Brexiteers. They keep talking about “taking back our country”, a barely subtle allusion to “taking back control”. Ridley Road Writer and executive producer Sarah Solemani admitted: “My rule is that whatever is said by far-right characters, you can hear it now.” Half expect Oswald Mosley to appear and say, “Get fascist! “.
Ridley Road is not really a historical drama at all. It’s an anti-Brexit fantasy, in which today’s Remainers can imagine themselves as the brave anti-fascists of yesterday.
Yes Ridley Road was just a unique case, none of it would matter much. It could be dismissed as Heart for the #FBPE crowd. Corn Ridley Road is not unique. This is too typical of the broader cultural and artistic presentation of Brexit as an overwhelmingly negative event. This tells us something important. The Remainers may have lost the political battle, but they continue to dominate the Culture War.
Tim black is a sharp journalist.
Photo by: BBC.