Heard the one about the working-class boy who grew up to be a Tory-supporting comedian? It’s no joke for Labour…
Geoff Norcott’s new book details his unlikely journey to become just about Britain’s only right-wing comedian – and reveals why the left-wing party has lost its traditional supporters and faces an existential struggle to survive.
On reading Geoff Norcott’s ‘Where Did I Go Right: How the Left Lost Me’, it is difficult to avoid the impression that this author has a way with words. His ears are sensitive to the conformist affectations of the ever-so-earnest woke influencers, and he can readily turn them into well-observed caricatures.
Writing on the expansion of LGBT first to LGBTQ and then to LGBTQIA+, Norcott remarks that these collections of letters and symbols are “in danger of looking like a Wifi password.” In a world where you are not supposed to make jokes about the obsessive manner with which identity politics seeks to lay claim to a monopoly over the letters of the alphabet, this piss take by Norcott is most welcome.
The book is worth reading just for its well-targeted observations and asides about life in Britain during the past three or four decades.
Norcott tells the story of his life through the prism of his long journey to the polling booth and committing the heretical act of voting for the Conservative Party. The offspring of a Labour family, the author grew up on a south London council estate where hating the Tories came with the territory.
The most fascinating sections of the book deal with working-class culture in south London during the last quarter of the twentieth century. This is the time when the hitherto confident labourist tradition began to unravel. High levels of unemployment in the Thatcher era combined with the flourishing benefits culture meant that for millions of people, dependence on the state became a way of life.
Through a series of anecdotes about his personal experience, Norcott highlights the mood of low expectations that plagued life on the council estate. Young people growing up in these circumstances discovered that the system of education was complicit in institutionalising a regime of low expectations. It provided a form of trendy progressive education that at best flattered pupils and at worst turned them off from learning altogether.
Yet despite the difficult predicament faced by people living in neglected council estates, working-class people managed to retain a degree of solidarity, and even of pride. As Norcott put it, “not every working-class person wants to think of themselves as living a shit life and in need of saving”!
Paradoxically, it is this refusal to assume the identity of being victims that led so many working-class people to give a kick up the rear end of their would-be Labour saviours and vote for Brexit and for the Conservatives in recent elections.
Throughout the book, Norcott draws attention to his journey from Labour to the Conservatives, and finally to the point of coming out as a right-wing comedian. Time and again, he reveals his isolation from the predominantly woke comedy scene. At times he refers to having a “working-class impostor syndrome,” the feeling that he shouldn’t be where he is. Yet, at the same time, he realises that the reason why he achieved a degree of fame and became one of British television’s rare ‘right-wing comedians’ was precisely because he did not fit in.
Dining out on being a right-wing Tory comedian does not get you a standing ovation at the Edinburgh Fringe. However, it can and it did gain the attention of BBC bosses looking for a few right-wing comedians to help ward off criticisms of political bias. BBC comedians tend to get their rocks off ripping into the Tories, Donald Trump, Brexit, or stupid white working-class men. Providing a space for someone like Norcott to crack a few right-wing jokes allows the BBC to demonstrate its commitment to ticking all the diversity boxes.
It is understandable that Norcott wishes to capitalise on his unique status. Along with Andrew Doyle, Leo Kearse, and Simon Evans, he belongs to a small band of comedians who are prepared to offer an alternative to the earnestly woke comedy establishment. Sadly, stand-up comedy has become so predictable and conformist that someone with alternative right-wing views quickly gains notoriety.
On reading ‘Where Did I Go Right’, I formed the impression that Norcott is not entirely comfortable with his label as a right-wing comedian. In numerous places, he is keen to demonstrate that, far from being a neanderthal reactionary, he is sensitive to the concerns of those on the other side of the tribal divide. So instead of just dismissing the hostility hurled at heteronormative masculine white men, he concedes that some of the woke “points about white men in power were legitimate, but few bothered to make the distinction between power holders and the powerless.”
While it is legitimate to criticise the powerful and those in power, it is wrong to concede the claim that power is inextricably linked to skin colour and sex. Norcott knows this, but understandably finds it difficult to fully distance himself from the take-it-for-granted wisdom promoted by the British cultural establishment.
Norcott’s ambivalence about his identity as a right-wing comedian is entirely understandable. Like the hundreds of thousands of working-class voters who unexpectedly helped destroy Labour’s Red Wall, Norcott did not set out to reconfigure Britain’s political landscape. Leaving Labour was the easy part – figuring out the next stage of the journey is going to be more difficult.
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