I still remember the substance, if not the detail, of my conversation with Harvey; it was in 1974, I was on teaching practice and he was my supervisor. At the end of the first week we went for a drink, ostensibly for a de-brief, but mainly to get to know each other. Inevitably the conversation turned to why we were in further education, and we discovered it was for similar reasons – a conviction that if you wanted to change people you got better results by talking with them rather than fighting with them. If you could help people understand their world, they could distinguish between what they could change by themselves and what they couldn’t. C Wright Mills has a lot to answer for.
It was a febrile time and there was no shortage of options: by the mid-70s we had experienced Grosvenor Square, Bloody Sunday, the Angry Brigade and the start of the IRA bombing campaign; elsewhere there had been the Prague Spring, Paris in May 68, Ohio, Woodstock and Altamont. Orgreave and the Beanfield were just over the horizon. Plenty of people had been hurt or would be hurt. Quite a few died. But nobody ever changed their mind. No matter which side you were on, you were right and they were wrong. It was the politics of hate.
That was a lifetime ago. A moment when liberal education and FE colleges made a difference before both were condemned to the dustbin of history, along with the aspirations of Harvey, me, and many others. But the politics of hate remain, and none of its present advocates are anywhere nearer to accomplishing their goals than they had been 43 years previously. Which brings us to Manchester. All these years later we again experience the repetition of an event which has done nothing to advance the cause of the perpetrator and everything to mobilise and unite a previously indifferent community.
The evident ineffectiveness of shock tactics to change people’s behaviour is demonstrated by campaigns and graphic imagery to deter cigarette smokers, drinking drivers, or fat and sugary snack consumers. People still smoke, still drive under the influence, and still get fat. Why would attacking a music event, a night club, a pub, a football team, a street market, a tube train or a bus change beliefs or behaviour?
Attacking a tangible individual such as a soldier or a politician because you disagree with what they represent is despicable and horrific enough, but an indiscriminate attack achieves nothing. Theology or ideology doesn’t come into it. The targets didn’t know they were targets so weren’t deterred from doing what they were doing. The survivors inevitably are resolute to keep on doing what they intend to do. In a perverse way it might be claimed that a politician is a surrogate soldier – but an eight year old? Ariana Grande (left)? How robust can a cause be if it thinks it will only make progress by attacking the most vulnerable dimension of the culture and community it despises? And if the point is just pain for the sake of pain or revenge for some unarticulated slight, then it’s not political, it’s not ideological, it’s just vandalism – perpetrated by sock- puppets who’ve been groomed by zealotry.
Poor little Saffi Rose, and Georgina, and John, and the 15 others who, at the time of writing, are still missing. Poor Ariana, facing the prospect of having to perform again, and again. Their poor friends and families. Consider how Manchester came together within 24 hours. Consider how Hillsborough, 28 years ago, continues to unite survivors and friends.
I’m pretty sure that everyone in the Manchester Arena on Monday night could sing along with Taylor Swift’s chorus:
Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play
And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate
Baby, I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake
I shake it off, I shake it off