Lots of people are hating on Ukip’s Godfrey Bloom after he featured on the Today programme attacking foreign aid, which he said was used ‘to buy Ray-Ban sunglasses, apartments in Paris, Ferraris’ and ‘F18s for Pakistan’. What made many furious was that he was recorded referring to recipient countries as ‘Bongo Bongo land’.
I genuinely find it hard to believe that anyone is really offended by this. Maybe I’m missing some part of the brain that relates to outrage; I’m not even offended by jokes about Catholics, the Irish (or the English when I’m in Ireland), or anything else that might be targeted at me in particular. If it’s funny and clever, laugh; if it’s tired, old and predictable, then don’t. I don’t find Bongo Bongo land especially funny, because Alan Clark made the same joke about 25 years ago and that whole golf club shtick of Bloom’s is a bit obvious, but who cares?
If we are to get outraged by what politicians say, it should be when they make fundamentally misleading arguments, like comparing the plight of Palestinians to Jews in occupied Europe. Bloom was making a reasonable point about foreign aid, using mildly xenophobic language.
What is offensive is that Africans are still starving when, with the right policies, the continent could be booming. Indeed in many parts it is, thanks to a decade of free market economics, not that the BBC Today programme would bother telling you that. What matters is not that language about Africans is policed, but that reality makes such language obsolete; jokes about poor, thick Paddy died out not because of the league of the professionally outraged, but because Ireland became rich; people won’t think of Africa as Bongo Bongo land, a continent of corruption, poverty and disorder, when that is no longer the reality. But politics and economics are complicated, while moral outrage is easy and cheap.
I just don’t believe many of the people talking about Bloom actually are offended – it’s more likely ostentatious moral outrage designed to display opposition to the sin of racism, membership of the liberal communion, and moral superiority to sinners and deviants, an example of how secular politics has developed quasi-religious traits.
Looking at Twitter one sometimes gets an idea of what England must have been like in the 1650s when the Cromwellites were in charge. I think I would have headed off to Virginia – or Mumbo Jumbo land, as Edmund Blackadder called it.
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