C: Pixabay

The comforting myth of the antifascist Tidy Towns

I confess I read this yesterday with some bemusement:

Niamh Ní Chonchubair, of Axis Ballymun, said she wanted to compliment Tidy Towns groups who “have emerged as one of the most active, anti-far right, progressive organisations. They welcome people seeking asylum to tidy up our communities and make our communities the best.”

Communities showing solidarity with immigrants “inoculates the hate,” she said. The role played by community groups in this regard was essential because of the lack of trust created by disinformation and praised the role played by community groups in Finglas and East Wall in recent times.

In my limited experience, The Tidy Towns people in most communities love little better than marching around the place telling everyone else what to do. It’s little surprise then, I suppose, that they might draw away people otherwise inclined towards, eh, other authoritarian ideologies.

Jokes aside (and that was a joke, for you Tidy Towns people firing up the ol’ leafblower and reaching for the torches and broomsticks), there are several things to say about the insight that the Tidy Towns, of all people, are on the front lines of the war against the hated far right.

The first thing to say is that it sounds like what the kids these days call “cope”. In other words, a comforting thing somebody said at a meeting once which has been internalised as a form of religious belief that confounds the bad news for progressives in the opinion polls about immigration. “Yeah well”, goes the thinking, “the polls might be bad now, but we have an army of tidy townspeople riding to our rescue”.

It has the advantage, as coping strategies go, of being self-flattering: The progressive activist believes nothing so much as he or she believes that out there in the normal world, the decent people of Ireland agree with them in almost all things. The Tidy Towns, for good reason (if they forgive me for the gags above) are almost entirely synonymous with the decent people of Ireland: They volunteer and give of themselves for the good of everyone else. They are selfless. They are leaders. They are literally fighting for positive change. Kind of how the average progressive activist sees him or herself. Or, forgive me, theirself.

The problem with it is that there is almost no evidence that it is true. If Tidy Townspeople are welcoming, well, that’s because by and large this is a welcoming country which is generally in favour of helping those in need. We are the same country, after all, which gave a hearty and overwhelming welcome to our Ukrainian guests just a year ago, when anti-immigration sentiment was still in Ireland a 1% proposition or less. The idea that the Tidy Towns committees are a unique beacon of anti-fascism is a little absurd, since this is not and never has been a fascist country.

Second, the problem with it is that it is more than a little patronising to migrants. The whole notion that Tidy Towns are playing a vital role is based, after all, on the idea that migrants are flocking to join the Tidy Towns across the country, and thus making a big difference to the nation by, eh, cleaning up after us. See? They’re valuable. That is the line of thinking there: That the average bigot will have their mind changed about the housing and accommodation crisis if they see a nice fellow from Moldova sweeping the street for free.

Third, and perhaps most revealing, is this sentence: “Communities showing solidarity with immigrants “inoculates the hate,” she said.”

It is, you see, taken as a given, an article of faith, and a biblical certainty that those with concerns about immigration are full of “hate”. Therefore, any evidence that people do not hate migrants must be taken as evidence that those people are, in fact, in favour of entirely unlimited immigration.

One of the most enduring facts about modern politics is this: If you ask someone on the right to explain what people on the left believe, they can do so fairly fluently. We live our lives marinating, after all, in the views of the left, which are everywhere. We know what they think, and we tend, therefore, to take them seriously.

By contrast, ask people on the left to explain what the rest of us believe, and you tend to get statements like “they hate migrants” or “they don’t believe in equality” or “they don’t want to help poor people”. Differ from them, and you might as well be in the Ku Klux Klan. That’s one of the reasons for the massive increase in “far right” panic. They genuinely believe you are, not to mince words, evil. You might as well be Blofeld, or Fred West, as be “far right”.

And so we’re left with the assumption that the Tidy Towns is good because people don’t hate migrants who sweep the streets. That’s where we’re at: They genuinely believe your mind works in a way where you hate migrants, right up to the moment you see one pick up a broom.

For what it’s worth, I suspect a great many people in Tidy Towns committees, like the rest of us, have great compassion for migrants but grave concern about migration policy. Like the rest of us, they think this influx of people is unplanned, that we lack the capacity for it, and that Government has made a right mess of it.

That does not mean they hate migrants, and it never did. Only idiots believe that, and people working in Irish NGOs.

But then, I repeat myself.


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