Ev­ery­one’s a loser in the Mor­ris­sey vs NME feud

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Opinion -

Mor­ris­sey and the pious indie kidz at NME are en­gaged in an un­seemly bout of hand­bags fol­low­ing NME’s cover story last week on the for­mer Smiths lead singer.

When asked in an in­ter­view whether he would con­sider re­turn­ing to Eng­land, Mor­ris­sey (who lives in Rome) listed rea­sons why he wouldn’t, in­clud­ing the ob­ser­va­tions that the lev­els of im­mi­gra­tion to the UK meant that he didn’t recog­nise the place any more, that the coun­try had lost its iden­tity and that you would strug­gle “to hear a Bri­tish ac­cent in Knights­bridge”.

NME im­me­di­ately pushed its de­fault “ev­ery­one is a filthy racist un­less they have doc­u­men­tary ev­i­dence to prove oth­er­wise” but­ton and went with a shock-hor­ror pre­sen­ta­tion of the story. It’s one of the least ap­peal­ing fea­tures of the weekly mag­a­zine that it still in­dulges in this type of stu­dent union pol­i­tics.

Mor­ris­sey has filed a law­suit and is­sued a state­ment deny­ing he’s a racist. He has de­nounced NME as “de­vi­ous, tru­cu­lent and un­re­li­able” — com­i­cally, the ex­act phrase that an English judge used in court about Mor­ris­sey when he was been sued by the drum­mer and the bass player in The Smiths in a row about roy­al­ties.

Racist or not, Mor­ris­sey’s re­ported views on Eng­land and im­mi­gra­tion are daft (even if th­ese ones have been blown up or taken out of con­text by the mag­a­zine, he has made sim­i­lar points in the past).

For starters, he seems to be yearn­ing for an ide­alised Eng­land that never ex­isted in the first place. When he lived there 20 years and more ago, he hated the place. Mor­ris­sey is the man who wrote Ev­ery­day Is Like Sun­day about the un­for­giv­ing ba­nal­ity of English life. He wrote The Head­mas­ter Rit­ual about the bru­tal English ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem of his youth, and his lyrics are pep­pered with scabrous ob­ser­va­tions of English life.

Sec­ond, with­out im­mi­gra­tion The Smiths wouldn’t ex­ist. Seven out of eight of The Smiths par­ents were im­mi­grants to the UK from Ire­land. Mor­ris­sey’s own par­ents are from Crum­lin but left the dis­mal Ire­land of the 1950s for the glam­our and ex­cite­ment of Manch­ester, where Mor­ris­sey was

born.

Make what you will of the Mor­ris­sey “quotes” about im­mi­gra­tion car­ried in NME, but here’s what he told me a few years back about his own ex­pe­ri­ence of grow­ing up in an im­mi­grant com­mu­nity in Eng­land.

“My Ir­ish­ness was never some­thing I hid or cam­ou­flaged. I was teased about it. I was called ‘Paddy’ from an early age. And this was when the term was used as a bit­ter and malev­o­lent slur ... We were quite happy to ghet­toise our­selves as the Ir­ish com­mu­nity in Manch­ester. The Ir­ish al­ways stuck rigidly to­gether.”

Clearly, the abuse and ig­no­rance of­ten dis­played by so-called “host” com­mu­ni­ties to im­mi­grant pop­u­la­tions is noth­ing new to Mor­ris­sey. It’s hard to be­lieve he is racist.

It’s in­ter­est­ing just how sen­si­tive the Bri­tish are about im­mi­gra­tion. Mor­ris­sey’s re­ported quotes were dis­cussed on Ques­tion Time on BBC. The level of cov­er­age af­forded to them is in stark con­trast to how pre­vi­ous – and ar­guably more con­tro­ver­sial – state­ments by this sea­soned con­tro­ver­sial­ist have been ig­nored.

He once said that “the sor­row of the Brighton bomb­ing [at the 1984 Con­ser­va­tive Party con­fer­ence] was that Thatcher re­mained un­scathed” and at a gig in Dublin Cas­tle a few years ago, he pub­licly lamented that Ge­orge Bush re­mained alive.

When some­one like Mor­ris­sey has to is­sue a state­ment deny­ing he is racist, you can’t help feel­ing there is a ju­ve­nile McCarthyite witch hunt go­ing on, which is dam­ag­ing not just to the ac­cused, but also to the ac­cusers.

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