Baggins for Farage

John Lanchester · If Hobbits Could Vote

Last night I had a clear sign that I’ve been spending too much time thinking about the election. My sons recently listened to the whole audiobook of The Hobbit during a long car journey, and I decided to try them out on the DVD of The Fellowship of the Ring (the fan-preferred extended cut, obviously). The opening sequence establishes the peace-loving, insular nature of the Hobbits and their love of the Shire, and makes it clear that for Tolkien the Hobbits were a form of surrogate Englishmen. Bilbo Baggins is talking about this in his narration and says: ‘They are quite content to ignore and be ignored by the world of the Big Folk.’ I found myself thinking: 'Hmmn, they’ll be voting UKIP.’


  • 18 April 2010 at 6:34pm
    Phil Edwards says:
    I know what you're saying, but I don't think the Chestertonian retreat into a littler England - which Tolkien echoed and UKIP are now trying to evoke - is entirely fugal or even entirely reactionary. Apart from anything else (as I argued back here) it was a populist reaction against British imperialism - something which can use all the populist reacting-against it can get.

    • 19 April 2010 at 2:39pm
      pinhut says: @ Phil Edwards
      Interesting post you have over there.

      I would make a slightly different point. Gordon Brown has made numerous statements like this:

      "Gordon Brown declared today that immigrants should be required to take part in community work before they are granted British citizenship.

      The Chancellor argued that people who want to become British citizens needed to enter a new “contract” which showed their willingness to contribute to their new home.

      Speaking in London, he said aspiring citizens must be ready to learn to speak English, as well as having a good understanding of Britain’s history and culture."

      Now, it may be the case that many self-identified Little Englanders, if they accept immigration itself as inevitable (to some degree), would support such measures. But my question is this - where is there any mention of the rights and responsibilities of the indigent population? Why shouldn't those who are English by birth sign a charter to show that they will honour their part of the process of integration, too, perhaps they could be obliged to do some of this community work, also.

      What the Little Englander mentality represents, to me, is the one-way nature of integration, that all change is incumbent upon the new member of the group. This is why nationality is cleaved to to begin with, because it is non-negotiable, one can come to England, one can live in England, one can even be more-or-less accepted, but one can never be English, etc. Having subjected the interloper to intergalactic levels of shunning and condescenscion, the experiment can then be deemed a failure at some arbitrary point, and people who never made any genuine effort to welcome a new arrival can shrug and just say, "Some things were never meant to be."

    • 19 April 2010 at 3:17pm
      pinhut says: @ pinhut
      "25.5 UKIP will control and manage immigration from EU and non-EU countries through a work permit system. Roma gypsies and travellers arriving from outside the UK will have to show pre-agreed work permits, local police notification and proof of pre-agreed accommodation to be allowed entry into the UK. Furthermore, they must also provide notification in advance to local police forces in order to legally enter the UK."

      Non-racist says the home page.

      There is also a plan to relocate people from their own homes if they have spare rooms!

      I am not sure the hobbits would like that.

    • 19 April 2010 at 4:10pm
      Phil Edwards says: @ pinhut
      I think a lot of the people who believe in a strong (English) community do believe that people in general ought to be active members of the community. The difference is that if you're born here it stays at the level of a moral obligation which everyone's assumed to feel; it's only the outsiders who have to prove themselves by being coerced into community spirit. There's something similar going on in the Citizenship Test, which is notoriously difficult for anyone to pass without months of preparation - but not having that level of knowledge of all things British isn't held against you if you already are a citizen.

    • 19 April 2010 at 4:52pm
      pinhut says: @ Phil Edwards
      I can't decode if you're agreeing with me or not.

      What you describe sounds much like Zizek's continued references to the Big Other, things that we don't specify because 'everybody else knows what they are'. National identity is one of them, to the extent that I have yet to see any compelling description of what, for example, Englishness consists of (or, for that matter, what this 'English way of life' consists of - is the life of a Millwall fan an acceptable model?) and of how Englishness might be acquired. To that end, for some, Englishness may be conferred by simple acquisition of citizenship, whereas for others, Englishness is something acquired at birth, etc.

      While the legal definition may presently prevail, it is clear that there are those in the society who feel aggrieved at this definition and want more obstacles inserted into its path, (but, as I say, and as you agree, without doing any more themselves, pronouncing a project that requires their participation to be somebody else's failure (having opted not to participate).

      To that end, what does the Citizenship Test, other than the willingness of a new arrival to submit themselves to a further obligation, of investing a certain amount of time learning X in order to receive certificate Y and then proceed on Z, their merry way. May as well just publicly give them 20 lashes, to be administered by a UKIP councillor.

      Or is knowing the date of the Battle of Bannockburn really going to help people assimilate?

    • 19 April 2010 at 9:51pm
      Phil Edwards says: @ pinhut
      Mostly agreeing - 'mostly' in that you seem to be suggesting that English Community Values are always and only an exclusion mechanism, whereas I think they're something a bit more complex than that (although they certainly are used as an exclusion mechanism).

      Where the Citizenship Test scores over a more openly punitive rite of passage is that it's inherently voluntary (Zizek would like this bit). I mean, taking the test is compulsory if you want to gain citizenship, but you can only pass it by choosing to put in the hours to memorise the services offered by Citizens' Advice Bureaux and the date of the Married Women's Property Act. Effectively you brand yourself as British before you take the test.

  • 18 April 2010 at 10:02pm
    A.J.P. Crown says:
    I'm probably not the first person to notice this, but I'll mention it anyway: for its logo the UKIP has the most ill-advised colour scheme imaginable. It is heather-purple and lemon-yellow. Not only is it a hideous combination in itself, both strident and banal, but it clashes terribly with the Union Jack.

  • 20 April 2010 at 1:12am
    pinhut says:
    @Phil - reached the limit it would seem on replying to one another.

    "whereas I think they’re something a bit more complex than that (although they certainly are used as an exclusion mechanism)."

    No, I accept your point on that. What I doubt is the capacity of those asking for more tests, more obstacles placed in the way of citizenship to really do so in good faith.

    And imagine the questions!

    How many slaves passed through Bristol and Liverpool on their way to the colonies?

    Enoch Powell was:

    a) a great man
    b) a very great man


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