The jester joins the cabin crew
Marina Hyde's 'bit' on Rwanda deportation flights shows the limits of smirking satire.
It took real action by protestors, activists and lawyers to stop the Rwanda deportation flight from taking off yesterday. There were real people on board, whose stories were detailed by The Guardian and belittled by The Daily Mail, and whose fear will have felt all too real. But for the purposes of Marina Hyde’s column — which she persists in introducing on Twitter as her “bit on…” — they were merely metaphorical, a Tory ruse to “upset all the right people”.
Beneath the headline Like Trump’s wall, the Rwanda deportation flight was only ever a metaphor, Hyde wrote:
The government’s Rwanda policy is a prime example of the annoying-all-the-right-people aesthetic. On Tuesday night, the first flight scheduled to take asylum seekers to Rwanda was cancelled before takeoff, after multiple legal challenges. Front of house, we were shown Boris Johnson opening yesterday’s cabinet meeting with a speech-effect speech about his plan-effect plan.
Behold the king of Twatlantis, acting like he’s at the peak of his hubristic powers. Backstage, insiders took something of a different line. As a source close to government thinking told the New Statesman: “They never expected the flight to take off. The point of the exercise was to create dividing lines ahead of the next election, which is going to be fought, in part, on a manifesto pledge to leave the European court of human rights and repeal the Human Rights Act.”
The “king of Twatlantis” line is the one that has the Hyde stans of Twitter hooting. It’s a neat summary of her aesthetic: Puns that even The Sun would reject as too ropey combined with a teenager’s conviction that sub-Thick of It style swearing is still tremendously transgressive. The government is full of thundercunts, you see.
The original headline has now been changed to From the government that achieves next to nothing, it’s the Rwanda flight to nowhere but the paragraph that inspired it remains:
Donald Trump’s promise to build a wall between the US and Mexico was a prime instance of annoying all the right people, with those wondering why the structure was failing to materialise continually scoffed at by various of his elite supporters. Didn’t they know it was just a metaphor? The reality-bending forced an update on an old political adage. Where once you campaigned in poetry and governed in prose, now you campaigned in bombast and governed in metaphor.
That Trump actually did build some of that wall he promised and that people are still dying from encountering that painfully unmetaphorical construction — as reported by The Guardian — is not important to Hyde’s glib jestering. This is politics as a game with the most extreme emotion that can be expressed hovering somewhere around eye-rolling irritation.
The original photo chosen to illustrate the column was of the literal plane before it was also switched out for an image of (presumably metaphorical) protestors outside the (hypothetical?) Home Office in June. That picture was finally replaced with an illustration that’s actually a metaphor with figures shouting at each other from either side of a runaway with a plane in the distance.
Hyde’s idea is that the Rwanda policy is designed to fail and exists only to produce more dividing lines in the government’s endless culture war. She continues:
Yesterday’s immersive set was the military airbase at Boscombe Down. Several hundred thousand pounds were spent hiring a plane that – as airily expected by those who had hired it – did not take off, and consequently might be best regarded as an expensive stage prop.
This falls apart when you consider that some of the unwilling actors in this scene are refugees dragged from detention centres. Yes, it’s a policy designed to create division and to excite the right-wing press and the frothing gammon base of the Tory Party but it is not a metaphor; it is targeted at real people who will experience real suffering as a result of it.
Was the Windrush scandal a metaphor? Or the hostile environment more generally? It’s possible to both believe that Johnson’s administration knew that there would be legal challenges which would allow it to frame things as another battle with “the woke” and that the policy is an extension of the British state’s reliably racist project.
In April, when the UK government first announced its plan to send people seeking asylum to Rwanda, the i columnist Ian Dunt tweeted:
The point of the Rwanda policy is to upset people like me. Open up the scars on immigration and Brexit. Hope the scars still bleed enough for the Tories to win another election.
Hyde’s column shares that viewpoint. The underlying irritation comes from seeing the administration as insufficiently competent (“Johnson’s government exists in a weird form of stasis – perpetually campaigning but never actually achieving anything.”) rather than honest anger about the morality of the policy. For many columnists, Johnson’s greatest crime is destroying their pristine memory of the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony.
It’s now a cliche to quote Chris Morris’ interview with Channel 4 News from October 2019 and yet…
Whenever I read one of Hyde’s columns, I think of Morris saying:
I don’t really see the point of comedy unless there’s something underpinning it. I mean, what are you doing? Are you doing some kind of exotic display for the court? To be patted on the head by the court.
“Annoying all the right people” has become the knotweed of public life, deleteriously underpinning everything from the establishment of TV news channels to the spectacle of grownups acting out for clicks on social media. Culture wars increasingly feel less about the humans over whose future they were once supposedly fought, and more about the brand positioning of those doing the fighting.
… but her whole schtick is about mollifying the right people. Beneath the inevitable puns and portmanteau swearing, she too is about “brand positioning”. And while Johnson is about pleasing the right, Hyde exists to reassure liberals that they are clever and good, without the need to actually do anything.
The very real deportation flight was stopped by people taking action yesterday. The comment section beneath Hyde’s column is full of people convinced that the policy is purely diversionary and that the plane was never going to fly. That’s simply not true.
We have a government that says it will organise more flights and an opposition that is unwilling to say it would drop the policy, terrified of losing an electoral endorsement from The Daily Mail that will never come. No doubt those Miliband-era ‘Controls on immigration’ mugs are being dusted off as I type.
‘Marine Hyde’ is a nom-de-plume taken on because, as she wrote in The Guardian, “[her] real name was too long to fit across a single column in The Sun.” She started out on that paper after attending Downe House School — which was originally started in Charles Darwin’s house — and reading English at Christ Church, Oxford (alma mater of 13 Prime Ministers). She’s the daughter of Sir Alastair Dudley-Williams, 2nd Baronet of the Dudley-Williams Baronetcy and the granddaughter of Conservative Party grandee Sir Rolf Dudley-Williams.
None of that is to say that it’s impossible for Hyde to write columns that genuinely pick at what’s rotten — this week’s stories on a new book about Rose Dugdale, the heiress turned IRA bombmaker show how far it’s possible to shift — but she doesn’t. The critiques are surface-level and glib, a performance of frustration.
Taken as a whole, Hyde’s output is a call for the British state to do its cruelty more quietly and efficiently. When politics is a game and you are so far removed from its consequences it’s easy to frame even the grimmest policies as empty strategies designed simply to irritate you. The only recognition of how terrified those people on that plane must have been comes in the column’s introduction which, like headlines, hacks are always so careful to note they don’t write.
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