Amid altogether unsurprising revelations today of the South Yorkshire Constabulary’s acrobatic dissembling over the true causes of the 1989 Hillsborough disaster, you can expect to hear sundry, equally predictable, pleas that the tragedy not be ‘politicised’. But, while the police’s original and indefensible doctoring of eye-witness evidence may be as straightforward a piece of wriggle-outery as it looks like, the question of the over-effusive running with the ball of the police-syndicated version of events by certain sections of the press and political classes takes the whole issue beyond mere non-partisan head-shaking.
Consider the matter in context. At the end of the 1980’s the city of Liverpool was widely associated in people’s minds with economic adversity. The perception of this particular link, however fair or unfair, was especially prevalent amongst the ranks of football supporters, making it the theme of many contemporary terrace chants. Taking this fact, together with the horrific events of the day, as raw material, those elements of the right-wing establishment that took the opportunity to perpetrate the outrageous canard that was to follow did so with a specifically political agenda in mind.
The object of the exercise was to try and create in the public imagination a link between lack of conspicuous economic success, and lack of essential moral character. They wanted to portray Liverpudlians as vermin – as sub-human animals. They accused them of urinating on the bodies of the dead and the dying, and upon those attempting to come to their aid. There should be no doubt that their aim in doing so was to erode and overturn in the mind of the imaginary voter that old, late-nineteenth century concept, the one that led, throughout the subsequent century, to our slow march towards civilization via the gradual construction of the social state: that of the ‘deserving poor’. People, runs the fundamental message being disseminated here, are poor because they are disgusting. They are poor because they are contemptible and ultimately dismissable excuses for human beings. Never suppose, we are being asked to believe, that any possible social or structural narrative exists or might exist that explains poverty from a wider perpective. People are poor because they are fucking animals. Look at them; just look at them.
And in such a fashion the narrative is constructed and the way prepared to facilitate the ongoing undermining and rolling-back of all those same social institutions that an understanding of the true nature of poverty originally allowed to develop. Tories and their fellow travellers had no global economic downturn to seize upon in those days, remember. They were content to take any opportunity to smooth the way for their preferred narrative that came their way.
This is why we should be rightly scornful of any calls not to ‘politicise’ the tragedy of Hillsborough. Here, as in so many cases, the truth has a political slant.