Entering the populist Pyongyang

Your correspondent watches the far right debate immigration — but will he go native?

Artillery Row

It’s a Monday evening in Westminster, and the pubs are bustling. I amble past the Treasury lot at the Two Chairmen with my eyes down.

Getting recognised by the hacks of SPADs and Spinners (the usual crowd) who line the best boozing holes in SW1 on their second Birra Moretti is a tiresome drag at the best of times. “Tim, your last in The Times was bloody brilliant.” Yeah yeah, tell me something I don’t know. 

Yet tonight I was not just surly and indifferent, but ashamed. To be seen wandering in to the Emmanuel Centre for the Populist Professor’s barnstorming immigration bust-up could be social — professional — perhaps even literal suicide.

I thumb my National Union of Journalists photocard lanyard quite deliberately as I turn on to Marsham Street, my carefully rehearsed excuse at the ready. “Yeah, yeah, no, not my cup of tea at all mate, but I reckon I’ll file this one. And Polly’s on, she should have something Credible to say.”

Listen. The path of the Jobbing Journo isn’t for the faint hearted. It takes you to climes unfamiliar; Dakar, Tehran — Moscow. But I wouldn’t have a regiment of British Squaddies to watch my back amid this riot of fanatical extremists bewitched by myths of empires past, and Putin’s dastardly algorithms.

I reflect on my own changing perspectives on the toxic topic of immigration as I find my seat at the back of the hall. There was a time, perhaps seven years ago, dating precisely to the immediate aftermath of the Brexit referendum, that I had paused to reconsider my views on immigration.

Ever since that first Korma, my clammy embrace of what multiculturalism had to offer the Britain of my childhood — the slow eradication of the disgustingly pale, smelly and stale, rancid white people I had grown up around (my immediate family, for example) — had been passionate. Yet for a moment it had seemed desperately naïve. Could it really be the case that I had never given a thought to that sense of integration?

Could it finally be time that we had that conversation?

As a self-confessed member of the global Elite, I felt a tugging at the conscience. Why did it take an illegal referendum to make affluent well educated people like me listen to the concerns of the bleating poor? Could it finally be time that we had that conversation?

But those were the salad days of 2017. Before it became clear that this alleged set of concerns of the white working classes had been manufactured by Dodgy Dominic to sell the NHS to the Russian Federation. Poor white people care about one thing, and one thing alone; skills. Education. Did you know that African boys do better at their GCSEs than Caribbeans?

Of course, there are a few marginal weirdos who get themselves in a twist about acid attacks and the like, and they abounded in the antechamber of the Emmanuel Centre in ample supply. Just looking at them immediately reassured me that I was, of course, on the right side of History. Any notion of the very person of “Maurice Glasman” safely dismissed. Reader, it was a carnival of greasy anti-vaxxers; “Reform UK” rosettes festooning puffy chests. Eyes wide — hungry for violence instead of spicy chunks of lamb and Peshwari naan. 

Mouths were frothing. An oppressive atmosphere of decipherable hatred hung over the room. It wasn’t quite antisemitism. I wouldn’t put that into print. But there were certainly parallels to Nuremberg circa 1933. Did you know that Adolf Hitler, and other senior members of the Nazi Party, also gave speeches to assembled groups of people about contemporaneous political issues? Again, the comparison is not exact, but it is certainly troubling.

A Russian — need I say more? — was handed the microphone

They were expecting the Fuhrer. But this first speaker hailed from east of the Elba. A Russian — need I say more? — was handed the microphone. That’s right, a Russian. He introduced himself as Konstantin Kisin, before launching into an unprintably racist diatribe about pressures on local GP services concomitant to unprecedented increases in population caused by mass immigration. I’ll have to leave you to draw your own conclusions about the provenance and pay of Mr Konstantin Kisin, lest I find myself in a sort of Cadwalladr situation. Suffice to say: “Active Measures” ain’t what they used to be…

I reached for my plastic cup, something to steady myself as the Kremlin plant rambled on about Solzhenitsyn and Trans. When did my wine get fizzy? I see lipstick along the ring of the cup. Could this have been deliberate… I was flanked on either side by men, cans of Kronenburg clasped to their chest as they roared along to the shill’s denunciations of New Labour. I don’t like to put my personal life to print if I can avoid it; but suffice to say that since the separation began I have yet to elicit sexual interest from a member of the opposite sex. The now almost unfamiliar thrill of sexual excitement began to rise as I contemplated my anonymous lover. 

A passion that was aroused further by the passing of the microphone to Polly Toynbee.

“This Division…” she purred, “is a Distraction.”

Not since I was a boy, not since I had to stand up in Chemistry…

“Listen, if you bloody libertarians had listened to us lot, we’d have ID cards by now.”

Oh she was clever. So clever, so fearless. The blokey bandits either side of me began to scream incontinent abuse.

“The idea, this very grotesque idea that we would leave the ECHR. That we would break up our old alliances…”

A progressive speaks.

“Listen, if you Tories want to make the case for actually investing in our health workforce, I’m all ears…”

Blair. There was no other word for it. Pure, unreconstructed Blair. It spread like a soothing salve, my hot, sweaty frustrations relieved.

A short bliss, interrupted by the sudden appearance of the Populist Professor.

I smirk to myself. You are telling me we are going to have another London — another Canary Wharf, another Hampstead Heath, another Global Capital — and that’s meant to frighten me? I consider heckling, but adjudge that my nuanced perspective would be lost on the bovine animals assembled.

I make a few more mental notes of one liners I would deploy in a fantasy dinner conversation with Matthew Goodwin. “Social Trust is declining you say…errrr…Well, I don’t trust you mate.” The howls of laughter, the steam coming out of his ears.

My skewering Populist Professor’s intellectual vanities, occurring exclusively within my internal monologue, ends abruptly when the microphone is passed again to a shrivelled man-child wearing a t-shirt and a green beret.


“My name is Aaron Bastani and I think that we should abolish Trident to make it easier for Putin to finish his illegal invasion of Ukraine.”

“Grrrrrr” I begin to growl, the agony is unbearable. The five long years of being locked out of power by the Corbyn Cabal flash across my eyes.

“My mates in Hamas want British Passports here, and I say, yeah. Why not?” he continues.

For Luciana…


He pauses, startled, perturbed. I see at once that I have a captive audience, with all eyes turned to me.


My heckling against Bastardarni is met warmly by my newfound allies in the audience, us vulgares popularii…

“Yeah, put on a tie, you race traitor!”


“This bloke gets it. We’re sending you back first!”

I turn to see grinning faces. “Nice one mate!” A can of Stella is thrust into my hand by the bloke next to me.


“Yeaaah!!!!” The whooping is mesmerising, as is the vision of Comrade Bastani reduced to a stuttering mess.

“Err, ummm, w-w-well, I, I don’t think it’s fair to shoot terrorists, you n-n-need a t-t-trial…”


The whooping has turned to screams of pleasure. I was energised. Has this always been my talent? I should never have bothered with writing, or the arts. How fortunate to discover in middle age that one has a talent of public speaking…


I am cut short abruptly by the hand of a security guard on my shoulder.

“Oi, get off ‘im!” A fellow traveller demands.

“Yeah! ‘es just saying wot we all fink.”

“What’s your name mate?”


As I am roughly frogmarched to the exit I have just the wherewithal to clasp one meaty hand over the old National Union of Journalists photocard ID. 

But it is too late. For even in this den of jackals and vipers I cannot escape my national platform, cursed as I am by my long career in broadcast media; those appearances at the Oxford Union, the thirty minuters on Empire for Channel 4. And so the chanting of Estuary accents follows me as I am thrust roughly to the evening air.


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