Stuart Hall’s cultural legacy: Britain under the microscope
For the Jamaican-born intellectual, who was one of the Windrush generation, – the first large-scale immigration of West Indians to the capital after world war two – that rottenness was unmissable. Hall came to that rotten land with its in-part slave-generated wealth from Kingston in 1951 as a Rhodes scholar to study at Oxford. “Three months at Oxford persuaded me that it was not my home,” he told the Guardian in 2012. “I’m not English and I never will be. The life I have lived is one of partial displacement. I came to England as a means of escape, and it was a failure.”
A failure? You might well be forgiven for thinking otherwise. Stuart Hall gave up his PhD on Henry James and instead, in 1958, became the founding editor of the New Left Review, which opened a debate about the things that hadn’t been broached in complacent British academia in the post-war period – immigration, the politics of identity and multicultural society. He became, with EP Thompson, Ralph Miliband and Raymond Williams, a leading figure of Britain’s New Left, and one of the very few among their number who wasn’t white.
The Saturday interview: Stuart Hall
Stuart Hall – godfather of multiculturalism and one of the UK’s leading cultural theorists – is more pessimistic about politics than he’s been for 30 years. The left, he says, is in deep troubl e
And yet, he says, “I’m more politically pessimistic than I’ve been in 30 years.”
This pessimism is not down to the failure of multiculturalism, or rather, that speech last year in which David Cameron claimed it had failed – Hall takes a benign, if dismissive, attitude to Conservative posturing here, commenting mildly that Cameron is talking about equal-opportunities legislation, as he perceives it, rather than multiculturalism as part of the culture. No, it’s the state of the left that strikes him as the most problematic. “The left is in trouble. It’s not got any ideas, it’s not got any independent analysis of its own, and therefore it’s got no vision. It just takes the temperature: ’Whoa, that’s no good, let’s move to the right.’ It has no sense of politics being educative, of politics changing the way people see things.”