Everyone's a loser in the Morrissey vs NME feud

Morrissey and the pious indie kidz at NME are engaged in an unseemly bout of handbags following NME's cover story last week on…

Morrissey and the pious indie kidz at NME are engaged in an unseemly bout of handbags following NME's cover story last week on the former Smiths lead singer.

When asked in an interview whether he would consider returning to England, Morrissey (who lives in Rome) listed reasons why he wouldn't, including the observations that the levels of immigration to the UK meant that he didn't recognise the place any more, that the country had lost its identity and that you would struggle "to hear a British accent in Knightsbridge".

NME immediately pushed its default "everyone is a filthy racist unless they have documentary evidence to prove otherwise" button and went with a shock-horror presentation of the story. It's one of the least appealing features of the weekly magazine that it still indulges in this type of student union politics.

Morrissey has filed a lawsuit and issued a statement denying he's a racist. He has denounced NME as "devious, truculent and unreliable" - comically, the exact phrase that an English judge used in court about Morrissey when he was been sued by the drummer and the bass player in The Smiths in a row about royalties.


Racist or not, Morrissey's reported views on England and immigration are daft (even if these ones have been blown up or taken out of context by the magazine, he has made similar points in the past).

For starters, he seems to be yearning for an idealised England that never existed in the first place. When he lived there 20 years and more ago, he hated the place. Morrissey is the man who wrote Everyday Is Like Sunday about the unforgiving banality of English life. He wrote The Headmaster Ritual about the brutal English education system of his youth, and his lyrics are peppered with scabrous observations of English life.

Second, without immigration The Smiths wouldn't exist. Seven out of eight of The Smiths parents were immigrants to the UK from Ireland. Morrissey's own parents are from Crumlin but left the dismal Ireland of the 1950s for the glamour and excitement of Manchester, where Morrissey was born.

Make what you will of the Morrissey "quotes" about immigration carried in NME, but here's what he told me a few years back about his own experience of growing up in an immigrant community in England.

"My Irishness was never something I hid or camouflaged. I was teased about it. I was called 'Paddy' from an early age. And this was when the term was used as a bitter and malevolent slur ... We were quite happy to ghettoise ourselves as the Irish community in Manchester. The Irish always stuck rigidly together."

Clearly, the abuse and ignorance often displayed by so-called "host" communities to immigrant populations is nothing new to Morrissey. It's hard to believe he is racist.

It's interesting just how sensitive the British are about immigration. Morrissey's reported quotes were discussed on Question Time on BBC. The level of coverage afforded to them is in stark contrast to how previous - and arguably more controversial - statements by this seasoned controversialist have been ignored.

He once said that "the sorrow of the Brighton bombing [ at the 1984 Conservative Party conference] was that Thatcher remained unscathed" and at a gig in Dublin Castle a few years ago, he publicly lamented that George Bush remained alive.

When someone like Morrissey has to issue a statement denying he is racist, you can't help feeling there is a juvenile McCarthyite witch hunt going on, which is damaging not just to the accused, but also to the accusers.

Brian Boyd

Brian Boyd

Brian Boyd, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes mainly about music and entertainment