A Journal of The Plague Year
In the years when I was making the transition from being a little boy to a teenager and then a young man, some of the realities of history gradually unfolded before me. The second world war as a child appeared as a glorious adventure, fuelled by my weekly comics and endless black and white films on the telly, and part of ancient history. In reality, from the middle of the Sixties, it was only twenty years earlier, roughly the same distance as 9/11 is from today. Then, as the details of the Nazis and concentration camps emerged for me, I was genuinely shaken to realise, probably for the first time, man’s capacity for savage, industrial-scale, cruelty to others. The reality of the Holocaust more than anything else never loses its power to shock and baffle me. The final stage of this gradual loss of innocence, was the story of the rise of the Nazis in Germany in the thirties. I could never quite grasp how it was possible that the Nazis rose to power through the democratic processes of the state. Yes, I know there was manipulation and propaganda, violence and coercion, but even so it was a process that took several years. Did nobody notice? Was no-one motivated to resist? How could they possibly have allowed it?
For years, this formed part of my fundamental narrative: that the world was inexorably getting better, and that as universal education spread, a vaguely socialist perspective, rooted in a concern for the common good and a belief in collectivism, meant that steadily, with some slips on the way, fairness, prosperity and equity were growing. The rise of the Nazis belonged to a more primitive version of human society. It couldnt happen here again, not now. I’ve held on to that narrative, sometimes like a drowning man clinging to bit of driftwood, for years. Even during the beginning of the Tories austerity regime from 2010 I comforted myself that it was a passing phase, and that demographics alone meant that The Tories were inevitably a busted flush.
I was also bolstered by a belief that democracy works. That the population can be trusted not to make stupid decisions, so that, in the end, liberal values are not at risk. That belief has gone now, I’m afraid. It could only ever work as long as there was untrammelled access to reliable, accurate information. A combination of social media and the internet has put paid to that. To think that 20-25 years ago, one of the apparent attractions of the internet and its lack of regulation was the idea of democratising power and information flow, so that neither corporations nor governments, could propagandise their way to power, like the Nazis did in Germany all those years ago.
The Trump experience in the States shows how easy it is to convince people of lies. Even today, it’s clear that The Republican party, far from repudiating the Trump lies, has completely embraced them and Liz Cheney is to be expelled for not backing Trump in the aftermath of the election. What has the world come when Liz Cheney has turned into the poster girl for liberal democracy and the rule of law? Her father will be turning in his grave. This has chilling consequences for the next election. Now, one of the only two available choices to the American people, is as near as dammit fascist.
And the same applies here. The results from our own sweep of elections last week were not unexpected. But they were tremendously depressing nonetheless, not least for the fact that they presage probably another ten years of this, the worst Government and Prime Minister in my life time. And another ten years of this amoral crew really does not bear thinking about. What is the charge sheet as it stands and what can we look forward to?
- Serial, repeated and proven lying
- Corruption, misuse of money, cronyism with favours for friends
- Contempt for the rule of law and the constitution.
- Obstacles to Judicial review increased so the government cannot be held accountable by citizens
- Stripping away of planning regulations for a plague of unregulated house building on green belt land
- Gerrymandering election law via constituency boundaries and photo id for voters.
- Removal of democratic rights to protest
There is probably more. There is so much shit cascading from Westminster that it’s impossible to compile a definitive list that can be relied upon for more than five minutes.
And when all of this is going on, the BBC acts like an organ of Government, craven and cowardly, frightened that the license fee will be abolished. As the playwright David Hare said a few weeks ago, “The BBC is like Pravda”. At 1 o’clock, 6 o’clock and 10 o’clock, regular as clockwork, the BBC news bulletin turns into a party political broadcast for the Government, aided and abetted by the COVID briefings that give Johnson star billing. Laura Kuenssberg, in an extraordinary article on the BBC website, supposedly investigating Johnson’s lying, cannot bring herself to find a single lie, and dances on the head of a pin to excuse or redefine lying. She is like some kind of mediaeval cleric writing a treatise about equivocation. It was only written in the first place because she was shamed into doing something on it by the 11 million internet views of Peter Stefanovic’s video compilation of Johnson’s 6 main lies to Parliament. She does not even have to do any work on it – he’s done it all. And still she exonerates him and waits patiently for her eventual place in the honours list in the future. Click the link below to see the article and make your own mind up.
And the people, those guardians against our slide into the pit of corruption and fascism, vote for it all, cheerily, proclaiming that good old Boris is a bit of a character. And Hitler and Pol Pot would be a laugh to go for a beer with. The most depressing part of the post-election spectacle was Chris Mason’s interview of a father and son on the dockside at Hartlepool, falling into line and providing the standard Vox Pop proving that the Tories are on the side of working people and Labour are just interested in trendy London Metropolitan types. One day soon, somebody on Universal benefit in some godforsaken Red Wall town, will actually use those words in a vox pop BBC interview: “No, I used to be Labour, like me father and grandfather before him, but now Labour are just for the metropolitan liberal elite, like.”
When pressed by Mason to explain why they had changed allegiance, they both referenced the Courts being closed, the local hospital being cut etc etc . They did not seem to realise that these issues, absolutely crucial for local communities everywhere, were the responsibility of the Conservative national Government and had nothing to do with the Labour local council, which presumably was on its knees because of swinging austerity cuts imposed by the Tories. Dear me. Johnson is living proof that you can fool enough of the people enough of the time, and that the current Conservative Party is a coalition of the Selfish, the Stupid and the Sentimental. That’s the MPs, before you start getting sniffy about blaming the voters. The only reason I don’t blame the voters, by the way, is because they’re given false information.
And so now, I can completely understand why and how the Nazis rose to power in thirties Berlin. And the rise and end of Trump transformed my understanding of The Handmaid’s Tale from it being a dystopian tale into it as a roadmap for the rise of the far right. The response of the hardcore Trump supporters and the Q anon crazy conspiracy theorists was chilling, but less so than the realisation that previously mainstream liberal Republican types would go along with it for personal power and advancement. Just as here, normal liberal Tories have been expelled (Grieve, Hammond, Greening, Gauke Stewart et al) and any moderates that are still in place, support the slide into moral turpitude to protect their own skins. I shudder to think for too long about where it will all end, and have no faith in The Great British Public to see through the Fake News.
Which is where I started. Regulate the Internet.
Next time: Why Labour has got it so wrong and why Peter Mandelson is most definitely not the answer.