OUTSIDE IN

Here’s a sentence you don’t hear very often: I watched a drama on ITV last week and it was actually rather good. There, I’ve said it. As confessions go, I’ve heard worst – like the one that spilled out of Dennis Nilsen when he arrived home from work one evening in 1983 and found the police inspecting his drains. The remarkably versatile David Tennant played the man responsible for some of Britain’s grisliest murders in ‘Des’, capturing both his chilling indifference to the 12 known lives he took and his narcissistic craving to broadcast the fact (once caught). The Muswell Hill-based Scot, ex-army and (much to the Met’s embarrassment) ex-police, was working at a Job Centre when arrested; one of the many unemployed men whose cases he dealt with in the early 80s was future novelist Will Self. But the men Nilsen preferred were the drifters he often picked-up in gay bars, the ones who were amenable to his invitations to join him back at his place.

After watching this well-handled and refreshingly un-sensationalistic dramatisation of events following Nilsen’s incarceration, it struck me that Nilsen’s killing spree (1978-83) for a period coincided with that of the country’s two other most notorious serial killers, Peter Sutcliffe and Fred West. All three were simultaneously murdering under the radar in different parts of the country, yet all three had targeted the kind of victims whose status within society at that time enabled them to carry on killing without detection for so long. The majority of Nilsen’s victims were gay men, a demographic then regarded by many police forces as unsympathetic perverts; the majority of Sutcliffe’s victims were prostitutes, another group whose welfare wasn’t seen as especially important; Fred West and his missus, meanwhile, had a habit of luring teenage runaways into their house of horrors. The body count attributable to Nilsen, Sutcliffe and West (and, yes, I know that sounds like an early 70s Country Rock act) comprised some of society’s most unloved and invisible misfits, the little people whose lifestyles in some cases were seen as an affront to that society; it was no wonder the outcry was so belated.

40 years on, society as a whole is far more enlightened towards gay men – many now absorbed into the LGBT collective, albeit some vocally resisting their sexuality branding their entire identity; prostitutes have reclassified themselves as ‘sex-workers’, which has less negative connotations as a term and has served to at least elevate the world’s oldest profession back to the semi-respectability it last had during the twilight age of the courtesan 200 years ago. As for the victims preferred by that nice Mr and Mrs West, they remain very much on the margins – easy prey for drug cartels as ‘County Line’ couriers, as well as handy ‘damaged goods’ for unscrupulous grooming gangs and various dubious predators. One of the few saving graces of the BBC’s ‘Newsnight’ over the last year or so has been Katie Razzall’s ongoing investigation into unlicensed halfway houses for troubled adolescents too old for regulated children’s homes and too young to be legal adults deemed capable of looking after themselves. These confused kids, it would seem, remain unseen and unheard by the wider society to whom they appear an uncomfortable embarrassment.

At the other end of the scale, I suppose society’s other durably neglected and invisible demographic is the elderly; that particular group was catered for during – and beyond – the activities of Nilsen, Sutcliffe and West by Dr Harold Shipman. The world’s most murderous GP is believed to have been responsible for the deaths of around 250 of his patients between 1971 and 1998, though – as with Dennis Nilsen and Fred West – the actual number of victims may never be known. Unlike his infamous contemporaries, Shipman’s motive in many cases would appear to have been financial gain; in contrast to Sutcliffe and West, he doesn’t seem to have derived any sadistic sexual kicks from delivering the fatal blow, and nor did he adopt the cadavers of his victims as honorary flatmates to watch the telly with as Nilsen claims he did before chopping them into pieces small enough to flush away. But what four of this country’s most outstandingly prolific population controllers all managed was to exploit the indifference and ambivalence of the public and society in general to figures on the fringes – sexually-promiscuous gay guys, prostitutes, adolescent waifs and strays, isolated old biddies.

As much as prominent politicians might generate impassioned and disproportionately heated hatred in certain circles – and a localised strain of Trump Derangement Syndrome has certainly manifested itself over here post-Brexit – there’s probably a reason why only one Prime Minister of Britain has ever been assassinated (Spencer Perceval, 1812); such a person would be immediately missed and his assassin instantly apprehended. Beyond immediate family members, could it be said that any of the victims of Nilsen, Sutcliffe, West and Shipman were similarly missed or their killers proclaimed Public Enemy Number One when the kiling spree was in its early stages? Society’s invisible men and women are precisely that – unnoticed when alive, un-mourned when dead.

Current circumstances have had the unexpected effect of rendering a far higher proportion of people as invisible men and women than is usual, many of whom would ordinarily not regard themselves as such. The traditionally overlooked demographics have continued to suffer – with care home residents top of the coronavirus hit-list; but the abandonment of the city centre workplace and consequent relocation to the home environment has shrunk the landscape for thousands who would normally be at the heart of the nation’s industrial engine; and whereas this measure was viewed as temporary enough to be discouraged as recently as last week, our U-turning PM has now decided most may as well stay at home after all. Shows such as Radio 4’s veteran consumer rights programme, ‘You and Yours’, have become regular platforms for the concerns of desperate small business owners and proprietors of pubs, bars, cafés and restaurants that are now faced with impending extinction despite rearranging the furniture to fit the ever-changing edicts of a Government making up the rules as it goes along. A lifetime’s investment in the kind of individual enterprise once lauded and applauded by politicians has now been written off along with those whose lives were invested in it – and for what?

The initial nationwide lockdown was a surreal novelty whenever one ventured outdoors for the permitted 60 minutes to be confronted by eerily quiet streets devoid of traffic; but turning every house in Britain into the Ecuadorian Embassy and every householder into Julian Assange was bound to take its mental toll on those unaccustomed to such social alienation. Outsiders and those excluded from mainstream society generally fall into specific and familiar groups – the ones often exploited by our busiest serial killers – but when the rest of the population experiences the strange existential detachment that is the norm to such groups, the effects can be disastrous. They are not equipped with the survival armoury one acquires over decades in order to cope; they were dropped in at the deep end overnight and are now confronted by the prospect of another six months of this at the very least – probably six years north of the border, if Adolph Krankie has her way, I should imagine. The mythical salvation of a vaccine is this century’s fool’s gold, stashed in that pot at the end of the rainbow flag. Now, more than ever before, the people have realised just how dispensable they really are to their lords and masters. A few isolated and immoral individuals realised that a long time ago.

© The Editor

ONE OF THOSE WEEKS IN ENGLAND

‘We’re becoming a very petty nation!’ So declared the officious Inspector Pratt on a 1972 episode of ‘Z-Cars’; he was incensed by the attitude of two long-haired scruffs in custody after they refused to co-operate and sign statements on the subject of their arrest. They’d been nicked driving a digger away from a building site, having missed the last train home; and they’d missed said train due to being held up during a pub raid conducted by Inspector Pratt barely a minute after the towels had been draped over the pumps. It was a quiet evening on the night-shift (not so much knife-crime in early 70s Newtown) and Inspector Pratt decided to undertake an operation that ironically echoed his own sentiments in all its intransigent pettiness. Clever writing in a TV series from almost half-a-century ago nevertheless makes a still-relevant point about hypocrisy and double standards, how one side can see pettiness in the other whilst simultaneously being blind to its own.

He’s been labelled an arrogant narcissist more than once, and Julian Assange resembling the rediscovered Radovan Karadžić with his big white beard as he was dragged kicking and screaming back onto British soil by the Met at their most camera-conscious could be seen as a sign of where we are on so many levels. The dramatic end of Assange’s unique Ecuadorian experience was a piece of Performance Art entirely in keeping with his seven-year tenancy of that distant nation’s London embassy. I would imagine conditions for Assange during his self-imposed incarceration probably resembled your average Daily Mail-reader’s fantasy of the conditions enjoyed by everyone detained at Her Majesty’s Pleasure; but it was a prison, all the same – and Assange knew his sentence wouldn’t be indefinite.

The Aussie shit-stirrer took up residency at 3 Hans Crescent in Knightsbridge in June 2012, ostensibly to avoid extradition to Sweden to face allegations of rape and sexual assault; whether grounded in fact or fiction, these allegations conveniently appeared in the wake of the whistle-blowing of the web-based organisation Assange is credited with founding, WikiLeaks. A sequence of clandestine classified documents were let loose in the public arena by WikiLeaks in 2010/11, most of which related to unpleasant American activities in Iraq and Afghanistan. With Assange’s appetite for self-publicity, it didn’t take a genius to calculate that the US Government wasn’t going to let him get away with exposing their misdeeds, so the Swedish allegations could be seen as a marvellous stroke of serendipity.

There’s no doubt WikiLeaks have released information that certain injured parties would rather wasn’t made public; the catch-all ‘National Security’ excuse works wonders in keeping such unflattering information under wraps, though there has been criticism over WikiLeaks’ reluctance to probe Russian documents in a similarly forensic manner to that which they’ve probed American ones. To most folk worn down by revelations of all powers-that-be being rotten, corrupt and generally pretty horrible, however, it’s hard to see how anything they might uncover on Putin’s regime could shock anyone in 2019. And whilst Donald Trump certainly wasn’t complaining when the organisation helped derail the Clinton campaign during the 2016 US Presidential Election, Mr President now professes ignorance over WikiLeaks. Regardless of a change in administration, the American Government as an institution finally has its opportunity to attempt extradition of Assange, something many have long predicted – including Assange confidant Pamela Anderson, who claimed the UK is ‘America’s Bitch’.

The former ‘Baywatch’ pin-up made an observation that has regularly been expressed with varying degrees of terminology since the humiliating forced withdrawal from Suez in 1956; but this week has also seen embarrassing events exceeding our poodle status to Uncle Sam. No longer a purchaser of a physical paper, I’m not aware if any of Fleet Street’s cartoonists have depicted Theresa May in the role of Oliver Twist holding out a begging bowl to the Brussels mandarins, asking for more; but it seems such an obvious open goal that I’d be surprised if any of them passed up the chance to hit the back of the net. After all, the last day of this working week was the second of the meaningless Brexit D-Days, following the no-show of March 29. Now we’ve had to pencil-in Halloween for third time lucky.

There shouldn’t really be anything left to say about Mrs May’s atrocious performance as PM; the lady’s for turning, lest we forget – and she’s done little but go back on every public statement on the subject of Brexit she’s made since 2016. Whether simple obstinacy from an unimaginative plodder or a deliberate delaying tactic of a Remainer representing a Parliament of Remainers in order to prevent the votes of 17 million from being enacted, who knows? Almost three years on from the decision of the majority, the UK now faces the bizarre prospect of selecting candidates to stand for the European Parliament when we shouldn’t even be there. Never a man to shy away from the spotlight, Nigel Farage unsurprisingly chose April 12 to launch his Brexit Party, which will probably compete with TIG under their new ‘Change UK’ title to exploit the most headlines from the Elections the UK was never supposed to contest. Short-term gain may be the aim, but if Farage’s latest venture can drain votes away from the BNP-lite that UKIP has finally descended into via the recruitment of Tommy Robinson as its mascot, good luck to him. He won’t be getting my vote, but neither will anyone else.

Anything more to report this week? Well, the philosopher Roger Scruton suffered a stitch-up at the hands of the New Statesman, whose interviewer rearranged Scruton’s statements to portray the former Tory Government adviser as a racist anti-Semite – though anyone to the right of Dave Spart is Hitler to the New Statesman; and the knee-jerk vigilante justice of social media is so entrenched as a legitimate judge and jury by now that Scruton was destined to be executed online the moment he agreed to the interview. At least Scruton had the balls to stand up for himself during the engineered outrage and not kowtow to the consensus.

At the other end of the scale, a young actress on ‘Emmerdale’ also received the chop and was forced into the obligatory online apology for tweets she apparently issued as a teenager. She was sacked for the crime of ‘Historical Offensive Tweets’ – yes, this actual term was used as a reason for her dismissal; Twitter has now been with us long enough for tweets from six years ago to be regarded as ‘historical’. One could say let this be a lesson to the Kids not to share their every intimate thought with their followers; but in a world in which an online footprint is now part of the fabric of life from the moment one emerges from the womb, how can it be avoided in future – even if one wonders how much an adult can be held responsible for what they said as a child or adolescent. Isn’t it all a bit…oh, I dunno…North Korea?

The same year the aforementioned ‘Z-Cars’ episode aired, I caused minor consternation amongst teaching staff at my first school when I drew a picture of Pinky & Perky at Christ’s crucifixion; if it had been preserved online had online existed at the time, would I now be regarded as anti-Semitic? Pork! Jesus! Call the cops! Oh, well – at least there’s a spare room at the Ecuadorian Embassy if I need it. Hmmm, if we weren’t a petty nation in 1972, we appear to be one today.

© The Editor