LIFE’S A GAS

GaslightWith its recurring habit of remaking foreign films – albeit usually ones produced in a foreign language – Hollywood sometimes attempts to eliminate all traces of the original movie for fear it will steal the remake’s thunder. In 1944 MGM was so determined its version of Patrick Hamilton’s stage play ‘Gaslight’ would be regarded as the motion picture version that it attempted to erase the existing prints of the 1940 British adaptation, even wanting to incinerate the negative. Happily, it didn’t succeed and the first film survives as a wonderfully atmospheric example of old-school British cinema shot entirely on a studio set that cleverly recreates a middle-class Victorian street; it reimagines a London square in the late 19th century with the same aesthetic inventiveness as David Lean reimagined the city’s slums in his take on ‘Oliver Twist’. The film stars Anton Walbrook as a sadistic controlling husband convincing his emotionally fragile wife she’s losing her mind, and is an enjoyable melodrama that nevertheless has some genuinely dark moments. Memorably claustrophobic as the virtually imprisoned wife played by Diana Wyngard becomes riddled with doubts about her sanity, it appears to be the source of a term now routinely used online, gaslighting.

The term gaslighting is recognised in psychiatry as an occasional symptom of interpersonal relationships – particular married ones – when one partner seeks to cover their extramarital tracks by infusing their other half with doubt over the alleged infidelity of the guilty party. Mind games between couples have long been familiar to relationship counsellors, but it took until the 1980s and 90s before gaslighting was acknowledged as a potent tool of psychological abuse, dependent upon an unequal power dynamic in which one partner holds the emotional upper hand and therefore has the strength to exacerbate the vulnerability of the other. The dramatic potential of gaslighting has also seen it become a staple storyline of soap operas, bringing the practice to a larger audience – such as in the abusive marriage of Helen Archer to the domineering Rob Tichener in ‘The Archers’ back in 2016.

In the context of relationships, gaslighting is not always the exclusive province of a blatantly wicked cad like the one played by Anton Walbrook in the aforementioned 1940 movie. It can often be a subconscious tactic used by one half of a partnership without necessarily seeking to reduce their partner to borderline psychosis; but it can inadvertently fuel underlying paranoia and doubts that were already present before the relationship even began. When one’s perception of reality is thrown into instability, the impact upon those with an existing grip on reality that could be described as tenuous – those whose relationship ‘rock’ served as the sole seemingly stable factor in their life – can be disastrous. Trust and faith in the sincerity of what people say and do can be a casualty of this infiltration of endless doubt into every discourse so that nothing is what it initially seems anymore.

If we broaden the scope of the term beyond the therapist’s walls, it can encompass any form of manipulation that persuades the manipulated to doubt their perception of a given situation. A type of gaslighting has long been a psychological weapon of warfare used to trash the certainties of the enemy in the righteousness of their mission, and has also been seized upon by totalitarian regimes as a means of controlling a peacetime population. Moreover, there’s no question gaslighting has been utilised during the pandemic to terrify the global masses into compliance. The flurry of misinformation that has permeated both social and mainstream media over the past couple of years has left many not really knowing who to trust or which path to take – pro-vaccination or anti-vaccination, pro-lockdown or anti-lockdown – so that division is rife and divide and rule is able to follow its familiar route in neutralising the prospect of mass disobedience towards the anti-democratic commandments of democratically-elected governments. One only has to look at the example of Australia to see this at its most extreme.

These lessons in gaslighting’s political effectiveness haven’t been lost on gatecrashers either. BLM have done it too – forcing the colour blind to see colour before everything else in a way their absence of prejudice never did until the relentlessly racist ‘anti-racism’ propaganda seeped deep, aided and abetted by utterly uncritical media reporting and endorsement. The imported idea of British society being some imaginary hybrid of Apartheid-era South Africa and an American Confederate State has no connection to reality for most in this country, but the fallacy is slowly becoming embedded in the public’s psyche, sowing division where it had never been before – and inculcating doubt. ‘Am I racist?’ is a question born of such reprehensible gaslighting. The infiltration of corporations and public bodies by the irredeemably toxic Critical Race Theory via compulsory Unconscious Bias Training, not to mention the transformation of the educational system into glorified CRT indoctrination, is breeding a generation convinced this is fact. When nothing is real, anything is.

The beginning of 2020 through to the end of 2021 has seen a traumatised population primed to be ‘triggered’ by gaslighting tactics on the part of both government and ideological movements such as BLM or Extinction Rebellion, and the policy appears to be working. The people of the Western world are now in an abusive relationship with their respective powers-that-be, coerced victims of the former’s gaslighting so that they now react to every ‘crisis’ with panic, hysteria and fear for their safety; compliance and unquestioning obedience seems the only safe option for many who just want an easy life – and that suits the gaslighters. We’ve gone from lockdowns and attendant coronavirus issues such as masks and vaccines to the imagined injustices exploited by BLM to the ongoing climate change apocalypse to rises in energy bills and taxes as well as the sudden shortage of HGV drivers that has in turn led to petrol shortages and empty supermarket shelves. And each has sparked varying degrees of panic. Job done.

Vaccine passports may have been – for the moment – abandoned as a China-style catch-all means of tracking and tracing the movements of the people 24/7, but evidence of one’s jab or non-jab are nonetheless being used by some businesses and institutions. The prospect of under-staffed professions being further depleted because some employees have the temerity to resist state-sanctioned medical intervention and therefore risk dismissal is a real one; and this is a tactic that hasn’t really been used since the Contagious Diseases Act of 1864. That was legislation designed to protect the armed forces from venereal disease, enabling police to arrest women on the suspicion of being prostitutes (mainly in ports and garrison towns) and giving doctors the right to initiate invasive medical examinations that no suspect had the right to resist; at the end of it, she’d be issued with a card certifying whether or not she was clean or unclean, and this would determine whether or not she’d be accepted back into polite society or would be blacklisted forevermore. Sound familiar?

When one thinks of how conditioned the people have become to receiving orders – remember that bizarre period when orders were effectively issued on a daily basis at SAGE press conferences – it’s no wonder those who remain resistant to them and are stubbornly continuing to think for themselves have been demonised. A pliable population successfully persuaded that they’re no more capable of rational independent judgement than a child is bound to react violently to the obstinacy of those who won’t play ball. The fact a ‘show me your papers’ rule has now been passed (albeit by the narrowest of margins) in the People’s Republic of Wales – opposed by every major party bar freedom-loving Labour – could either be an outrageous aberration or a victory for gaslighting that even those of us who fail to see the sensual appeal of sheep should be concerned about.

© The Editor

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DO YOU WANT TO KNOW A SECRET?

The sanctity of the confessional undoubtedly upholds its mystique. Indeed, a clichéd plotline of many a detective drama is the frustrated copper trying to persuade a priest to hint at what was said between him and a suspect, despite the refusal repeatedly stressed by the man of the cloth. For the alleged suspect, knowing there is someone with whom he can share his demons safe in the knowledge the recipient’s lips will be sealed thereafter is evidently a rare comfort. But the confessional is more than merely an over-familiar trope routinely dredged up to embellish works of fiction. To anyone raised outside of the Catholic faith, the confidential confines of the confessional is perhaps one of the Church of Rome’s most alluring and attractive elements, though I appreciate the luxury of choice for non-believers is not necessarily something many chained to tiresome and intrusive religious rituals may view quite so benignly. Many years ago, a friend of mine confronted by a taxing personal dilemma that burdened her with more information than she could handle considered popping into the confessional just to get it all off her chest; but being utterly agnostic meant she too only knew the routine from the movies and bemoaned the fact there wasn’t a secular equivalent available – and an optional one at that.

Although some Anglican branches boasting Anglo-Catholic orientation have a similar set-up, it’s a wonder this particular aspect of Catholicism didn’t become a cornerstone feature of Protestant worship in Britain; it seems especially pertinent to the old British reluctance to wash dirty linen in public. A TV show such as ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ could never have existed half-a-century ago, for example, with the exposure of private family secrets used as a selling point completely alien to the traditional British character; a more fitting version of the programme produced at one time would have been more accurately titled ‘Mind Your Own Bloody Business’. How many of us grew up in families with shadowy figures on the fringes of photos whose names had been consciously forgotten, rumours whispered out of the ear-shot of children, contradictory evidence on clandestine birth certificates, a mysterious absence of a marriage licence and so on? The thought of all that airing on a primetime TV programme was anathema to those sensibilities. Yes, it is certainly an improvement that these secrets apparently can now be said out loud within families, but broadcasting them is still a step too far for some – though a lot seems to depend on which generation one belongs to.

Reading a description of the hotel facilities facing those forced to self-isolate at great expense upon returning to the UK from abroad, the inclusion of a TV set in the tomb – sorry, room – was clearly mentioned because it’s a given the item is as much a necessity as a bed. I haven’t been in a hotel room for a long time, but I can’t imagine a TV set would be much comfort in my confinement; it’d probably make me feel worse, receiving a horrifying premonition of a care home future in which I’m left to vegetate before endless gardening, cookery and antique exercises intended to extend inertia. Raised on seaside holidays in which the B&B boasted a communal ‘television room’ to serve that particular need, the novelty of a set in each individual room wasn’t something I encountered until my first visit to the States in 1980. I actually couldn’t wait to switch on back then, excited to see how different the service was. Looking back, I can see now that the dubious thrill of a hundred channels transmitting 24/7 was a glimpse into what awaited British viewers – as was the content.

One programme that stands out in the memory was so at odds with what I was used to that it almost seemed like a parody. I remember a weak steak of piss with a Gilbert O’Sullivan haircut sat around in a circle with maybe half-a-dozen people who were quite willing to discuss intimate problems and more than willing to burst into tears, leading to the inevitable ‘group hug’. My response to this conspicuous expression of emotions was laughter, but more so discomfort, feeling as though I was eavesdropping on something that I felt should’ve been conducted in private rather than public. It was probably some local PBS channel watched by fewer viewers than the number of people it took to produce the programme, but the apparent benefits those participating appeared to have received from the ‘therapy’ to me were outweighed by the very English threat of ‘everybody knowing their business’. I didn’t see the appeal for either participant or viewer. This was a new strain of television in which the confessional had opened its doors, a dream come true for that urban and suburban bogeyman (and woman), the nosy neighbour.

Previously better known for her small (but effective) role in ‘The Colour Purple’ and soon to become better known for the merry-go-round of her Liz Taylor-like weight loss/weight gain routine, Oprah Winfrey’s day-job was the host of a TV chat show specialising in audience participation. This wasn’t ‘The Generation Game’ or ‘That’s Life’, however; members of the public weren’t present to compare carrots to penises or make fools of themselves on the potter’s wheel; they were there to share things that had previously only been shared with intimate confidants and trusted friends – not only with everyone else in the studio but with millions watching at home. It would’ve been easy to write this off as an alien ‘Americanism’, but the sheer strangeness of such an approach to personal problems naturally gave it a car-crash cachet with British viewers, and British TV decided to have a crack at it.

Suddenly, from the mid-80s onwards, we had ‘Kilroy’ on BBC1 and ‘The Time, The Place’ on ITV. Then we had ‘This Morning with Richard & Judy’, ‘Trisha’, ‘Vanessa’, and probably numerous others long-forgotten in which people were encouraged to confess every sexual or mental hang-up in public. As Brits were making use of extended broadcasting hours by waiving rules on subjects that could and couldn’t be discussed before the watershed, the Americans were taking the format into extreme areas with the grotesque bear-baiting of ‘The Jerry Springer Show’; and, as had happened with the Oprah brand, we copied the format, lowering the bar way beyond anywhere the bar had ever sunk before by installing Jeremy Kyle as the gatekeeper of Bedlam so everyone could poke fun at the freaks. By now, reality television had already shown the narcissist and the exhibitionist that a lack of shame was no impediment to fame and fortune; but running parallel with this was the supposedly more dignified one-on-one interview conducted in earnest tones, a way for established celebrities to beg forgiveness for their misdemeanours and salvage their careers. Every household name from Frank Bough to Michael Barrymore followed in the footsteps of Princess Diana by adopting a faux-reserved manner to confessing their sins in public

Which brings us full circle, to the summit meeting of a woman who could lay claim to instigating this pernicious trend and a man who married his mother; the latter isn’t to be taken literally of course – after all, Jeremy Kyle has now been banished from the small screen; but you know what I mean. Considering areas where this here blog has ventured on occasion, I nevertheless deny it is also a symptom of such a trend. As a writer, I regard myself as operating in a particular tradition whereby the artist informs the art. Every novel has a sizeable slice of the novelist in it, ditto the poem and the poet, ditto the polemic and the polemicist – and I do all three. No cards are being played to elicit sympathy in the process, and there’s a world of difference between self-expression via the written word and holding out the emotional begging-bowl whilst sat in a Californian garden large enough to host gymkhana events. But this is an age in which the cameraman is closer to gynaecologist than priest and the confessional operates an open door policy in the arena of social media.

© The Editor

UNFRIENDLY FIRE

I think this year marks ten since I joined Facebook; after YouTube, it was the first online platform I signed-up for, and I’m pretty sure this happened in 2011. To begin with, what was for me the novelty of Facebook was reflected in the amount of times I used the site. Connecting with people in different parts of the country and indeed different countries altogether was a new sensation at the time, and I’m still in touch with a couple of people in Canada to this day courtesy of FB. Ten years ago, I used to post something at least once every 24 hours and also routinely commented on the posts of others; I was engaged with it in the way some engage with Twitter now. I guess it’s easy to forget how revolutionary having global communication at one’s fingertips for the first time felt; to me, this was like a space-age version of pen-pals. Of course, the initial novelty gradually wore off as my online life expanded to other platforms, and these days I mainly use FB for the messaging – a method of staying in touch with those otherwise unreachable, and I largely avoid public participation. I tend to post something no more than once or twice a month and even then it’ll usually be nothing more than a photograph I came across. I don’t really feel any affinity with many on there anymore, so use it sparingly.

Anyone familiar with Facebook will be equally familiar with the ‘newsfeed’, the section of the platform whereby the posts of those one follows are grouped together in one long scrolling session. Some rarely post at all – which makes their occasional missives worth waiting for – whilst others are serial posters, sometimes guilty of quantity over quality; but it’s possible to filter out ones who can clutter up newsfeed and simply leave the best of the rest. FB newsfeed is a strange place in which the latest fads and fashions of FB Friends sit alongside algorithm-generated suggestions, the majority of which bear no relation to anything I’m remotely interested in but are (I suspect) based on my age and the social demographic FB imagines me to belong to. Newsfeed is also littered with ads for both products and websites tailored towards one’s previous preferences, and ‘liking’ the odd post by a website you’ve never heard of before will immediately lead to an invitation to ‘like’ the FB page of the website, which – if you acquiesce – will then result in that being permanently incorporated into your newsfeed. There are some I honestly have no memory of ‘liking’ at all; but most of these are a quite pleasant distraction amidst the ads for cars I’ll never drive, holiday resorts I’ll never visit and clothes I’ll never wear, so I leave them there.

More often than not, these tend to be animal-related – heroic stories of dogs or cats that survived traumatic situations, and posts by zoos with various exotic beasts that can enliven a two-minute video. Following the horrific fires that engulfed Australia just over a year ago, I must have ‘liked’ a post by a wildlife reserve that cares for and has aided the rehabilitation of displaced koalas, for that has been a regular presence in my newsfeed for months; I’ve always had a soft spot for koalas ever since I briefly owned a stuffed cuddly toy of one as an infant, so that explains it. Even though I’ve yet to check, I do wonder if said posts will now mysteriously vanish from FB in the wake of a unique spat between a nation and the guardians of the big tech galaxy, one which could well be an interesting sign of things to come.

To ‘unfriend’ someone on Facebook was something I did myself once or twice a few years back, often arising from misunderstandings due to the tone of voice not always correctly perceived when written down. One cannot use italics, for example, and genuine sentiment can sometimes be mistaken for sarcasm, depending on the reader’s mood at the moment of reading. But the storms in my cyber teacup were nothing compared to events this week, when FB unfriended an entire country, i.e. Australia. A proposed law to make service providers actually pay for content on their platforms down under has resulted in Facebook taking its ball back. As of Thursday, Aussies logged on to discover the sudden absence of global and local news from FB – immediately impacting upon the approximately 17 million Aussies that use Facebook every month; this abrupt disappearing act also applied to anyone attempting to access any Australian news sites from outside the Southern Hemisphere. However, despite joining FB in condemning the proposed law as something that ‘penalises’ their platforms, Google pre-empted the dramatic move by FB and signed a deal with old Uncle Rupert’s News Corps in which it did indeed agree to pay for content. In one foul swoop, you have the schizophrenic ethics of big tech – Google standing alongside Facebook to criticise a law suggesting they pay for content whilst simultaneously paying for content. Ironically, it seems the one beneficiary of this spat is an organisation rooted in the very industry social media sites have helped bring to its knees.

Whilst most governments give the impression of being at the beck and call of big tech as much as they are beholden to the banks, Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison has taken an intriguing stance, stating that big tech companies might be changing the world, but that doesn’t necessarily equate with them running it. ‘I am in regular contact with the leaders of other nations on these issues,’ he said. ‘We simply won’t be intimidated.’ International condemnation seems to back up the Aussie PM’s response whilst at the same time Western Australia’s Premier Mark McGowan compared the behaviour of Facebook to that of ‘a North Korean dictator’. FB are clearly trying to hit Aussies where it hurts, but are coming across as incredibly petty as well as petulant; they’re not exactly accustomed to not getting their own way. The fact that the FB blackout also included government health sites meant the latest Covid info was no longer available to Australian users, something that was hardly going to win hearts and minds.

The digital cartel monopolising the flow of online information has grown in influence over the past half-decade as older mediums have been sidelined. Naturally, there is envy in the air, but there is also increasing concern that too much power rests in too few hands. Stoking the fear of big tech, Donald Trump heavily hinted this was an issue he’d be dealing with during his expected second term in office; and without wishing to delve into conspiratorial waters, the way in which social media dictated the narrative of the 2020 Presidential Election – the censoring of the Hunter Biden story being a prime example – seemed to suggest a concerted effort on the part of big tech to prevent this from happening. How relieved the digital overlords must be to have a fresh (ish) face in the White House with several former big tech employees on his payroll.

Before Google kowtowed to Murdoch, Australian Senator Rex Patrick attempted to call the bluff of the nation’s dominant search engine by pushing for the change. ‘It’s going to go worldwide,’ he said. ‘Are you going to pull out of every market?’ Interestingly, Microsoft has broken rank by supporting the proposed law, saying ‘The code reasonably attempts to address the bargaining power imbalance between digital platforms and Australian news businesses.’ On the other side of the world, the EU has attempted to give news sites copyright on links that appear on search engines, forcing the latter to pay for the privilege, whilst France has also been trying to tackle the issue. Whether or not any of these efforts will succeed when big tech wields so much clout remains to be seen, but I suppose these all represent the first stirrings of official opposition when there has been so little so far. Perhaps in unfriending an entire country, Facebook has taken cancel culture to an extreme from which retreat is the only way back.

© The Editor

COVIDIOT WIND

When the phrase ‘Crisis? What Crisis?’ was conjured up by the Sun at the height of the Winter of Discontent in 1979, splashed across the front page and capturing the mood of the moment with characteristic simplicity, the headline was deemed so effective that it was revived for a Conservative Party campaign broadcast during the General Election that May – just in case spring memories of January proved to be short. The initial use of the phrase was in response to what was perceived as Prime Minister Jim Callaghan’s cavalier dismissal of the chaos enveloping the country as every public service going appeared to be on strike; it felt to everyone but him as though militant agitators bedded deep within the trade unions were holding the country to ransom, thinking less of their members and fellow working man and more of their own egos and subversive political agenda. The weather was rotten, the people were down and dejected, and the PM was in the Caribbean Paradise of Guadeloupe; he may have been attending a pre-arranged economic summit with other world leaders, but images of Sunny Jim splashing about with bikini-clad photo-bombers whilst the nation shivered in the dark played their part in condemning Labour to 18 years in a less picturesque wilderness.

If the country and its people are going through tough economic times – not to mention experiencing severe privations normally associated with wartime measures – there are always some who imagine they are exempt from restrictions imposed upon the proles. In the case of the luckless Jim Callaghan, he had a legitimate reason for being away and didn’t fly to Guadeloupe to escape the crisis because he thought himself above it; the summit was merely ill-timed from both his and Britain’s point of view. Even the current occupant of Jim’s old abode, for all the justifiable criticism aimed at him, hasn’t broken the ‘we’re all in this together’ mantra in quite the same way; indeed, the fact he himself was struck down by the coronavirus in the early days of the pandemic seemed to emphasise the scale of the contemporary crisis and underlined that power, position and social status were no guarantee of immunisation from infection.

Lockdown Britain bears some of the hallmarks of the Winter of Discontent. There’s the same financial struggle for those at the bottom of the pile, the same sense of a country falling apart at the seams, the same crippling burden carried by those not responsible for its making, and the same dismal feeling of no end in sight – even if where we are now often makes the Winter of Discontent feel like a storm in a chipped 70s teacup. However, it’s not so much leading politicians being regarded as parading their exemption from the worst of the restrictions this time round; after all, if the unions were the authors of 1979, the political class have scripted today’s melodrama and are keen to be seen as practitioners of all they preach. Equally, forget the small minority of rule-breaking ‘Covidiots’ who have become the designated Enemies of the State and convenient scapegoats – they’re no better or worse than wartime spivs; the real Covidiots are those whose inflated sense of entitlement gives them carte-blanche to bypass the restrictions the rest of us are being forced to live under – and only a tiny minority have anything to do with politics.

Over the past ten months, we’ve had several Premier League footballers, the odd pop star, numerous nondescript MPs, Dominic Cummings, Kay Burley, Piers Morgan and – a man who is still mystifyingly being wheeled out by the BBC as an ‘expert’ – Neil ‘massage the Staats’ Ferguson all being exposed as abusers of a soul-destroying system we’ve been subjected to for almost a year. Yes, this is an age when the insufferably sanctimonious and chronically patronising Duke and Duchess of Sussex can issue lectures on privilege from multi-bedroom mansions and private jets; but even they have not so catastrophically misjudged the public mood on this one topic as the so-called social media ‘influencers’, that group of bafflingly famous narcissists and ‘bikini bloggers’ whose mind-boggling online following vastly outweighs their contribution to cultural civilisation. Just as I have never personally found anything remotely interesting about the vacuous trailblazers in this inexplicably popular fad, i.e. Kim Kardashian and her Addams Family clan of Warhol rejects, the appeal of bimbos and himbos posing by pools in ghastly Dubai hotels utterly escapes me. And I don’t believe it’s an age thing either; I’d be just as despairing that people boasting such a frightening absence of talent, creativity and something to say had amassed billions of global disciples if I was seventeen.

Okay, so it’s not uncommon that glamorous escapism is the one industry that flourishes when the world takes a turn for the worst. Hollywood practically invented the trend in the Depression-plagued 30s, and think of the gloomy early 80s, when pop music dressed-up and embraced decadent hedonism as everybody was counting down the days till the Bomb dropped. With the apocalypse narrative now rebranded as Climate Change rather than Cold War, perhaps the emergence of the influencers advertising their frivolous fantasy lifestyles was inevitable when the rest of the internet was hardly brimming over with reasons to be cheerful. The new medium of social media was merely reviving what vintage mediums such as the movies and pop had done when they themselves were young, free and single. As with the Hollywood starlets and exotic pop stars of the past, most of the influencers had come from fairly humble backgrounds and had managed to carve careers despite (in their case) having very little to work with. Although some had their big break on what remains of the reality TV circuit, others were bedroom Bardots, pouting their way to stardom and eventually able to charge between £400 and £20,000 to endorse brands, depending on the size of their following. If their school-leaving alternative was a call centre, who can blame them?

Something has changed now, though. The coronavirus and the lockdowns have impacted on the lives of influencer followers in a way that Global Warming never has; and being bombarded with silly selfies of their restriction-breaking idols still prancing about faraway pools and beaches when the average disciple can’t go to school or university or see friends or family or basically do anything that will make their lives worth living appears to have sparked an influencer backlash. Some of the most prominent have lost thousands of followers – which, to them, is like a company or corporation watching their shares tumble; and even the Government has temporarily stopped blaming its inability to bring down Covid fatalities on the general public and is now pointing an accusatory finger at influencers whose latest jaunt to the sun was falsely claimed to be ‘essential work travel’. The Home Secretary this week attacked influencers for ‘showing off in sunny parts of the world’, and it seems the elevation of footballer Marcus Rashford to a socially-responsible celebrity using his fame to promote something other than conspicuous consumption is in danger of rendering the old-school influencer an irrelevance.

Continuous exposure to doom ‘n’ gloom will naturally spark the yearning for escapism again, but perhaps this decade’s unique strain of doom ‘n’ gloom has served to call time on those who have pedalled their own superficial brand of escapism during Instagram’s brief existence. The next generation of social media-users will maybe find new heroes and heroines, for this is such a young medium in the mass-communication game that trends may well echo what pop music used to do when it was still fresh enough to reinvent itself every four or five years. Jim Callaghan eventually came to recognise he had indeed stepped into a crisis when he flew back from Guadeloupe, but only when it was too late to save his premiership. And it may well be too late for the original influencers as well. How will we manage without them?

© The Editor

TAKING THE NIETZSCHE

When the dawn is delayed to the point whereby doubts begin to circulate that it will ever actually arrive, the tendency to turn to quotations from those who lived through – and commented upon – the unique traumas of their own respective eras often proves irresistible as a means of seeking solace. In an age that is currently facilitating the repetition of history’s worst mistakes by wilfully erasing evidence of them, to disregard the wise words of those whose reflections can shine a new (and simultaneously old) light on where we are now is as foolhardy as it is sinister. Take Friedrich Nietzsche, unfairly tarnished with a posthumous Nazi lionisation that would have appalled him. He may have greeted the New Year with the pessimistic – if prescient – observation, ‘Yesterday, the first day of the year, I looked into the future and trembled. Life is dreadful and hazardous’, but he also issued statements that retain the power to speak to modern ears battered by the cynical newspeak of collectivist propaganda: ‘State is the name of the coldest of all cold monsters. Coldly it lies; and this lie slips from its mouth: “I, the state, am the people”.’

As an assault on a long-corrupted symbol of democracy provoked a level of outrage in contrast with the hypocritical dismissal of the damage done to Washington by Antifa and other assorted anarchists on Inauguration Day four years ago, the latest victor’s wheels are set in motion for vengeance as a rich man’s feud feeds the poor man’s ignorance. The increasingly unhinged Nancy Pelosi failed to eject Trump from the White House with the first impeachment farce, so she has now helped initiate – in the best Nicola Sturgeon/Remoaner tradition – ‘Impeachment 2: This Time it’s Even More Personal’. Sharing a somewhat overcrowded bed with big business and big tech, the Democrats have also applauded the decision by their unelected paymasters to bar the (soon-to-be) ex-President from social media, and the frenzied campaign to eradicate all traces of the loser now even echoes the way in which past pop cultural figures to undergo revisionist demonisation have been edited out of history; apparently, plans are afoot to remove a brief cameo by the Donald in one of the ‘Home Alone’ movies. Personally, I couldn’t care less if the whole film was junked, but that’s just the opinion of a cinema-lover.

Anyway, amidst the undignified grave-dancing, further wise words of Nietzsche spring to mind: ‘He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster.’ The attempt to quash an alternative to Twitter in the shape of Parler – which has unsurprisingly seen a migration by the more fanatical Trump supporters to its libertarian platform – shows how pushing something underground just creates ghettos that ferment disaffection which can then be cited as justification for another bout of cancel culture. Yesterday, Twitter even demonstrated its Harry & Meghan-like absence of self-awareness by criticising the Ugandan Government for issuing an order to its citizens to desist from using social media and messaging apps in the approach to the country’s imminent election. ‘We strongly condemn internet shutdowns,’ declared the statement. ‘They are hugely harmful, violate basic human rights, and the principles of the #OpenInternet’ – unless you offer an alternative to Twitter or happen to be the democratically-elected President of the most powerful nation on Earth, of course; then internet shutdowns are fine.

With Joe Biden already announcing his Identity Politics agenda to prioritise small business-owners on the colour of their skin – what a healing, unifying force this administration will be – a Facebook ‘friend’ of mine (whose pronouncements I keep in my newsfeed solely for the unintentional entertainment value) upheld the persecuted victim narrative so beloved of the lunatic fringe that now dominates the Left with a fresh statement. Or perhaps she was simply responding to another strand of the Project Fear narrative, one propagated by those whose one-time authority has been so damaged by their own arrogance, avarice and hubris that this is what they now resort to in order to reclaim some of the power they once wielded over the people. They can no longer command our respect, so they have to terrify us into obedience – whether equating the Right with fascism led by ‘Literally Hitler’ or generating the belief that the coronavirus is ‘Literally Bubonic Plague’. Anyway, my FB acquaintance expressed solidarity with our American cousins and was ‘scared for my friends, for POC and LGBTQ folks’ – seemingly only scared for those POC & LGBTQ folks who are beholden to an ideology that controls Congress, the Presidency, the mainstream media, social media, academia, Hollywood, publishing, the Arts, sport, and every imaginable institution. Trust me, my dear – the view’s not great from whichever bridge you’re on; but you’ve got some quite considerable clout on your side.

Things could be worse, mind, like back in the UK. With 12 official reasons for now stepping outdoors – a socially-distanced countryside walk with a cuppa and a friend apparently not one of them – the nation’s favourite soothsayer Chris Whitty is here to bring us comfort and joy. He may look like a 1950s ‘Eagle’ comic prediction of how human beings will evolve in the future, but the No.1 medical Mekon has assured us we can all get back to normal…in a few years. Look forward to it. Meanwhile, as Boris cycles beyond the five-mile limit, his Government has sneaked-in a loophole to its eviction armistice when it hoped nobody was looking. The ban on bailiffs turfing tenants out of their homes that was introduced last March may have been moderately extended, but little attention was given to the caveat that entitles landlords to press ahead with evictions of those whose rent hasn’t been paid courtesy of pandemic unemployment.

As a renter who has often had peace and quiet routinely disturbed by inconsiderate arseholes, I was sympathetic to the reasonable rule that enabled landlords to evict tenants in ‘exceptional circumstances’ such as antisocial behaviour; but the rent arrears of a maximum nine months that also made eviction legit regardless of the renters’ behaviour had been modified during the first lockdown to protect tenants who, through no fault of their own, had been made redundant thanks to the Government closing down their place of employment. However, that modification has suddenly been altered so that the protection for tenants whose arrears since last March had not previously been added to the standard nine months has vanished. If a tenant hasn’t been able to pay rent for more than six months, they are now entitled to be added to the expanding roll-call of Britain’s homeless.

With the latest stats showing 127,240 children are trapped in temporary lodgings and 1,440 households with children are marooned in bed & breakfast accommodation, there have been calls for councils to requisition the country’s considerable vacant housing stock via Compulsory Purchase Orders. I suspect the majority of those children aren’t receiving much in the way of online home schooling at the moment; but it’s not as though they’ll grow up to become Prime Minister, is it? The housing crisis was a boil that desperately needed lancing long before anyone had heard of Covid-19, but the economic and social ramifications of a pandemic are not the responsibility of those whose safety net has been abruptly whipped away by a Government that cannot keep a promise.

‘There are no facts,’ said Nietzsche, ‘only interpretations.’ Interpretations of facts are all around us today, and if facts aren’t available, so be it; we’ll just print opinion and pass it off as fact. It’s so difficult to know who to believe and who to trust that it’s inevitable people opt for whichever account fits their existing belief system. And the disseminators of fact know this only too well.

© The Editor

RADIO GROUNDHOG

The temporary removal of Talk Radio’s YouTube channel yesterday could be viewed as something of a storm in a teacup in that it was unsurprisingly reinstated within a matter of hours. Mind you, a station with Rupert Murdoch and the best legal brains money can buy behind it was hardly going to be a permanent absentee online. I’ve never been a listener myself, but I have watched many of the ten-fifteen minute Talk Radio chats on YT in recent months, especially the ones in which TV historian Neil Oliver has revealed himself to be a rare beacon of sound common sense and reasoned, enlightened argument in a sea of fearful conformity and blind acquiescence to the consensus. I definitely would have missed him being given the kind of sensible platform he’d never receive from his principal media employer of the past decade or so had the suspension become permanent. Anyway, Talk Radio has been slapped on the wrist by Silicon Valley and now it’s back, just as though nothing ever happened. But it did.

A radio station that passed all the stringent tests of Ofcom and one that is hardly the home of today’s Lord Haw-Haw’s, Talk Radio has nevertheless insisted on transmitting dissenting voices actually questioning the unimpeachable wisdom of our elected representatives and their pandemic panaceas; and this didn’t find favour with the big tech overlords who are pulling the strings of all western world leaders. Any conspiracy theory involving clandestine organisations plotting a ‘great reset’ should always remember that the men and women fronting the governments of the globe are, on the whole, not exceptionally bright individuals; as with the Hollywood A-listers whose intellectual shortcomings are exposed when they mouth their own lines rather than those written for them by a scriptwriter, our Presidents and Prime Ministers are consummate salespeople for the brand and little more. If there are nefarious figures currently conspiring to reshape the planet so that it runs along lines more conducive to their worldview by inventing a virus that will finally give them the absolute power even Kim Jong-un can only dream of, they ain’t heading any democratically-elected administrations at the moment.

What the abrupt albeit brief absence of Talk Radio from a visual medium that has long-since abandoned its outlaw origins really demonstrates about where we are now is just how intolerant the true powers-that-be are of free speech, free thought and free opinions. Using a company with such financial strength-in-depth to make a token example of was an interesting development that sent out a message to all bedroom ‘influencers’ that nobody is beyond censure in this climate of fear; those who stood up to applaud when renowned rentagob fruitcake Alex Jones was excised from the history books did so in the belief Silicon Valley would only ever single out the most hysterical and intentionally outrageous online critics whilst respecting the rights of the rest to express their concerns without fear of cancellation. Think again. Whilst Talk Radio receives the maximum publicity due to its high-profile status, what of others on the hit-list who can’t command the same viewing figures, those motivated into setting up their own little online operation because there appears to be no other outlet if one has something to say? Who would even know if they vanished overnight, never to be seen again? State your case at your peril if that case doesn’t fall neatly into line with the orthodoxy.

Yes, it could be paranoia and it could even be simple hubris, but I have to admit the practice of ‘shadow banning’ – whereby one’s online output is still there yet is mysteriously no longer visible to the casual browser and non-subscriber – has increased in the past few months to the point whereby I wonder if I myself have been victim to it. Whenever I publish a post on here it automatically appears on my Twitter account, a process that has traditionally resulted in a modest albeit steady supply of likes and re-tweets. However, recent events prompted me into taking a look at the response of my 124 Twitter followers to the Winegum posts on there of late and I realised I hadn’t received a single like or re-tweet since the back end of November – the post titled ‘The Emerald Aisle’. There have been 17 posts since that one (not including this) and none have received any recognition from my Twitter followers whatsoever. Okay, so I have no divine right to receive such endorsements, and one might reasonably assume nothing I’ve written since November has been to the taste of 124 people who had previously been appreciative of my oeuvre; but I can’t honestly believe there’s been any dip in quality or a sudden drop in the variety of subjects that fall under my radar; I genuinely think I’ve continued to do what I do – that is, what regular readers expect and enjoy – and that doesn’t really warrant this overnight absence of interest. Makes you wonder, though, dunnit. If they could suppress an important story regarding the President-elect’s son, they’re hardly going to lose sleep over shadow banning me.

Anyway, I think the timing of the Talk Radio disappearance was particularly relevant, coming as it did on the first day of Lockdown 3, the latest sequel/reboot in a shitty franchise that nobody with half-a-brain wanted. 100 years on from the Prohibition of alcohol, the Prohibition of social interaction goes from strength to strength. As Boris addressed the sufficiently terrified masses, we were encouraged to believe any increase in infections was all our fault and were once again told to stay at home, save lives and protect the NHS – lest the latter found overflowing wards an impediment to TikTok dance routines, naturally. Mind you, it was refreshing to learn one more lockdown zealot had been caught out; this time round it was our favourite human oil-slick Piers Moron, exceeding Kay Burley’s birthday shindig by jetting away from the capital’s Tier 4 Hell to the more relaxed climes of Antigua during the festive season. You may well ask how a hypocrite sleeps at night, but normal rules don’t apply; after all, if they were in possession of a conscience that would immediately disqualify them from being a hypocrite.

Of course, I’m largely focusing on events in England here, for Soviet Scotland and the People’s Republic of Wales are already lost causes behind their own little Iron Curtains. And let us not neglect the fact that another national lockdown south and east of our respective borders is good news for that beleaguered public service which is especially gifted at shooting itself in the foot as it takes the knee. As was pointed out by Triggernometry co-host Konstantin Kisin on Twitter today, we’ve gone from flattening the curve to police demanding the right to smash your door down in less than a year; this was in response to an article in the Grauniad whereby David Jamieson, the West Midlands Police Commissioner, called for power of entry into the homes of suspected lockdown-breakers; the good old Met, never slow to gleefully leap on any passing bandwagon that earns them a few chattering-classes points, has simultaneously claimed it will be ‘more inquisitive’ with people out and about in the capital. You vill show me your papers! All well and good for a constabulary with such an impressive record of always getting the right man and never making a mistake when invading anyone’s personal space in their size nines.

So, school’s out for winter once more – and probably spring and summer as well – and it’s back to online learning for all those middle-class parents with the time and space to enforce it; as for those in the wrong catchment areas, good luck and tough shit. How fortunate we are to live in the age of the goldfish; Boris tells us the tunnel will be illuminated by a glimmer of light sometime around the back end of February and we’re supposed to believe him – just like we were supposed to last year. I have no doubt whatsoever that what six days of 2021 have shown us is essentially a condensed compilation of the entire twelve months ahead of us. I can’t bloody wait, though I must be careful what I say on the subject…

© The Editor

SLIPPERY SLOPES AND SILVER LININGS

Over the past few days, we’ve received two reminders of how societies bereft of basic civil liberties and intolerant of criticism or dissent operate. In Saudi Arabia, the women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul was sentenced to five years and eight months for ‘spying with foreign parties’ and ‘conspiring against the kingdom’. One of the prominent campaigners to demand Saudi women be granted the considerable privilege of putting their feet on a pedal and steering a wheel, she had already been detained for over two years without charge; even though her sentence is to be backdated to her initial detainment in May 2018, her potential early release on parole will come with the caveat of a five-year travel ban and a three-year threat of a return to prison should she be deemed to be committing the same ‘crimes’. Loujain al-Hathloul claims she was tortured and sexually harassed during the period before her sentencing, and whilst her case is an undoubted abuse of human rights, it falls into a familiar middle-eastern tradition that could happen at any time.

A case more pertinent to the unique conditions of 2020 occurred in China when Zhang Zhan, a ‘citizen journalist’ who had posted online critiques of the Chinese Government’s response to the embryonic pandemic in Wuhan earlier this year, was sentenced to four years. Eight whistleblowers have already been punished for criticising how the CCP dealt with events in Wuhan, but Zhang Zhan received a wider audience via her videos and blogs reporting on the situation and challenging the party line. Found guilty of spreading ‘false remarks’ and ‘picking quarrels and provoking trouble’, Zhang has been on hunger strike since June and, following in a proud tradition established over a century ago to treat Suffragettes protesting the same way, she has been force-fed by her captors courtesy of the good old nasal tube. The manner of punishment dished out to both Loujain al-Hathloul and Zhang Zhan should serve as a potent lesson in how a West we are constantly being told is an utterly oppressive place to live has some serious competition for that accolade in other corners of the globe. But maybe our own democratically-elected overlords are the ones learning that lesson.

A government beholden to scientific and medical advisors whose sudden elevation to positions of power has given them carte-blanche to let their fantasy totalitarian blueprints for society run riot is not one any of us should invest our trust in. The general population is not so dim that it can’t calculate the positive effects of the measures introduced to prevent the rise in coronavirus infections that it has endured for the best part of ten months are, at best, minimal. In terms of achieving their overall aim, they just don’t bloody work. If incessant lockdowns, social distancing, the wearing of masks, the cancelling of ordinary social pursuits and the prevention of mingling with family and friends did work, the virus would have been severely downgraded by now – the magic vaccine not withstanding; instead, with the evidence of these policies’ failure all around us, the Government and its motley crew of megalomaniac cranks and quacks are ramping up the restrictions with a dangerous blend of desperation and self-righteousness. Tier 3 wasn’t enough, so Tier 4 came along; and now we’re informed Tier 4 is no good either. How many Tiers does it take to change a light-bulb?

When the public were gearing up to put the restrictions on temporary hold for a few days in order to enjoy Christmas, the ‘mutant strain’ (which had been held in reserve for just such a moment) was suddenly detonated to justify cancelling festivities. How convenient. And, if the latest Tiers produce the same results as all the ones before, who’s to blame for the rising infection rates? Well, not ‘the science’, obviously; no, it’s all the fault of those members of the public who aren’t doing as they’re told, of course. One doesn’t have to venture far into any shopping parade to realise the majority are observing the rules; the idea that the naughty minority disobeying the rules are a big enough section of the population to affect infection rates is laughable, but let’s not let that get in the way of passing the buck and absolving Government and the likes of SAGE from any blame, shall we? Yup, it’s our old default friend, divide and rule again. Point to dying grannies on trolleys in hospital corridors and then point to the nominated guilty parties to neutralise any deviation from the narrative. Question or criticise and you’ve got octogenarian blood on your hands. It’s your fault that new box of Werther’s Original will now never be opened, you sadistic, seditious traitor.

The apocalyptic prophesises of a ‘Covid Catastrophe’ pale next to the grim reality of the ‘Lockdown Catastrophe’, a killer which will have far more catastrophic ramifications for decades if the disastrous approach applied so far isn’t abandoned soon. The Doomsday predictions which repeatedly emanate from that deluded, fantasist clown Neil Ferguson sound more and more like an administration and its crackpot advisors scraping the bottom of a propaganda barrel to legitimise the continuation and strengthening of newfound powers it doesn’t want to relinquish. No, we’re not Saudi Arabia or China – that goes without saying; but where are we going if we stay on this path? Hardly towards a freer democratic society. Look at what we’ve already surrendered without a fight over the last few months, based on the pretext that each sacrifice was for the greater good. This time last year, would any of us have believed the extent of what we’ve given away in 2020? And where the hell will we be this time next year if this situation carries on?

The media lapdogs’ abandonment of their duty to question the wisdom of Government policy in 2020 perhaps reflects the manner in which newspaper proprietors and TV broadcasters have dispensed with their most authoritative and independent voices over the past decade; you can’t move on Fleet Street for the chattering of chickens that have come home to roost in the derelict newsrooms of every once-great paper. If any public service is struggling to cope with the demands placed upon it in the current crisis, chances are it’s because budgets have been annually slashed in a relentless tide of underinvestment that never anticipated a time when it’d be needed again; similarly, don’t expect any media outlet to abruptly regain its long-lost mojo when all the journalists whose talented pens put those outlets on the map have been pensioned off or simply sacked over the last few years. It’s no wonder the MSM response to this situation has been so supine and spineless.

All the most measured, rational, intelligent and eloquent responses this year have been found online. Yes, Twitter has a lot to answer for, but highlighting the worst offenders on social media as evidence that cyberspace is as much a stew of deliberate misinformation, lies and biased bullshit as any medium of older vintage is like holding up ‘Love, Actually’ as evidence that all British cinema is shit. In fact, one cannot but admire the true voices of sanity and reason that have fought for the right to be heard in a climate that has seen big tech try to silence any dissenters that have dared to question the prevailing and suffocating orthodoxy. The mere fact those voices have dared to speak and have made so many isolated individuals genuinely feel they’re not alone in 2020 has been the sole crumb of comfort and sliver of hope for a future that this God-awful year has offered. And, as long as those voices can continue to be heard in 2021, there is hope that twelve months from now we won’t find ourselves living in an offshore suburb of Riyadh or Beijing, bereft of any proof of who we used to be or who we really are.

© The Editor

FAIR-PLAY FOR TODAY

Anyone raised on a Cold War TV diet of ‘Callan’, ‘The Sandbaggers’, or ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’ will have realised early on that one easily identifiable hallmark of the ideological conflict that distinguished Us from Them was the concept of a free press or at least the freedom to express an opinion contrary to the consensus of the ruling class without fear of State censure. Viewing the wrong side of the Iron Curtain from afar, we in the West became accustomed to the consequences facing those from the East who dared to veer from the party line. As a precursor to Vlad’s unique liquidation policy, the likes of exiled Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov was silenced as a critique of his country’s Communist government on the streets of London in 1978, when a poisoned umbrella tip applied to his leg in a bus queue curtailed his broadcasts on the BBC World Service as well as his life. That was an extreme example of the punishment dished out to rebel journalists from totalitarian regimes; if they were lucky, they might get off with a show trial and an indeterminate sentence in a Gulag. Yes, that was one way in which we could draw a clear line between Us and Them. That didn’t happen here.

What’s often forgotten in all this, however, is the clever way in which the powers-that-be of the Eastern Bloc justified their harsh treatment of ‘dissidents’ to their own people. They didn’t just remove prominent figures from the streets and offer no explanation for their abrupt disappearance; they went to the trouble of providing a reason they imagined would suffice, albeit of a kind not dissimilar to how China justifies the mass arrest and imprisonment of Uyghur Muslims in effective concentration camps today; the CCP brands those prisoners undergoing re-education as ‘Radical Islamists’, just as anyone questioning the wisdom of Moscow-sponsored administrations was branded an enemy of the State and a threat to national security back in the day.

Over here, any foolhardy souls contravening the Official Secrets Act could always face severe penalties, but so touchy were the security services during this period that the odd journalist would be plunged into hot water should they say certain things out loud. An infamous 1976 feature in ‘Time Out’ titled ‘The Eavesdroppers’ committed the cardinal sin of actually naming GCHQ at a time when even the existence of MI5 and MI6 was publicly denied; penned by British-based American journalist Mark Hosenball and Brit Duncan Campbell, the furore that followed saw both threatened with deportation on national security grounds, though only Hosenball was successfully forced to leave the country as a result of the article; Campbell instead suffered life under MI5 surveillance. During the Cold War, the ideological battle-lines were clearly drawn between East and West, but the ideological differences of the 21st century are less geographical and tend to share the same uneasy soil.

A Conservative commentator mainly active online – as are many in these days of increasingly partisan current affairs reporting within the MSM – Darren Grimes is not the most obvious candidate that springs to mind whenever one thinks of libertine radicals; but news was announced yesterday that our proudest bastion of fair-play policing, the Met, is investigating Mr Grimes on the grounds of ‘stirring up racial hatred’. I thought they got down on their knees before those guilty of such an offence? I must be mistaken. Anyway, this accusation stems from an infamous interview Grimes conducted with the reliably cantankerous and combative historian David Starkey at the height of BLM protests during the summer.

Already well-known for his outspoken opinions that perhaps often only seem so because everyone else in the public eye is either coached within an inch of their media lives or is mindful of damaging their career prospects, Starkey delights in provoking hostile responses, though even he may have come to regret some of the things said in the Grimes interview – albeit not as much as a star-struck Grimes may now be for not reining Starkey in a little and failing to challenge him once. Starkey’s punishment was to lose academic posts at Canterbury Christ Church University and Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge as well as his publishing contract with HarperCollins, whereas Grimes – who didn’t actually say anything ‘contentious’ during the interview – is now being summoned under caution by the Met to answer for his heinous crimes.

There are far more subtle ways and means of making a valid point about these troubled times than the glib, clumsy approach Starkey chose to take, but it would seem Grimes is more at fault for daring to air the interview warts-and-all. The official Scotland Yard statement reads, ‘On July 4 the Metropolitan Police Service was passed an allegation from Durham Police of a public order offence relating to a social media video posted on June 30. The matter is currently being investigated.’ Grimes’ response? ‘At a time when many in our country are facing uncertainty and financial hardship,’ he said, ‘I cannot imagine a more contemptible way for the Metropolitan Police to abuse taxpayers’ money and the trust of citizen than by investigating this vexatious claim.’

What makes Grimes more vulnerable than he would have been way back when old-school ‘libertines’ invoked the ire of the establishment during the Cold War is that the battle-lines now aren’t between East and West or young and old or even left and right, but between those indoctrinated in the unforgiving segregationist dogma of Identity Politics – which our leading institutions are all completely in thrall to – and those who adhere to the archaic rule of everyone being equal in the eyes of the law. Under normal circumstances, the likes of reactionary posh-boy journo Toby Young would hardly be portrayed as a radical voice, but it’s a measure of how far we’ve moved from genuine fair-play that someone such as Young heads an undoubtedly necessary organisation like the Free Speech Union to intervene on Grimes’ behalf; as Young pointed out, are similar Met investigations being carried out into the Sky News presenter whose interview with rapper Wiley produced several anti-Semitic comments around the same time as the Starkey confrontation that proved so incendiary?

Of course, the establishment has always promoted the interests of the few over the many – usually because the establishment tends to comprise several similar groups sharing the same worldview, usually at odds with that of the many. We merely have a different set of ideological dos and don’ts governing that establishment in 2020 to the ones we had 40 or 50 years ago, and everything from airing common-sense truisms to outright provocation aimed at the establishment’s cherished value system is guaranteed to prompt reprisals in the current climate. It helps the establishment that the divisive polarisation of the culture wars means Darren Grimes will elicit little sympathy or support from those on the other side who, though they may regard themselves as opposed to any form of State censorship, will be extremely flexible if only ‘the enemy’ ever feels the full force of the establishment. But it doesn’t matter where your political allegiances are situated in a scenario such as this; assuming only the Darren Grimes’s of this world are liable for a Met investigation is a naive ostrich approach to what is a worrying and serious threat to free speech in this country. Think they’ll stop at him if they succeed? Dream on – and don’t forget to wear a mask while you do…forever.

© The Editor

HYSTERICAL CONTEXT

Have you heard? It’s in the stars: Next July we collide with Mars. Well, let’s get a move on with that. Puts me in mind of a 1971 ‘Doctor Who’ story in which the Doc’s Timelord nemesis, The Master, invites an alien invader to Earth; the Nestene Intelligence isn’t Martian, but a species that can bring any inanimate object to life as long as it’s plastic. It animates shop-window dummies and uses them to seize power in advance of the invasion with The Master’s assistance. However, at the moment when The Master is poised to finally welcome the alien invader, the Doctor asks The Master if he thinks that once the Nestene Intelligence sets eyes on him, it will instantly distinguish between him and mankind. After all, he doesn’t exactly look very alien. Obviously, the Doctor’s point registers and the invasion is averted. But The Master was playing with fire and labouring under the misapprehension that his obedience would spare him the fate that awaited everyone else – not unlike those on social media who were aghast when the wild animal in their lap suddenly bit them.

Why were Graham Linehan and JK Rowling so surprised? Hadn’t they shamelessly pandered to the Woke consensus? Hadn’t they tried to do the one thing you cannot do with fanatics – appease and please them? Their PC credentials hadn’t guaranteed them the immunity they naively imagined they would and now they’re paying the price as designated un-persons. Both have become targets for the nastiest disciples of the SJW cult – the trans-terrorists. To be honest, it’s hard to be sympathetic. Comedian Leigh Francis of ‘Keith Lemon’ fame made the same mistake a few days ago, apologising for once making people laugh on his early noughties series ‘Bo’ Selecta!’, in which he parodied every celebrity of the day – of all colours and genders; he clearly doesn’t realise the confession-cum-apology demanded still won’t satisfy those he seeks to forgive him. Forgiveness is not an element of the new religion.

In fact, Leigh Francis’s bumbled pre-emptive strike was actually the least nauseating missive launched online in a week that has seen a wave of collective hysteria sweep through the English-speaking world quicker than you can say coronavirus. The faint hope that a global pandemic would put the brakes on the culture wars was to underestimate the width of the polarisation that now exists between the warring factions. Yes, one can cite a certain stir-craziness courtesy of the lockdown, but it hardly excuses the extremities of behaviour on the streets of cities that have absolutely no connection whatsoever with events in Minneapolis. British Police officers who just a few weeks ago were harassing socially-distanced sunbathers and rooting through shopping bags foolishly imagined that submitting to the lunatics now running the asylum would spare them. But adopting a humiliating pose that implied they were about to ask for their hand in marriage didn’t prevent them from being targeted – or even their bloody horses. Again, you cannot appease or please fanatics.

Dancing at Pride marches and making similarly undignified concessions to Instagram culture does not earn Woke Brownie-points when confronted by a toxic brand of politicised anarchy that originated in the US and now sadly has a foothold here. And it has a foothold because the powers-that-be have done nothing to prevent it. Such is the fear of online ostracism after attaching disproportionate volume to the loudest voices on Twitter that inches have been given and miles have been taken, and this weekend saw the inevitable outcome of this spineless compliance. Inaction has opened the door to those whose only cause is chaos. Like the hooligan armies who used to attend football matches simply because they loved a punch-up and didn’t give two shits about the beautiful game, for the worst offenders in London and Bristol the name of George Floyd is nothing more than a convenient buzz-word to hang their intentions on.

A line was crossed in Bristol yesterday. Pause for a moment and think what happened; even if we are coerced into accepting some vague justification on the part of the perpetrators, what happened was the kind of thing we read about in history books when it comes to the streets of British cities, back when we were supposedly more barbaric than we are today. If it happens today, it happens in other countries in specific circumstances. When it happened in Iraq, it was a spontaneous action by people who had just been liberated from a despot; the manifestation of their unleashed relief was directed towards a symbolic monument to the despised dictator who had the blood of their families on his stone hands. That wasn’t the case yesterday. This was a statue to a long-dead local philanthropist whose fortune was derived from a despised historical trade that, lest we forget, the British led the way in abolishing 200 years ago, at a time when it remained a profitable industry. 200 f***ing years ago.

The disturbingly supine attitude towards this by many people I follow on social media, people I otherwise admire, is either a Leigh Francis-like expression of not wanting to be targeted themselves, or it reflects a short-sighted awareness of what it really represents and what it could lead to. Fine if a mob pulls down a symbol of something few could defend, but what happens if they next select a symbol of something you hold dear? Indeed, once these Taliban tactics have succeeded on the streets of one British city, why should they end in Bristol? Some of England’s grandest and most beautiful stately homes were built on the profits of slavery; are they next on the hit-list? So many triggering and problematic publications line the shelves of the nation’s libraries; surely they should be gathered together in a public space and set alight? Now, that would be an anti-fascist gesture!

Name one prominent figure from the past who couldn’t be considered ‘problematic’ if placed in the narrow context of judging everyone and everything through the prism of contemporary discourse; chances are it can’t be done. Indeed, the fast-moving nature of who is and who isn’t acceptable means even characters elevated to icon status this century can be raised and felled in the blink of an eye. Had a statue of Aung San Suu Kyi been erected at the height of her deification, no doubt it would’ve already been pulled down by now – such was the speed of her seamless transition from heroine to villainess. Defacing and vandalising monuments to Churchill or Lincoln is one thing; but when white rich-kids with daddy issues up their game unchallenged, the stakes change considerably. Of course, the shameless applause of the left’s pseudo-intellectuals is no surprise; the far-left foot-soldiers do the dirty work so they can sit back and vicariously celebrate from the comfort of their gated communities. They can wear the slogan of the moment on a T-shirt and write a column about events as they toast the revolution – just like they did with Uncle Joe and Chairman Mao.

The aim of the far-left, of course, is to ‘smash the system’ and sod the rest of us who are just trying to get on with each other; by being able to engage in criminal damage uninterrupted, the provocation aimed at the far-right is blatant. The far-left wants to convince us the far-right is the threat rather than a bunch of hairy-palmed bedroom saddoes playing at being Nazis online; they want to draw them out of their mothers’ houses to engage in the ‘race war’ they so desperately crave to vindicate their narrative. Reinforcing divisions is a hallmark of this regressive movement; and telling one side they are in a perpetual state of oppression whilst telling the other their whiteness is an original sin that must be cleansed is already in danger of becoming perceived wisdom. But naively imagining the mob won’t eventually come for you just because its actions so far chime with your worldview is to play with the proverbial fire; it’s like stroking a tiger and believing it won’t take your hand off because you make a monthly donation to cat charities. Reaping and sowing, eh?

© The Editor

CUMMINGS AND GOINGS

And we’re back to life imitating art imitating life again. Yes, the episode of ‘The Thick of It’ in which feared Downing Street attack-dog Malcolm Tucker is manoeuvred into submitting his involuntary resignation as MPs cowering in the shadows suddenly emerge as fearless critics of the PM’s Rottweiler is currently being restaged for the benefit of bored viewers of rolling news channels. I guess it’s the political equivalent of those struggling theatre companies performing socially-distanced plays online because nobody can go and watch them live anymore. Maybe we can look forward to similar remakes of other classic crisis moments from British political history in order to break-up the relentless tedium of the same story dominating every day’s headlines? Perhaps Boris could commandeer the airwaves and inform us we are now at war with Germany – or he could entreat the public to rejoice at the recapture of Port Stanley.

As has been pointed out several times by various observers, ‘stir crazy’ symptoms seem to be infiltrating public discourse after two months of lockdown and are responsible for an upsurge in hysterical behaviour online. This is quite possible, though it’s difficult to tell from a cursory swipe through the output of our most vociferous tweeters, most of who have simply carried on where they left off with Brexit. Nobody really appears to be acting out of character on Twitter, for those who were already foaming-at-the-mouth fanatics have merely transferred their obsessive manic tendencies from one issue to another; and Piers Morgan never needs much of an excuse to turn his oily countenance a sweaty shade of tomato. Ditto the mainstream media, whose propensity for sensationalism and OTT overreaction has been energised anew by every coronavirus-related development.

MSM scalp-hunters got what they wanted via the story of Neil Ferguson’s not-so clandestine dalliance with his married lover; despite admirably punching above his weight re the lady in question, that particular Government ‘expert’ was forced to fall on his sword when the revelations broke, though perhaps his dodgy track record of widely overestimating the scale of pandemic fatalities should have precluded his hiring in the first place. Several other political figures and experts have also been exposed as purveyors of the ‘do as I say, not as I do’ school of hypocrisy since we entered lockdown, though now that one of the architects of the entire policy has allegedly been caught out, those with scores to settle aren’t even bothering to contain their evident excitement.

Journalists, cultural commentators, Labour MPs and – especially – ex-Ministers sidelined for their Remainer stance are screaming in unison for Dominic Cummings to quit, yet all appear to me to have a pre-existing axe to grind where the PM’s very own Goebbels is concerned; they may be selling themselves as moral spokespeople for the people, though one can’t help but feel they aren’t so much expressing outrage on behalf of Lockdown Britain as relishing having Cummings on the ropes because they dislike him and everything he represents. Fair enough; Dominic Cummings certainly doesn’t come across as a particularly likeable individual and, if the stories are true, he exhibited appalling double standards when the country was being ordered to stay at home and anyone venturing outdoors stood to be confronted by an emboldened Gestapo masquerading as policing-by-consent Bobbies.

It seems odd that a man in Dominic Cummings’s powerful position, who must boast an extremely wide social network, couldn’t have placed his child in the care of someone in London rather than driving all the way up to his parents’ place in County Durham. Lest we forget, this was at a moment when many believed driving no further than the local retail park could risk an encounter with roadblocks and a police approach towards motorists inspired by the kind pioneered by the British Army at the height of The Troubles in Northern Ireland. And, of course, Labour MP Stephen Kinnock was castigated in the right-wing press for making a similarly lengthy journey to visit his own aged parents in Wales around the time Cummings is alleged to have committed his particular crime. Indeed, if events proceeded as the allegations made by the Mirror and the Guardian claim they did, Cummings clearly gives the impression he regards himself as very much part of the political class and therefore doesn’t have to abide by the rules and regulations laid down for the plebs. He’s hardly unique in that case, though; the political class of all colours have repeatedly shown the same attitude for a long time and we didn’t need a lockdown to highlight that. We were never all in it together.

If anyone beyond media bubbles – both mainstream and social – actually gives a flying f**k about this story, the level of their interest would probably be determined by how greatly their life has been disrupted by the lockdown. If they have lost loved ones whose last few precious moments they weren’t able to share due to the restrictions, they’re going to be upset and angry as it is; therefore, excessive media coverage of what Dominic Cummings did or didn’t do – and it being presented as a heinous misdemeanour that spat in the face of a nationwide sacrifice he himself wasn’t prepared to make – then I would imagine they’d be quite pissed off about this, and rightly so. If, on the other hand, they’ve been spared any bereavement and are just fed up with being stuck at home, chances are they’ll simply shrug their shoulders and see Cummings’s actions as one more example of the ‘they all piss in the same pot’ syndrome; their lowly opinion of the political class will merely have been confirmed yet again.

The lockdown itself and the Government message – whether it be ‘stay safe’, ‘stay alert’ or ‘do as you’re told, finish your Frosties and go to bed’ – is undoubtedly undermined by this story and perhaps might just accelerate the end of the whole saga. And there’s an irony of sorts in that those who have adhered to the lockdown with such extreme compliance that they have had their nosy neighbour habits legitimised may well have helped expose the man partly responsible for encouraging their behaviour. Mind you, some of the anonymous snitches in Durham – probably (as tends to be the case where the Grauniad or BBC are concerned) Labour activists on the quiet – did cast doubt on the authenticity of their stories by claiming they recognised the registration plate of the Cummings car; hardly likely when these are always pixelated on TV and nobody outside of the police force can find out the owner of a vehicle from one.

The media is certainly demanding we be outraged by this story, if only because the media itself is. It has fostered the ‘we’re all in it together’ narrative by relentlessly promoting the doorstep clapping and the deification of the NHS; the Government has largely followed where the media has led, and I doubt Boris would be clapping on a weekly basis and allowing the ground-floor windows of No.10 to resemble those of a primary school classroom had not the media established the social mores of the lockdown community spirit. Wicked Mr Cummings spurning those mores when the salt-of-the-earth Great British public have largely done as they were told is consequently punishable by resignation. Failing that, just lift the lockdown.

© The Editor