Remember this moment from Orwell's 1984 and don't let the Tories rewrite history
PUBLISHED: 12:38 16 July 2017
Really Theresa May? Consensus? With the "saboteurs", the "enemies of the people"?
Say what you like about George Orwell, but the man was even-handed in his scorn for political thuggery: having been shot in the throat while fighting as a volunteer against Franco’s fascists in the Spanish Civil War, he then came home and wrote the two most devastating critiques of communism in the English language. Animal Farm masquerades as a kid’s fable but skewers the pious hypocrisy of revolutionary communism, and 1984 (or, more properly, Nineteen Eighty-Four, but who has time to type that out) deals with the nightmarish reality of established totalitarianism in general rather than communist totalitarianism in particular, but there’s no doubt that Stalin’s Russia was its principal inspiration, although if anything the North Korea of the Kim dynasty has come closest to realising the novel’s dystopic vision (as Christopher Hitchens once pointed out, it’s rather as if Kim Il Sung read Orwell’s book and thought “You know, this could WORK...”).
Drawing specious analogies between current political events and plot points from 1984 is rapidly catching up with patriotism as the last refuge of the scoundrel, but there is one moment in the book which keeps coming back to me.
For the benefit of the seven or eight of you who still haven’t read it (and if not, why not? It’s a slender enough tome which you should polish off in a couple of days, and you’ll feel so much more at home in political conversations once you have), the protagonist, Winston Smith, works as a clerk in the labyrinthine Ministry Of Truth, where his job consists not of issuing new statements on behalf of Big Brother’s government but of re-writing previously issued statements and news stories so that the official account of the past always tallies with the present state of affairs.
Britain, satirically re-named Airstrip One, has been absorbed into the vast empire of Oceania (presumably incorporating the USA and Western Europe, although this is never specified) which, when the story begins, is allied with Eastasia (one imagines China, Japan etc.) and locked in unending war with Eurasia (Russia and Eastern Europe, most probably). About two thirds of the way into the novel, something (unseen) changes, Oceania forms a new pact with Eurasia and declares war on Eastasia, causing a mad flurry of activity at the Ministry, not to announce or explain the new allegiances to the population but rather to rewrite all recent history to reflect the new official version of events, namely that Oceania has always been allied with Eurasia and at war with Eastasia.
I’m sure many modern politicians, once in power, have wished they had their own version of Orwell’s Ministry Of Truth. What’s bizarre, to me anyway, is how many of them behave as if they already do.
We saw a great example of this a decade or so ago, as the Iraq War started to putrefy from Swift And Easy Victory (remember the MISSION ACCOMPLISHED banner?) into Unending Quagmire. In the lead up to the war, we were told that the invasion was imperative because of the Terrifying Stockpiles of (altogether now) Weapons of Mass Destruction which Saddam Hussein had absolutely 100% definitely amassed, and was nothing to do with regime change for its own sake. A couple of years, a few hundred dead soldiers and a few thousand dead civilians later, and with no sign of these Weapons of Mass etc., suddenly the invasion was all about regime change and had always been about regime change, because Saddam was a Bad Person, and anyone who pointed out the inconsistency was only doing so because they loved Saddam and wanted to be his boyfriend.
To our collective shame, the bulk of the news media and indeed the population were content with this rewritten history, and bringing up the subject of Weapons of Mass Destruction has been regarded as distasteful since about 2005.
Perhaps it’s with the ease with which that particular scam was pulled off in mind, that our current crop of politicians seem so comfortable telling the most outright whoppers, contradicting their previous statements by 180 degrees even when, in some cases, those previous statements are still hanging in the air. I pointed out a couple of weeks ago that our present shambolic full-speed-ahead course toward Brexit flatly exposes the lie of the reason that was given for calling the recent snap election; that a bigger government majority was necessary to proceed with the Brexit “negotiations”. There is no bigger majority – indeed there is now NO majority – and yet here we are, still proceeding. It was a lie.
Now our (just about) Prime Minister is calling for cross-party and indeed cross-societal help with the preparations for Brexit, insisting that she seeks “the broadest possible consensus” for the project. Really? Consensus? With the “saboteurs”, the “enemies of the people”? Damian Green, the First Secretary of State, says it’s time to move away from the kind of politics where “the two parties sit in trenches and shell each other”. Yes, NOW it is; now the government is out of ammunition.
It’s tempting to throw Donald Trump into this analogous mix, although his habit of contradicting previous statements – indeed sometimes, contradicting a statement he’s actually in the middle of making – seem more to be the result of his own inability to distinguish fact from fiction than any attempt at Orwellian mind control.
You hold in your hands – those of you who buy the print version of The New European rather than subscribe to the online edition – the first “tabloid” (in format only) New European. I’m very glad to be a part of this newspaper; I admired the Quixotic folly of launching a new print publication in an era in which we keep being told that paper news is a doomed medium and I’m delighted that it’s paid off. And there’s one way in which print is still superior to electronic news; it lasts.
The act of rebellion which sets Winston Smith off on his course to fully-fledged “thought criminal” is the decision to keep his own diary; an unsanctioned, uncensored record of events. The official versions would change as Big Brother required, but Winston’s journal would stay the same.
Those of you who are buying the paper edition of this publication, a.) keep doing so and b.) collect them. File them away. Websites can be shut down and wiped from the server; news sites can be amended; the official version of history can be rewritten. But once it’s on paper, in black and white, it’s there forever.
Vince Cable says he thinks it’s entirely possible that Brexit might not happen; a few months ago such sentiment was immediately howled down, but now it’s been met with a curious silence from even the most hardline Brexiteers.
Keep moaning, keep sabotaging, keep shouting.