England Stay England | Bluebeard
As I write, highly technical human beings are searching social media platforms trying to cancel me. Middle aged women are being rounded up by power hungry police officers mid tete-e-tete. Jack awaits us all.
You might recognise or find the above statement strikes a chord. Indeed, I hope it would. Given the current peril we find ourselves in at the moment, it is obvious to me that not enough people in England, or the world for that matter, know the origin, work and author. The statement above is one I have reworded from the opening line of the famous George Orwell Essay, England Your England, written to define and to defend British culture in the midst of the Blitz in January 1941. A time when, in the face of a brutal onslaught from Hermann Goering’s led Luftwaffe, German victory in Europe looked propitious and British culture would cease to exist. For the point of reference, the original line reads: “As I write, highly civilised human beings are flying overhead trying to kill me”
In my opinion, this is not only the greatest line from Orwell`s collection of work, but possibly the greatest line ever written. In that one line, in fourteen words, it does everything the essay aims to do: steelman the English character. Nothing is quite as quintessentially English as to sit down at a desk with a typewriter whilst bombs rain down around you. Is there anything more, keep calm and carry on, you are able to think of?
The reason I am writing about Orwell and England your England, is three-fold. Firstly, because like then, I believe British culture, England and democracy the world over are genuinely under threat. Both mankind and democracy are on a precipice. The next twelve months will be vital in determining the direction of our future.
Secondly, the famous essay is approaching its 80th birthday, published on January 19th, 1941.
Finally, similar to the point above, we are approaching the anniversary of Orwell’s death, having died on January 21st, 1950. And whilst a 71st year death anniversary is of no real significance; it is mightily coincidental that a Big Brother-esk character by the name of Jack Dorsey should be wielding such tyrannical power as we approach such significant dates in the Godfather of Dystopia`s life.
Opponents may snigger and claim this polemic against the modern world as hyperbolic. Some may claim that it is wrong to compare the current democratic crisis, and it is a crisis, with the events in Europe some 80 years ago. I was recently challenged online for equating the two. It is a thankless task to justify the comparison online against an opponent who is high on morality and unwilling to think. It is only from a place of extreme solipsism that someone could argue we are not in a similar position. The most simplistic and, in my opinion, cheap way to refute the claim is to point to the Holocaust. Of which, it must be stressed I am not playing down the scale of the crimes involved. It must, however, be stressed that right now, this very second, certainly thousands but potentially millions of Uighur Muslims are held captive in concentration camps, prisoners of the murderous Chinese Dictator, Xi Jinping.
What is happening in China right now makes it not only acceptable to compare the two, but to conclude that the crisis we face today is actually worse. In 1941, the world shared a collective outrage and were unified against Hitler, and when the horrors of the Holocaust were uncovered as the Allied Forces prevailed, the world united in promise that such events would never happen again. In today’s dystopia, the Chinese Communist Party ostentatiously Tweet about their Uighur ‘re-education’ camps. No longer do they make the effort to perform the crimes clandestinely. After all they wield the most powerful weapon today, economics.
Neville Chamberlain, the former British Prime Minister who in 1938 signed the Munich Agreement with Hitler, is largely discredited in the modern day for doing for so. His only defence remains that he could not foresee the horrors that would follow. That he could not see the evil stood before him. History has been kinder to Chamberlain than perhaps it ought to be. Orwell himself defended Chamberlain in England Your England, albeit with the most backhanded of defences, “Rather than selling England to Hitler, it is far more likely that he is merely a silly old man doing his best according to his very dim lights.”
It is worth pointing out that there would be no defence of Chamberlain if he would have stayed on as Prime Minster and agreed to some form of peace pact with Hitler some years later, when the true horrors of the Reich were exposed. It is, therefore, troubling to see that not only are the Chinese Communist Party emboldened to Tweet with openness of their modern-day concentration camps, that the European Union, an institution that is obsessively praised for its supposed progressiveness, would be prepared to enter an investment and trade deal with such a country. Of that there can be no defence. The world should be unified against the crimes of China, instead, the European Union would rather chase a transient boost in GDP than stand up again the heinous crimes of the world’s new superpower. What is worse, the European Union are further arming China with economic power. I do not possess a lexicon expansive enough to fully articulate my feelings towards the European Union in light of their trade deal with China. All I will say, is that it is a treason against mankind.
It would be unfair to point only to the European Union. There is not a week goes by where a story does not appear of the UK or another such country buying products from China and is in some way or other funding the crimes against the Uyghur population. And I am sure that some parts of the World will be looking at the European Union and China`s deal with envy hoping to replicate it in the future.
It is not so obvious today what should or can be done. Or who is the enemy for that matter. Which was not the case in 1941. The objective at the time of England Your England, was to defeat Nazi Germany, Italy and Japan, and free the people and places they had annexed and enslaved. In 1941, it was also obvious what England and Englishness meant. Summed up by the famous passage.
“What can England of the 1940 have in common with the England of the 1840? But then, what do you have in common with the child of five whose photograph your mother keeps on the mantlepiece? Nothing, except that you happen to be the same person”
It fills me with sadness to state that the photograph your mother keeps on the mantlepiece is not of you. The England of 2021 is not the same as the England of 1941, or it doesn’t appear so.
The England of 1941 would not create a hotline for neighbours to inform on each other.
The England of 1941 would not outlaw the right to assembly.
The England of 1941 would not empower the police to enter your home without a warrant.
The England of 1941 would not succumb to media manipulation and hysteria.
It is simply un-English.
Made worse is our situation that we have perhaps the most incompetent Prime Minster since, dare I say, Chamberlain. And the Leader of the Opposition is sadly a great deal worse. The England of 1941 was blessed with three of the greatest Englishmen there has been, Churchill, Attlee and, of course, Orwell. Let us forget the coronavirus restrictions for a moment, which I accept a great deal of people think are necessary. Let us focus on big tech. Our insouciant Prime Minster did and said nothing when YouTube removed Talk-Radio, a British Broadcaster, from their platform. The action was quite clearly an attack on British Free Press, a cornerstone of British Democracy. You would think the Prime Minister could at least muster a polemic against YouTube? The former leader of the Labour Party, Michael Foot, once gave a rousing speech in the House of Commons against the state-imposed samizdat of the Daily Worker. One could only imagine Foot, who is unfairly maligned by English history, and how he would respond to such censorship and the threat big tech poses to democracy was he around today.
It is not the first time the Prime Minister has been left wanting when England needed someone to stand up for and protect democracy. Last year a journalist by the name of Darren Grimes was interviewed under caution by the police for conducting an interview with someone who claimed, “slavery was not genocide”. I am no particular fan of Grimes and he should have challenged the claim. But the decision for the police to become involved and interview not the person who made the claim, but the interviewer, borders on the criminal in itself. And most importantly, a clear attack on free speech and democracy. The Prime Minister was again silent, and if he did say anything it was not worth remembering. Unsurprisingly, the dreadful Leader of the Opposition defended the police and said he agreed with the action.
It may be and probably is too late for any single leader to stop big tech. I wrote back in August that Jack Dorsey, Twitter CEO, was the World Dictator, The claim, which at the time was probably considered frivolous hyperbole, is now undeniably true. In removing the President of the United States from his preferred method of communication, Dorsey showed his thirst for power has no limits. There are the those who frivolously point out that Twitter has a censoring policy and has the right to remove people. This is a weak argument and would only be valid if Twitter applied its rules fairly and equally. The Chinese Communist Party, who ostensibly Tweet about the success of their re-education camps have not been removed. The Ayatollah of Iran`s Twitter account is still active. Twitter has no problem with re-education camps or dictators with the worst human rights abuses. But Donald Trump and Talk Radio have to go. This McCarthyite, neo-samizdat by big tech is the biggest threat to global democracy and is altering society beyond recognition. It cannot just be a few of us who realise that if big tech has the power to control information available and organise our platforms in ways of their choosing, they can select every leader in the quasi-free world and thus, democracy will cease to exist?
I wanted to avoid talking about the coronavirus and the state enforced societal restrictions, but they are too relevant to not discuss. I accept that I am in a minority in that I believe lockdowns are an encroachment on our civil liberties and whilst coronavirus is most definitely real, the lesser of the two evils is to maintain a free society. That is before we discuss any such trade-offs with the economy, cancer deaths, mental health etc…
I never knew so many of us English are partial to the utopian vision and do not or cannot see its limitations. With this I am talking about the swathes of people I speak to who inform me that they agree with the restrictions, think we ought to have some liberty taken, but disagree with one or two of the measures (that coincidentally are the measures that impact them the most). Or the types who claim to agree with the measures, however, have issues with the way they are enforced. I cannot work out whether this is naivety, solipsism or even sadism. One of the greatest limitations of authoritarianism is that once in action, people have little say in the direction or boundaries. A defence of this kind, to say I want X and Y but not Z, is akin to the defenders of communism who claim that if only Stalin would have stopped before he sent people off to labour camps, it would have been a success (which is of course still an outrageously wrong claim).
We can debate the evidence for measures and morality of outcomes, for which I believe the case for maintaining individual liberty still comes out on top. But I will just say, the reaction to the Coronavirus: the rolling death count, the restriction of liberty, the wild forecasting, the manipulation of data and worst of all, the new advice from the CMO to suspect everyone has the virus. That is really the language and tactics of the totalitarian and like the reactions noted above, is quite frankly, un-English.
England Your England is a true masterpiece and is as important today as it ever was. How we need the kind of Orwell today. Before I leave you with a passage from the final chapter of the essay, I ask you to do one thing.
Remember that you are and will always be English. The world has never needed us and England so much.
“In whatever shape England emerges from the war it will be deeply tinged with the characteristics I spoke of earlier. The intellectuals that hope to see it Russianized or Germanized will be disappointed”.England Your England, George Orwell, January 19th, 1941