SLOW DEATH OF FREEDOM
WHEN I look at today’s Britain, everything I was brought up to honour seems to be going through a strangulated death throe. It breaks my heart. When in the UK, I am happiest in those small communities in rural areas, that seem to be little changed.
Such communities are manifestly still the Britain I was born into – just. Places where the vast majority still hold onto a shared belief in our long-established culture of tolerance and freedom of speech and are not afraid to say so, but sadly, only these days in whispers, for such is the atmosphere of intimidation and enforced conformity that now prevails across the UK. Silent fear of what we say is the order of the day.
You might be tolerant of other religious traditions to your own, but harbour a silent fear that large parts of your own country now have more culturally in common with Islamabad than they do with you. You can think it all you like, but God help you if you say so.
You might not be racist, but if you relate such purely cultural concerns you will be branded as such. Utter the wrong phrase, speak the wrong word and bang goes your job. You will be “cancelled” or “no-platformed”, even in UK’s great universities, once the heartland of heated debate and consequent learning.
If such a climate of neutered, intellectual conformity had prevailed in Charles Darwin’s day (1809-1882) we would still believe we are all descended from Adam and Eve and that women especially should lay off the apples! In the now reviled words of Enoch Powell, “it is like watching a nation build its own funeral pyre”. Agree with that or not, as you wish, but his words have proved sadly prophetic for many.
The pyre is not only built, it is burning furiously. The flames lick at the base of our very being. The examples are all around us. Lord Nelson? Hero of the Nile, victor of Trafalgar, saviour of Britain from the dictatorial Napoleon? Think again folks. Even the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, home of Nelson’s bloodstained Trafalgar coat, is “reviewing his heroic status”. Pardon? How different would Britain be if Nelson hadn’t prevailed? How different would Europe be? I dare not think.
The recent experience of the rightly admired Sir David Attenborough has provided yet another example of wilful manipulation of British tradition. Recently elevated to a second knighthood, as a Knight of the Order of St. Michael and St. George, he could not do so without changes to the normally awarded insignia, which showed St. George slaying, not a dragon, but a dark-coloured, winged devil. The new insignia shows a winged white man being put to death instead (so that’s OK is it?) just to avoid some dimwit thinking George is killing a “black” man! It isn’t a man of any kind. It’s the Devil, for God’s sake. If this isn’t pure madness incarnate, I don’t know what is.
Then we have the case of Darren Grimes, political pundit and journalist. He is the man who interviewed Dr Richard Starkey, historian and undoubted right-wing maverick, who, it has to be said, is not everybody’s cup of tea. Dr Starkey’s comments about “slavery not being genocide” led to him losing his university appointments and publishing deals, despite him issuing an uncharacteristic apology. More than enough punishment, I would have thought, for one or two ill-chosen, supplementary words.
You would think that would be the end of the matter. Afraid not. Now Darren Grimes, as publisher of the podcast interview, is being investigated (wait for it) by the police, to see whether he is guilty of “inciting racial hatred”. So not only can you now be punished for saying what you think, it appears UK journalists can be investigated for words uttered by whoever they interview! For me, it is beyond belief. Apparently not anymore. If this isn’t a direct threat to freedom of speech and the right to freely report, then I’d like to know what is. The UK is sleepwalking into a police state mentality.
In Nazi Germany, occupied Europe and Vichy France, people were actively encouraged by the Nazi state to report their neighbours for belonging to the Resistance, being Jewish, harbouring British airmen, listening to the BBC or saying something unpleasant about Hitler or Petain. Grudges held against neighbours too often led to thousands of unjustified “denouncements”. Serious as the threat of Covid-19 may be, couldn’t the British government encouraging people to “rat” on their neighbours, for having seven people round for dinner instead of six, be the first step on a very similar slippery slope? It’s a thought isn’t it? To my mind, a quiet, friendly word in the ear of the neighbour would be a far more sensible approach, and if you haven’t the guts to do that, then shut up. I’m no fan of Jeremy Corbyn, but even I had sympathy when he was recently fined for having too many guests around his dining table. He was unwise, that’s all (no surprise there). To me, the state reaction is simply disproportionate (like much of modern life).
Whatever I write in this column, I do not expect everyone to agree (this article will be no exception), indeed, I would be alarmed if they did. My only intention is to stimulate thought and debate. I don’t care however personal or angry any dissent from my views are. I am definitely not “offended”. I believe everyone should be free to say openly what they think. Others should have the right to fiercely disagree if they wish. I would be the first to spring to the defence of their right to do so. That is what freedom is all about (or it used to be). Make certain views unacceptable, or worse still, illegal, and the freedoms we have taken for granted all our lives, no longer exist.
Britain is well down that road and you can bet your life I will rebel against it with all the energy I can muster, to my dying day. Remembrance Sunday is almost upon us again. On that day, we rightly honour those who died in defence of those freedoms. Make sure they didn’t die in vain. As things stand, they might well have done.