The state of the nation as 2021 draws to a close depends very much on whether you happen to be considering history or geography. In historical terms, there is no doubt that Britain is in a most calamitous state. It has never endured a weaker, more incompetent, more corrupt government. The Prime Minister is an empty, sociopathic charlatan who has carefully selected a Cabinet so atrociously talentless that they make him appear able by comparison. The Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition has apparently altered his job description to “The Follower of Her Majesty’s Complicity. To call him a stuffed shirt would be an effusive compliment. There is not a single senior figure in British public life who is tolerable, let alone admirable. Every single institution; the House of Commons, the House of Lords, the courts, the police force, the scientific and medical establishment, the BBC and the rest of the legacy media, is rotten beyond redemption. The known rules of ancient liberty are no longer generally known, let alone observed. The Barbarians are on both sides of the gates, and Odoacer climbs the steps up to the throne.
In geographical terms, however, we are doing rather well. If you live in England, it means that you do not live in Scotland or Wales, which is already a bonus, since the grotesque Nicola Sturgeon and the appalling Mark Drakeford make Boris Johnson look almost human. And if you live anywhere in Britain, you are at least comparatively fortunate not to live in France or Austria or Germany or New Zealand or Australia or Canada or some other full-fledged dystopia run by an efficient clued-up Nazi instead of the brainless scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz (who happens, in this particular case, also to be as heartless as the tin man and as cowardly as the lion). In many superficial ways, Britain appears to have improved. There are still any number of fussy little notices and obtrusive announcements telling you to swaddle your face with a bacteria trap, but however many times London Transport tells you that “You must wear a face covering… unless you’d really rather not” most commuters seem unimpressed by these verbal acrobatics. It would be all too easy, if you were not paying attention, to surmise that the country is free again, and nothing has really changed.
I fear that this is an illusion, and one in which it is terribly tempting to participate, since doing so involves only behaving as we all do from time to time as a simple matter of self-preservation. For the sake of one’s own sanity, it is imperative to ignore the content of the continual ugly threats and insults that emanate in an ever-rolling stream from our atrocious government. Yet it is all too easy also to ignore the existence of these threats and insults. I have been doing so myself. My friends are not, on the whole, political animals. They would rather discuss books and music and art and travel and a thousand other things than lower themselves to the sordid, grubby, tedious depths of political life. If you have a choice, at the beginning of your day, between filling it with joy and beauty or concentrating on hatred and anger, which do you choose? I hate politics, and I hate politicians. I wish they would get on with their vote-grubbing and their thieving and their petty squabbling and leave me alone. Experience, however, tells me that they will not. The type of people who seek power, and who are prepared to lie and flatter and backstab their way to it over decades of ignominy are not likely to leave their better-adjusted fellow citizens in peace. They love power as we love freedom and, as Hazlitt observes, the love of liberty is the love of others; while the love of power is the love of ourselves. The great trick of the last two years has been that the most selfish people in the world have managed to make it appear that the desire to live a normal life, unmolested by them, is a sign of egocentrism.
We do not yet directly face the fascism that, once again, sweeps through Austria and Germany, but we are continually threatened with it. The Prime Minister and the Health Secretary bleat about doing this or that so that they do not have to “cancel Christmas”, as though Christmas were a gift from the government, which they had the power to withhold at will. If they do attempt to impose restrictions on the celebration of Christmas, of course, it will be the duty of every patriotic citizen to ignore their Cromwellian nonsense, letting joy, friendship, overconsumption, riotous merriment, and bibulous excess be unconfined. Meanwhile, much as I would like to pretend that the forces of darkness do not exist, and are not continually threatening to unleash gales of misery upon the populace, they do and they are.
This is no time for civility in politics. Members of Parliament cynically manipulated the press coverage around the death of Sir David Amess to suggest that he died of hurt feelings in a Twitter storm. I would love to see politicians behave with more civility, but until they do so, I consider it merely slavish to be civil to them. I still send abusive messages to my Member of Parliament occasionally, along with similar diatribes to an eclectic selection of other dishonourable members and ministers. I do not suppose they read my messages. I doubt many of them can read, but I assume that at least a few of them can count, and will therefore notice when they get more angry missives than usual.
Most recently, I have had to take Sajid Javid to task, and complain to the DHSC about his conduct, when he answered a voter’s query about mixing different vaccines with a brusque “So what?” and then told him to respect the NHS. Javid and other public servants have entirely forgotten their role, or perhaps it is more accurate to say that they are seeking a new one, something more feudal than democratic. Mark Drakeford, who seldom stops screeching at the people of Wales that they must wear muzzles or die horribly, was photographed recently waddling round a crowded Diwali celebration without such a face covering. I am willing to believe that Mark Drakeford is astonishingly stupid. If told that he had lost a battle of wits with a plate of mashed potato, I would accept the information without demur. Even he, however, cannot have failed to notice that there were quite a lot of cameras at this event. The footage I saw showed various other cameras rolling within it. Given that he knew he would be photographed doing exactly the thing he is always telling everyone they must not do, it is clear that he intended to send a very clear message to the people of Wales. That message ran as follows:
“You are worthless peasants, who must show your devotion to the Cult of Covid, and to me, its High Druid, by wearing soggy nappies over your mouths. This is nothing to do with health, it is a symbol of submission. I, in sharp contrast, am a proud and preening Drakeford, husband of several Duckfords and father of many Ducklingfords. I have no need of a mouth nappy. I parade my hideous phizog as flagrantly as I like before the unfortunate Hindu community of Wales.”
Drakeford, like Javid, believes he can insult the people he is supposed to be serving with impunity. Boris Johnson did the same when he tried to make a joke of locking people up in his conference speech. Dominic Raaaaaab showed an identical attitude when he announced that he thought it acceptable to trick and bully the British people into accepting the vaccine. This contempt and hatred has not, for the moment, boiled over into the outright fascism we see in other countries, but, unless we ensure that we give politicians a good kicking now and then, it will only be a matter of time.
W.H. Auden pointed out that verbal incoherence is the characteristic failing of tyranny. As he put it:
The Ogre does what ogres can, Deeds quite impossible for Man, But one prize is beyond his reach: The Ogre cannot master speech. About a subjugated plain, Among its desperate and slain, The Ogre stalks with hands on hips, While drivel gushes from his lips.
One might go further, as Orwell did, and remark that the sheer verbal infelicity of our politicians is intentional. They are ugly and thuggish in the way they address the people, because they want to have a demoralising effect, making us believe that we deserve no better than discourtesy and jeering. Sajid Javid, let us remember, inflicts his vile manners on those who have meekly accepted three doses of the vaccine. Anyone who does not do so is routinely smeared as an “anti-vaxxer” whatever their views on vaccines in general happen to be. The fully-vaccinated who refuse to accept the principle of vaccine passports are the subject of similar outrage and opprobrium. These sneers and smears, as is so often the case in abusive relationships, are the harbingers of the physical violence which has already overtaken continental Europe, and threatens us next, if we do not make it very clear how determined we are to fight back.