Tuesday, 23 April 2019

Are we drifting towards being a fascist state?

In the 1930's, the people of Spain, Italy and Germany did not suddenly wake up to find that a coup had suddenly replaced the previous government with a Fascist junta. The process was long, convoluted and the culmination of years of work, forged with international alliances and clever propaganda campaigns. The head of propaganda for the Nazi's was perhaps the first example of the blatant power of dodgy messages to corrupt the soul of a nation. Great Britain proved extraordinarily resistant to such ideologies and manipulations. The British have always been quite content to live and let live, so long as no one bothers us too much. I am not referring to our governments, who are extraordinarily warlike, but this is not really how the people or voters feel. We only support these adventures when the politicians convince us that the other lot are the embodiment of evil. That is why Tony Blair is so loathed. The British public twigged that he conned us.

I believe that one of the reasons the UK was so resistant to such messages was our pub culture. Working men would meet after work, have a few beers and debate the matters of the day over a ciggie and a pint.  People would talk and had a strong sense of community. I believe that the decline of the local pub is no accident. I think it is a deliberate policy of a state that really doesn't feel comfortable with us talking to each other and knowing our neighbours. Once we start talking to each other, we start to understand and recognise the agenda of those people who present the news to us. This was brought home to me two weeks ago when we had a family break in Lisbon. I did something I haven't done for at least a decade. I had a cigarette whilst I watched a band play in a bar. I don't smoke anymore and can't remember the last time I had a cigarette, but everyone else in the bar was smoking, so the need for some nicotine overwhelmed me. I haven't had another since, but it was gloriously liberating to be able to do it and not get the skunk eye from all around. I know all the health arguments, but we seem to have given up on the concept that adults can make their own choices, even if they are bad for the individual. What was also nice was the way we got chatting to the people sitting around us. I can't remember the last time that happened in London, but it certainly used to happen when I was a teenager.

As the week went by, I saw more and more contrasts between Portuguese society and Great Britain. Here, it seems that there is nothing we can do without petty rules. This was brought home in a most surprising way. As a Roman Catholic, I attend mass every week. In the newsletter for Palm Sunday, there was a seemingly endless list of rules for people attending Easter masses. It included "Don't turn up early and save seats for other people", "Don't use your mobile phone in church", "follow the directions of stewards at all times" and "when the church is full you won't be allowed in". I couldn't help think of the feeding of the 5,000. I wonder what health and safety announcements Jesus made? I don't recall the bit where he said "Only one bit of bread each, don't save any kippers for your granny and if you turn up late you can sod off".

On Sunday night, we went to the London International Ska Festival. The tube and the trains were a constant barrage of things you can't do, as we waited on an almost deserted platform at Mill Hill Broadway. There were two safety announcements. One was to tell a bloke at the end of the platform standing on his own, in the open air, breathing in fumes from the adjacent M1 motorway to stop smoking. The other was to stand away from the side of the platform to allow a train to pass. We have turned into a nation of snitches. Diane Abbott was taunted on Social media for having a cheeky slurp of a Mojito. I wonder how the right wing commentators would have dealt with it had it been Boris or Farage? Of course we know what the outrage from the left would be. Personally I couldn't give a stuff if people drink on the tube, so long as they don't annoy other people and they take their mess with them. Much of what is described as anti social behaviour is nothing of the sort (whilst often real anti social behaviour is completely ignored).

This whole rule based culture is to me a precursor for something far more dangerous. When you remove a persons right to make choices for a very debatable greater good, you have taken the first rung on the ladder to fascism. The limits on free speech today are far more rigorous than they've ever been in the UK. Footballers and Rugby players are pilloried and dropped for expressing archaic and outdated views of sexuality. I do not agree with what has been said, but I worry that by stifling debate, people who hold such views will simply not state them publicly, whilst still being bigots. A refrain I hear more and more regularly in pubs and clubs is that "you can't say anything these days". Generally the views that people who say this hold are pretty offensive, but does that mean we shouldn't be allowed to hear them? If you read the bible and many other Holy books they are full of statements that Rugby players can't repeat in public. If we prevent public debate of such views, my concern is that they go unchallenged. I remember years ago, there was a huge furore about Nick Griffin, leader of the BNP appearing on BBC question time. As it turned out, he was exposed for the fool and buffoon he really was. The statements he made, that he expected to resonate with the British public, were met with derision. Far from giving him a platform to increase the profile of the BNP, they became laughing stock. The same should be true for ill informed young Rugby players. The argument of bigots always fall when subjected to scrutiny. For me, the way to deal with such bigotry is not to silence people. It is to give them the opportunity to debate their opinions and see what the effects of such views are.

This was explained to me many years ago by a Gay CofE vicar. Like the young Rugby players, I had been brought up with a very black and white view of life. A former guitarist of the False Dots was in a relationship with "John the Vicar". After one rehearsal, John turned up for a few beers. I asked him if he felt that his sexuality was compatible with his job.  John explained that argument that God doesn't want people to engage in same sex relationships does not take account of the fact that God makes some people attracted to people of the same sex. John explained that a compassionate God would not  wish to subject anyone to a life of misery and loneliness. Any committed Christian must surely believe that God doesn't make mistakes, so when God sets someones sexual orientation, clearly that has been done as part of Gods plan. John then explained all of the things he'd done in the last week for the community and asked if I felt he was doing Gods will. He'd comforted widows and people dying of cancer, he'd baptised a baby, he'd conducted a funeral and he'd distributed food to homeless people. Did I feel he was Christian enough? Did I feel that God would approve? When challenged with a polite,  reasoned and logical argument. That is how we should deal with young men with silly views.

I I may be alone in this, but I actually find the hollow apologies, drafted by PR people to protect the brand and assets of a rugby club, to be far more offensive than the fact that a young man is a bit immature and ill informed. I simply don't believe that young rugby players making silly statements on social media have the life experience to give an informed view, and rather than being pilloried, people should understand that young people sometimes have ill informed views and be a little less judgemental. I fear there is a wider narrative in all of this. Social media is sadly a very powerful medium for bullying. I know of at least one young person who has committed suicide following a social media hate campaign. We have to be mindful of this when we criticise young people who have been stupid.

Of course I have sympathy with anyone offended by the pronouncements of ill informed people they don't know on social media feeds they probably weren't following, but I find many things in the The Sun far more dangerous and offensive. Personally I find it impossible to understand how the domestic news media can be controlled by people who are not British and who have  vested interest in simply keeping the UK as a place they can make pots of money and take it off shore as soon as humanly possible.

These media moguls control papers that have a very xenophobic and populist agenda and champions the likes of Nigel Farage, a man who has failed in every attempt to get elected to Parliament. They demonise immigrants and refugees, promote parties that follow nationalist agendas and pillory anyone who they perceive as fair game that disagrees with their agenda. When Nigel Farage has a crafty ciggie and a pint it's fine. When Diane Abbot slurps a Mojito it isn't.

When you put all of this together, it is a pretty scary picture. Our society is being weaned away from being allowed to make personal decisions. We are being forced to think in an ever more conformist way. Social media has become both corrosive and liberating. It gives a voice to anyone, but it also opens the door to mob rule. Our media is controlled by people who have no vested interest in the future of the UK and who support some rather extreme people on the fringes of the political scene. I am getting more and more concerned that we are drifting towards a fascist state. We are not there at the moment, but the more I look at it, the more I see the dots starting to be joined up.

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