Beaker in the bunker: The paranoid style in British right-wing journalism

Right-wing columnists need this forever war and will conjure up as many spectral enemies as they can to keep it going.

I thought Simon Heffer — imagine Beaker from The Muppets raised on the rich and poisonous treacle of Thatcherism instead of Sesame Street sociability — had written his most unhinged column of the week when he penned a paean to the majesty of pre-decimalisation money, arguing that everything had turned to shit once we stopped having to use the 12 times table in every transaction.

But I was a fool, a boob, a dolt to underestimate the sheer zealotry of a man who makes Mr Toad in Wind In The Willows seem like a reasonable chap.

Heffer, one of the most shocking of the Telegraph’s culture war shock troops, has been returned to the front to run in a crazed pattern across no man’s land.
“I suppose they’ll want to rename that no person’s land next,” chunters the horrifying Heffer spectre in my head.

Under the headline, The ‘heritage summit’ will be British culture’s last stand against woke zealotry, Heffer howls:

Perhaps it is because Covid has been so much on its mind that the Government has been so insipid and retroactive in its response to the ‘cancel culture’ that has contaminated our society since the killing of George Floyd in May last year. The inexcusable death of this man at the hands of an American police force became the excuse for a small minority of highly vocal activists in this country to impose their ahistorical view of Britain’s past on everyone else and to act in a proscriptive and intolerant fashion towards any aspect of that past — and there are many — that causes them offence.

So it is a sign of grace that Oliver Dowden, the Culture Secretary, has invited the leaders of 25 the country’s leading heritage bodies and charities to a meeting on February 23 to tell them to ‘defend our culture and history from the noisy minority of activists constantly trying to do Britain down’.

… Dowden should be setting out to ensure that our history stops giving the impression of having been hijacked by the far-Left for its own ideological purposes, not least to seek, by bullying and aggression to marginalise those who think differently and to close down debate.

…. Dowden should not hesitate to confirm that finding will be withdrawn from any institution that chooses to twist or negate British history by adopting an overtly political attitude towards it.

One again we see one of the right’s favourite verb conjugations at work: I am principled, you are ideological, they are extremists.

The gulf between what Heffer says and what he means is so vast that not even Boris Johnson would propose digging a tunnel under it. It as a variant of the now daily call by right-wing columnists that “free speech be defended”, which actually means that they want their speech defended from all criticism and are very relaxed about the silencing of people not from their political tradition.

Even as he rails about the prescriptiveness and intolerance of others, Heffer exhibits both traits by the bucketful. He is offended by other people’s opinions and wants state power to censure them. He wants the version of history that he finds cosy and comfortable to prevail over one that would honestly reckon with Britain’s bloody and brutal conduct over centuries.

Heffer is more part of a “noisy minority of activists” than any protestor or statue toppler he fears and derides; it’s just that his gang of activists have the clout of national newspapers behind them and the support of the coterie of ghouls who run the government. Every word that Heffer writes comes from a place of “bullying and aggression” and is designed to “marginalise those who think differently and close down debate.”

Columnists like Heffer are experts in the abuser’s most effective technique, DARVO — Deny, Attack and Reverse Victim and Offender. Despite having control of all the levers of power and rapidly restricting the cultural and social avenues available to the left-wing, the right must maintain that they are in a culture war where the other side is winning.

“Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia.”

Like a conspiracy theorist in a TV drama, Heffer stretches pieces of string from the culture and heritage bodies he disdains to the BBC and wider society. He’s got to establish that nowhere is safe from the woke-heads under the bed:

Of course, the anti-intellectual assault on Britain’s past now goes far beyond statues and other monuments. The BBC needs to be warned that any attempt to repeat the absurdities of last year – when it threatened to remove certain patriotic tunes from the Last Night of the Proms and performed a hideous version of Parry’s Jerusalem – will not be tolerated.

If the country had a credible education secretary, Dowden could enlist him to ensure a more objective teaching of history in our universities generally, and an end to the present indoctrination of history students to believe that everything about the British Empire was bad. It is people who have imbibed that ignorant doctrine who are responsible for the hijacking of too many heritage concerns, not least because they are afraid to break out of the minority group-think that has grown up around this question.

The Proms jibe resurrects a zombie story from last August, which was stoked up… drum roll, please… by a spurious report in The Times, then picked up by the talk radio stations, rolled in fox shit, and returned to the newspapers for columnists to claim that the whole thing stank of ‘wokery’. (Here’s my newsletter on the whole brouhaha from back then)

Heffer is able to reheat the false idea that the BBC was removing ‘patriotic’ songs as part of a secret BLM plot because the falsehood has been repeated so often in the right-wing media that it can now be treated as fact by them.

I’ve no doubt that Heffer, soaked in the paranoid style of the British media, actually believes that’s what the BBC was doing — Heffer, a biographer of Enoch Powell, who has delivered speeches for the hard-right Traditional Britain Group, is nothing if not a method actor.

Heffer isn’t an outlier either. The entire Telegraph organisation radiates rage and propaganda at every opportunity. Christopher ‘Chopper’ Hope, the paper’s Chief Political Correspondent (and the subject of yesterday’s newsletter) gleefully tweeted Heffer’s piece and publishes stenography in defence of the government’s culture wargames daily.

This would be almost funny if The Telegraph titles were just fanzines for a dying breed of crazed home counties colonels and racist nannas, but while Heffer and his hog pals are zealots, they are zealots with the ear of those in power and whose paper is used as a conduit for revealing the government’s most caustic culture war concatenations.

If you stripped the byline and small number of contemporary/geographic references from Heffer’s comment piece, you could easily persuade someone it was an excerpt from a pre-war speech by Joseph Goebbels. Just look at all those references to “our country”, “our culture”, “our heritage” and all those others who want to do the nation down. Authoritarianism runs through The Telegraph’s output like the message in some bad faith Brighton rock.

Since Heffer has us on a historical tip, let’s jump back to 1964 and Richard Hofstadter’s searing analysis of American politics at the time, The Paranoid Style in American Politics. In the introduction he writes:

American politics has often been an arena for angry minds. In recent years we have seen angry minds at work mainly among extreme right-wingers, who have now demonstrated in the Goldwater movement how much political leverage can be got out of the animosities and passions of a small minority.

But behind this, I believe there is a style of mind that is far from new and that is not necessarily right-wing. I call it the paranoid style simply because no other word adequately evokes the sense of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy that I have in mind.

Switch out “American politics” for "The British media” and that all sounds very familiar to me. I know Heffer wouldn’t recognise that; it’s not his kind of history. And the ‘heritage’ summit won’t be any kind of “last stand” because the culture war grift is just too profitable to abandon. The forever war rages on.