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Orwell Statue Collapse
Tim Davie has lost the dressing room at the BBC; it was inevitable that the corporation’s Tory leadership would fold to the pressure from right wing papers.
Previously: What’s water?
For many journalists, columnists, and commentators, propaganda is so commonplace they can't even see it.
The BBC’s Orwell statue isn’t old; Eric Arthur Blair has stood on his plinth there for just 6 years. Words from the unused preface to Animal Farm, ‘The Freedom of the Press’, are inscribed into the wall behind him:
If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.
It is a striking quote but the placement of Orwell outside the building rather than within it is the closest the ‘tribute’ comes to recognising his ambivalent relationship with the broadcaster, for whom he worked between 1941 and 1943.
Orwell — who turned informer on his death bed supplying a list of ‘fellow travellers’ to a friend at the Foreign Office’s covert propaganda unit — called the BBC “something halfway between a girls’ school and a lunatic asylum” in his diaries. Were he revived, revitalised, and cured of his TB to comment on ‘Auntie’ in 2023, his assessment would be almost identical; the school is dysfunctional and the headteacher has conceded to the lunatics of the Mail and beyond.
Gary Lineker’s tweets have expanded and distorted at the hands of the right-wing papers and in the mouths of backbench Tory MPs and craven Labour shadow cabinet members who suddenly switched to supporting him when they discerned a change in public opinion. I’ve already written about how this happened and why Lineker’s assessment that the rhetoric of the supremely cynical and sour Suella Braverman shares a lot with the rhetoric of Germany in the 30s. But it also shares a lot with the rhetoric of Britain in the 30s and Lineker — whose willingness to dismiss Labour under Corbyn caused no storm about political impartiality — is the ‘hero’ we’ve got rather than the hero we need (if, indeed, we need heroes at all).
The solidarity shown by Lineker’s fellow presenters, pundits, and commentators is welcome and faintly stunning to see. But notice how the Labour Party — so quick to condemn collective action by doctors, nurses, teachers, academics, and staff on the railways — stumbles over its feet in the rush to praise a football presenter who it was wagging its finger at just a few days ago.
A certain strain of “but, but, but, the rules!” fact-check fan liberals have lost their minds over the Lineker affair (it’s farcical that a pair of tweets has led to an “affair” and a “crisis” but that’s the joke country we’re dealing with). For them, the idea that the rules are evenly-applied and fair is gospel; the fact that every day in Britain brings more examples of blasphemies against that notion is something they studiously ignore until it hits one of their secular saints.
A comment from Ian Leslie, a journalist whose brand is predicated on a kind of tedious footling ‘rationalism’ combined with cosy thoughts about The Beatles written for dads who found the Get Back documentary to be an excellent orgasm aid, is illustrative of another strain of banality gussied up as profundity in this debate:
I don’t understand why Lineker can’t just accept the restriction. Why is it of vital importance that the world hear his political views (which are if anything over-represented on Twitter)?
While we’ve been told endlessly this week that comparison to the thirties are… um… verboten, the Leslie line along with the crazed circumlocutions of Toby Young’s ‘Free’ ‘Speech’ ‘Union’ — rarely have so many lies been contained in so few characters — offer a clue to just who would have collaborated in a shot. The irony of arguing Lineker should just follow orders is lost on Leslie.
Young’s argument when he appeared on that well-known bastion of free speech and fact-flavoured debate GB News was that because Lineker’s position could lose the BBC money — via licence fees cancelled by enraged right-wing egg men — the corporation were right to apply its rules inconsistently and censure his speech. The ‘Free’ ‘Speech’ ‘Union’ policy: No free speech if it might cost a buck.
The examples of the BBC’s inconsistent application of its rules on impartiality are so well worn after a week of online discourse that they are fraying at the edges: Lord Sugar — whose tweets are an elephant’s graveyard of bad political takes; Baroness Brady, Sugar’s onscreen stooge, who sits as a Tory member of the House of Lords; Chris Packham whose political posts have previously been targets of right-wing media ire; and Andrew Neil, whose chairmanship of the Spectator, intensely partisan tweets, and penchant for literally displaying his ties to right-wing think tanks by… wearing ties emblazoned with their logos while on-air was considered no big deal. In the latter case, while Neil was still at the BBC, the corporation responded to complaints about his Twitter feed by noting that he was a freelancer and that the rules did not apply to him in the same way they did to contracted staff in the news division.
There is no flavour of story that the BBC likes to chew on more than one about itself; this wrong-headed solipsism was in full effect when Neil was wheeled onto the ever-irritating NewsCast podcast to opine on what the corporation should do with its turbulent football presenter. He said:
As a sports presenter, [Lineker] is not subject to subject to the same rules as I was or you are, but he still is the face of the BBC. So, I would suggest there have to be some rules. What these rules should be, I would have thought, should be a matter of agreement between him and the BBC. But it should be sorted out; it’s currently not working. He should know for his peace of mind what the parameters are and the BBC should know for its peace of mind what the parameters are as well. And either that’s acceptable to Mr Lineker and he carries on within these new parameters, or he says, ‘No, I’m not accepting that, I want my free speech’ and he leaves the BBC.
That sounds reasonable but the truth is: Neil was never subject to those rules and he was, unlike Lineker, a political presenter who was the BBC’s first choice for big interviews with senior politicians. Throughout that period, he was also the chief promoter for The Spectator via his Twitter account and engaged in all sorts of opinionated and partial political commentary. Asking Neil — who went on to launch GB News before bugging out when he realised just how shit it was — what the BBC should do is like asking a fox, its face smeared with albumen, how the chicken shed should be secured.
The standard tenor of British political discourse is bad faith; the ‘debate’ over Lineker — a ‘debate’ entirely constructed and fuelled by the right-wing press and spittle-flecked backbenchers — is in the baddest faith: It’s like a cover of Michael Jackson’s Bad performed by Henry Kissinger. It’s an example I’ve used several times before (and will no doubt keep using given its unusual awfulness) but there was no rash of op-eds and talk radio debates when Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph mainstay Simon Heffer went on LBC and said he believed Jeremy Corbyn wanted to reopen Auschwitz.
But Lineker’s tweet — which did not use the word “Nazi”; that was the Mail and others sticking the word within loadbearing quote marks on front pages — promoted Karen Pollock, the chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, to write a comment piece headlined Let’s calm down, remember history, and keep Nazi comparisons out of political rhetoric, in which she writes:
… however passionately we feel about important and pressing issues of the day, it seems to me that comparing those current concerns to the almost unimaginable horrors of the Nazi period is wrong. These comparisons are wrong when the point being made is one we agree with, and when it is not.
This argument suggests that you can never warn about the dangers of fascist rhetoric and fascist policies until there are death camps. It implies that “never forget” actually means “never forget but don’t talk about it”. What Lineker said merely echoes what a group of Holocaust survivors wrote in an open letter to Suella Braverman in November 2022 and what Joan Salter, an 83-year-old Holocaust survivor, said to her face in January this year. The current ‘debate’ is largely ignoring those comments because they are inconvenient.
The Auschwitz Memorial says that:
Auschwitz was at the end of a long process. We must remember that it did not start from gas chambers. This hatred gradually developed from ideas, words, stereotypes & prejudice through legal exclusion, dehumanisation and escalating violence.
The Niemoller poem that some people love to quote, with misty eyes and without a single drop of context, illustrates the process that seems fascism creep slowly then sprint. The fascism of Nazi Germany was far from the final form; the fascism of South American regimes of the 60s, 70s, and 80s is rarely included in these ‘debates’.
Another fetid course in the bad faith buffet comes from Peter Hitchens writing in The Mail on Sunday, who lunges from the old canard: ‘the Nazis were socialists, actually’. Beneath a headline of breathtaking (and deliberate) stupidity — End this crude smear against conservatives - Hitler’s Nazis were in fact left-wing racists... Gary Lineker knows as much about politics as I know about football — he writes:
[The Nazis] hated Christianity and deliberately set children against their parents. They imposed penal taxes on the middle class and attracted Communists to their ranks. They wrecked Germany’s schools, insisting (sound familiar?) that they taught mad dogmas instead of proper knowledge.
Dachau was first constructed as a prison camp to hold Hitler’s political enemies, chief among them communists, who were murdered in huge numbers. Hitchens howls on Twitter that the ‘fact’ that the Nazis were ‘socialists’ is not mentioned despite it being a common debating point among the most tedious wankers in the world. It’s all part of his self-aggrandising claim to being the “the Hated Peter Hitchens”, the man who says things that others dare not, every week to a deadline in The Mail on Sunday.
Later in the piece, Hitchens writes:
An amazing fact emerges from Julia Boyd’s superb recent book Travellers In The Third Reich. She describes how a Swiss academic, Denis de Rougemont, lived for some time in Frankfurt in the Nazi era, with the advantage of speaking and understanding German perfectly. This allowed him to have the private conversations with ordinary Germans which most foreign visitors could not. He began by thinking that Hitler’s regime was Right-wing. But, as Julia Boyd writes: ‘What unsettled him was the fact that those who stood most naturally on the Right – lawyers, doctors, industrialists and so on – were the very ones who most bitterly denounced National Socialism. Far from being a bulwark against Communism, they complained, it was itself Communism in disguise. ‘They pointed out that only workers and peasants benefited from Nazi reforms, while their own values were being systematically destroyed by devious methods. ‘They were taxed disproportionately, their family life had been irreparably harmed, parental authority sapped, religion stripped and education eliminated. A lawyer’s wife complained to him, “Every evening my two children are taken over by the Party.”’
I’ve also read Boyd’s book and you’ll be unsurprised to hear that Hitchens has cherry-picked and pruned quotes to avoid the parts that would complicate his argument. Boyd writes:
De Rougemont, a federalist who had little time for totalitarianism of any colour, was unimpressed by these cries of woe. He blamed the middle classes for having faced up to social problems during the Weimar period. Now they were equally supine in the face of Hitler’s excesses. ‘If I ask them how they are going to resist,’ wrote de Rougemont, ‘they duck the question. I make them admit that brown bolshevism, although identical in their view, is less awful than red. There have been no massacres and everything takes place in a progressive well-organised manner.
History has not left de Rougemont’s assessment looking prescient and even if you simply take the quotes that Hitchens chose at face value you can see why that small sample of those “naturally on the Right” did not like Hitler to begin with: He was taxing them more. It was not the hate that worried them but the tax code concerns.
Hitchens’ continued propagation of the ‘horseshoe’ theory puts him on the same level of political understanding as the violent self-styled philosopher football manager Joey Barton who tweeted the same sentiments yesterday. Hitchens opens his article saying, “The real problem with Gary Lineker is that he knows as much about politics as I know about football.” He goes on to illustrate again that his own conception of politics and history is a strange melange of conspiracy and cant.
The Murdoch papers are absolutely delighted with the disorder at the BBC; just as the corporation loves nothing more than reporting on itself, The Times, Sunday Times, and The Sun love nothing more than a free pass to kick the BBC while it’s down. In today’s Sunday Times, a long piece by Rosamund Urwin, the paper’s media editor, and Matt Lawton, its chief sports correspondent, picks over the situation and salivates over lots of angry quotes from BBC insiders. The Sun is gleeful about “a second day of football chaos”.
Meanwhile, titles including the Mail and the Express have sneered at the very idea of solidarity by Lineker’s colleagues — the word ‘solidarity’ appears within the same quote marks I’ve just stuck it in — revealing again that the only form they are comfortable with is the Black Shirt Solidarity demonstrated by the Mail in the thirties (damn! mentioned the thirties again, but I think I got away with it).
On The News Agents podcast this week, ex-BBC reporter Lewis Goodall spoke about his experience at the corporation and how Sir Robbie Gibb — former comms chief for Theresa May, an early architect of GB News, and BBC Board member — regularly made his life “really hard”. One of the incidents that caused that ‘friction’ was Goodall writing a piece for The New Statesman. Curiously, when presenters like Justin Webb, whose views on trans issues, for instance, are quite apparent from his Twitter likes, write for right-wing titles such as the Mail and UnHerd there is no issue.
The Lineker ‘scandal’ is only a ‘scandal’ because it serves a motley crew of bastards, hypocrites, controversialists, columnists, and proprietors to make it one. You can spend hours debating with these people but they will never engage honestly. I’m afraid I’m going to have to reference the thirties again. Goebbels said:
If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.
That technique of the early-20th century is still very popular now in the early years of the 21st century.
To end where we began, Orwell’s unused preface to Animal Farm contains other quotes that would never make the wall at the BBC. He wrote:
Unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without the need for any official ban. Anyone who has lived long in a foreign country will know of instances of sensational items of news—things which on their own merits would get the big headlines—being kept right out of the British press, not because the Government intervened but because of a general tacit agreement that ‘it wouldn’t do’ to mention that particular fact. So far as the daily newspapers go, this is easy to understand. The British press is extremely centralised, and most of it is owned by wealthy men who have every motive to be dishonest on certain important topics. But the same kind of veiled censorship also operates in books and periodicals, as well as in plays, films and radio. At any given moment there is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas which it is assumed that all right-thinking people will accept without question.
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