We all know some people who talk bollocks the moment their mouth opens; the likelihood is the speaker is probably the only person in the room unaware of this fact, which is why they keep talking bollocks. A kind soul might have a quiet word in their ear and advise them to shut up, but some…er…gobshites earn a useful crust from their dubious talent and make no attempt to confront the problem. Katie Hopkins is a good example. She’s painted herself into a corner because the public demand she talks bollocks every time she appears on TV in the same way they once demanded Pete Townshend should smash his guitar at every gig. So, she keeps doing it, over and over again to the point whereby her pronouncements become so surreally ludicrous that any point she may have intended to make is warped out of all reasonable recognition and becomes merely another obnoxious ejaculation of projectile bile that nobody other than a psychopath taking selfies whilst posing with military hardware could agree with.
The fact is that nobody now expects anything else from Katie Hopkins; she’s a joke. She can basically say whatever the hell she wants and she won’t lose her newspaper column or be sacked by ITV. Nobody with half-a-brain takes her remotely seriously. Just as well she’s not a male scientist.
A loopy or silly opinion can only be expressed by (and tolerated from) a clown; anyone in a position that commands a level of respect within their chosen profession must follow a rigid party line that has to be agreeable to everyone who subscribes to the consensus – and you’d better subscribe to it, or else. For all the unjust reputation the Victorians and their Queen have retrospectively acquired as uptight, humourless po-faced prudes, their era produced Dickens, Thackeray, Wilde, Beardsley, the Brontes, the Pre-Raphaelites, and Gilbert & Sullivan. Their art oozed passion, wit and sensuality – and Victoria herself waxed lyrically in her diaries on the intimate exchanges she enjoyed with Albert. No society is one thing over another, of course; many awful aspects of nineteenth century Britain sat cheek-by-jowl with its artistic heights – and in many cases, inspired them; but the rules of etiquette that governed the expanding middle-classes of that period were ones that seem positively Babylonian in comparison to the ones that have taken hold of today.
Putting antiquated notions of left and right aside, how would you define fascism? A design for life devised by an elite for the masses, one imposed by strict rules and regulations which the breaking of can result in unlimited imprisonment at best and a death sentence at worst? Such a definition would have been applicable to Mussolini’s Italy, Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s USSR, Honecker’s DDR, Franco’s Spain or the Ayatollah’s Iran. Free speech is one of the first casualties of fascism and any medium that provides a vehicle for it, whether the press, television or internet, is censored and controlled; the state takes charge of all three to ensure the masses aren’t exposed to dissenting voices because these dissenting voices don’t know what’s good for you like the state does. We are all aware that Russia, China and numerous countries throughout what used to be called ‘the Arab World’ routinely use this as a means of exercising their power, but we assume our superior political system precludes it. And it does. The political system or the state aren’t the problem here; fascism in Blighty is the tool of the self-appointed self-righteous, the serial banners, the Facebook petitioners, the Twitter campaigners, the ‘ism’ Jihadists – all of whom are the inheritors of the right-on student rhetoric of the 80s taken to an unnerving new level, proclaiming their secular fatwas on anyone with the nerve to say something that veers from their doctrine.
The BNP or the Monster Raving Loony Party being represented on the platform at an election count was at one time excused as being a consequence of living in a democracy – that everybody is entitled to their say, regardless of whether it causes offence. Again, however, we’re talking fringe groups whose views were shared by a small minority within society; nobody ever expected Nick Griffin to open the Notting Hill Carnival anymore than they expected Screaming Lord Sutch to participate in the Good Friday Agreement negotiations. They were tolerated and had the luxury of voicing their opinions in public because they were viewed by most as clowns.
Take Malcolm Muggeridge – a rum old sort; he delighted in making waspish, provocative statements, usually contrary to perceived wisdom. For daring to question the institution of monarchy in the 50s, he temporarily lost his role as a regular BBC pundit, but as the 60s progressed, he grew increasingly religious and reactionary, publicly condemning the loosening of moral and social inhibitions in a manner that blunted the precision of his previous radical stance. One wonders what the ramifications would be for him if he were with us now in his acerbic prime, stubbornly refusing to curb his appetite for upsetting the consensus. He’d be a great addition to the ‘Question Time’ panel, and I suspect he’d be a prime target for the neurotic moral minority because he didn’t give a shit.
What, I wonder, would he make of a member of a team that had achieved a remarkable scientific breakthrough by landing a spacecraft on a comet being castigated and forced to apologise before the world’s media like a shamefaced schoolboy for wearing a silly shirt that made him look a bit of a tit? What, indeed, would he make of a highly respected scientist being forced to leave his lofty post because he had aired a somewhat daft summary of his female contemporaries? He’d no doubt be gobsmacked at how the expression of an individual opinion can provoke such violent disagreement that it can blight a reputation and ruin a career. As someone who had observed with his own eyes a devastating famine in Ukraine instigated by Stalin, one that exposed the sham of the supposedly egalitarian communist system, I should imagine Muggeridge would instantly recognise what the poisonous seeds of a small and unelected clique of moral guardians imposing their will upon the rest of society can sprout into if not nipped in the bud.
Today we have few eloquent and articulate critics who are prepared to stick their necks on the line and stand up to the people’s censors. We have the likes of David Starkey and we have Peter Hitchens, but whereas both can be occasionally entertaining on TV, the former has the aura of a slightly bonkers, eccentric academic and the latter comes across as a grumpy old Tory barking at ramblers to get off his land. For all the valid points they are capable of making, both Starkey and Hitchens are mostly preaching to the converted from the comfort zone of minority television channels or cosily conservative tabloids. Yet, the fact remains that public figures are scared – scared for their careers, their spouses, their children, their friends and colleagues, their social standing. They know one ill-timed verbal slip-up could place all in peril as the mob descend, demanding their head on a plate simply for having a different point of view, one the mob has deemed unacceptable.
I’ll admit I was happy to see fox-hunting banned, but for purely personal reasons. Like all other blood-sports, I find it vile, barbaric and disgusting. I feel the same about bullfighting and big-game hunting. I cannot fathom why anyone would derive pleasure from seeing another living creature die before their eyes in agony. It repulses me to the pit of my stomach. But I find the existence of abattoirs equally horrible. Does that mean I have the right to demand that they all be closed down and everyone must stop eating meat as I did 25 years ago? Of course it doesn’t. I am grownup enough to know that this is merely my own opinion, shared by some but opposed by many. That’s called being human. I tend to remember that when I switch this bloody thing off. Some never get that far.