Totalitarian vortex                            


Benito Mussolini, who ruled Italy as “Il Duce” from 1922 to 1943, defined a totalitarian state as one where the government controls every aspect of peoples’ lives, including what they say and what they think.


There is at present no party or movement in Britain that is trying to take us in that direction: but there is a political atmosphere or mindset that is increasingly receptive to it.  There is a mood of impatience with intractable problems, of desire for simple solutions, of searching for identifiable villains, and of intolerance of the views of others.  The Brexit campaign is an example of this:  the EU is the villain, Brexit is the solution, and anyone who disagrees is a traitor. 


A handful of newspaper proprietors have seen the opportunity to increase sales by fanning the flames of that particular discontent.  They are competitors for a certain readership, not co-conspirators: but in trying to outdo each other in unbalanced and exaggerated reporting of the issue and the use of immoderate language, and by hosting hateful speech in the comments sections of their on-line editions, they combine to validate and encourage both the focus on a single cause and the vehement intolerance of the views of others.  They have gone so far as to challenge the rule of law in this country:  one actually used its front page to display photographs of the High Court judges over the screaming headline “Enemies of the People” when the judges had merely said that the Brexit decision belonged to Parliament and not the Government.  


Nigel Farage upped the ante by predicting violence in the streets if the “will of the people” is “betrayed”, while Theresa May played along by presenting herself as the iron willed Leader.  In her opening speech to the Conservative Party conference, she poured scorn on the 48% who opposed Brexit and on the challenge to the Government in the High Court.  When the Court ruled against the Government, she shrugged it off as if it was a matter beneath her notice, saying that it would certainly be overruled by the Supreme Court.  When members of her own party called for a strong statement condemning the personal attacks on the judges, she and the Lord Chancellor instead made statements supporting “freedom of the press”.


This atmosphere of intolerance has had an intimidating effect:  people who spoke out early against Brexit, such as David Lammy and Anna Soubry, quickly backed off under a barrage of hateful on-line comment and threatening emails.  Gina Miller had the strength to hold out and pursue her complaint to the High Court: but how many others, MPs particularly, have been afraid to declare or even privately maintain their opposition?


There has also been a strong propaganda effect.  When the Government and a large part of the press loudly insist day in and day out that Brexit is real, that the decision has been made, it establishes itself in everyone’s mind a well known fact.  Despite the High Court’s ruling, almost every article in even the main stream press and broadcast media talks of Parliament perhaps delaying Brexit a bit, or having a say in the Government’s negotiating strategy.  This is not (surely?) the result of intimidation: this is the result of brain-washing that has rendered the simple fact that Parliament must decide not just unsayable but actually unthinkable.


It’s an exaggeration to say that the situation is similar to that of Germany in the 1930s, but -   There may not be a Hitler in the offing, but we are certainly living in frightening times.


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