Well, it looks as though we’ve had it. We – the Left – will get mauled in the General Election. That’s what the press and the polls are telling us, and even Labour’s Deputy Leader. Hence the levels of despair and anger we feel. The election is a vital one for the country, and yet is being fought one-sidedly, with most of the press, the most unprincipled propaganda, and all the ‘dirty tricks’, being on the Conservative side. (I’m sorry, but the parties are not ‘both the same’ in this regard.) The very calling of the election, unnecessarily, was a devious partisan trick; its morphing into a presidential campaign concentrating exclusively on what are supposed to be the personalities and abilities of the two leaders – May’s hidden away from the people, wisely, Corbyn’s already trashed by the media – is another cunning plan by Lynton Crosby, the Tories’ prince of darkness (a.k.a. electoral strategist); and the very timing of the election, re-opening the wounds inflicted by the (similarly dishonest) EU referendum campaign, is almost bound to skew the result. Quite apart from the greater issues involved, or which ought be involved, in this election – poverty, inequality, industry, democracy, our national health, migration, Anglo-American relations, global warming, even possibly war and peace – it’s no wonder that we on the Left are cross. I’ve never known such depression, desperation and rage before in all my 70+ years. This is not normal.
As a historian, however, I need to point out that this situation – the desperation – is not entirely unprecedented in Britain. Except that on the most recent previous occasion it manifested itself, it was felt on the other side. During the 1960s and ’70s Rightists also felt desperate; but this time at the progress of socialism in Britain – the welfare state, and all that – covertly aided, they thought, from Moscow, and destined to destroy the Britain they knew and loved. ‘Country’s going to the dogs’, was one of their favourite complaints. Some of their suspicions sound crazy now. I remember Philip Larkin’s talking, at a dinner party I attended, of certain evidence he had that the Labour Government was about to repeal the Quinquennial Act, so enabling Harold Wilson to rule for ever. There are accounts of Tory Cabinet ministers gathering their families around them at Christmas to warn them that that might be the last Christmas they would enjoy. The head of the home civil service, Sir William Armstrong, was found lying on his floor one day, ‘really quite mad’, and muttering about the ‘Red Army’ at the gates, before he was ‘gently removed to Lord Rothschild’s villa in Barbados for a well-earned rest’.
Some of them believed this existential threat to ‘their’ Britain justified extreme and indeed illegal measures to counter it. There’s a theory – not to be shrugged off – that Britain’s Secret Services, no less, were part of a great plot against the Wilson government, whom they suspected of being a communist agent. In the 1960s a group of retired generals visited the Queen Mother to get her support for a military putsch against Wilson and the socialists. Apparently the Queen Mum told them ‘not to be silly boys’. Another similar conspiracy was floated by the Daily Mail proprietor (who else?) in 1968. That came to nothing, too. A little later a number of ‘private armies’ sprang up in support of any such mutiny, when ‘the balloon’ went up. There’s a delightful skit on this on Youtube: a scene from Channel 4’s A Very Secret Army series in 1984, with the marvellous Geoffrey Palmer playing the nutty ‘Major Jimmy’, who is in on the plot: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oJ-9R6NCZ0A. (It’s my favourite sit-com clip of all time.) None of this happened, of course; or not that we’re aware of. If there was a clandestine plot to get Thatcher in, it was a good deal more subtle. But it shows the lengths to which some of these demoralised and disappointed Rightists were prepared to go, in their desperation for their country, and in the face of an opposition whose success, they believed, was attributable to dishonest and foul means. (All this is in my Plots and Paranoia, and Britannia’s Burden.)
Are we on the Left there yet? We can, I think, certainly empathise with the feelings of these 1960s-’70s Rightists, though from a different perspective. Like them, I feel my country is being stolen away from me, starting with Brexit, and continuing with the authoritarian tendencies of Theresa May. At least part of the reason for this is the capture of influential parts of the machinery of democracy – mainly the Press – by the extreme Right. In this election, with a majority of the electorate supporting Labour’s policy manifesto but being turned against voting for it by the canards floated by the media, a justification could be made for protesting the result in unconstitutional ways, in order to restore genuine democracy. (The same applies to the USA, with Trump’s being a minority President; but at least there they also have the constitutional possibility, or even probability, of his being impeached. And then, hopefully, Pence.)
Of course the polls may be wrong. Labour ‘moderates’ (huh!) may yet learn to rally round Corbyn; the electorate’s eyes may be opened to his qualities, and also to May’s carefully concealed weaknesses; the young may come out to vote, which apparently would make a substantial difference; a shocking Tory scandal might unexpectedly break (May pictured sinking her teeth into a live fox?); and the tide will massively turn. I’ve not given up all hope yet. And I’ll be over the moon (and £90 in credit at the betting shop) if my defeatist prediction proves wrong.
But we need to start looking ahead, at what we’re going to do if the proto-fascists (yes, really!) do prevail. Maybe not a putsch – we don’t have that kind of influence at the top; or a ‘secret army’. (Though incidentally I was quite a good rifle shot in my school CCF.) But something, please, beyond blogging and satire, to ease our pain, before the next election, if there is one. What are the good Americans doing, to ease theirs?