The Right do seem to be more enmired in political skulduggery than the Left. In the past that wasn’t necessarily so – I’m not forgetting the ‘black arts’ practised by the Soviet Union in recent times, and clearly inherited by its – rather less Leftish – Russian successors. Otherwise however most of today’s much publicised ‘dirty tricks’ emanate from the Right, including those of Cambridge Analytica; whose activities were funded by an extreme Right-wing billionaire (the hedge-fund capitalist Robert Mercer), and were directed exclusively, so far as we know, in support of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
The organisation behind Cambridge Analytica, called SCL, is full of establishment and ex-military men (all men; Google it), including the Old Etonian Alexander Nix, CEO of the ‘Cambridge’ company, who gave that revealing – undercover – interview on Channel 4 News last night: https://www.channel4.com/news/cambridge-analytica-revealed-trumps-election-consultants-filmed-saying-they-use-bribes-and-sex-workers-to-entrap-politicians-investigation. It also has deep personal and financial connexions with the Conservative party, and even with (Old Etonian) David Cameron’s local Oxfordshire constituency. Others besides me have questioned what the Eton link says about the ethos of our ‘Public’ schools, from which he and so many of our Right-wing politicians are recruited; including the ridiculous Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage and Jacob Rees-Mogg.
Of course Rightists and Public school men do have a problem. It is unlikely that the majority of the ‘people’ will identify with them closely, which means that they have to be clever to win them over. One way is to contrive more popular personae for themselves. Farage, for example, is scarcely ever pictured without a pint of beer in a pub. Michael Gove’s notorious dismissal of ‘experts’ during the Referendum campaign was obviously intended as a way of distancing himself from the ‘elite’. David Cameron, the smoothest of all the Old Etonians, pretended he liked Gregg’s pasties – well known to be the favourite forage of the Northern working classes – before being caught out. ‘Under our veneer of privilege,’ it’s all meant to say, ‘we’re really just like you.’
This is deceptive enough. Add to it, however, some subtle Machiavellian plotting, and the Right is well on its way. We’ve seen it in the (billionaire-owned) tabloid newspapers, seeking to undermine Jeremy Corbyn – whom the Right are genuinely afeared of – with blatant lies: fake news, smears, invented ‘scandals’, and a photo-shopped image of him in a Russian hat. This is not new. Our ‘secret services’ have long been skilled practitioners of what is called ‘psy-ops’, or operating on your opponents’ minds. Election ‘fixing’ has been tried before, and ‘targeted’ propaganda has always been with us. But Cambridge Analytica have raised this to a whole new technological level. You have to be clever, even nerdish, these days to succeed; as well as well-heeled. And unscrupulous. That’s where the Right is gaining currently. Can anyone point me to similar ‘dirty tricks’ employed against the Right?
I’ve not yet worked this out thoroughly; but the relationship of the upper and wealthy classes to democracy must lie pretty near the root of this lack of moral principle in our ‘betters’. In modern British history Conservatives have always mistrusted the demos. Early on, before universal suffrage, it didn’t much matter, because the rich and fairly rich – those who owned property – were always better represented in Parliament than the plebs. That was the period – most of the nineteenth century – when the upper classes were, on the whole, and certainly in their own estimation, some of the most honourable and principled members of society – ‘an Englishman’s word is his bond’, and so on. Apart from a few bad eggs, usually nouveaux uppers and middles, they took pride in not lying or dissembling, politically or in most other ways. That’s what their Public schools taught them then, and was to a great extent the foundation stone of the latters’ prestige. (I’m waiting for the inevitable exceptions to be pointed out to me; but my extensive researches have persuaded me it was generally true.)
When ‘the democracy’ started becoming a threat, however, they gradually abandoned their principles, and started making things up. (An example is the ‘Zinoviev Letter’ affair of 1924, designed to smear the Labour Party. Right-wing spooks, as well as the Daily Mail were involved in this. Then there’s the ‘Wilson plot’….. But I won’t go on.) Other factors were the perceived threat from Soviet communism, which they knew was less principled, and so perhaps, they concluded, had to be fought off by the same underhand means; and from uppity natives in the empire, who also needed to be disciplined in underhand ways. Britain routinely interfered in ‘independence’ elections there, for example, and even plotted the assassination of nationalist leaders they didn’t like. Ruling was not like cricket any more. Cheating was OK.
Lastly, as the capitalist classes began to infiltrate the Public schools and Parliament, the amorality which is a pretty basic feature of capitalism also crept in. Boys (and some girls, I’m sure) were no longer encouraged to ‘tell the truth’, but only what they could ‘get away with’. That was in order to ‘succeed’. Whether this is what their Eton masters explicitly taught them, or it just rubbed off on them from their school-mates, is hard to say. But it was well reflected in that Channel 4 film clip of one of Cambridge Analytica’s board meetings; where one member, discussing ‘propaganda’, openly admitted – and wasn’t pulled up on this – that ‘truth’ didn’t matter, only what people felt. That’s it: the amorality of the Right, in a nutshell.
It’s difficult to counter this, if one is a part of the – more moral, I believe – Left. The Right are the ones with the more powerful weapons. The Left can’t turn those against them without betraying itself. The best it can do is to reveal and publicise the Right’s trickery as best it can. I notice today that the Cambridge Analytica scandal is being covered in the Right-wing tabloids too. That’s encouraging.
In the meantime I’m thinking of leaving Facebook – they’ve allowed themselves to be used by Cambridge Analytica – which will be a shame. I’m not personally worried, but object in principle to my ‘profile’ being one of 50 million spread around the world without my knowledge or consent, and then selectively ‘farmed’ to support an evil political cause. The Victorians, of whatever class, would not have stood for this. (See my Plots and Paranoia, 1989.)
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Facebook is a bit like the telephone system, though on balance the former is probably not as bad as the latter. Phones can be tapped; phone numbers can be sold to telemarketing companies; telemarketers harass and swindle phone users; frauds are attempted and committed by unscrupulous tele-criminals; political parties robo-call voters; telcos can overcharge us with little possibility of reimbursement; and threats can be delivered via the telephone. Yet, cutting oneself off from the telephone system would be a drastic and self-punishing remedy.
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But it’s easy to protect oneself against phone abuses. For example, I’ve put an automatic stop on all nuisance calls. And your numbers and messages aren’t spread to 50 million people indiscriminately. If Facebook managed to secure their customers’ privacy better, I wouldn’t complain. I hope that will be the result of the current furore.