Gaslighting Britain

The Lineker affair has been exhilarating but also embarrassing. Here’s a government engaging in what is clearly unprecedented neo-fascist and racist policies and the central opposition to that is a tv presenter. I mean, there’s a benefit to having Carole Vorderman, Gary Linker, Joe Lycett and whatshername off of Dragon’s Den as the Vanguard of the revolt but there’s also something dispiriting about the spectacle. It’s not just that the articulate slebs have ‘cut through’ and ‘impact’ – it’s that they reveal the actual politicians as at best vanilla and at worst hopelessly compromised cowards.

The reality is that the weight and heft of social media reach means that these icons and celebrities really do have reach and when they want to they can ‘do good’. But it’s equally true that a different set of celebrities could easily promote their own more reactionary politics. It’s a lottery and a lucky dip that there are a few progressive-minded individuals wealthy enough to be able to afford a few tweets. But this isn’t the opposition to fascism we need and if anything it becomes a distraction by creating its own mini-spectacle then we all get to pat ourselves on the back and go back to ‘normal’.

The Nature of Public Broadcasting

Gary Lineker’s reinstatement is undoubtedly good news, a victory for free speech – but it’s a win surrounded by a lot of losses. The wider story here is of the Overton Window of what is politically acceptable having been moved – wrenched to the right – and of a public broadcaster subsumed by political bias and gaslighting four nations with some strange and putrid ideas.

To recognise how weird a world we are in, it’s worth remembering the context of this. Lineker retweeted a post featuring a video of the UK’s Home Secretary Suella Braverman talking about the “stop the boats” policy, with the comment “Good heavens, this is beyond awful”. Challenged by a respondent, Lineker tweeted: “This is just an immeasurably cruel policy directed at the most vulnerable people in language that is not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the 30s, and I’m out of order?”

In a world of public discourse in Britain that has been so distorted by racism, the outrage has not been about the human suffering of refugees and asylum seekers but to relentlessly attack and demonise them and anyone who supports them. In the England of 2023 the outrage is against anyone who points to the obvious and says ‘this is not acceptable’.

But what of his central allegation? Is it true?

Vitor Klemperer, a professor, linguist and scholar in Germany in 1930s kept a diary logging the use of words as the Nazis grew to power The book is published as ‘The Language of the Third Reich’. First published in 1957, The Language of the Third Reich arose from Klemperer’s conviction that the language of the Third Reich helped to create its culture. As Klemperer writes: “It isn’t only Nazi actions that have to vanish, but also the Nazi cast of mind, the typical Nazi way of thinking, and its breeding ground: the language of Nazism.”

Among the examples Klemperer recorded of propagandistic language use were the following:

  • Artfremd (“Alien to the species”)
  • Ewig (“Eternal”) der ewige Jude (the eternal Jew); das ewige Deutschland (the eternal Germany)
  • fanatischFanatismus (Fanatical / Fanaticism; used in a particularly Orwellian way: strongly positively connoted for the “good” side, and strongly negatively connoted for the “bad” side)
  • Instinkt (instinct)
  • spontan (spontaneous)

He also noted the use of euphemism to cover-over obscene actions:

  • Evakuierung (“evacuation”): deportation
  • Holen (“pick up”): arrest
  • Konzentrationslager (“concentration camp”): extermination camp
  • Krise (“crisis”): defeat
  • Sonderbehandlung (“special treatment”): murder
  • Verschärfte Vernehmung (“intensified interrogation”): torture

Some of this may sound familiar. The use of euphemism to cover arrest and mass detention, the blurring of the lines about torture, the recurrent us of ‘volk’ and ‘people’ resonate strongly in today’s Britain.

The language – not just of Brexit – but of the years preceding it was consistently focused on the idea of ‘threat’ ‘invasion’ and crisis. This motif has been repeated over and over through a visual diet of fear, hatred and paranoia whipped-up relentlessly by The Mail, the Express, the Sun and their colleagues at the Telegraph, Spectator and the spew of other new far-right broadcast outlets. The circumstances of 1930s Germany and Britain today are vastly different, but the othering of others, the continual demonisation of ‘the foreign’ aligned with the constant refrain of celebration of empire, glorifying and defending history and talk of ‘Global Britain’ and ‘Britannia Unleashed’, us or Anglo-Britain as a great power restrained by the clandestine powers of others, these are the words and language which has echoes of the 1930s.

Lineker’s victory is worth celebrating, but it comes in the context of racist language and fear-mongering having become embedded and normalised over a long period.

The problem is not just the tabloid culture of xenophobia and racism, it is that the public broadcaster is a deeply problematic institution.

As Hannah Jane Parkinson writes: “The BBC debacle has many layers to it, of course. The patently obvious double standards and selective punitive action (compare the treatment of Emily Maitlis with that of Andrew Neil, for example); the now undeniable links at the top of the corporation, in chairman Richard Sharp and director general Tim Davie, to the Tory party. Broadcasting House, long criticised by the right as a hotbed of leftwing rabble-rousers, is in danger of exposing itself as in the pocket of a Tory government; that is, the exact opposite of impartiality.”

From Rivers of Blood to Rivers of Shit

The irony here of the right trying (and failing) to ‘cancel’ Lineker can’t go un-noticed. But the gaslighting continues with David Attenborough’s (possibly last series) being relegated to the iPlayer. The Guardian explains that ‘The BBC has decided not to broadcast an episode of Sir David Attenborough’s flagship new series on British wildlife because of fears its themes of the destruction of nature would risk a backlash from Tory politicians and the rightwing press,’

Caroline Lucas, the Green party MP said: “For the BBC to censor of one of the nation’s most informed and trusted voices on the nature and climate emergencies is nothing short of an unforgivable dereliction of its duty to public service broadcasting. This government has taken a wrecking ball to our environment – putting over 1,700 pieces of environmental legislation at risk, setting an air pollution target which is a decade too late, and neglecting the scandal of our sewage-filled waterways – which cannot go unexamined and unchallenged by the public.”

Chris Packham, who presents Springwatch on the BBC, said: “At this time, in our fight to save the world’s biodiversity, it is irresponsible not to put that at the forefront of wildlife broadcasting.”

So that’s where you are in Britain in 2023 – where David Attenborough and Gary Lineker are too subversive to broadcast.


Comments (18)

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  1. Tom Parkhill says:

    Overton window? Have a look at what the Government press release says about slavery! Yes, that’s slavery.

    “Anyone illegally entering the UK will be prevented from accessing the UK’s world-leading modern slavery support or abusing these laws to block their removal. Any other challenges or human rights claims can also only be heard after removal, remotely”.

    1. SleepingDog says:

      @Tom Parkhill, so, this shape of Overton Window?

  2. Stuart Swanston says:

    Until very recently many folk who consider themselves as part of the left or so called progressive movement in Scotland have felt comfortable criticising the concept of freedom of speech as one which belongs to or is associated with right wingers but “events, dear boy, events” are showing that the tight now too feels so uncomfortable with the concept that they have come out of their closet and also want to shut down the citizens’ rights to freedom of expression.

    When are we going to start to discuss the importance of “First Amendment Rights” as an essential part of national liberation movement of Scotland?

  3. Antoine Bisset says:

    If you want to say what you like, even if your employer has an express policy that you don’t, then you are liable to pay the price. Quite correctly.
    Many enterprises have such policies. The policies, often written and contractual, and to which the employees have signed up, are in place to help prevent employees bad-mouthing their employers. It would be quite unreasonable for a snack company, for instance, to continue to employ someone who used “freedom of speech” to denigrate the snacks and to publicly highlight how unhealthy they were.
    The BBC’s product is a policy of unbiased , apolitical reporting. For someone who is effectively an employee to breach that policy is insupportable. If the BBC considered that his actions breached their policy the BBC should have terminated their contract with him within two hours, and not become involved in a prolonged wrangle.

    *Whether the BBC adheres to that policy or not is a different argument.

    1. Russell Taylor says:

      Do you work for Tufton Street Antoine?You sound just like a far-right troll who lives in a parallel universe from the rest of us!

      1. Antoine Bisset says:

        No Russell, I am currently seconded to the Magic Roundabout.

    2. JP58 says:

      Lineker reports on football not politics or news.
      Why should anyone who does not report on news or politics be censored for commenting on something as long as comment is legal.
      Apart from being a form of ‘cancel culture’ it will be impossible to police.
      I pay my licence fee and do want political censorship imposed on my behalf regardless of comment.
      On a slightly different slant the BBC is the state broadcaster and while it should strive for impatiality it should not be at expense of truth – witness Laura Kuensbergs closing down of Stephen Flynn when he call Boris Johnson a liar which is a matter of historical fact.

      1. Alistair Taylor says:

        Yes, I think that everyone of all political stripes can agree on that. Boris Johnson is a liar.
        It should be mentioned in his Wikipedia entry. Perhaps it is?
        (I have better things to be doing with my time than reading Boris’s Wikipedia entry.)

  4. Saeb Karimi says:

    Thank you Mike for this piece, I will definitely read Victor Klemperer’s book this Nowrouz holidays.

    It was very good to see BBC backed down and knelt in the case of Lineker, I’m happy for him too. Celebrities of any field can use the omnipresent attention of media to them to defend the human and fundamental rights.
    In Iran we have decent and bright minded celebrities who have chosen to side with people and even paid high prices for thei defiance of the government. On the other hand, as you correctly mentioned, the same tribune can be used with far right celebrities and they are able to use the attention to spread racist, xenophobic, and fascist ideas. Some of them in Iran reject any idea about revolution or even reform!

  5. SleepingDog says:

    I thought the British came up with the term ‘concentration camp’? Certainly the Nazis had plenty of other hypocritical and racist cultures to draw upon for their terminology.

    One might think that stealing women’s identity then branding women who object ‘transphobes’ was gaslighting, but hey, Christians aren’t the only ones with beam-and-mote syndrome.

    1. Dissenter says:

      Concentration camps were invented by the Spanish in Cuba, but were used in the Boer War. The death toll came from a combination of inept administration, over-crowding, poor sanitation and probably a degree of callousness rather than a deliberate attempt at extermination.

  6. Rosalind Lauchland says:

    Great piece of writing. Thank you.

  7. florian albert says:

    It is surprizing how enthusiastic ‘progessives’ in Scotland – and the rest of the UK- sre in their support for Gary Lineker. He is hugely overpaid, at taxpayers’ expense, for doing an undemanding job not particularly well. (in fairness, there are even worse pundits, Alan Shearer and Robbie Savage, for example.) He is also being sued by HMRC for nearly £5 million in unpaid tax.

    The Labour Party has, wisely, been much more cautious. They understand, from the 2019 election, that working class voters do not have the same values as Guardian readers and the metropolitan elite. Working class voters know that comparisons between the UK and Hitler’s Germany, or between the Tory Party and the Nazi Party, are absurd. Such hyperbole used to be the exclusive preserve of the ultra left. It is now eagerly taken up by much of the, overwhelmingly middle class, new left.

    This is not the first time that a celebrity has captivated the left. Four days before the 2015 general election, Owen Jones wrote an article entitled;
    ‘Russell Brand has endorsed Labour – and the Tories should be worried.’ That did not end well.

    1. SleepingDog says:

      @florian albert, well, quite. The Nazis would surely never have supported fox hunting with dogs, animal vivisection or snare traps, and would have presumably sentenced David Cameron to five years in prison. If Wikipedia is accurate:
      With all that Germanic focus on animal welfare, it’s a mystery to me why the cruelty-loving British ruling establishment were so enamoured with the Nazis.

    2. Alan says:

      While Labour started out as unsupportive to Lineker, viz Yvette Cooper, Emily Thornberry and Jon Ashworth, as soon as they saw a crowd running they changed their views. We are back with new New Labour to triangulation by focus group.

  8. Antoine Bisset says:

    Well it is OK for some. If you wish to support the current zeitgeist, free entry to the UK for all illegal immigrants, that’s OK. It is all about free speech is it not, regardless of any contract you may have with your employer? Of course it is. Free speech is free speech, right?
    Ah well. Free speech is only for those and such as those. It is not for young lady tennis players we have never heard of . They cannot speak up for their country, if that country is Russia. They cannot show patriotism, because their sport forbids it. In the US too, a country that has free speech enshrined in its Constitution (for some).
    Free speech, my bahookie.

    1. SleepingDog says:

      @Antoine Bisset, thanks for your Christian perspective, but the 1951 Refugee Convention is hardly “the current zeitgeist”:

  9. eddy Mayor says:

    How do I get help if I’m being gaslighted by local authorities over rta in 2017 till present. Had my family and life destroyed and severly ill don’t know how I’m alive with serious life threatening injuries.Im being abused and denied services and entitlement

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