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Towards the One Party State: Where Orwell Got it Wrong

October 15, 2016

We are in a situation where a Conservative majority in 2020, and perhaps thereafter, seems inevitable  This is ably argued by retired bishop Colin Buchanan in the Church Times, October 7th, but also reproduced at https://stvact.wordpress.com/2016/10/09/dirty-work-on-the-boundaries/. According to his analysis this is down to the  Conservatives’ reliance on, and ruthless exploitation of, the defects in our first past the post voting system. Even if Corbyn unites the Labour Party, no feasible increase in the Labour vote could change the result. Labour cannot wholly escape blame for this; up to now most Labour MPs have supported first past the post because it helped to get them elected.

So we are to be ruled by a party who attracted just 37% of the popular vote in 2015 (and a much smaller % of those who could have voted), which has so far hopelessly mismanaged the Brexit issue, and whose attachment to fracking threatens massive environmental degradation.

If this situation persists what can we expect? Continued ‘austerity’, steadily increasing hardship for the poor and disadvantaged, steady erosion of the NHS, steady erosion of pensions, continued housing shortage leading to continued unaffordability of decent housing, steadily increasing personal debt, steady erosion of middle class life style…, and to dwarf all these the effects of runaway climate change.

In some ways this parallels the socialist dystopia portrayed in Orwell’s, ‘1984’:

  • The attachment of the elite to power for its own sake,
  • The control by the elite of the perception of reality,
  • The steadily worsening situation of the vast majority of the people,
  • The deliberate waste of resources through endless war,
  • The replacement of a system of justice by the arbitrary use of state power, and
  • Fostering of hate as a means of subjection.

Orwell imagined a world system that originated in cataclysmic events including nuclear war (though the details are not spelt out). Reality was controlled by the vast bureaucracy of ‘minitruth’, which constantly revised history and refined ‘newspeak’ (which made many concepts impossible to communicate). Independent thought (‘Crimethink’) led to you being ‘disappeared’.

He ignored two things (perhaps deliberately for dramatic effect):

  • The way that unrestrained capitalism concentrates wealth and hence power. Something which was clearly spelt out in 1917 (way before Thomas Picketty), by G.K.Chesterton in his book, ‘Utopia of Usurers’ [note 1], and
  • How propaganda can ‘tame’ democracy, not by censorship, but simply burying the truth in lies, omissions and trivia. This had been clearly spelt out by Edward Bernays in (for example) his book ‘Propaganda’, 1928.

The capitalist dystopia has evolved largely unnoticed until recently. It could be countered by a strong democracy which truly represented an informed population. Two of the necessary conditions for this are:

  • A voting system which not only gives fair shares to parties but also represents the various interests and concerns of voters, and
  • A free and diverse media, independent of wealthy proprietors and advertisers.

In Britain today there seems little hope of achieving either. Sadly the BBC is one of the culprits. It does not have to lie; merely selects what is reported and fails to challenge what the powerful say. There is a faint glimmer of hope in that elites sometimes make mistakes. If the government tinkers with the BBC it could destroy all trust and get people to explore alternatives.

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Note 1: “Now I have said again and again (and I shall continue to say again and again on all the most inappropriate occasions) that we must hit Capitalism, and hit it hard, for the plain and definite reason that it is growing stronger. Most of the excuses which serve the capitalists as masks are, of course, the excuses of hypocrites. They lie when they claim philanthropy; they no more feel any particular love of men than Albu felt an affection for Chinamen. They lie when they say they have reached their position through their own organising ability. They generally have to pay men to organise the mine, exactly as they pay men to go down it. They often lie about the present wealth, as they generally lie about their past poverty. But when they say that they are going in for a “constructive social policy,” they do not lie. They really are going in for a constructive social policy. And we must go in for an equally destructive social policy; and destroy, while it is still half-constructed, the accursed thing which they construct.” (Summary from Gilbert Keith Chesterton, d. 1936)

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