Divide and Rule Britannia.
This article was first published in PoliticsMeansPolitics.com
I. DIVIDE ET IMPERA.
There is a common principle in politics called “divide et impera” (Latin for ‘divide and rule’). The principle was penned by Italian satirist and political writer Traiano Boccalini in the 16th century.
In an essay “La bilancia politica di tutte le opere”, Traiano explained that this principle aims to empower the sovereign to control subjects, populations, or factions of different interests, who COLLECTIVELY might be able to oppose his rule.
II. CELEBRITY POLITICS.
How is this being implemented today? Simple. Anger, outrage and hate have been fed to TV audiences for at least two decades on everyday telly, with reality programmes such as Jeremy Kyle Show or Big Brother where anger at ‘the other’, envy, selfishness, shouting and personal (sometimes racist) attacks were made more acceptable with time.
Take programmes like Celebrity Big Brother, I’m a celebrity... or Strictly come dancing. They just turned politicians into absolute clowns. (Although, one might argue that some of them were already clowns before appearing on those shows!)
Who needs experts when you see them ‘naked’ (desecrated) on TV? Remember the time George Galloway mimed licking imaginary milk, whilst pretending to be a cat on Celebrity Big Brother? Or most recently, former leader of the Scottish Labour Party Kezia Dugdale agreeing to be a I’m a Celebrity... contestant.
Some people will argue that it is not ‘a big deal’, that it helps them to raise their profile and that we should make abstraction of their TV appearances in such programmes.
How would you feel seeing your Oncologist on Monday morning to talk about Cancer treatment, knowing you just saw him being evicted of the Big Brother house last week after having jumped drunk and naked in the swimming pool, being racist or abusive towards other contestants or eating and vomiting fermented eggs live on air, for two weeks? Would you feel weird talking to him? Or would you be able to make total abstraction of what he did and said in Big Brother, and just trust his words on the most serious of issues? What your doctor says or does in his private life is, by essence, private... and not meant to be shared with everyone, especially his patients. It is all a question of professionalism and credibility.
The same applies to politicians. How can you take them seriously and trust their judgement on how to govern the country and lead the country on Education, the NHS or Brexit, if what they offer us to see them being ridiculed or acting like fools, live on TV?
Politics shows like BBC Question Time made it ‘acceptable’ over the years to shout at politicians, government figures and whoever else appears on their panel, whether from the Left or the Right, be they right or wrong. Acceptable too is the throwing of stats and facts without any journalist (not even David Dimbleby himself) fact-checking the audience members or the panel’s claims and point out lies and misleading affirmations.
As for the panel itself, David Dimbleby certainly enjoys inviting the most controversial people available at the time of recording... Why? Because BBCQT is not (and never was) a political programme made for information, but a political show made for entertainment. How many times has Nigel Farage been a guest again? (He has actually appeared 32 times on BBCQT since his very first appearance in November 2000!)
Let’s not even talk about This Week or Daily Politics whose host, right-wing anti-EU Andrew Neil has also over the years been feeding his audience with anti-European rhetoric together with Thatcher admirer and fellow eurosceptic Michael Portillo, without anyone fact-checking their claims.
This is the Andrew Neil who, in a lecture at the Institute of Economic Affairs, in November 2005, called for “a reorientation of British foreign policy away from Europe... a radical programme to liberalise the British economy... a radical reduction in tax and public spending as a share of the economy... a flat tax... the injection of choice and competition into the public sector on a scale not yet contemplated... excellence in schools with vouchers for all”...
Sounds incredibly hard-Brexitish, doesn’t it!
The very Andrew Neil who didn’t hesitate recently to attend events organised by a far-right Hungarian government-funded consultancy firm at the Hungarian Embassy.
But we digress...
The British telly (not just the BBC, but the corporation is in big part responsible) has considerably helped populist and extremist politicians to open as wide as possible Britain’s Pandora’s box.
But when the question ‘How do you solve a problem like extremism in Britain?’ was recently asked by Andrew Marr, the BBC journalist simply killed two birds with one stone to answer the question himself by inviting both the right-wing populist Farage and the Victorian conservative Rees-Mogg on the same show, and ask them their opinion. As writer Matt Haig rightly commented: “Here is how you deal with the far-right: you report on them the way you would report on cancer. You invite an expert on them to talk about them as a problem. You don’t talk to the tumour itself.”
There are other arguments to show how the corporation definitely failed to protect the integrity of its reporting and interviews, especially after Brexit. It would take another article to explain them all. Both Remain and Leave supporters have already called the BBC biased, with more or less fair arguments.
III. PRESS BULLIES.
Anger, outrage and hate have also been fed to readers of right-wing tabloid newspapers such as the Daily Mail, the Express, The Sun and the not-so tabloid Telegraph... The same anger, outrage and hate bleeding through shock headlines “Enemies of people”, “Saboteurs”, “Brexit Mutineers”, “Loaded foreign elite defy will of Brit voters”, “Migrants: How many more can we take?” (because of other people’s difference, way of life, religion or opinion) and anger/hate-filled columns written by fact-lazy, ignorant-at-best, right-wing journalists like Sarah Vine, Andrew Pierce, Tim Montgomerie, Isabel Oakeshott or Boris Johnson (yes, he used to be a journalist before risking the life of a Briton in Iran with shameful comments no other Foreign Secretary would have ever made!)... with the full blessing of the likes of self-styled ‘patriotic’, Victorian-time admirers and Empire nostalgics, editors Kelvin MacKenzie (ex-The Sun), Tony Gallagher (The Sun) Paul Dacre (Daily Mail) and their ‘patriotic’ tax-avoiding multimillionaire owners Ruppert Murdoch (The Sun), Jonathan Harmsworth (Daily Mail), Richard Desmond (Express) and the Barclay brothers (Telegraph and The Spectator).
Who dares go against their opinions ends up being called ‘biased’. As Steven Barnett, professor of communications at Westminster University, explained a few years ago, allegations of a ‘leftist’ or ‘liberal’ bias (or even a ‘remoaner’ bias) are no more than a concerted attempt by ultra-conservative and right-wing individuals and organisations to “discredit any journalism with which they disagree and to promote a political agenda which is more consistent with their own.”
Who dares make the point that their widespread Islamophobia is equivalent to the Labour’s antisemitism problem ends up being told they are trying to ‘shut down the debate’, that it does not exist and that it is only a ‘fiction’ to drift away from the real issues. Antisemitism and Islamophobia are two very real issues of the day and are both absolutely repugnant.
Who dares point out their inaccuracies, their lies, their real intentions and their real agenda ends up being branded a “smug, sanctimonious, condescending, obsessively politically-correct, champagne-socialist public schoolboy Remoaners.” Ask LBC host and journalist James O’Brien, the man who has the unfortunate habit to prefer facts to lies.
And whatever the consequences for the very individuals who get vilified by this type of utterly despicable and shameful Press, because this is ‘the will of the people’ after all — even if it means that they receive insults, violence and death threats on a daily basis...
Simply call your opponents ‘unpatriotic’ or ‘traitor’, and you dismiss their voice as an opposition. It is a simple, yet very effective way to attack their credential and make sure the general public too totally dismisses their ideas and rules them out of the political debate.
Even if it means that one contradicts oneself over time... Traitors are traitors. Right? Or are they only traitors when it suits one’s hidden agenda?
“Lords reform is an utterly irrelevant distraction from the urgent business of government [...] as a revising chamber and a check on the executive, it nonetheless works fairly well — whichever party is in power.” (Daily Mail, 2012)
IV. RADIO GAGA?
Anger, outrage and hate have been fed to the listeners of talk radio shows presented by some of the most controversial radio hosts in Britain, especially on Global’s provocation-thirsty and audience-fetching LBC, a radio station that recently asked its followers on Twitter: “Should we give far-right groups a platform in order to expose them or is it inherently dangerous?”
A platform LBC happily offered to people as controversial as Katie Hopkins (who used her LBC show to increase her popularity and perfect her extremist agenda before getting the sack over her appalling comments) or Nigel Farage (a serial liar who is still allowed to perform nearly daily on LBC). For months before and after the 2016 EU referendum, they both have turned LBC callers into angry activists and fanatics alike.
Nick Ferrari (undoubtedly one of the most right-wing, anti-EU and controversial radio presenters currently on Britain’s radio waves) also invited Nigel Farage regularly for at least two years before the EU Referendum, helping him raise his profile and spread his anti-European stance on LBC.
As if getting Nigel Farage on the path to claim both Brexit and Trump’s victories was not enough, Nick Ferrari and LBC have recently undertaken the task to make Jacob Rees-Mogg their new apprentice with a radio phone-in during Ferrari’s own breakfast show, every Monday.
One example of how Rees-Mogg uses his new phone-in show to become more popular with the ‘masses’, yet showing once again how out of touch with reality he is: he recently claimed he was “once the subject of a police stop-and-search on Pall Mall.” The MP for North East Somerset explained: “They used these powers to stop me when I was driving a couple of my children along Pall Mall. I was hauled into Waterloo Place. When they saw the boot piled full of children’s clothes etc., they rather recoiled and went away. It was because I was in Pall Mall, close to where my mother lives and at that point, they had the ability to stop anyone they felt like for anything in these specified zones around sensitive government areas.”
At no moment did Nick Ferrari challenge the real-life Victorian-time-traveller MP on the abysmal difference between his car being gently stopped by friendly Police officers in a street near Buckingham Palace and an actual real-life Police stop-and-search, which in most cases is humiliating, conducted with force and targeting a certain category of the population Rees-Mogg does not belong to.
Mind you, dear readers, Nick Ferrari is not alone. Iain Dale, John Humphrys or Julia Hartley-Brewer are only three amongst other radio hosts who keep pushing the Leave agenda hard and who still believe Britain deserves a hard-Brexit today.
V. GROOMING THE ELECTORATE.
Anger, outrage and hate have been fed to voters before, during and after the last two general elections and the EU referendum with shocking posters and slogans, aiming at creating fully ‘devoted’ militants.
“Jacob [Rees-Mogg] says he thinks that poster won the referendum because it dominated the debate for the last few days. The establishment hated it, the posh boys at Vote Leave hated it, but it was the right thing to do. Now, I don’t think we’d have won the referendum without Mrs Merkel. But that poster reminded people what Mrs Merkel had done.” Farage explained to the New Statesman’s Editor Jason Cowley.
In the same article, Cowley writes that “Farage, who now has his own talk radio show on LBC, is widely despised — not least because of his antics during the referendum campaign and his post-Brexit embrace of alt-right movements in America and Europe. He is despised not only by liberals and Remainers: mainstream Conservatives and many prominent Brexiteers, such as the MEP Daniel Hannan, are appalled by him and his closest associates at Leave.EU.”
The shocking posters and slogans were easily echoed by some of the UK Press with years of a process to brainwash the masses through a ‘shock-headlines’ cultural programming that made it ‘acceptable’ to talk down, and demand action of a prime minister or a government, as if the papers themselves were an absolute mirror of ‘the will of the people’... and not in any way the will of their absolute unpatriotic, unelected and elitist tax-avoiding press barons.
This is not something limited to Brexit. It includes the Conservative Government’s general policy.
Why would any government under-fund the NHS, underpay doctors, deny foreign doctors entry and let patients wait for up to four hours or more in hospitals, to the point when people actually die in hospital corridors before being seen by a doctor? To get the general public angry at the NHS and make them realise that private care is a necessity.
Why would any government cut Police forces and let the crime rates and the number of shooting incidents rise in the Capital, whilst blaming the rise of criminal gangs? To get the general public angry at the Police and make them realise that private policing is a necessity.
Apply this rule for anything from firefighters, prison services, schools, immigration, etc. and repeat...
Thus, ending up creating another type of Hostile Environment where the general public gets literally groomed (through the Daily Mail, The Sun, The Telegraph, The Times...) to believe the public sector is really bad, inefficient and useless, whereas the private sector is the ideal choice to replace it. Divide and rule.
When readers are bombarded with shock headlines in order to build an emotional connection with powerful words written in large bold, black and white characters — sometimes in red — on a daily basis for not just weeks or months, but years, even decades, the long-lasting result is a part of the society being literally groomed to think and vote according to the right-wing Press’ will, even if it turns out to harm them really badly. The shock headlines have hit millions of people for so long that the readers end up feeling like they do reflect their thinking, that they do represent their opinion, that they do speak for the many not the few... when, in fact, they do not.
“Propaganda works best when those who are being manipulated are confident they are acting on their own free will.” — Joseph Goebbels (German Nazi politician and Reich Minister of Propaganda of Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945.)
An emotional connection carefully built over decades by Press barons to gain their readers’ trust and slowly render them insensitive to empathy, expertise (“who needs experts?”) and fact-checking in order to achieve their own political agenda. This is an altogether different type of abuse of power. An abuse of information power.
Unfortunately, people do get groomed online too. Through the general increase of social media use over the last few years, that very Press managed to spread their negative message like never before, reaching people beyond their usual audience. As such, the internet is an emotion amplifier.
Next time: Divide and Rule Britannia. (Part 2)