Two days ago I was brought up short by two unexpected pieces of print. The first was a headline in the Guardian, which made me laugh until I was spluttering into my Grape Nuts. ”PM stakes reputation on £12bn health plan.” Reputation?? What reputation were they thinking about? Certainly not a respected one. The man is a compulsive liar, a careless parent, a racist and a fascist. He is jumped up, greedy, lazy, conceited, incompetent and totally self-centred. Wherever he goes, he has to be the centre of attention, even clowning about with an umbrella at a serious public ceremony. We have never had a Prime Minister who was so totally and dangerously unsuited to the job. And if this mistake unseats him, there are lots of us who will thank God for it, even though we know his replacement will be just as bad.
However that was trivial compared to the next thing that made me stop in my tracks. It was written by a group of mid-list romantic writers whom I knew vaguely through twitter. They usually talk shop in a kindly sort of way and tell one another about their books but yesterday they suddenly turned venomous. It was a very nasty shock.
They were furious because they had heard about Johnson’s proposed new ‘social care’ tax and knew that that would mean paying another 1.25% on their National Insurance contributions. Fair enough. It’s a cruel burden to impose on all of us and especially on those who are the poorest in our society and can afford it least, especially when a small wealth tax on his billionaire friends would cover the cost of the NHS and social care and then some. But this was not what was rousing the fury of this particular group.
They were enraged because they ‘knew’ – I wonder what newspaper they read – that the money would be used to support the hordes of ‘foreigners’ from Afghanistan who would soon be ‘swarming’ here across the Channel. They should be stopped, they wrote. It wasn’t right or fair. We don’t want our money given away to foreigners. On and on and on, one after the other. One of them mentioned Farage with obvious admiration – probably remembering his obnoxious description of the RNLI as ”a taxi service for migrants” and said she would like him to be the next PM.
Photograph: Andrew Fosker/REX/Shutterstock
And the more I read, the more clearly I saw Hitler’s ranting face and the swastika marked arms of the Blackshirts, the cattle trucks heading to the concentration camps, the obscene heaps of skeletal dead bodies.
Which made me wonder – not for the first time – How is it that people can be roused so easily to such an appalling hatred of others? And even more importantly, what can the rest of us do, if anything, to help them to see how wrong they are?
There were lots of possible answers on Twitter yesterday morning. One man listed the huge sums of money the Tories have given away to their friends during the pandemic. ”The Tories gave £2 billion of government contracts to ‘friends and donors’ during the pandemic, spent £37 billion on Test and Trace, wasted 3.1 billion on PPE that was useless, and paid Serco 50 million a month.”
RD Hale wrote ”When Tories vote to make people poorer it’s called ‘sensible economics’ but when the poor object to poverty, newspapers accuse them of ‘waging class warfare’ and blame refugees for our falling living standards. And just enough people fall for this.
But that still leaves me with my original questions.
How is it possible for ordinary people to explain to their friends and neighbours, who believe the propaganda that now surrounds us that what they are being told is totally wrong and to do it in a way that will be acceptable. When you’re trying to talk to somebody who is in the throes of a deliberately contrived anger, you are playing with a dangerous fire. When people hate, they find targets everywhere and unless you’re extremely careful in what you say, you could be the next recipient of it. Which is an absolutely horrible situation to be in. Believe me.
Photo credit – https://www.aljazeera.com
I think we all have to hang on to the knowledge that there are gentle and kindly people in every society. We see the ugly and vociferous bellowing in the streets on far too many screens, but they are still – please God – a loud minority.