‘PAID TO LIE’, ‘#SPYCOPS’. These words, which could be found in many Lush stores across the country, have certainly caused a stir amongst the British public. Their campaign, which sought to protest the gross misconduct of undercover police officers investigating the actions of left-wing activist groups, was labelled ‘irresponsible’ by Sajid Javid, and an indictment of our ‘hardworking police’. Quite jarring, I must say, when two officers fathered children with women to gain credibility in their uncover roles; an act that had already been called ‘grossly unprofessional’ and ‘morally wrong’ by police chiefs. I would ask in what way these campaigns were unjustified, considering these women had considered themselves ‘raped by the state’ during their experiences; but that’s just a personal input, and not the purpose of this article.
Instead I wish to draw your attention, not to this act of political dissent specifically, but to our country’s recent, and more general, criticism of the police and their powers. Of course, there was the arrest of Tommy Robinson for contempt of court: an act that sparked protest at Westminster, which, in itself, was grown from a criticism of the police’s treatment of the Rotherham scandal. Then there was the charges against ‘Count Dankula’ over the Nazi dog salute, and on top of that the jail time for Britain Firsts’ leaders over hate-speech, all of which have been widely spoken about and criticised in the past couple years. But let us not forget, if we are to go into the past, the cover-ups of paedophile rings and Hillsborough. If anything is clear, apart from the fact that police institutions can still be corrupted (not saying the public is always right, however, as is the case with Tommy), it is that there is still a healthy appetite in our country for dissent against the police. Whether it be conservatives bemoaning ‘PC culture’ and the ‘intolerant left’, or anti-capitalists decrying ‘police brutality’ and ‘media corruption’, we can be safe in the knowledge that our democracy still harbours and allows for the existence of disagreement.
If we are to learn anything from the age of warfare that killed our ancestors, then it is that we should never revere any person, nation, or institution above the commonality of the people, for defending anything based on rank or reputation is dangerous. We only need to look to the world of dystopia, a literature born out of the anxieties of the modern age, to see what a community can become with an absence of descent. Take Orwell’s 1984, where‘power is not a mean, it is an end’, and where a leader ‘seeks power entirely for its own sake’, driven by a need for total control over the populace. There is no democracy and no dissent, only doublespeak, and the ‘thought police’, whose tendrils reach into all those who may be deemed suspicious. The narrator tells us that ‘orthodoxy means not thinking’, and they are right. Not thinking, not criticising, and not having the right to do so will always mean a decline in democracy. If there is anything clear from Orwell’s classic, it is that all institutions can fall into corruption and totalitarianism, and that only a wary populace aware of such dangers can stop them.
There are of course others, apart from Orwell but still in the dystopian genre, that depict for us a world with controlled dissent. Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451is a classic example; a novel whose protagonist is a firefighter, but not the average firefighter, no, for he is instead one who burns, rather than extinguishes. In this world, all book knowledge is forbidden and all books burnt, with a populace induced into a life of subservience in front of four-walled, all-encompassing television screens. To the government of Bradbury’s novel, all learned people are a threat. ‘A book is a loaded gun in the house next door…’ it is said, ‘who knows who might be the target of the well-read man?’. When the government gains a taste for control, there is no limit to where they may go. The same can be said of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, the source of the now popular television show, whose conceit is not just a rhetoric on misogyny, but one on dictatorship, and the need for dissent. ‘Nolite te bastardes carborundorum’, it says, ‘don’t let the bastards grind you down.’ In a world of political tyranny, your only salvation can be found in the hands of the dissenters.
These writers, whose works have been read all over the world, saw something distinctly nefarious about the nature of power in our society. To read these texts is to understand that all great democracies, no matter their promise, can descend into the pit of brutality. All that stops them is our exercising our right to criticise or protest, and so we should be proud and glad that there are those in our country that still wish to uphold that right. Whether we agree with their reasoning or philosophies is irrelevant; instead, we should be happy that there are those who see patriotism not as subservience to arms of the law, or to nationalist symbols, but as a duty to the people, their freedom, and their prosperity.