This blog is hosted on Ideas on EuropeIdeas on Europe Avatar

On International Women’s Day, remember the words of Hannah Arendt

Today is International Women’s Day, and I want to take the opportunity to remember the wise words of Hannah Arendt, a woman who is regarded as one of the most influential political philosophers of the twentieth century.

Born to a German-Jewish family in 1906, she had to flee from the Nazis when Hitler came to power in 1933. She became an expert in dictatorships, and the disturbing tell-tale signs that lead to totalitarianism.

But it’s what she said in an interview, one year before her death in 1975, that I particularly want to draw attention to, because the parallels with what’s happening in Britain today are chilling.

That’s not because I believe the UK is a totalitarian state. No.

It’s because we are on a path that could, if we are not alert, lead us to the wrong place.

Said Hannah in an interview with the French writer Roger Errera in 1974.

“What makes it possible for a totalitarian or any other dictatorship to rule is that people are not informed; how can you have an opinion if you are not informed?”

She went on:

“If everybody always lies to you, the consequence is not that you believe the lies, but rather that nobody believes anything any longer. 

“This is because lies, by their very nature, have to be changed, and a lying government has constantly to rewrite its own history.

“On the receiving end you get not only one lie – a lie which you could go on for the rest of your days – but you get a great number of lies, depending on how the political wind blows. 

“And a people that no longer can believe anything cannot make up its mind.

“It is deprived not only of its capacity to act but also of its capacity to think and to judge. 

“And with such a people you can then do what you please.”

▪ NORMALISED LYING

Today, we live under a government, and a Prime Minister, who have normalised lying to ‘the people’.

The country is so misinformed, with so many competing and incompatible versions of events, that nobody is sure what to believe anymore.

And so, passively, so many of us just accept what’s happening, apathetically shrugging our shoulders as the government radically changes the country, with hardly a murmur of miscontent, let alone any signs of rebellion.

Last week a court order confirmed that the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, misled Parliament when he reassured MPs in the House of Commons in February that all Covid-related contracts were “on the record”.

That wasn’t true.

Let me be less polite. It was a lie.

The Judge’s Order stated that:

“the Defendant acted unlawfully by failing to publish the contracts”.

The Prime Minister acted unlawfully and misled Parliament.

Why isn’t that front page news? Why is it hardly in the news at all? Why no uproar, not even murmurings, from the masses?

Heck. Why hasn’t the Prime Minister resigned?

It’s because lying to us, misinforming us, cheating on us, have become normal and accepted.

▪ AN UNLAWFUL PRIME MINISTER

Remember the autumn of 2019? Boris Johnson decided to close-down Parliament for five weeks, saying that was his right.

But the Supreme Court ruled that his actions were unlawful. The Judges said it was wrong of the Prime Minister to stop MPs carrying out their duties.

The Prime Minister faced calls to resign, but they were muted, and mild. 

In ‘normal times’, wouldn’t an honourable Prime Minister have immediately stepped down, after the country’s highest court judged that he had acted unlawfully?

Not in current times.

A ‘source’ at 10 Downing Street simply told the press that the Supreme Court had “made a serious mistake…” 

Not that the Prime Minister made a mistake. The court had made a mistake.

Less than three months later, in the General Election, Mr Johnson won a landslide victory, having told the country another whopper of a lie – that he had a “fantastic” Brexit deal that was “oven-ready”.

The country voted back into office a man who we all know is a compulsive liar (and I am safe in publishing that without fear of being sued for defamation) and who the country’s highest court confirmed had acted unlawfully.

And once again, a court this month confirmed that the Prime Minister acted unlawfully.

‘So what?’ the country replies in its silence.

▪ IT’S OK TO LIE

There’s an old saying. We teach people how to treat us.

And so, it has come to pass. The placid populace has taught the government that it’s ok to lie.

It’s ok to break the law. 

It’s ok to do what they want to the country, because we, the people, are so fed-up, befuddled, and depressed, that we are beyond caring, or fighting back.

And in this ‘perfect storm’ that has seen any misgivings by ‘the people muzzled by lockdowns, to the rescue of the government, that cheats and lies, is an inept and weak Opposition.

An Opposition that facilitates the government, rather than bellows every day with fire and anger, that the Prime Minister has no clothes – he is naked, a nobody, a conman, a cheat, who should not be anywhere near the levers of power.

And so, it goes on.

▪ STATISTICS AND DAMNED LIES

Last month The Guardian reported a survey of The Road Haulage Association (RHA) that in January export volumes from the UK to the EU had dropped by a staggering 68%, all because of new Brexit barriers.

But the government hit back, robustly asserting that the RHA survey was wrong.

The Cabinet Office, run by Michael Gove, confidently cited statistics that inbound and outbound volumes were “close to normal”.

The UK Statistics Authority, however, has officially reprimanded the government for using unpublished and unverifiable data, in their attempt to deny that Brexit had caused a massive fall in trade through UK ports.

Does that seem familiar? It does to me.

▪ THE LIE ON THE BUS

During the EU referendum campaign, Boris Johnson drove around the country in his battle bus that claimed that the UK sent £350m a week to the EU, that could instead be used to fund the NHS.

It wasn’t true.

The UK Statistics Authority wrote to Mr Johnson to complain that the claim made on his bus was ‘potentially misleading’ as it made no account of what Britain got back from the EU, including the deduction of a hefty rebate.

Sir Andrew Dilnot, then the Chair of the UK Statistics Authority, warned Mr Johnson and his campaign:

‘Given the high level of public interest in this debate it is important that official statistics are used accurately, with important limitations or caveats clearly explained.’

It made no difference. Mr Johnson continued to use the wrong figure on his bus; he continued to lie.

After the referendum, Dominic Cummings, Vote Leave’s Campaign Director, wrote:

‘Would we have won without £350m/NHS? All our research and the close result strongly suggests No.’

  • So, a misinformed country voted for Brexit.
  • A misinformed country voted for Boris Johnson.
  • A misinformed country watches on, with barely a blink, as our nation is dismantled and rearranged, by those who have, indeed, fulfilled their sinister promise to ‘Take back control’.

▪ REMEMBER THESE WORDS

Today, remember the wise and prophetic words of Hannah Arendt. Let them shoot shivers up your spine. Let them sear your spleen and spur you into action.

“What makes it possible for a totalitarian or any other dictatorship to rule is that people are not informed; how can you have an opinion if you are not informed?”

It is imperative that we become informed. That we seek and engage the truth.

That we understand that knowledge is our best defence, and attack, against the creeping totalitarianism that now threatens our country.

________________________________________________________



Comments are closed.

UACES and Ideas on Europe do not take responsibility for opinions expressed in articles on blogs hosted on Ideas on Europe. All opinions are those of the contributing authors.