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The Prevention of Orwell

Tonight to the Orwell Prize launch, and a debate on the Condem sabotage of the welfare state. A suit night.
The bare brick walls of the very nice restaurant were awash with Don McCullins and Robert Capas proclaiming War in-a-Paddington!
Access to the bar left much to be desired, with definite health and safety implications for those dying of thirst at the rear of the queue. But the wine and nuts and crisps were tip-top. There were no pashminas or bush-hats, as far as I could see.
"Policy-based evidence-making" (C.G.)
The panel was also impressive. Chris Giles of the Financial Times confirmed that nobody knows what a 'structural deficit' is, and that many of the cuts to benefits could be replaced more fairly and cheaply by a simple increase in income tax and that through its 'policy-based evidence-making' the Condem government is basically no more rational than the Ancient Egyptians, who believed that writing something down made it so. We are seeing that in spades right wing press tries to talk up the economy in the face of predicted plummetting growth projections for the next quarter. If we tell the wolf to go away, he will. If we say our prayers, the Devil won't get us when we sleep. If we stick pins in a wax doll of Recession, it will die.
Lisa Harker, formidable welfare rights hi-flyer, and David Walker, experienced social analyst, both gave their various decimations of the government's lies and deceit and idiocy. And the audience was packed and enthusiastic, but few, it turned out, could demonstrate any sense of affiliation with Orwell's politics, or imagine what he would have thought of the chicanery of the bankers, and the western world's unquestioning, collective, superstitious faith in their voodoo. 
Naturally, this was not the Orwell Appreciation Society, nor the Orwell Liberation Front,  but the Orwell Prize, a benchmark of honesty and clarity, and not necessarily tied to any of Orwell's extreme socialist politics. But nevertheless, If Orwell is to be invoked, his style and character cannot be divorced from his politics, and the silly-clever conservatives who try to paint Orwell as the mortal enemy of socialism because of his attitude to Stalin, sandals, and vegetarians would be advised not to dig themselves too deeply into that hole.
Tonight's examination of the effects of the latest front in the Deficit War was always meant to be a process of counting the damage not planning a response to it, but it might have been an edition of Question Time from Newcastle Under Lyme, for all the attention it paid to the kind of alternative economics which the author of The Lion and the Unicorn would be demanding. We accept that from the BBC, but not from an organisation named after one of Britain's foremost, vocal, unapologetic socialists. Britain's plodding obedience to US Consumerism was taken as read, as was our inevitable obedience to the call for a consumerist war to keep the homes fires burning. The minute attention to detail was predictably immaculate, but the sense was that deckchairs were being re-arranged all over the Titanic. And none of the highly qualified, experienced, respected panel questioned the theory of infinite economic growth - as responsible economists are now starting to. All seemed wedded 'til death to the market system which Orwell, 60 years ago, realised was obsolete and festering. The general impression was of watching a man desperately tinkering with a broken umbrella in a thunderstorm, oblivious to the warm log cabin just behind him. In its net effect the meeting was a demonstration in favor of capitalism. This at a time when the market is less ideologically defensible than ever, and when language has never been more abused in its defence. 
From where I was sitting, the audience seemed to sense this hole in the night, and took out their frustration on poor Patrick Nolan of Reform, who seriously proposed that New Zealand, a barely occupied island paradise, with its economy based on sheep, could provide a viable economic and social model for modern digital multicultural Britain, the oldest industrial society in the world, and then lectured us from that elite political position. Londoners don't cotton to being told how to live by their country cousins. If he hadn't then proceeded to defend the bankers, and banking, he might have got out alive. Luckily for him, Sherriff Jean Seaton stepped in and stopped us riding him out of town on a rail.
In one of the most depressing experiences of a depressing year, I spoke with some bright-eyed young butties from Newport, whose grandparents would have slaved to make the welfare state possible, and who made the down-payments on the socialist future with their labour. This crew were completely unaware of their class-heritage and the nature of exploitation. The political cable connecting them with their history and destiny has been cut at some point in the last 20 years. So all they receive now is just the static background radiation emanating from the mass media. Until eventually I was seriously urged to leave Orwell's politics behind and 'think out of the box'. Their local hero Nye Bevan would be turning in his grave, as would his would-be speech-writer, Orwell.
Until 2008, The Orwell Prize probably was justified in honouring prose from all ends of the political spectrum, on grounds of high journalistic principle. But since then, anyone trying to apologise for the competitive market system is at best lying to themselves, and does not possess 'The Crystal Spirit'. I really don't see how anyone can now defend the market with Orwellian conviction and truthfulness. And to 'turn political writing into an art' requires truth, including genuine belief in one's opinions. The opinion that market forces are still the best way to organise the world is not one many people now agree with, or can write about without squirming. 


  1. The nuts were on the panel, but where were the crisps? Laid out with less legroom than a Romanian airline, it was hot and sweaty but fairly illuminating as to the mindset running us into the ground. I thought the tetchy New Zealand sheep doctor should have got his pearl-grey tank-top off our lawn and allowed some proper debate. "Ahem, the Tolpuddle Martyrs," our Jean had to remind him when he Frank Fielded on the notion of protest. And totally correct she was, too.

  2. How soon before you started harrumphing at our Polynesian guest?

  3. I was pretty loud when he eyeballed Louise (Harpy Marx) with the demand that she answer some pedantic point about tax, thus avoiding her points, and took him to task for not answering a perfectly valid line of questioning.

  4. I thought I could hear rumblings in the stalls.
    I know we're only Marr's Spotty Herberts, but when asked to swallow the theory that sacking 500,000 people will create 5 million jobs, we get peeved at being told that the solution is better sheep-management and fantasy-movie locatioon rights.


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