Earlier this year, I read Into That Darkness by Gitta Sereny, about her interviews with the former Kommandant of the Treblinka extermination camp, Franz Stangl, whilst he was held captive in Dusseldorf prison in 1971 ( my review/blog ). It is the only book I’ve come across, throughout a lifetime, that forced me to abandon bedtime reading because its content was just too upsetting to facilitate a sound night’s sleep; I had to find daytime moments to complete this book, which I am very glad to say I did. I firmly believe that it behoves all of us to understand something of the history that has shaped the world we live in. Not every book I’ve read this year has been serious; there have been a few entertaining reads, but I am currently reading The Third Reich at War: How the Nazis led Germany from Conquest to Disaster by Richard J Evans. This is the final part of Evans’ brilliant, highly accessible history of the rise to power of Hitler and the Nazis. Despite being easy to read for the layman like myself, the books are still pretty hefty, due to their subject matter, so I’ve tackled a volume a year for the past three years.
I’ve always read a wide, eclectic, mix of books, I do think however, that my choice of reading has been greatly affected by the Brexit referendum (2016) and the rise of populism across the world. For about three months after the Brexit result, my wife and I woke up every morning feeling slightly shell-shocked - like we couldn’t really be awake and it was all just a terrible dream. The Trump victory later that year only made matters worse, especially when the triumphant Trump was photographed outside a golden lift with the so-called, self-styled Bad Boys of Brexit. Until that moment, I for one, wasn’t even remotely aware of the sinister connection between the various populist movements around the world. It was only in the weeks and months that followed the US elections that I learned about Breitbart, Robert Mercer, Cambridge Analytica, AIQ and of the unquestioned Russian tampering in our democratic processes, both at home and in the US. Here in Britain, our politicians, of all persuasions, still seem reluctant to fully address the extent and effect of such meddling: it’s as if they’d prefer not to look, and hope the bogeyman will simply go away. The mainstream press remains fairly inert too, but perhaps with them it’s something akin to shame, like admitting they’ve been caught asleep when they were supposed to be on the watch. Consequently, lone voices like Carole Cadwalladr, writing for the Observer and Guardian, have been dismissed as loony conspiracy-theorists. Yet there are undoubtedly questions that demand answers: the role of George Cottrell for a start: at twenty-two he was senior adviser to Nigel Farage, UKIP fundraiser, once kicked out of his posh school for gambling, and (more recently and seriously) convicted of money laundering in the US. During the US elections, Cottrell met with senior figures in the Republican party and with Russian officials. Then there’s Arron Banks, the largest private donor to any political party in British history. Some accounts concerning his wealth suggest he’s nowhere near as rich as he’d like us to believe he is, and if not, then where did his large donations originate from? Banks, Farage and fellow UKIPer Andy Wigmore have all consistently tried to conceal their dealings with Russian officials. Incidentally, three of the four named Brexiteers above also appear to possess dual nationality (Farage may have tried to apply for German nationality post-referendum, and hasn’t denied this, apparently) - not really what you’d expect from a band of lion-hearted patriots, fighting to rescue us from EU domination, is it?
Money has come to play far too great a role in influencing democracy - I am beginning to think that tax-payer-funded election campaigns might be the only answer. Equally, money wields too much power and influence over the press. And never before have I found myself questioning the impartiality of organisations like the BBC, who, it’s only fair to say, have consistently downplayed or attempted to dismiss just about everything mentioned in this piece. We live in strange times; Brexit has given the xenophobes and racists free rein, yet I’m certain that most of those who voted to Leave the EU are neither racists nor xenophobes.Some voted with their hearts, some voted because they genuinely fear the effects of immigration, a large number may have believed the false claims that we’d be financially better off outside, or wanted to restore Parliamentary sovereignty (that turned out to be a pretty bad joke this week). But however people voted, surely it would benefit all of us to know the full extent of another country’s interference in our democratic affairs? Would people feel quite as confident about the referendum result if they knew for certain that they had been targeted and manipulated by Russia, and American billionaires with far-right leanings? Our nation was swiftly aroused recently, when a foreign state appeared to have poisoned three people with an alleged nerve-agent on British soil; yet, when it comes to the possibility of the same country stealing a life-changing referendum from us, it is met with passivity.
What twentieth-century history shows us very clearly is that you simply cannot appease the Far Right. They may wear white shirts and chinos, or dress in smart suits with discreet ties these days, but they still espouse the same drivel of hate and lies, and they must be called out.