I suppose the genesis of this blog dates back about five or six years ago. I was travelling with my family on Eurotunnel – in those days it departed from Waterloo station.
I walked through the metal detector gate and the alarm went off. Something metal on me, a belt buckle, whatever.
A shaven-headed yob in a green uniform, as I can only describe him, grabbed me, thrust me to one side and began ransacking me, violently shoving his hands into my body and pockets.
At no stage did he say “Excuse me, sir”, or “Please stand over here”, or “Would you mind…”
You get the picture. This would, in any court of law, have been described as an assault on my person. Now, as it happens, I am a journalist on a national newspaper. I rang Network Rail, in my professional capacity, for a comment.
They had no comment. It was in the interests of “security”. The experience was justified by the need to combat the threat of terrorism…
It got me to wonder. To what extent have our basic rights as citizens been abrogated by thugs in uniform with no mandate to carry out such tasks? Or unelected officials with power over our lives but no accountability?
Once you start to ask that, you see more clearly. “You’ve got to stand over there.” “You can’t say that any more.” “You have to do this?” “You can’t do that.”
The crucial word here is citizen. Someone who has a part in civitas, and rights as a consequence. You agree to follow the rules of civilised society, and that conveys certain rights. The right to congregate in public areas, the right to do what you wish unless it is not conducive to the public good, the right to express opinions that are reasonable and justified as part of normal discourse.
This is not, I hope, just another hate-filled right-wing rant. I have been a card-carrying member of the Liberal Party, as it was. I voted Labour twice. This is, I hope, not Richard Littlejohn with a PhD.
I am not talking about the sort of fascism we saw in the 1930s. That would be plain silly. But we are losing our grip on the levers that move our lives, that allow us to define the way we live.
We are increasingly governed by a political class that seems entirely detached from, or simply unaware of, the concerns of ordinary Britons. That seems incapable of overcoming the various obstacles placed in its way by vested interests to carry out the policies that are self-evidently needed for the country’s very survival.
The corporations that provide us with essential goods and services are increasingly monopolistic, unaccountable, and often literally uncontactable, when they fail to fulfil those needs. They lie to us, deceive us, with corporate gobbledegook. “Your call is important to us.” “Customer service is and always will be our priority.” “We apologise for any delay to your journey.”
There are parts of the police force that seem entirely willing to frame innocent people for offences they have not committed, often if they disagree with their political views. Who risk bringing the entire apparatus of justice into disrepute.
There are an increasing number of unelected bureaucrats just as unaccountable, as uncontactable, as those corporations when they, too, fail to supply us with the services we pay them to provide.
There are an awful lot of men in uniforms, with no mandate to order our behaviour, who have taken on themselves the power to say: “You can’t do that. You’ve got to do this. You’ve got to go and stand over there.””
There are an awful lot of “experts” who believe they have the right to tell us how we should regulate our lives, what we should consume, what we are or not allowed to say. For our own good, of course.
Extend this on another few years, and I am not sure our society will resemble one we want to live in.
Someone has to point this out. We are stumbling towards fascism. Of a sort. “Get in line, do as you are told.” “You are no longer a citizen…”
As a final note, we arrived in Paris at the end of our Eurotunnel trip. The French security man was charming, flirting with my teenage daughter and waving us through.
I have nothing against the French. I love their country, their culture. It is the place I would ideally spend a holiday.
But when we have to learn lessons in manners and civility from the French security services, we have a problem.
Note to readers: Thomas Paine, author of “Rights of Man”, hero of the French and American revolutions, died a penniless alcoholic in 1809. His funeral was sparsely attended. After his death his bones were shipped back to his native England for a proper memorial. The money for this could not be raised, and his bones disappeared. No one knows where they are today.
“Tom Paine’s Bones” is also a song by the Scottish protest singer Dick Gaughan. I confess I had never heard of it before I named this blog. Sorry, Dick.