In your latest novel, a dystopia, there are no more countries in Europe, but a supranational State, the United State of Europe, run by a technocratic elite. Crats, Bureaus, Controllers are at the service of the centralised power based in Brussels and Berlin. In this New Democracy, “there is no more need for elections.” The Good Europeans are happy to respect the rules. Those who have incorrect ideas, the Commons, are considered as terrorists and must be monitored and repressed. As written on the back cover, « while set in the future, the book is very much about the here and now ». Do you really think that the Europeans live in a travesty of democracy, and that the EU is leading us to dictatorship?
I don’t think it’s that bad yet, but I do believe democracy is being eroded, and at a national level we have seen our elites transferring sovereignty to Brussels. There will always be people and organisations that want to control society, and while we have easy credit and a level of material prosperity, it would be a mistake to think this is no longer true. And so I do feel the EU could become a dictatorship one day, yes, but it would be very different to those we have seen in the past.
We are not talking about screaming leaders and marching soldiers and blitzkrieg invasions. It would be more subtle and longer lasting, achieved through the manipulation of law and a clever use of the internet, the slow brainwashing of populations as history is rewritten and a liberal veneer applied.
They say that the real strength of a totalitarian system is in its bureaucracy rather than its army, and I think of the brilliant novel Alone In Berlin, by Hans Fallada, the fear that the main characters feel, living in a society where nobody dares say what they think, as they are surrounded by informers. I always have George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and the ‘power of the proles’ in my mind, where the only hope rests in the people, the potential strength of the masses if only they could unite. In these books, information is controlled and news distorted. What is true and what is not?
The EU’s mission to create a superstate has been played out across the generations, and for decades this slow-motion coup went on in the background, with anyone who questioned it insulted and smeared. But the EU is only a part of something bigger – globalisation, world government, the ever-increasing power of the banks and multinationals, the exploitation of the internet and new technologies.
Isn’t there a kind of provocation in the title you chose The Liberal Politics of Adolf Hitler, a kind of punk provocation?
The title is an absurdity, reflects the extent to which history has been distorted in the era of New Democracy. Hopefully people will only think about it for a few seconds before they move on from the literal meaning. It is doublespeak. Triplespeak even. Again, it matches the way language is warped in the novel. I didn’t think of it as a provocation, but you are right, and there are a lot of punk connections made in the book. As The Clash sang in White Man In Hammersmith Palais: ‘If Adolf Hitler flew in today, they’d send a limousine anyway.’
What unites the Good Europeans is uniformity, conformity, nothing but vacuum. They all think the same, eat the same. Do you consider that the EU denies the specificities, the identities of the different countries?
There has always been that element in society, but it has got bigger, become more accepted and influential. The novel takes things further, to the extent that the thoughts of these Good Europeans are self-censored, an extension of so-called political correctness, which can be stifling and destructive when language and behaviour is misunderstood. I believe in free speech and free thought, but I can see how the first of these at least is being attacked. If you obey the rules you will be rewarded… That is not new.
With regards the EU, what we see today is different to what we will see in a year’s time. It is becoming stronger, dominating national governments, looking to expand its borders, building an empire and thinking about forming an army. Eventually, it has to homogenise the cultures of Europe and create a single identity. It already has a flag, anthem, legislature, paramilitary force. It likes the idea of a giant theme-park full of tourist attractions, but does not want strong local feelings, as these threaten the success of The Project.
In the USE, new rules and regulations are constantly promulgated, rules that can’t be discussed, or understood, by the people. Because « change was good. Change meant progress ». The technos use new words to create new ideas, new absurd concepts. Is it easier to be obeyed when you’re not understood?
Simple feelgood slogans in public, complex and hidden regulations behind the scenes… Undemocratic law-making works its magic. The idea that all change is good suits business as it means everything has to be replaced, which in turn increases profits. It is perpetual revolution for capitalists and a handy tool to force more debt and through that control on people. The truth is that some change is positive, some change is negative, and we need a balance, but at the moment people are branded backward-looking or nostalgic for trying to preserve or questions things. We see it in ever-changing gadgets and the weight of new regulations, and on a larger scale the disruption of communities through the lust for land and property and privatisation.
How did you create that Newspeak, that new language, very efficient in your novel? Was it funny to do that?
It developed as I was writing the book, happened naturally, by using words and warping their meaning, adding some childish terms, a sort of ‘baby-talk’ in places, taking to extremes the way language is manipulated today. It was a lot of fun to do. Adding distortion and feedback and turning up the volume like King Tubby! But through words rather than sound.
In your world, History is rewritten. The heroes are the unifiers (Stalin, Hitler, Merkel, Napoleon…) whereas Churchill, for instance, was “a drunkard and a gangster, he was bitterly opposed to unification. He rejected the advances of men such as Controller Adolf and Controller Joe.” Good Europeans are convinced that “there has never been an England. It is a myth.” What’s the importance of History in the building of the future?
There are histories passed down through families and communities, and there are official histories. Both are open to distortion, whether accidental or intentional, and we interpret events according to our own beliefs, but at the state level there are other factors involved. History is essential to building the future, in my opinion. Those with power and wealth and a stake in the EU were furious at Leave voters in the aftermath of the EU referendum here in Britain. They say we are uneducated, stupid, confused, racist, too old. They just can’t accept the people’s view of history, their interpretation of events and sense of identity.
My novel White Trash looked at these same prejudices, the division between those with power and those without. The accusation that older people were somehow selfish and cruel for voting to leave the EU is revealing. The Remain campaign insisted that leaving the EU was somehow backward and inward looking, but this is not how the majority saw things. Voting for independence was all about the future, wanting to be free of an undemocratic system, looking to engage with the wider world. Older people were less afraid than the young, as they have seen the EU evolve, know its history and where it is going.
Where are the young going to hear the most honest history? From their families and communities, or from a government that is in bed with the banks and multinationals, a collection of careerists working for their own rewards? These attempts to turn families against each other, to divide young and old, is a disgrace.
A Free England, far from Heartland, still exists. These locals are seen as under-educated and dangerous by Good Europeans. « The Commons could never be left to their own devices. » Is this a version of the elite versus the people, as in true life?
Yes, and we see this beyond England, and it goes back through time. The kings and queens of the past, who intermarried and controlled Europe, have been replaced by an international set that preaches liberal values but does not live them. They share the same elitist culture of past royals and landowners, have a similar distaste for the masses. It is the same in France I am sure, and across Europe and the rest of the world.
Concerning the kings and queens, what do you think about the monarchy in the UK? doesn’t this system cost you a lot of money?
I think most people here like the queen. It might seem like a contradiction to some of my other views, and really it is, but I am not anti-monarchist and wouldn’t like to see it disbanded. I don’t feel subservient, feel they have no political power, represent a tradition and are a focal point for our country when it is being threatened. I don’t care about the wider monarchy though, the land-owners and all the rest of them.
There is a continuity many people like about the queen, as she has lived through so many stages of our modern history, but I don’t know what will happen when she dies. The royals do cost a lot of money, but the argument is that they pull in more through tourism. People say it would change society if we no longer had a king or queen, that we could have a president like other countries, but who would we get? Tony Blair? Nick Clegg? Sir Bob Geldof? I would much rather have Queen Elizabeth. I am pretty sure Johnny Rotten loves the queen as well.
One of your character in Free England says : « The old Saxon burr of the Southern and Eastern shires had been insulted for centuries by the Latin – and French-loving aristocracy, the Europeanised rulers of the pre-bubblehead days driving a racial prejudice that still persisted. » Do you feel that?
Yes. There is a big division in the English language, as well as the accents. It is the difference between ‘fuck’ and ‘copulate’ – one is a swear word and the other is ‘proper’ English. The monarchy and upper-class was often foreign / international, interbred and even spoke a different language to the masses. The natives were seen as low class and ignorant, as were their customs and culture. That is still true today.
European culture has always been prized as more sophisticated by the rich of this country, and when a new middle-class evolved it followed the pattern as they mimicked the upper-class. This brings us back to the European Union and the division between the feelings of the masses and the drives of the rich and those with power. It is a very old prejudice being replayed. Again, it is stripped bare in The Liberal Politics Of Adolf Hitler.
For you, the only way for people to recover their identity, to fight against the contempt of the elite, to be free, is to leave the EU? Brexit cannot be an end in itself…
It is not the only way, and voting to leave is not an end in itself, but it is a start, and it will certainly help us to preserve our identity. The vote to leave the EU was a major defeat for the elite, but they are still here, and the battle now is to make sure there is a proper Brexit, as they will do everything they can to not honour the decision. This involves leaving the ‘single market’ and customs union, and if we achieve this, the domestic battle will be over the nature of the society we build in the future. That never changes. But staying in the EU would have been a disaster. Half-leaving would be little better.
In your Free villages, people are quite self-sufficient. Values such as solidarity, friendship, respect of the elders are not empty words. Is localism the solution?
The Liberal Politics Of Adolf Hitler is a very green novel. It is all about localism. The decentralisation of power. People working for each other, beyond the profit motive.
As countries do not exist any more in the USE, and rebels fight for the defense of the English nation, is localism a form of patriotism in your novel?
I try to link localism and patriotism in the novel, as they are the same thing in many ways, even if expressed differently. That is maybe a provocation for some people, especially in some left-leaning and green and liberal circles, as any display of patriotism is seen as right-wing and evil. I think it is positive that people are cautious, but that reaction can also become bigoted in its own right. By seeing the common ground it is possible to bring people together. So yes, patriotism is localism and localism could be patriotic.
During the referendum campaign, people who were for leaving the EU have been accused of racism, which made you very angry. You use that formula in your book. The Commons are supposed to be racists, and « Racists questioned the centralisation of power. « Can you explain us?
It is easy to brand someone a racist or a fascist in order to shut down an argument. There are racists who voted to leave the EU, and there are racists who voted to remain I am sure, and the media focus on immigration was a way of distracting from the important issues. The other area of ‘debate’ was trade. That was it. There was hardly any discussion of where the EU is heading. It became a TV spectacle with politicians shouting at each other. For me and most people I know it has always been about the loss of democracy, identity, the corporate nature of the EU. But these ‘racist’ and ‘fascist’ smears have been around for decades.
I think those who throw the terms about so loosely are cheapening their meaning.
The EU is not to be blamed for all evils, though. England itself, and all its governments from at least the 80’s, are guilty of contempt towards its people, and proletarians suffered a lot with laws on the NHS, the railways, the education, the trade-unions, the employment contracts… When you write about the USE : « Love flowed when credit was available and profits increased », isn’t it a good definition of capitalistic Britain?
Definitely. The British establishment and the EU establishment can’t be separated. They are the same people. UK governments have looked to change the NHS, privatised the railways and other core industries, attacked the unions, and this is what the EU is doing on a larger scale. The British state took us into EU and kept us there and campaigned to remain during the referendum. It handed over sovereignty and billions of pounds of taxpayers money and betrayed the people. To fight back against the ‘liberalisation’ of the NHS and renationalise the railways, protect wages through the control of labour, well, we have to be outside the EU as it laws and directives oppose such moves, but we also need a change of government. We would benefit from a new sort of politics, and this seems to be happening. You don’t have to agree with them, but the success of the SNP and UKIP, the changes within Labour, are all big shifts. Rejecting the Brussels elite was the same as rejecting the British elite.
Doesn’t the elite of a country include also the intellectuals, the writers, the scientists, the poets…? Do those people have to be rejected like those who have the money and the power?
It’s down to definitions really, and the term is loaded, whether we are seeing the elite as elitist, but these people you mention should really be separate. If anything, you’d hope that writers and poets and philosophers are far removed from the elite, so that they can question things properly, but there is a system that takes people from these and other fields and controls them through financial rewards and honours. Not so much with science, but culture. Universities are there to channel thought, to control and redirect it, and that in turn links into the elite – in my opinion. If you obey and fall into line, life is a lot easier.
Who decides who is the best in a specific field? There is a canon in literature, for instance, but that is decided by a professional class that imposes rules and even censorship. But we shouldn’t reject anyone for their background or their wealth, but listen to what they say and work out what they believe. You can be born into an elite, but rebel as well. We have to be fair.
Wasn’t the EU a beautiful idea at the beginning? Wasn’t its aim to unite people and stop wars? If not, why did they build it? And why is the elite still so committed to this idea?
The idea to create a single European state goes back much further than the Second World War, though the need to stop future conflicts between Germany and France was clearly important. But it was the US military and NATO that preserved the peace. Maybe that is why so many European governments have been negative towards the US over the years. The same applies to Britain and Russia. Do someone a favour and they never forgive you…
There were idealists involved in the formation of the EU, I would never deny that, and there are now as well, but as someone who wants England and Britain to not be broken into regions of a European empire I reject it, and I also reject it for its political leanings.
There is another argument that says the EU was created to limit the social gains made after the end of the Second World War, to protect capitalism and the Western elites. Others say it has fascist foundations. The Nazis were white supremacists more than nationalists. They wanted to build a European superstate, but were defeated by patriots who fought to save their cultures as expressed through the nation state. We fought to save Britain, the French Resistance and Free French fought to save France, the Russians fought to save Russia, not communism. They call it the Great Patriotic War. There are a lot of different views on the origins of the EU, and I don’t think it is wrong to consider them.
In your novel, all the Good Europeans share the same culture, a kind of watered-down remixed culture. They listen to soft versions of Abba, The Rubbettes or Jean Rotten. Physical books or records are prohibited. Are technology and digitisation dangerous?
Technology isn’t dangerous, but the way it’s used can be. In the book, digitisation has been enforced as a means of social control. Humans evolved ways of passing information on to future generations, tried to beat death and time and share their experiences and knowledge, but digital versions of books, films, photos, history only exist in cyberspace. By accident or on purpose, history could be lost if there are no physical records.
To publish physical books and defend english literature, is that why you’ve created London Books?
We started London Books because there were these old London novels that we thought deserved to be in print, and while I tried to interest a couple of publishers, there was no reaction, and so we started to put them out ourselves under the London Classics imprint. I edit the London Classics and our aim is to produce a series that reflect a forgotten – and I believe dismissed – literature that is socially aware and for the most part based in and around working-class London. It is another view of the city. And if we had the resources we would like to print more new fiction, give a chance to emerging writers from the wider population, but we are small and our main work is as authors, so progress is very slow. We want to represent another tradition, a strand of English literature that has been marginalised.
In your novel, he internet has moved into InterZone, a large social network where everybody shares the same information at the same time. Isn’t the internet also a big space for freedom and democracy?
The internet is a miracle of science, means everyone can in theory bypass the controllers, but there are negatives, and I think it is only a matter of time before it is taxed and more intrusive surveillance is brought in. It is already happening, as we know, and while there is a casual jeans-and-trainers image applied to the internet, the companies driving it are billion-dollar concerns.
Maybe there are two areas to think about – opinions and news/information. Every opinion imaginable is out there, but with the ‘following’ of twitter and the ‘friends’ of facebook, holding a different view can see person insulted in a way that would never happen in real life. Individuals can be destroyed, and not just by trolls. People are scared to say what they think. So we are more connected, but in a way more restricted.
When it comes to information, how do we know what is true and what is not? Stories can be invented and circulated and accepted as truth, which seems to have happened on a large scale during the American election. I have taken this on in The Liberal Politics Of Adolf Hitler, shown a society where official views are accepted and any sort of argument has been removed through peer pressure and self-preservation.
« Privacy was suspect. » The technology allows a frightening surveillance. Terror is diffuse but real. Everybody is watching you, can be an informer and call the Cool or Hardcore Units. (and If I remember well, London was one of the first major cities to install security cameras). Do you think people are ready to sacrifice their freedom for their security?
There is a lot of appeal in the ability of surveillance cameras to stop crime, or at least track down those responsible, and I think most people tend to accept that as a good thing. But there has to be a limit. Once the cameras are accepted, then the boundary is pushed, and it is much more devious and intrusive inside computers and mobile phones. This has led to a change in mentality. People are filmed and embarrassed and shamed on the internet. They are increasingly tracked and monitored through their devices.
Privacy is no longer respected in the way it used to be, and there are spies and informers everywhere, waiting to tell tales, keen to brand people for the smallest of ‘crimes’. It is becoming more and more petty. Soon there will be nowhere to hide and it could be similar to sleep deprivation maybe. People need privacy and some secrecy and can’t be on guard every second of their lives. They will go mad. Can we still function as individuals if we can never relax? We need privacy.
Don’t people take pleasure in a voluntary servitude? Nobody is forced to go to Starbucks or MacDonald’s instead of pubs, or obliged to buy the latest connected gadget, or watch stupid TV programs.
Most of us like an easy life. The dictators of the future will exploit this, I am sure. Why make people suffer and force them to fight you? The modern leaders will not be ideologues in the same way as Hitler and Stalin. People will want the toys and accept the debt. A remixed version of Sixteen Tons by Tennessee Ernie Ford is going to play the shopping malls of the world. None of the physical hardship, but lots of pressure to keep working.
Rupert is a kind oh a libertarian. As a Good European, he is encouraged to be cruel with animals, to have sex with dates who come from Africa and have been deported, educated for his sexual pleasure. There are no more « moral » values in the USE. Those who have the power can do anything. Are they human anymore?
They are human, because humans can justify anything to excuse their behaviour, and that is what Rupert does when it comes to animals and dates, but he is backed up by those around him, which is essential. He sees himself as very moral, and more so than the commons, and really, people’s morals vary, don’t they, and between different societies as well. Those examples of animal cruelty and the exploitation of women are hidden behind the label ‘freedom of choice’, and again that is the same today.
These careerists of the future are only taking what we have now and moving it on. There are some people here in Britain, and probably elsewhere, who want to show the mechanics of animal slaughter, to be ‘honest’ about where meat comes from, and then to justify the killing as ‘humane’ and ‘necessary’, and above all as free choice – a free choice we make. The same applies to prostitution and pornography. They feel they are great moralists. Look across the world and we can justify the worst crimes. We all feel we are right. Humans are self-deceiving and destructive. The sooner we die out, the better for the planet.
There are lots of references to three major novels in The Liberal Politics of Adolf Hitler, George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. Did you want to pay tribute to them or do you think that fiction is more effective than pamphlet as whistle-blower?
Fiction is a great way to get ideas across as it offers a freedom non-fiction does not. It can feel much more personal and immediate. The Liberal Politics Of Adolf Hitler is a tribute to those authors in some ways. The books you mention were inspiring when I first read them, but more than anything I feel they reflect much of what is happening today. The technology is different, as none of them predicted the internet and digitisation, and maybe they are overlooked a little now for that reason, and yet Orwellian doublespeak and Huxley’s genetic engineering and Bradbury’s burning of books and ideas are all totally relevant to 2016.
The Liberal Politics of Adolf Hitler is very near 1984 in the narration (it is written in the past, the characters embody their functions, there is a creation of a Newspeak, of a frightening world) but I see more irony in it. Controller Horace is very cynical (« The best European was boring and conventional and ready to obey every order ») and sometimes very funny. Your book is less desperate, isn’t it?
I did laugh a lot when I was writing this book, often when playing with language, showing the self-deceptions of characters such as Controller Horace and Rupert Ronsberger, but the repackaging of culture meant I could have fun there as well. I hope people get the humour, and yes, it is less desperate than Nineteen Eighty-Four, more of a satire in places.
I suppose this reflects the different eras, as Orwell was writing shortly after the end of the Second World War, and the world he imagined was rooted in that horror, while The Liberal Politics Of Adolf Hitler reflects life in 2016, which is much easier. Those who want to strip back our rights are more likely to be faceless and nameless, their actions marketed as moral advancements, and it is easy to accept the propaganda. Maybe the reality is too terrible to admit. A parallel is there in people’s refusal to confront the meat industry.
As I read the description of the cities in the USE, I felt like I was in the Village of Patrick McGoohan’s The Prisoner. Everything is clean, fine but it is impossible to escape, and you don’t know why you’re here. Did you like that television series?
I was very young when it was first shown, but I have seen episodes since and can see the comparisons, the psychology and the madness, like something from Franz Kafka. Maybe I had the likes of Metropolis and The Truman Show in my head more, the Potzdamer Platz domes in Berlin enlarged for the East Side Gates. A Clockwork Orange world just outside. I could add Trump Tower as Pearly Tower after the American election.
How has your book been received in England? You were for Brexit but far from the UKIP ideas in many ways. Didn’t you fear the confusion?
I think Nigel Farage and UKIP are right about the EU, and without them there would have been no referendum, and Britain would have faced disaster, but I don’t agree with their domestic policies or the excessive focus on immigration. I don’t fear confusion. There are people from every party who voted to leave the EU, with big numbers of socialists and anarchists among them. The independence vote crossed over. My feeling is that if the vote was held tomorrow, the victory would be much greater. Few who voted to stay in the EU are pro-EU. Many were swayed by fears of an economic collapse, which has not happened, as well as an unease over the focus on immigration. Despite establishment lies, the country does not feel divided. At least not in terms of numbers.
I know that the future is unwritten but aren’t you afraid of it? Do you have absolute confidence in your people’s wisdom?
I feel less afraid that I would have done if we had voted to stay in the EU. If we had chosen to remain we would have seen more and more power handed to Brussels, more money wasted and, in time, we would have joined the euro. I don’t want to see Britain and England dissolved, and that is what would have happened eventually – and still could, because the establishment here will do everything it can to not honour the vote. I do not trust our political class to deliver on the referendum.
We are very lucky that we are not part of the single currency as it means we can make a relatively easy break. The same cannot be said for those in the eurozone. Most people I have spoken to on the continent seem crushed, as if they have given up. This is my impression talking to friends from France, Greece, Croatia, Germany. When France rebels, as I believe it will, there are going to be huge problems, the sort of things have not had to face. I am more afraid for the likes of France and Greece than I am for Britain.
In your Free England, people read and listen to punk rock, they go to the pub, they sing and drink together, they don’t eat animals and are close to nature, they are non-violent but resist, they have emotions. If Heartland is your hell, is Free England your heaven, your utopia (if we except the fear they live in)? Are you scared that this heaven, the England you love, is dying? Are you melancholic in anticipation?
I don’t think a Utopian society is possible, but I suppose I have created my own version in a way. There is a gentle patriotism that fits with green politics and veganism and strands of Eastern thought combined with a native paganism and the socialism of Christianity. I have punk links in the anarchist bodies Conflict and the Subhumans, while the Wessex Boys and GB45 follow the Oi Oi tradition. I like bands from both these areas, feel they have a great deal in common. Others won’t agree, but maybe my brain is wired up differently.
England isn’t dying. It is evolving. Which is natural. But it is better evolving from the people up, not have its direction shaped by businessmen and bankers, people from the other side of the globe who see London as nothing more than an investment opportunity. The destruction of London and its culture is very sad, but I am an optimist. I was elated as the sun came up over the rooftops and the vote to leave the EU was confirmed. My skin tingled. It was one of the happiest days of my life.
Interview published in New Noise n°37 – january-february 2017