The BBC has declined to have a statue to George Orwell, who once worked for them, erected outside its new headquarters at Oxford Circus. Why? Because he is far too ‘left wing’, at least that’s what Mark Thompson, the outgoing Director General, told Lady Joan Bakewell, herself a former beacon of the Beeb.
Methinks this man doth protest too much. It’s patently obvious that he knows absolutely nothing about Orwell, nothing about his writing or the timbre of his politics. Of course there may be something else here, some hidden motive, but let me hold off on that for just a bit.
Orwell is one of my favourite writers, something I’ve said here time and time again. He is one of the great prose craftsmen, a defender of proper English usage. More than that, he was an enemy of all forms of cant and dissimulation. He was a ruthlessly honest observer, a critic of the right, yes, but an even greater critic of the left, of the hypocrisy and the cowardice of so many of the benighted intellectuals why slavishly followed a party line. In the end what was important him was right and wrong, not right and left.
I can’t think of a single reason why conservatives would object to this statue, evidence by the fact that Daniel Hannan and Ed West in the Telegraph and Nigel Jones in the Daily Mail have, in the wake of this nonsense, written of their admiration for Orwell.
I can think of lots of reasons why people like Thompson would object, though, why the socialist chattering classes in general would object. Orwell's greatest work is an attack on the betrayal of thought; his greatest criticism directed at what we would now call political correctness, the very heart of BBC speak. He is at his most brilliant, though, in his critique of faddish middle-class socialism, the very heart of the BBC social and intellectual milieu.
Just think of his depiction of that awful utopia of nudism and right, sorry, left thinking in
Lower Binfield in Coming up for Air, his last pre-war novel. Just think of Homage to Catalonia, his greatest work of reportage, Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four, critiques of a particular form of betrayal and socialist totalitarianism. He was among the first to discover the shabby lie behind communism in general and Stalinism in particular, a lie which seduced so many of his fellow writers on the left.
And then there is the BBC, which he worked for during the Second World War, broadcasting morally uplifting propaganda to
India. It was all a fraud, as he himself recognised. After he left he put his experience with the Corporation to good value, caricaturing it as the Ministry of Truth in Nineteen Eighty-Four. Room 101, the ultimate torture chamber of the thought police, is said to have been based on a conference room at Broadcasting House where he attended meetings. Yes, I can imagine: the worst place in the world!
The brilliance of Orwell, the reason I love his work so much, is that he represents a uniquely English intellect, a kind of native genius that, while it may have embraced abstract and alien theories, it was never enthralled to them. Orwell was a journalist and an empiricist before all else. For him facts were always going to undermine bogus preconceptions and second-hand truths, all that dusty theoretical baggage lifted from the attic of the mind. Small wonder that Thompson and the purveyors of Ingsoc at the BBC don’t want to see his statue on their premises.
Orwell was at his most brilliant in analysing English eccentricities, a man who could write with utter conviction no matter the subject, whether it was patriotism or naughty seaside postcards, toads, stodgy puddings or the right way to make a cup of tea. He wrote as he pleased, and as he pleased has pleased me endlessly.
He has been a huge influence on the way I write, if that does not sound too pompous! I love his prose, his simple, unfussy English style. I have no doubt that essays like Why I Write and Politics and the English Language will remain classics of their type. He said of himself that he wanted to make political writing into an art, an objective fully attained. I don’t have to imagine what he would have made of the lamentable journalistic standards of the present-day BBC; I simply know.
A trenchant critic of Stalinism and totalitarianism, at the height of the Cold War he had no hesitation in drawing up a list at the request of the security services of fifty writers whom he regarded as communists or fellow travellers, doubtless another black mark against him on the left.
As a writer, an artist, a journalist, a novelist and an essayist he is among the most brilliant we have ever had. His satire is as biting as that of Jonathan Swift, another great Tory radical. What? Tory Radical? Well, he may not thank me for it but I think that was the general direction he was travelling in, a rightward journey that would have continued still further but for his tragically early death from TB at the age of forty-six. He deserves his statue alright, he deserves to be remembered, but not at the BBC, not at the shabby Ministry of Truth.
And so, what is Thompson’s hidden motive, something I alluded to above? That’s simple. Orwell’s supposed politics is just an excuse. The space is reserved for somebody more in keeping with the Corporation’s political ethos. I agree with Ed West here: Antonio Gramsci is as good a candidate as any.