Sunday 26 August 2012

No Statue for Orwell at the Ministry of Truth

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.  


  1. The BBC's full of the sort of fascists who condemn Hitler but refuse to condemn his partner in crime, Stalin. Orwell saw thir moral equivalency, and that's his crime.

  2. We are as one, Ana.

    Last year I wrote a brief article describing why I thought Orwell was on a right-ward journey throughout his life and died before he could complete it.

    In response to the statue nonsense, I wrote a new post. It's the very latest one in the thread, and it goes into more detail, analysing one of his essays from 1947.

    You're right, of course, that apparatchiks like Gavin Thompson have far more to fear from Orwell's shadow than almost anyone on the right these days. The old Left, which I respect insofar as it was sincere, has been utterly betrayed by the Blairite/BBC variety.

    I am convinced that, were Orwell alive today, he would be the staunchest conservative in journalism. Can you imagine him going in for multiculturalism, or welfareism, or feminism, or even vegetarianism? Not a bit of it. He'd be even more staunchly conservative than you or me - because he KNEW old England; we can only guess at it.

    Not to end on too downbeat a note!

    1. Seymour, I'm so glad we agree! I wanted to post a comment on the TH site but I've forgotten my password. I tried password recovery but I'm told that my email is not recognised. Arrrgh!

    2. Seymour, I've now submitted an article on Orwell to BrooWaha. I'll let you know when it's published.

    3. And I got in touch with the TD administrator (I always think that word itself sounds Orwellian!) about your not being able to log into the forum. He should be in touch. If you'd like to respond to the points I made in that thread, that'd be great. Otherwise I'll look forward to your post on BrooWaha.

      Orwell is a fascinating character. Aside from the utopian belief in Socialism which I wrote about on the forum, it's difficult to find anything that he was wrong about. He seems to have combined great intelligence, imagination and patriotism with common sense, which is probably even more important than intelligence, and exactly what our elites have lacked since WW2.

      My only other "doubt" about Orwell would be his view of the upper classes; I like to believe that they were admirable, honourable, gentlemen, etc., but both Orwell and Enoch Powell thought they could not be trusted. And maybe they were right: they did take us into the EU and start mass immigration.

    4. Seymour, I got an email which I've yet to respond to. Thank you so much for taking the trouble!

      Your final point, that on Orwell and the upper classes, is something I touch on in relation to his own experience at prep school. The article is headed Homage to Orwell.

  3. I don't think the BBC deserves to be graced with a statue of Orwell (how glad I am his pen name allows me not to have to write his real one!). Also, I'm not sure Orwell would be pleased to spend eternity in close proximity to an institution he clearly despised.

    Instead, why not install a giant effigy of a swine in a top hat watching Big Brother on TV in front of Broadcasting House, and a portrait bust of Orwell at the British Library?

    1. Calvin, that would be even better than Gramsci!