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Friday 19 October 2012

Leveson – Winston’s Gestapo Warning

Education Secretary Michael “Oiky” Gove is supposedly hot on getting pupils to learn their history. One wonders if those within the Fourth Estate who are railing against the outcome of Lord Justice Leveson’s deliberations have been so keen on learning theirs. Because recent political upheavals show that trying to whip up apocalyptic visions of lost freedom have a habit of backfiring.

And loss of freedom is the mantra being obediently chanted throughout the popular press and by its advocates and lobbyists, as a look at the Newspaper Society (NS) website confirms. The prospect of regulation underpinned by statute has set David Newell off: “99.9 per cent of innocent newspapers and magazines would be dragged into funding and being shackled by the scheme from day one” he protests.

He then talks of “statutory fines” (while still, it may be noted, having no idea what will be proposed): “Ultimately, these would have to be enforced through judicial mechanisms which could include suspending publication of the newspaper”. Anyone not in agreement with the NS was “in denial that they are advocating a government structure of controls”. Frightening stuff.

Let me guide Newell and his clearly less than merry band to a slice of political history that is still within living memory for the oldest members of society. After the war in Europe had been won in 1945, the UK had its first General Election for some ten years. The Tories played on the personal popularity of Winshton, because the party was not at all popular in parts of the country that had suffered during the 1930s.

Churchill railed against the prospect of a Labour Government in terms so apocalyptic that the NS might recognise their own ranting in his speeches. But he sold the pass during an electoral broadcast, and I reproduce his exact words here.

There can be no doubt that socialism is inseparably interwoven with totalitarianism and the abject worship of the state. Socialism is in its essence an attack not only upon British enterprise, but upon the right of the ordinary man or woman to breathe freely without having a harsh, clumsy tyrannical hand clasped across their mouth and nostrils. (Labour) would have to fall back on some form of Gestapo, no doubt very humanely directed in the first instance”.

Even without the use of the pejorative term “Gestapo” – not Winshton’s finest hour, considering the wide public knowledge at the time of what that arm of the Nazi security apparatus had been getting up to during the war – the rhetoric was singularly unfortunate. Clement Attlee seized on the speech as an example of Churchill being inseparable from, yes, the “nasty party” of the Thirties.

The Tories lost. Badly. And this despite the UK never having had a majority Labour Government before. Those railing against Leveson may be about to lose, too.

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