Fascist Britain!
Bit of politics there, as Ben Elton used to say. No, we’re not fascist Britain (1), not by a long way, but we’ve been close before, and we can go there again, and it’s worth opening up a few classics of fantasy literature just to remind ourselves.
Recent politics brings this to mind: not so much the arrest of Green, Shadow Minister(2) for something as the fact that it was apparently done under the prevention of terrorism legislation, which seems to be getting a lot of airing in circumstances that have very little to do with terrorism. Then, at the same time, there’s the current (3) protest that’s brought Stanstead to a close. These two stories form a pattern that, left unchecked, does not bode well (4).
Whether police should or should not enter the Houses of Parliament to arrest MPs is not my brief here. However, had the alleged crime been, let’s say, murder, then I imagine there would have been a wave of indignation if parliamentary tradition had allowed the offender to nip round the back and leg it out of the country (5) while the police were detained at the front by someone in a wig wielding a mace (6)
However, there were a number of concerned voices when the whole prevention of terrorism business was passed in the wake of the September the 11th bombing event, along with a great many other measures and countermeasures that the world may yet come to regret. I’m sure that a great deal of terrorism has been, and will be, prevented by the Act. I’m all for preventing terrorism. Arresting a shadow minister because he may have been receiving leaked documents about the government immigration policy (7) is not terrorism, however. Nor is heckling the Labour leadership at one of their conferences, which also resulted in someone being restrained and/or removed under those laws. (8)
Method, motive and opportunity are the key hallmarks of wrongdoing, and it would appear that here is a method. The opportunity is where the Stanstead business comes in: the populace being demonstrative (10). I stand back from this and merely offer the two alternate and opposed views of it: (a) democracy is alive and well and a malignant minority seek to subvert it via attention grabbing and generating a media circus, or (b) the elected body is now sufficiently distanced from the electorate, and sufficiently under the influence of unelected bodies, such as corporations, that ordinary democratic ballot-stuffing won’t cut it. You make up your own minds.
Motive, well. I’m a cynic when it comes to human nature. Despite the myriad ways that life has improved, I always imagine the Big Figures of modern life, the truly rich and powerful, looking with envy at the absolutely lesser but relatively so much greater power wielded by medieval princes, tyrants and warlords. If they could have it back, the power of life and death, would they not give over all their false talk about morality? If the Devil said to them, “all of this will I give to you…” would they bow the knee? (11)
But we’ve been here before, and there was a wave of writers and artists who presented us with Fascist Britain, because they had seen race riots, and striking miners, and seen the shadow of the jackboot. We live in better times today, but that doesn’t mean we’ll live in better times tomorrow. It’s worth dusting off the old masters and reminding ourselves of the time that compelled them to produce those very powerful works – of a time that gave them, even, an obsession with social justice.
Alan Moore has been there, of course. V for Vendetta is the most obvious example, but he goes there in the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Black Dossier and even when he was helming Marvel Comics’ Captain Britain (12). Another big name in this area is Bryan Talbot, who shows us a particularly nasty 20th century Cromwellian commonwealth in The Adventures of Luther Arkwright. The Michael Moorcock introduction to that volume is also particularly worth reading. Talbot also explored despotism when he took over the later seriae of Nemesis in 2000AD, or rather continued the exploration that was already ongoing.
More recently China Mieville, a personal favourite author, takes up the flag and delves deep into the mechanics of authority and revolution in his New Crobuzon series, particularly Iron Council. Although these are set in a fictional world, Mieville is a confirmed Londoner, and it is not hard to see the parallels of his invented city, and invented world.
It has always been one of the (more creditable) roles of speculative fiction to hold this kind of lamp up to history, and in more oppressive regimes, a fantasist can perhaps say things from behind a veil that cannot otherwise or openly be said. After all, those same people who trivialise the genre would perhaps make themselves ridiculous by persecuting it.
(1) William Campbell’s short playGuernica Goodbye deals with a Spanish mother and son who have fled Guernica, bombed by the German air force during the Spanish civil war brought by Franco’s fascists, and ended up in France just as Hitler moves in. One memorable line is the son trying to explain the political situation as “They’re not fascists, they’re Nazis”.
(2) Originally typed: Shadow Monster – and wouldn’t that be more interesting?
(3) If you’re reading this next week, recent. If you’re reading it later than that, historical.
(4) In fact it’s somewhat rare for anything to “bode” well. Boding, in and of itself, is generally a negative quality.
(5) Though not via Stanstead, obviously.
(6) Classic live-role playing scenarion  number 48.
(7) Immigration, was it? Or whatever the area was.
(8) I’m not even talking about a threat, here, from, say, the BNP, although it is conceivable that a far right administration could coast into power on the back of rampant prejudice and economic hardship (9)
(9) It’s not as if that’s happened before, after all…
(10) My lord, the peasants are revolting, as the old line goes.
(11) Actually, as we’re talking about a subset of people who are mostly reasonable sharp, I imagine they’d probably read the small print, at the very least.
(12) Lesser known, in the canon, but a fan of Moore should definitely look these out, as a lot of his later work is foreshadowed by characters, ideas and plotlines in Captain Britain.
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