I’m sorry to be writing another political piece so soon after the last one, but there are some phrases that send a shiver of horror down the spine. Top of the list, I guess, is ‘Final Solution’ – hearing that used is a pretty sure sign that something very dubious is being proposed, or that the proposer has genuinely no grasp of how hurtful it can be. Also up there in the list would be ‘Political Re-education’. But why is that phrase so disturbing? After all, education is a good thing, no? So surely more of it is even better?
Well, on the surface that would appear to be a reasonable assertion. However, even a brief look at the history of the use of the phrase should pretty soon disabuse us of the idea that it actually has anything to do with increasing knowledge. What re-education actually means in a political context is killing any form of dissent or disagreement by sending away to ‘re-education camps’ those people whose disagreement with a regime is considered by that regime to be a risk to its own position. In other words, it means imprisoning people who dare to disagree with the ruling clique. Sadly, the twentieth century produced far too many examples. From the very outset, Soviet Russia enthusiastically embraced the Tsarist policy of internal exile, happily sending to slavery and death in the gulag thousands upon thousands whose only crime was to think differently. Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot – all followed the same course, and all called it sending away dissenters for ‘re-education’; to rid their minds of contrary thoughts and ideas, because if you rule by force, which is where extremes always appear to lead, then dissension cannot be tolerated, as it is a danger to the status quo.
But that’s all in the past, isn’t it? Well, the Uighurs in far western China may not agree with that. For the democratic west, though, it’s all just an academic historical study.
Mmm. With the current chaos in the UK caused by the government’s inability to deal with the Brexit crisis, the prospect of a general election looms, even if it is not necessarily the most likely next scene of the Whitehall farce. And in that context, I find it rather disturbing that the shadow chancellor of the exchequer, one John McDonnell, has seen fit to write to the Treasury permanent secretary (in other words, the most senior civil servant in the Treasury) telling him that, under a Labour party administration, Treasury officials will be sent for ‘re-education in left-wing economic theories’.
Now, do I think that means the camp walls are already being planned? No, of course not; this is, despite the current nonsense, a free and democratic society. However, I do find it extremely disturbing that a putative chancellor can suggest that his intention is to politicise the civil service in such a way. (And before anybody claims I am being partisan because of my own political views, I would regard it as equally unacceptable if – from the other side – civil servants were told they had to be re-educated in the study of Hayek, for example. But let’s be honest: we all know from which end of the political spectrum this stuff comes.) We may – and do – mock and criticise the civil service, but the reality is that they are a non-political ‘service’, whose function is to execute government policies. A suggestion like this – that they should be ‘re-educated’ to suit the views of a politician who is, frankly, at the extreme, is outrageous, and needs to be slapped down hard.
As I said at the beginning, I am sorry to produce another political article, instead of what we really want to writing about, but such is the focus on Brexit that stuff like this seems to slip by. And yet, I would suggest it is arguable that the installation of a Marxist government is a far greater risk to our democracy and society than the question of whether or not we are in the EU.
Anyway, no doubt I’ll see most of you in the re-education camp….