Twenty years ago last month, after taking a homoeopathic remedy prescribed for feelings of creative ‘stuck’-ness, I woke up with a complete vision in my head of running a new kind of business, committing my small rural advertising agency to work towards reducing unsustainable consumption. This mad idea came complete with the name Greenmantle.
I recognised Greenmantle as the title of a book by John Buchan. Eventually (no Google in those days) I tracked down a copy. It turned out to be a tedious spy thriller in which British intelligence did battle with a sinister Wahabbist Muslim leader, codenamed Greenmantle, who they thought was plotting to lead a jihad against the British administration in Sudan.
The book was published in, I think, 1909. Not a lot appears to have changed in British Foreign Office thinking. Five years later, we were embroiled in a war in which 20 million people died: it was not a war against Islamic jihadists, but between rival Western military-industrial machines. What will be the consequences of battling the modern-day ‘Greenmantle’, Al-Qaeda?
Prime Minister David Cameron has just been on the wireless to tell us we have to have more surveillance and secret trials supervised by ministers because ‘there are gaps in our security that it is necessary to fill’. When will they be filled? Never. Governments can never have enough powers. They are like a golfer, who always needs another club to make that impossible shot.* The gaps will ever be closed.
It seems to me that the past tells us there are three possible futures. One is a continuing escalation of State powers to monitor and control the lives and thoughts of everyone, until we are living in a totalitarian dictatorship. There is no stopping short of it.
The second future is that people will eventually call a halt to the power of the State by chucking a brick through its window.** They will reclaim their democratic power by force and oblige the Government to remember that it is their servant, not their master. Then they will impose a totalitarian dictatorship of their own.
The third is that some powerful group will step in and take over, recognising that the Government’s preoccupation with invisible Greenmantles is a sign of weakness and a cover for uncertainty. They are terrified of the future they themselves are creating. We may not even notice when it happens. It is probably happening already.
I am not optimistic today, but then I have not yet had lunch.
* The great Sam Snead reputedly once played an entire round to par, armed only with a 5-iron, just to show how silly golfers are.
**Very post-postscriptum: it is September, 2015 and a new leader has been elected by a thumpling majority of the Labour party. Jeremy Corbyn is a dyed-in-the-wool, Bennite/Marxist Socialist, aged 66, who has been dragged like the Emperor Claudius blinking into the limelight after decades in obscurity, grimping and miring from the back-benches. Truly, a brick through the window of the blandly smirking, neoliberal Blairite ‘consensus’ squatting uselessly in the middleground of British politics.