Anyway the upshot of all this is there's new short-story on my website this week, Agents. Meanwhile, beyond my own little bubble, a couple of things caught my eyes and ears this week.
First off a showing of Tony Benn Will and Testament. A fascinating and very personal insight into the political and private life of Britain's longest serving Labour MP and perhaps one of our most enduringly popular politicians. Who, having made the journey from Britain's most dangerous man to national treasure, continued to tour the country packing out venues when he retired from parliament to 'spend more time doing politics'. The screening I attended included a Q&A session with his daughter, Melisa Benn, which offered many additional insights. All in all a fascinating evening. Although as Tony Benn pointed out when the establishment tried to claim him as a national treasure. “Being a national treasure is also a danger because, if you’re a national treasure, they’re really saying you’re a kindly, harmless old gentleman. Well I am kindly, I am old, I could be a gentleman, but I’m not harmless.”
The thing that caught my ear this week was a story on BBC Radio 4's Today Programme. The story in question dealt with the well documented exposure of under-cover police officers who infiltrated various campaign groups. These officers were not just spy's, but it has been alleged, also acted as agent provocateurs and in some cases committed crimes. They assumed the identities of dead children and, despite being married with children of their own, formed long term sexual relationships with members of the groups they infiltrated. In several cases fathering children before disappearing without trace to return to their 'real' families.
I'd recommend reading Undercover: The True Story of Britain's Secret Police if you want to find out more about this shocking scandal.
The BBC report dealt with the case of Bob Lambert who under the assumed identity of Bob Robinson infiltrated environmental, animal rights and anti-racist groups. Fathering a child with one of the activists he was spying on before returning to his family in the suburbs. He is also credited with co-authoring the infamous McLibel leaflet that saw two environmental activist pursued through the courts for ten years by the McDonalds corporation. As well as deploying undercover officers to spy on black families campaigning about police mishandling of the deaths of their loved ones such as Stephen Lawrence.
When reporting on the Metropolitan polices decision to pay £425,000 to the female activist who he fathered a child with, the BBC described the women violated by these undercover officers as activist who'd had been 'having affairs with the undercover officers'. Now that's a very interesting use of words, because, in one single sentence, the victims of the deception have become the activate participants in the 'affair' and the undercover officers the passive recipients of their attentions. It also worth noting that being described as 'having an affair' is quite a pejorative use of language, as it implies the person having the affair is doing some illicit or immoral. Perhaps it would have been more accurate to describe the women as having being seduced by undercover police officers? Or describing the woman in question as one of a number of women with whom undercover officers had affairs? Although framing it in that context would have shifted the burden of guilt from the women to the undercover officers.
It brings me back in roundabout way to 'Tony Benn Will and Testament'. As I believe it was around the time of the 1984 miners strike that Benn was described the most dangerous man in Britain. One of the turning points of that strike was the 'Battle of Orgreave'. Where the BBC television national news was subsequently accused by the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), Tony Benn and others of, in effect, screening events in the wrong order to create a misleading impression that mounted police charged pickets only after officers came under sustained violent attack.
I'll leave you to judge the veracity of the above you can find many sources on the internet representing all the various viewpoints on the issues covered. However what it does demonstrate is one of the themes that framed much of George Orwell's work, the power of language and the media to subtly shape and frame how we perceive the world and events around us. Which is why, as Tony Benn often pointed out, we should always question and challenge those who claim power and authority over us.
I would also add that we should also question and challenge ourselves. It all too easy for the internet to become a closed echo chamber in which we simply seek out information that reinforces our own, often quite narrow view of the world, instead of broadening our horizons. And that way extremism lies. Other blogs and viewpoints are of course available.