Malcolm previously commented on that item Iain Dale had a few days back. (Yes—and Malcolm always uses Listerine and Carex hand-wash afterwards, even if it’s the remaining 1% of bacteria that really worry him).
The poster instantly gave Malcolm déjà-vu all over again. It sent him in search of Ronald Blythe’s marvellous essay, The Salutary Tale of Jix, the second chapter of The Age of Illusion.
The irony of 1929 rested in the Tory Home Secretary (one Joynson-Hicks) being far more repressive than any alternative. Since the alternative, after the 1929 election, was JR Clynes, undoubtedly so. Here is Blythe getting up to speed on Joynson-Hicks:
The Home Office could have been invented for Jix and he for it. His nature and its function closed with each other in inseparable embrace. Here was the seat of awe, if not of majesty. Here were the brakes, the cold douches, the wet blankets, the Great Book of Don’t, the little cane and the big stick, the king’s ear, the dear old codes all laid out in lavender, the Union Jacks, and the succulent rubber stamps, all of them, though dusty from disgraceful neglect, in splendid working order. Jix entered upon his heritage with undisguised joy.
‘But what do you do there?’ somebody asked, mystified by so much delight. Jix hesitated until the truth dawned on him. ‘It is I who am the ruler of England!’ he said. And, in a way, for the rest of the twenties he was just that. The Home Office, he soon discovered, was stuffed with everything a person such as he could ever wish for. There was no need to seek new legislation for police powers, cleaning up London, keeping foreigners out, suppressing nasty modern books, raiding art galleries, saving the Church of England from its bishops, and vetting sexual behaviour at all levels— it was there, in his exciting Home Office. His power, if he cared to use it, was dazzling. And as nothing upset Jix so much as an unenforced law, the country woke up to find itself infamous. In vain it protested.
Joynson-Hicks started out as a
mid-Victorian busybody [who evolved] into a familiar twentieth-century leader. He used hypnotic catch phrases. For, instance, he never said aliens, he always said undesirable aliens, and he said it so often that stupid people began to hate foreigners for reasons they couldn’t express. His worship of visas helped to turn a document of convenience into a prized possession. He saw himself as the watchdog of the sceptred isle and anyone he didn’t care for, he dubbed Bolshevist and shipped back home. All this seemed irrelevant to the ordinary working-class Englishman in the dole-queue, and tasteless to the ordinary middle-class Englishman with his war-widened horizon. To the intellectual he was plain anathema. He was satirized, caricatured, and lampooned with a virulence rarely seen in the popular Press since the Regency.
Similarly, in 2009, we have Dominic Grieve using hypnotic catch clichés to abuse the Human Rights Act:
Cameron demoted Grieve from Home Affairs, after just six months in the job — including the long summer recess, to Justice. Grieve was seen among Tories as ineffective and too liberal. His replacement was:
the Grant Mitchell-style home affairs spokesman, Chris Grayling, … to play hard cop to the soft cop of Dominic Grieve, the mild-mannered lawyer who speaks for the Tories on justice.
Tory Home Secretaries of Malcolm’s lifetime have included:
- Maxwell Fyfe, who was thought, by Churchill, to be too hard-line to employ at the Ministry of Labour. Otherwise, he was generally quite progressive for the Tory Party of his time. When he had a sniff of succeeding Churchill in the top job, he was prepared to play to the right wing and do for Derek Bentley. In the Lords as Earl of Kilmuir he tried to rubbish the Wolfenden Report (which he, as Home Secretary, commissioned) by denouncing a “buggers’ club” which was operating across London.
- Henry Brooke, the last British minister to endorse a death warrant. He also was complicit in the framing, the show trial, and therefore the suicide of Stephen Ward, to prevent Ward from spilling the beans on the Profumo affair. Brooke distinguished himself in handing over Harold Soblen to the Americans (though Soblen’s alleged offence was not covered by any extradition act) and Chief Enahoro to the ungentle mercies of the Nigerians. he also managed the curious feat of deporting Lenny Bruce twice in sixty hours. Henry Brooke was a re-enactment of Joynson-Hicks in one respect. Just as Jix was confounded by Station Sergeant Goddard (on the take, but his first accuser drummed out of the force on the grounds of a “false allegation), so Brooke was sent up rotten by Sergeant Challenor. Challenor heard Brooke denounce “a handful of communists, anarchists, beatniks, and members of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament” and planted half-bricks on CND demonstrators, embellished with wholesale perjury. In the true spirit of Jix (under whose authority a proven virgin was arrested and harassed as a prostitute — compensation two guineas), although the case against them fell apart rapidly, the unfortunate innocents were detained in clink. Brooke went on to score a massive anti-Tory swing in his constituency of Hampstead.
- Michael Howard — who had previously used his time at Local Government to give us Section 28, for which even Dave Cameron now feels shame — as Home Secretary (with his bag-carrier and adviser, one David Cameron) told us that “prison works”, lost a remarkable record number of appeals in the Courts, and denied us a the right to silence. He was also a serial voter to restore the death penalty.
None of these strike Malcolm as misunderstood reconstructed Cameroonie nice guys. The prospect of Grayling at the Home Office, Grieve at Justice, Damien Green running immigration policy, with weirdos like Mad Nads Dorries in the wings, and Littlejohn, Jan Moir, Melanie Phillips dictating the agenda, should chill any sensitive soul not a little. Particularly if The Sun has to be kept on side.
After all, the whole point of any Tory re-write of the HRA (as Lord Phillips says) is to weaken the liberties of the individual.