Editor’s note: Peter Hitchens is one of Britain’s more controversial journalists. A former London Daily Express correspondent in Washington, D.C., who reported on the fall of communism from Moscow and East Germany, he had a blowout with British Prime Minister Tony Blair similar to WorldNetDaily Washington bureau chief Paul Sperry’s own run-in with President Clinton. Blair took umbrage to Hitchens’ questions — which apparently were perceived as politically incorrect — and told him to “sit down and stop being bad.”
Hitchens is the author of “The Abolition of Britain: From Winston Churchill to Princess Diana,” available from WND’s online store. By Geoff Metcalf © 2001 WorldNetDaily.com
Question: “The Abolition of Britain” was a surprise best-seller in England despite the fact that you had a bit of difficulty even getting it published.
Answer: Yes, it was very difficult to get any British publishers because British publishing is dominated by liberal-left thinking. Even to look at the book — and especially to bring it out — was difficult. In the end, I did find a rather small San Francisco publisher who was prepared to bring it out and they were rewarded because it sold pretty well.
But it was a struggle to get it out. And the struggle was followed by a blizzard of abusive reviews. One of our most prominent liberal-left newspapers has reviewed it no less than four times — each time saying how terrible it was — which suggests it must have struck home somewhere.
Q: Metcalf’s Rule: “Some people just don’t like to be confused with facts that contradict their preconceived opinions.”
A: In general, the culture in Britain is pretty much leaning one way at the moment. If you try to stand out against it, then the response is either that you are ignored, kept off the air or abused. That rather sums up the condition of our country.
Q: Don’t feel like the Lone Ranger because, when I read it, my initial reaction was: Is this Britain or is this America? The parallels are so startling. From Tony Blair to Bill Clinton to everything else. Tony Blair once told you to “sit down and stop being bad.”
A: He certainly did. I dared to ask him a hostile question — which he doesn’t expect to happen. He’s not very good at coping with them. In fact, the comparison between him and Clinton is interesting. Blair is not, of course, the moral reprobate and squalid person that Clinton is, and his private life is absolutely exemplary. But, by comparison to Clinton, he simply hasn’t got the intelligence or knowledge of his brief. And he can’t really cope.
He is basically constructed by public relations men to appear as if he is prime minister but isn’t actually up to the job. He’s terrified of any kind of questioning because he knows he doesn’t really understand his subject and isn’t truly in charge of the country. But yes, he did tell me to “sit down and stop being bad” because I persisted in pursuing this question about his appalling education policy.
Q: On the other side of the coin, WorldNetDaily’s founder and editor, Joseph Farah, got audited by the IRS for writing and publishing stuff critical of the Clinton administration.
A: Well, that is now an option for the British government to pursue. Our Internal Revenue Service, known as the Inland Revenue, now does have the power of audit, which they just quite recently acquired. Some of us, having seen how this can be misused in the United States, worry that it might be misused just as much if not more so in the “New Britain.”
What you have to understand about the new Britain is that despite being the cradle of parliamentary democracy and the source of the Magna Carta, many of our personal liberties are under threat at the moment. Jury trials, for instance, are something that the present government would like to limit and eventually get rid of. If we go deeper into the European Union as is being seriously suggested at the moment, then many other liberties will go, too, because we will eventually come under European Union law, which doesn’t even recognize jury trial or habeas corpus or many of the liberties which American and British people have taken for granted for centuries.
Q: You are speaking to an audience that is still laboring under the fiction that we reside in a constitutional republic and are controlled by laws. They haven’t gotten the memo yet. What I’d like you to explain to this neophyte audience, because some of us don’t know: In England, what is a Tory and what is a Conservative?
A: They are the same thing. A Tory is just sort of, originally intended to be a rude name for the Conservatives. But it stuck and the Conservatives use it themselves now. It’s just a quicker way of saying the same thing.
Q: What happened in 1997 in Britain?
A: A very poor, lacklustre government with no real idea of what they were doing – not properly conservative — was overwhelmed by a cultural and political revolution which presented itself as a campaign against sleaze and government misbehavior and as a new broom sweeping away at this old regime. It also presented itself as being essentially harmless and not offering any serious change.
Q: OK, that was the perception. What was the reality?
A: Deep down was an extremely radical new government determined to impose enormous constitutional and political changes on Britain — which will transform it, in my view, considerably for the worse. This election was the culmination of more than 30 years of cultural revolution — in the schools, in broadcasting, in the churches, you name it – in the whole culture. It completely undermined the old resilience and self-confidence of the British people and had lulled them into a sense of false security about how their future might work out.
Q: It is fascinating, because many of the things we Americans itch and moan about all the time, everything going wrong in this country, is a product of revisionist history, trivializing important things, subverting the education system, cultural standards, overthrown accepted notions of patriotism, faith and morality. That is stuff I say on the air all the time, but right now I’m reading it off your book jacket.
A: It is all true. But the thing is, you don’t actually have it as bad as we do.
Q: Oh come on …
A: No, no, no, no. You have to understand: The United States is still very resilient in a number of very important ways. For one thing, you are not a country where patriotism is so unfashionable that you have to do it in private between consenting adults.
Q: It’s getting that way, pal.
A: It may be getting that way but it’s a long way off. And if you think you are getting toward the British situation you are very much mistaken. It is considered almost shameful to be patriotic in Britain now. Not merely, I have to say, among the so-called pseudo-intellectual classes, but also a long way deeper into the population. As for religion, which in your country still flourishes — which of course is the basis of freedom and everything that flows from it — religion is pretty much dead in most parts of Britain. It doesn’t exist. You still have it. And those two things are your great protections against what I see happening to us.
Q: Which not coincidentally are the two things under attack.
A: Of course they are under attack. But they are resisting that attack quite strongly. Whereas in Britain, they have just simply crumbled away. You do have to understand there is a profound difference. There is one other thing that you don’t face, which is the abolition of your national independence and sovereignty by absorption into a supranational state.
Q: Yet …
A: Imagine if the U.S. Congress and Supreme Court were both subject to a higher court that could overrule any of their decisions.
Q: Peter, back in December, Bill Clinton signed the International Criminal Court treaty. It may well be dead on arrival, but he signed it.
A: He did, and there is a very good chance nothing will ever come of that. I agree with you it was shocking to see such a thing happen. But then, we know Bill Clinton has signed — what is it? — 2,900 pages of regulations in the past few weeks?
Q: And still counting.
A: That’s right, to make up for all the things he was prevented from doing in the previous eight years. But, even so, you do have a strong opposition which is likely to prevent a lot of that from becoming the law of the land.
I don’t think Americans would accept the idea that their armed forces should be put under the command of a foreign power. But that again is taking place here. The construction of a so-called European Defense Force — a European Army — means that the Royal Navy, the Royal Air Force and the ancient Regiments of the British Army are gradually being transferred to the control of continental generals who will use them for policies which are not decided by the British government, parliament or people.
That would not be acceptable in the United States. And any government that even began to negotiate such a thing would be thrown out of office. In Britain it is happening without serious protest, except among a small – vociferous, it’s true — but a small minority who cannot seem to make any political impact. They are overwhelmed by a determined Labor Party establishment which is pushing this change through — and many other changes as well.
Q: Peter, you make frequent reference in your book to this “New Britain” — or is it “New England”?
A: “New Britain” would be better, because you have to make big distinction between England and Britain.
Q: Mea culpa! I’ve lost touch since Michael Metcalf fled England in 1636.
A: Well, it is quite understandable. A lot of people don’t know what to call the country who live there. The difficulty now is that it is breaking up so fast that it is difficult to know what to call it. England, which had been part of a four-nation country including Ireland, Scotland and Wales, is now rapidly falling back on itself. Scotland is about three-quarters of the way to independence. Wales is about half way to independence.
Q: We had Alex Salmond here a while back.
A: Oh yes, a very interesting and clever man. A sort of ad hoc leader of the Scots who is pushing them further and further — or has been, until he recently quit his leadership — pushing them further and further away from England. But, of course, into the arms of the European Union, which longs to see the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (our official title) broken up into its constituent parts — the more easily to swirl it into its Euroblender and turn us into a kind of Eurosoup.
Q: Is the “New Britain” just really kind of a country-state of the European Union?
A: That is its likely fate as things stand — that it will cease to exist as an independent country quite soon. It’s giving away more of its independence year by year. Just last month it gave away a considerable amount of its independence at a summit in Nice on the Mediterranean. And it will be giving up more each time the European Union moves. As it designs itself forward, it demands more sovereign powers from its constituent countries.
These, of course, have to be handed to the undemocratic and unaccountable censor of the European Union, which is part of our problem. But the “New Britain” is a cultural thing. A lot of Americans who I think are familiar with the old Hollywood or TV idea of Britain – an old-fashioned country of perhaps more class distinction than Americans would like – where people are pretty much set in their ways, loyal to the monarchy, patriotic, religious, cultured, know their Shakespeare, all that sort of thing. And are also well-behaved, non-violent, unarmed, with unarmed ‘Bobbies’ strutting the street. I have to tell you, this is complete fiction now.
Q: Fiction is good. But what is the reality?
A: We are now an extremely violent country of great squalor in the streets. The police are beginning to patrol with weapons. One of the last things I saw when I left the country was a couple of cops with submachine guns standing outside the courthouse near my picturesque hometown of the city of Oxford. We are now descending a rapid spiral of violence as we enter social decline. At the same time, you could ask most British school children — or, indeed, university students — to quote you a piece of Shakespeare and they probably wouldn’t even have heard of him, let alone know any poetry or any of their national literature. They have been deprived of it.
They think the history of Britain, rather than being an honorable story of democracy and liberty and civilization, is actually a catalogue of squalor, depression and misdeeds. Because that is what they have been told. They have been brought up by their educators and most of the broadcasting systems to despise their country.
Q: Very interesting, since that is exactly what is happening here in the United States. You have a splendid line in your book in which you write that, “failure to conform with today’s orthodoxy is a moral failing.” Well, who establishes that orthodoxy? Who’s the sheriff?
A: It is the people who came out of the universities about the time that I did — many of these are people I know, and were at college with. The current boss of the British Broadcasting Corporation, the major broadcasting organization in the country, is someone I was at university with, and he is a supporter of the left. But these people went into, not government or politics, but into the cultural industries of broadcasting and education. And they have taken over. They are now so dominant that most of them are not even aware that they have opinions. They think that what they think is ‘normal.’ And if they come across anyone who resists, they think that person is some kind of extremist maniac who has to be dismissed as being verging on the mentally unstable.
Q: Boy, does that strike a familiar note …
A: And that sort of level of intolerance is very common. What we don’t have is what you have. For instance, we don’t have talk radio. There isn’t any. Until recently, I had a show on the last — the only — British national speech station which is not controlled by the BBC. That station has now become a sports-only station. Now, if you want to listen to speech radio you have to listen to the BBC, which is under the domination of the liberal left, and ultimately financed by a tax levied on the whole population on pain of imprisonment. That of course is utterly unhealthy.
Q: You mean there is no contradictory opinion being articulated anywhere?
A: Well, I am “allowed” on the BBC from time to time, but usually only when I am, open quotes — balanced — close quotes, by at least three people who disagree with me. I will be presented as being an outrageous, extreme view.
Q: Kind of like one of us going on CBS.
A: But there isn’t anywhere else to go. If you can’t get on the BBC, then you are silenced. So you have to accept their terms to go on.
Q: I thought a couple of years back there was some movement to provide some independent broadcast options in England. Did that go away or did it just not happen?
A: There are independent television stations. But they’ve almost completely given up any kind of current affairs or political coverage. To the extent that they do it, it is different from the BBC. There isn’t any real serious competition in the field of current affairs or debate.
Q: Is it market-driven or is it complicity to quash dissent?
A: It is no more market-driven than the squalor of Hollywood. It is ideological-driven because that is what those people want to do. It isn’t just the news programs. It’s the comedy programmes. It’s the dramas, soap operas. They are all propaganda for the politically correct liberal point of view. You will not find, for example, a conservative character in any of these soap operas who isn’t a figure of fun – if you can find one at all.
Q: You mention the “New Britain” is a country of focus groups.
Q: One thing I know about focus groups is that it really depends on who is asking the questions, who is assembling the focus groups.
A: Of course, focus groups are designed to come up with the required answer. But they also do one other thing. We now know what Bill Clinton and Dick Morris used focus groups for — to discover what people wanted him to do, so he could appear to be doing it. We have a prime minister who is an excellent actor — which is his main skill — and he is wonderful at “pretending” to be conservative while acting radically. And many people have yet to see through this. Many people will still tell you, “Oh, Tony Blair is really a Tory, a conservative.”
He is nothing of the kind. I don’t believe he is anything at all, myself. I knew him before he was famous. I think he is a hole in the air. He doesn’t suffer from many opinions, but he certainly isn’t a conservative. But he heads a government, which is fantastically radical. Radical not just in terms of raising taxes and increasing the power of government, but radical in changing the constitution so it brings more and more and more power to a very powerful executive indeed. The prime minister of Britain still has the powers of the monarch. Those powers are only restrained by parliament.
Q: But Parliament can get rid of him. You have the capacity to do that without having to wait four years.
A: Yeah, Parliament can. But Parliament has at the moment been reduced to the state of a rubber stamp. It is wholly under the control of party whips who order the members of Parliament how to vote. What is much worse is that the members of Parliament obey, because the vast majority of them are professional politicians who couldn’t do anything else if they tried, and rely upon their party leaders for their paychecks. So they do as they are told.
Q: What about the House of Lords?
A: The House of Lords, which to the surprise of many Americans contains some of the most radical and independent voices in the country, who were actually hereditary peers – who couldn’t be bullied or beaten by the party whips — has been ‘reformed’ to get rid of most of those independent people. So that the executive – 10 Downiny Street — the elected dictatorship has become much, much stronger in the four years since Mr. Blair came into office.
Q: You have been called arrogant, pretentious. But I hadn’t heard anyone, until I read some of the reviews, accuse you of “low self-esteem”? Where the hell did that come from?
A: It made me laugh, too. Anyone who is familiar with my colossal vanity thought it a good joke. When I brought the book out I agreed to be interviewed by an awful lot of people.
Q: And a lot of awful people …
A: Quite. And what is fascinating about most of them was that none of them could accept that this was simply an honest account of the recent history of the country. They had to say, “Why have you written this? What’s wrong with you? What is your psychological disorder that has compelled you to write this book?”
Q: Peter, you have said, “The Emperor has no clothes!”
A: And they find that so offensive. You will know from running a radio show of this kind that the thing that people really hate is being made to think. They can’t bear it. And when you make them think, very few will respond by thinking and saying, “Well, perhaps I am mistaken.” Most people, seeing their precious opinions — which are often based on nothing but fashion — challenged, will respond by being very angry with the person who challenges them, and abusing that person.
Q: That seems to be a universal reaction not unique to the British.
A: What astonishes me is that there are so few people of my generation in Britain — I was born in 1951 — who take the same view I do, which is actually in most cases pretty much the view that my parents would have taken on most issues.
Q: The Wall Street Journal made the observation that you get a lot of grief from the elite in London, but that away from London, “in the villages, among the old, the retired, country-dwellers, farmers and landowners, people are unhappy. They feel that New Britain is out to get them.”
A: Not just the old, I should stress either. A lot of people. I’m a newspaper columnist and commentator and a lot of people write to me and e-mail me and telephone me, and many are not old or isolated in country areas. The thing that I objected to in that Wall Street Journal review was the assumption that it was just a marginal remnant — just people at the edges of society. Many urban, professional young people are also highly distressed at what is happening to Britain. Particularly the almost-complete collapse of any kind of personal morality and the effects of that on daily life that are more and more frightening.
Q: Is there a disconnect between London and the rest of the country? Are they in a bubble, and just don’t or won’t see? Or don’t they care?
A: It’s not as serious as the Beltway problem. Because London is as well as being a city of government, also a city in its own right containing normal human beings. But there is a big distinction between the university-educated professional elite in the political and media sectors and practically everyone else.
But this is obscured by the fact that it is exactly that elite that has control of the broadcasting networks and therefore portrays the country in a distorting mirror, and makes those people who share my views — and I suspect would share yours — feel isolated. And when you feel isolated, if you think you are the only one who thinks as you do, then you are more reluctant to speak up.
The number of letters and e-mails I’ve gotten which have begun with, “I thought it was only me …” is quite astonishing, this isolation of what is probably the majority of conservative thinking. I don’t like the term “silent majority.” I don’t necessarily claim it is a majority, but if it isn’t, it is a very substantial minority of the population of all ages in all parts of the country who are deeply out of tune with what is being done in their name by government and out of tune with the people who run the schools and who run the media in general and who control the cultural and by and large the moral life of the country.
Q: Peter, I have to ask you this because it is a dynamic that is intriguing. In this country, we have a very liberal mainstream media who doesn’t want to hear or report stuff that contradicts their dogma. And because of that, and I feel very strongly about this, because of the malfeasance on the part of the mainstream, the vacuum they have created is now being filled by independent vehicles like WorldNetDaily.com. Is there anything parallel to that in England that is coming to fill the void that has been created?
A: I think one of the problems with England is that conservative people thought for a very long time that they were still the establishment, when in fact the ground beneath their feet was being cut away.
Q: They didn’t get the memo?
A: They were very much like the people in the cartoon sitting at the table while the saw is cutting through the floor, not realizing they are about to fall through a hole. That feeling that it is necessary to resist — still very common among Americans — isn’t there. There has been a lot of complacency. I recently changed newspapers to a newspaper called The Mail on Sunday, which is one of a minority of strongly conservative national newspapers which still do have a considerable audience and some major impact on life. The problem with them is they are of course still likened very much to the British Conservative Party, which has failed pretty spectacularly to deliver any kind of political, cultural or moral resistance to the revolution we are going through. And at the moment, very likely to be badly beaten by Tony Blair in a general election that could be as soon as April.
Q: That soon?
A: The problem is, we really don’t know how to resist. We’ve been safe for so long from all the things we have been speaking of, and secure in our liberty for so long that we haven’t got the habit of resistance. We don’t know where to begin. Whereas I think Americans are much more ready to look at, particularly, their federal government, and see it as an enemy. British people have for a very long time believed that the government and the law were their friend. They are fighting very hard to adjust to a New World in which this may not be so.
Q: This success that Tony Blair is enjoying seems to be form over substance. Where’s the beef?
A: The beef is the rapid move toward constitutional change, which will result in the absorption of Britain into the European Union. He knows, or rather the people who pull his strings know, that the British electorate and the British Parliament would never have accepted the socialist programme they want to put into practice. So what they want to do is to put Britain under the control of the institution of the European Union, which is — and this is an important point — it is a new Soviet Union in the making.
They want to use the institutions of the European Union to impose on Britain the high taxes, the regulation, the centralization, the authoritarianism which they could never have gotten through a British Parliament. That’s what they plan to do, and the trap is due to be sprung probably later on this year when we will all be confronted with a referendum which the government will run on its own terms and rig. We will all be invited to abolish the pound sterling and enter the European single currency. Which of course means the complete loss of any kind of national economic independence and effectively the abolition of our independence as a nation state.
Q: Then what?
A: From that moment onwards we will be entirely under the control of European institutions. Our gold and currency reserves, our entire economy, will be their property. And they will be able to drag us into their high-regulation, high-tax, welfare-state system which is destroying the economic growth and independence we have enjoyed since Margaret Thatcher.
Q: I recently read a piece in the Wall Street Journal suggesting the Euro is in such sad shape that Americans are now buying vacation property in Aix au Provence because you can get a great place there for about fifty grand.
A: Well, that’s not really the point. The Euro may well rise, but frankly if it rose to twice its current value it wouldn’t make it any more attractive to me. It is a political question. The currency is not a symbol of national independence like a national anthem or a flag. It is a fact of national independence like an army or a legal system. Once you give it up, you aren’t a country anymore.
Q: Then there won’t always be an England?
A: What the other nations in the European Union have already done is to give up their currency and they have abandoned their independence. That’s their decision if they want to do it. That’s up to them, although I regret it. I think the European Union is likely to develop into something startlingly similar to the Soviet Union. It has many many parallels. It has a parliament in which there is no opposition — which is really a Supreme Soviet. Its main lawmaking body is a group of officials called “The Commission,” which can initiate legislation and is completely unaccountable beyond the power.
Q: Excuse me, but that sounds an awful lot like a “Star Chamber”?
A: That’s it, I am afraid. And then there is a thing called the “Council of Ministers,” which supposedly gives some democratic legitimacy because these are ministers from the elected governments of the European Union states. But most of them don’t understand what’s going on. The laws and the rules have changed simply with their rubber stamp permission. It has all these things, and it is also developing a police force, its own legal system and its own air space.
It has a national anthem. It is rapidly acquiring an army and a navy. It wants very much to get hold of the British and French nuclear weapons, which would become of course the European nuclear weapons when that took place. And especially the French, who are very dominant in this organization, want it to be a challenge to the Americans. It will be profoundly anti-American. This will show first of all in trade wars and then in a refusal to cooperate in any kind of joint Western military enterprise. A separate European foreign policy, which particularly in the Mideast, I think, you will find very anti-Israel.
Q: We are already burdened with NAFTA, GATT and the stacked World Trade Organization.
A: The World Trade Organization is constantly seeing battles with the United States pitting itself against the protectionism of the European Union, into which Britain is now drawn. We don’t undertake our own trade negotiations anymore. The European Union does it for us and, of course, drags us into disputes with the United States — which most of us regard as a friend and a valued trading partner.
Q: Any likelihood of a revolution before it’s too late?
A: No, I don’t think so. It’s all to be done quietly. You don’t go around seizing the Parliament buildings anymore. The philosopher Kierkegaard said the most effective revolutions are the ones that left the buildings standing and the semblance of everything the way it was, but dragged away the real meaning from them so they no longer really existed, but just appeared to do so. That’s the kind of revolution Britain is undergoing — one where all the buildings are left standing, all the institutions appear still to be there. But their power and significance have just been drained away and they don’t really rule the country anymore. We don’t have a Parliament, or an English law, or indeed our independence.
Geoff Metcalf is a talk-show host for TalkNetDaily.