Posts Tagged ‘Trevelyan’

BBC Criticised for Anti-White Bias: The Case of Romesh Ranganathan and Sierra Leone

December 30, 2022

A day or so ago a group of right-wing historians calling themselves History Reclaimed released a report accusing the Beeb of anti-White bias. They gave a list of 20 instances in which the BBC distorted history for apparently political and racial reasons. One example was of a programme that claimed that Robert Peel had a callous disregard for the victims of the Irish potato famine. The truth, they claimed, was that Peel risked his career pushing through legislation abolishing the Corn Laws, so that Irish, and poor British people, could buy cheap foreign grain. The name History Reclaimed to my ears suggests some kind of link with Laurence Fox’s Reclaim party. The group includes the historians Andrew Roberts and Jeremy Black. While I strongly disagree with their Tory views, these are respectable, academic, mainstream historians. Roberts talked rubbish in a video posted on YouTube by PragerU, an American right-wing thinktank, which tries to present itself as some kind of university. He claimed that the British was A Good Thing because it gave the world free trade and property rights. Well, property rights exist in Islam, and I’ve no reason to doubt that they also existed in China and India, so that’s a very dubious claim. As for free trade, well, the privatisation the IMF has forced on some of the African countries that came to it for aid has generally left them worse off, sometimes catastrophically so, as when one of the southern African countries deregulated its sugar industry. But whatever I think of Roberts’ political views, he is in other ways an excellent historian. The same with Jeremy Black, whose Slavery: A New Global History I thoroughly recommend. Black has also published a history of the British Empire that does acknowledge the atrocities and human rights abuses that occurred. We are not, therefore, dealing with people who want to erase history themselves.

Regarding Robert Peel, I’ve no doubt they’re right. Peel was a great reforming Prime Minister. He founded the metropolitan police, hence their nickname of ‘bobbies’ and ‘peelers’. He also reduced the number of capital crimes from well over hundred to three. These included murder and treason. It’s because of him that you can no longer be hanged for impersonating a Chelsea pensioner. There were British officials, who felt that the Irish had brought it on themselves and should be left to starve. The head of the civil service, Trevelyan, is notorious for these views. But I don’t believe that Peel was one of them.

But it’s not Peel, who I shall discuss here, but Sierra Leone. Another example they gave was of Romesh Ranganthan’s presentation of the history of slavery in Sierra Leone in one edition of his The Misadventures of Romesh Ranganathan. In the programme, Ranganathan went to a slave fort on Bunce Island and talked to local people about the country’s history. By their account, this was very one-sided. The slavers were presented as all being White British. In fact, as History Reclaimed states, the African peoples in the area were also slavers. In 1736 or so one of the local chiefs attacked Bunce Island because it was taking trade away from him. And although the programme mentioned raiders, it did not state that the slaves were supplied by Black Africans, and so gave the impression that the trade’s victims were enslaved by White British.

It also neglected to mention that Sierra Leone was founded as a state for free Blacks, and that there is an arch commemorating the emancipation of Black slaves in Freetown which the UN has stated is comparable to the Statue of Liberty in espousing and celebration freedom, democracy and human rights. I have no doubt that this is also correct.

Slavery existed in Africa for millennia before the emergence of the transatlantic slave trade. While Europeans had and occasionally did raid for slaves, they were prevented from penetrating inland through a mixture of the disease-ridden climate and power African kingdoms. Europeans were confined to their own quarters of indigenous towns, like the ghettos into which Jews were forced in the Middle Ages. The slave trade was extremely lucrative, and the slaves were indeed sold to them by Africans, some of the most notorious being Dahomey, Ashanti, Badagry and Whyday. After the ban on the slave trade in 1807, one African nation attacked a British trading post in the 1820s to force us to take it up again. I found this in a copy of the very well respected British history magazine, History Today.

In the late 18th century – I’ve forgotten precisely when – the colony was taken over by one of the abolitionist groups. It was intended to be a new state for free Blacks. Three shiploads of emigrants, who also included some Whites, set sail. The idealists, who planned the colony also changed the laws regulating land tenure. I’ve forgotten the system of land tenure they altered, but from what I remember they believed it had been introduced by the Normans and was part of the framework of feudalism. I think it was also intended to be governed democratically. The new colony immediately fell into difficulties, and the colonists were reinforced with the arrival of Caribbean Maroons and Black Loyalists from America. The latter had been granted their freedom in exchange for fighting for us during the American Revolution. After independence, they were moved to Halifax in Nova Scotia, Canada. Unfortunately, they were prevented from settling down through a mixture of the harsh northern climate and racism. The colony still experienced considerable trouble, and was saved by being taken over by the British government. After Britain outlawed the slave trade, it became the base for the British West India Squadron, which was tasked with patrolling the seas off Africa intercepting slavers. It was also the site of one of the courts of mixed commission, in which suspected slavers were tried by judges from Britain and the accused slavers’ nation. The British navy were assisted in their attacks on slavers by indigenous African tribes, such as the Egba, and their help was appreciated. The admiralty stated that soldiers and sailors from these people should receive the same compensation for wounds suffered battling slavers as British troops, not least because it would reaffirm British good faith and encourage more Africans to join the struggle.

Slaving by the surrounding tribes and even by some of the liberated Africans in the colony itself remained a problem. As a result, British officers from the colony made anti-slavery treaties with the chiefs of the neighbouring Sherbro country, and reported on and took action against the Black colonists stealing young boys to sell to the slave states further south. Freetown became a major centre of education and western civilisation in Africa. Many of the anthropologists, who first described African languages and societies, were Sierra Leonean Blacks. The father of the 19th century Black British composer, Samuel Coleridge Taylor, was a Black citizen of Sierra Leone.

None of this is at all obscure or controversial. African slavers and their complicity in the trade are mentioned in Hugh Thomas’ brilliant book, The Slave Trade, as well as various general histories of Africa. There is even a book specifically on the history of Sierra Leone and the West India Squadron, Sweet Water and Bitter: The Ships That Stopped The Slave Trade by Sian Rees (London: Chatto & Windus 2009). One of the Scottish universities over two decades ago published a book collecting the Black colonists’ letters. I’m afraid I can’t remember the title, but we had a copy at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum. Now a programme could well be made about the Black colonists and their struggles from their own words. One of the problems with history is that the lower strata of society generally remain silent, unless described or remarked upon by the upper classes. This is particularly true when it comes to slaves or former slaves. But somehow mentioning that it was settled by former slaves was considered unimportant or even embarrassing or controversial by the show’s producers.

Simon Webb of History Debunked has noted the various instances where the account of the slave trade has been selectively retold and omits any mention of Black African complicity. As far right as Webb is, I believe he has a point. But this attitude is not only anti-White, it also does Blacks an injustice by assuming that they are emotionally unable to handle this aspect of the slave trade. One Black historian with whom I worked at the Museum stated quite clearly that in the Caribbean they were told by their mammies that it was the Africans who sold their ancestors into slavery. And no, he didn’t hate Africans either. Channel 4 even presented a show about African involvement in the slave trade twenty or so years ago. This is the channel that the Tories hated for being too left-wing and having Michael Grade, ‘Britain’s pornographer in chief’ as they called him, as its controller. I am not blaming Ranganathan himself for the bias. The right hate him because he is very outspoken in his anti-Brexit views. But I doubt he knew much about Sierra Leon and its history. The fault lies with the producer and director, if not further up BBC management who may have laid down rules regarding the presentation of slavery and the British empire generally.

Black complicity in the slave trade doesn’t excuse White European involvement, but it does need to be taught so that people get a balanced view of the historical reality. And I wonder why the Beeb didn’t.

Vox Political: Amazon Boss to Get DWP Directorship

February 4, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political today posted this piece from the Guardian, commenting on Margaret Hodge’s disgust at Amazon’s boss of Chinese operations getting a directorship at the DWP: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/02/04/amazon-bosss-dwp-appointment-is-disgusting-but-when-did-government-departments-start-having-directors/ In his comment, he asks a very pertinent question: since when did the DWP, or the Civil Service as a whole, start having directorships? Traditionally, the heads of the civil service were secretaries over various descriptions, undersecretaries, private secretaries, personal private secretaries, etc. Secretaries by the bushel, secretaries by the bucketful. But no directors. So, he asks, is this indication that the Gentleman Ranker, Ian ‘Snollygaster’ Duncan Smith, wants to privatise another section of the DWP, or indeed the whole government department?

It’s a good question. IDS – just one vowel away from ‘AIDS’, and nearly as poisonous – and the rest of the Tories really do seem to think that privatising everything is the solution. They took this idea over from the Libertarians in America, who want just about everything privatised, even the courts. All in the name of small government. I don’t think even IDS is so stupid that he wants to go as far as completely privatising the justice system, but he and they do seem to follow the libertarian line about privatising the police force. This policy is based on the idea that private corporations are automatically more efficient and more effective than state operated enterprises or organisations. Even when it’s been proved again and yet again that they aren’t. The Civil Service was originally considered unsuitable for privatisation, so they did the next best thing. They quasi-privatised part of it, but separating the Department of Health from the Department of Social Security, and turned the latter into the Benefits Agency. Now it seems that they want to privatise it completely, at least piecemeal.

As for the title of ‘director’, there’s an element of vanity in there. IDS, Cameron and the others have all entered public service from business, and therefore don’t seem to be satisfied with simply having the title and job description as ‘public servants’. No, they want to be seen as hot-shot directors, not secretaries. So directors they must be, even if it’s completely inappropriate. Way back in the 1990s, a similar rebranding occurred in the Department of Trade and Industry. This wasn’t good enough for the responsible minister at the time, who insisted on calling it, ‘The Department of Enterprise’, in line with Thatcherite Yuppie ideology. Well, yuppies have come and gone. A lot of them finally gave up the game when the steam ran out of the part of the Thatcher Revolution, and New Labour came to power, only to carry on her legacy in a slightly less noxious form. But as the idea of directorships in the DWP shows, it’s still there. And it’s entirely inappropriate.

Directors are the heads of private companies, which are driven by the profit motive. The aim of private enterprise is primarily to make money, not to provide a service. The role of the civil service, on the contrary, is to provide a service in spheres which are outside the applicability of the profit motive. It’s why there are just so many regulations prescribing the correct conduct of civil servants and what constitutes corruption. They aren’t there to enrich themselves at the expense of the state or its citizens. They are there to serve the public. This latter point is important. It was imported into the Civil Service ethos by the Trevelyan in the 19th century. His idea of moral, responsible service by state officials was largely based on the old Stoic ideal of service to the state. Trevelyan himself was an utter b*stard in some respects. He had absolutely zero sympathy for the victims of the Irish Potato Famine, and did not want them to be given any relief in their most dire need. It’s an episode which has cast a terrible shadow over subsequent relations between Britain and Ireland ever since. But Trevelyan’s reform of the Civil Service did create an ethos of efficient, responsible public service. IDS’ creation of directorships threatens to undermine this, and throw the whole institution back to the corruption of the 18th century and previously, when officeholders believed that they had an absolute right to exploit their position to the full to enrich themselves.

And in that case, ideology will have come full circle, and the Tories will have gone back to their roots. Modern Neoliberalism has much of its ideological roots in 19th century radicalism. 19th century radicals generally wanted small, cheap, efficient government, free of the webs of patronage and corruption that stifled the economy and prevented individuals from developing their own talents and being rewarded by the fruits of their energy and enterprise. Thatcher and her Yuppy crew largely took power by muttering a lot of nonsense about ‘meritocracy’. It informs the very title of Norman Tebbit’s autobiography, ‘Upwardly Mobile’.

But for all that they mouth Neoliberal clich├ęs about enterprise, efficiency, meritocracy and self-reliance, the Tories aren’t motivated by a desire to increase social mobility, or limit the stifling power of an hereditary ruling class, like the 19th century Liberals. Cameron, Osbo, IDS and their cabinet are toffs. They are the stifling hereditary ruling class. Social mobility under New Labour had all but ceased. Under Cameron it’s stopped completely. And they’re determined to hold on to power, and oppress everyone else. Hugh Montgomery-Massingberd gave the game away in the Times in the 1980s when he loudly hailed Maggie Thatcher as bringing about a ‘social restoration’ of the old country house elite. The only difference now is that the ruling elite are corporations and their managers, rather than an agricultural aristocracy. But the ethos remains of a ruling class, which regards the state and its institutions as their instruments with which to govern and plunder, rather than to serve the greater national good.

Quentin Letts on the Special Advisors

March 19, 2014

Quentin Letts pic

Quentin Letts on what looks suspiciously like Have I Got News For You.

Mike in his piece over at Vox Political on Osborne’s budget reported on the Chancellor’s double standards regarding public sector pay. This was to be kept low, while at the same time the government’s Special Advisors were to be given a 40 per cent pay rise. The Daily Fail’s parliamentary sketch writer, Quentin Letts, has a few things to say about them in his book, 50 People Who Buggered Up Britain (London: Constable & Robinson 2009). And none of them are complimentary.

They’re in chapter 55 on Harold Wilson, who’s in there for the reason that he created them. Letts says

Wilson was disinclined to do much heavy policy thinking himself. He darkly suspected the civil service of being a Tory conspiracy. He therefore hired others to do his thinkin’ for him. Worse, he had their wages drawn from public funds. Harold Wilson was in some ways a good Prime Minister. He kept us out of the Vietnam War, not least. He was in at least one respect, however, a very bad premier: he created state-paid Special Advisors. (p. 271).

These he describes thus

The Special Advisor is an appointed stooge, an outsider brought into Whitehall by a minister or political party. He or she normally lasts only as long in that department as the minister. Special Advisors are, by their very nature, short-termists. They tend to take decisions which help a minister avoid blame or trouble, usually at the expense of another minister, sometimes merely because the extent of a problem has been temporarily concealed. Special Advisors are antipathetic to openness. Secrecy gives them power. (p. 272).

He notes that under Wilson, Heath and Margaret Thatcher their numbers were low. He states that Maggie

with her keen suspicion of civil service obstinacy, created something of a praetorian guard of policy-thinkers at No. 10 but was never particularly keen on Special Advisors sprouting uncontrolled throughout Whitehall. She preferred her junior ministers to use their brains. She was never quite sure if Special Advisors were ‘one of us’, either. So little time. So many colleagues to monitor for signs of disloyalty. What an exhausting life she must have led. (ibid)

It was under John Major, who gave Cabinet Ministers rather more departmental freedom to form governmental policy with a greater degree of success, that the ‘Spads’ came into their own. And one of them is the honourable gentleman (and I use the term loosely) now running the country.

140117democracy

David Cameron: a former government Special Advisor, of the type who were given a 40 per cent pay rise today. AS they aren’t actually Civil Servants, this is another example of the government paying massive subsidies to the government contracted private sector.

Special advisors became more self-confident. Arrogant youths, many of them, they would strut into newspaper offices a pace or two to the side of their bosses, dispensing business cards and massaging their own reputations. One of them, you will recall, was called David Cameron. Special Advisors started to become more prominent socially. They became better known as sources of press stories. They overtook backbenches MPs in the unspoken table of political importance. (pp. 272-3)

He then attacks the way the number of Special Advisors massively expanded under Tony Blair, so that by 2002 there were 81 of them. His ire is not so much about the money spent paying them, but on their corruption of the governmental system.

The many millions spent on their salaries may be irksome – a symbol of the waste and the stroking of the political cadre – but it was wee buns compared to the billions blown on other inessential parts of the public sector, often on the say of, yes, Special Advisors. And even more damaging was the way these Special Advisors corrupted our political system. Since the later years of the nineteenth century the British Civil Service had been a professional body. That is to say, it offered recruits a career of serious service. Entrance to the profession was possible only after rigorous examination and interview procedures. Civil servants were schooled to regard the nation as their employer. They worked for the long-term good of the country, the community, not for the good of whichever politician happened to be in power at any one time. G.M. Trevelyan, historian, wrote that the merit-baed entrance procedures to the civil service removed it ‘from the field of political jobbery’. Favouritism, nepotism and nudge-nudge-wink-winkism were trumped by measurable ability. These values slowly percolated to other parts of society. It wasn’t a bad way to run a country, you know. (p. 274).

He is particularly incensed at the way the were used by Tony Blair as part of his carefully stage-managed events, and that two of them, Jonathan Powell and Alistair Campbell, were given executive rights over permanent secretaries.

Letts has a particularly rosy view of the impartiality and efficiency of the British civil service. Sadly, experience has not always backed this up. Civil Servants are indeed required, under their terms of service, to provide ministers with impartial advice. I’ve no doubt that in many cases this is true. But not nearly in as many cases as we’d like. One of the reasons the railways are in the horrendous state they are in today, is because one particular senior civil servant, who was named in Private Eye, was a passionate enthusiast of free-market capitalism, with the result that they were privatised. The result is poor service, increasingly bloated subsidies for the rail companies, and the administrative chaos that led to several serious disasters like Potter’s Bar. These were particularly reprehensible because of the way the victims were denied justice and compensation for years afterwards as each company passed the buck from one to the other.

As a Daily Mail journo, Letts is, of course, a man of the Right, and has cause his fair share of offense writing for an offensive newspaper. He appeared a little while ago defending their attack on Ralph Milliband, Ed Milliband’s father, a Jewish refugee, who fought courageously for this country against Nazi Germany while Lord Rothermere wrote admiring pieces about how wonderful Adolf was. Still, Letts does have a point. The civil service is still required in theory to give impartial advice. The Special Advisors, with which the government has surrounded itself are under no obligation to do so. Indeed, quite the opposite. The government’s policy are all drawn from various loony right-wing think tanks, who tell the government exactly the type of Neoliberal rubbish they want to hear. The result is policies like today’s budget: cuts and privatisation for the poor, tax cuts for the rich. And 40 per cent pay rises for the Spads. Well, David Cameron was one of them, and so it really is a case of Osborne giving money to people exactly like himself. It demonstrates the very narrow class loyalties of the Coalition exactly.

Tory Councillor Told To Resign after Criticising David Attenborough – But Attenborough Does Believe in Doing Nothing for the Starving

September 19, 2013

Late yesterday evening there was a story on the MSN News about Phil Taylor, a Conservative councillor in Ealing, who had been told to resign for his comments on Twitter about David Attenborough. According to the article, Taylor had been angered by a statement by Attenborough on the need to curb the growth of the world’s population. He tweeted ‘I do wish this silly old fart would practice what he preached and take a one-way trip to Switzerland’. The leader of the Labour Party in Ealing Council, Julian Bell, condemned Taylor’s comments, and demanded that he should either apologise or resign. Taylor was also criticised by Scott Freeman, from the anti-bullying charity, Cybersmile, for setting a bad example and encouraging cyberbullying.

In reply to these criticisms, Taylor said in an email “My tweet reflected my frustration with Attenborough repeatedly using his ‘national treasure’ status to promote a set of views that see people as being a problem. His prescriptions seem always to apply to other people.

“My view of the world is that we have to work out how to make sure that the 9 billion people who will populate the world by 2050 all have a good life. They all have hopes and dreams and don’t need to be told what to do by Attenborough.”

The article concludes with the simple statement that ‘Sir David said in a radio interview this morning that he recognised that population controls were a controversial area and emphasised that he felt more strongly towards a human baby than any animal.

However, it is important to have a debate over what we do about the rising pressures on natural resources, he said.’

The full article can be read at:
http://news.uk.msn.com/uk/david-attenborough-should-kill-himself-says-tory-councillor.

Right-Wing Opposition to Green Politics

Now the Right does not like Green politics. In America Green politics are criticised as a Left-wing strategy for increasing taxation, regulation and enforcing income redistribution. The last means Republicans don’t like it because the Greens want to take money from the rich and give to the poor. Conservatives in America and Britain believe that Big Business has an absolute right to exploit, pollute and destroy the environment and its flora and fauna. In response to pressure from Green politicians and environmental groups, they have set up astroturf organisations, like ‘Wise Use’ to counter such criticism and present Conservatives as advocating instead a responsible approach to the environment in line with a policy promoting the proper exploitation of the natural world.

Attenborough: UN Should Not Give Food to Famine Victims

Now the suggestion that Attenborough should go and end his life in a Dignitas clinic is extreme, and it does set a bad example when so many children have ended their lives through abuse on the Internet. Taylor’s comment is not, however, quite as bad when you read what Attenborough himself had said. This is truly monstrous. According to the Daily Telegraph, Attenborough told their interviewer about his fears about overpopulation and appeared to suggest that the starving of the developing world should be left to die. The great broadcaster apparently said:
“What are all these famines in Ethiopia, what are they about? They’re about too many people for too little land. That’s what it’s about. And we are blinding ourselves. We say, get the United Nations to send them bags of flour. That’s barmy.” According to the article, he stated that overpopulation was a problem, and that if we didn’t tackle it, nature itself would, as it had done for a long time in the past. He also believed that the major obstacles to managing the world’s population was the attitude that having children was a human right, and the Roman Catholic Church’s prohibition on contraception. He also acknowledge that his statement about Ethiopia and its starving could be ‘misconstrued as an attack on poor people as the issues of major concern were in Africa and Asia.

The article about his comments can be read here:http://news.uk.msn.com/articles?cp-documentid=257478670.

India Starvation Photo

The victims of a famine in India. David Attenborough doesn’t want the UN to give food to people like these.

Attenborough and Atheist Attacks on Religion and Christianity

Now Attenborough has shown himself with these comments to be monstrously ignorant and callously indifferent to global suffering. I have been extremely unimpressed with Attenborough for several years now, ever since he added his voice to that of Richard Dawkins in sneering at religion. That’s a different issue, but I found his remarks then ignorant and uninformed, as countless people of faith, and particularly Western Christians, did contribute to the rise of science. For a more complete discussion of how Christianity laid the basis for modern science, see R. Hooykaas, Religion and the Rise of Modern Science (Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press 1971). I was also not impressed by his attitude, which suggested that Darwin’s Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection had somehow disproven the existence of God. I’ve blogged several times on this issue. For a proper discussion of this issue, see Own Chadwick, ‘Evolution and the Churches’ in G.A. Russell, ed., Science and Religious Belief: A Selection of Recent Historical Studies (London: The Open University/ University of London Press 1973)282-93. These are separate issues. Attenborough’s comments here also seem woefully ignorant and misinformed.

Traditional Attitudes towards Large Families in Western History and Modern Developing World

Let’s take his comment about the Roman Catholic church’s stance on contraception being part of the problem. In actual fact, many cultures and religion advocate large families. In tradition Moroccan society, a family with fewer than 12 children was described as ‘unfinished’. The pagan religions in Africa also lay great stress of large families and the fertility of their flocks and herds. As for attitudes to the environment and animal life, Nigel Barley in his account of his fieldwork amongst the Dowayo people of Cameroun, The Innocent Anthropologist, noted that they had very little knowledge of the animal life around them, and were quite prepared to exterminate any creature they disliked, such as lions. He states that family planning is so unpopular that there is a joke that the only thing that will not be opened and misappropriated when you send it through the post in West Africa is a packed of condoms.

He also does not seem to know, or understand the reasons why the developing world, and indeed Britain and the West before the twentieth century, had large families. These were massive infant mortality rates and to provide support for the parents in their old age. Barley himself says that one of the most moving demonstrations of the tragically high rate of death in childhood in Africa is a question in the Nigerian census form. This asks you how many children you have. After this is the question ‘How many are still living?’ In traditional societies, such as Britain before the establishment of the welfare state in 1948, there is no or little state provision for citizens in their old age. People therefore have large families in order to support them when they have become too elderly to manage for themselves.

Pakistan Contraception Photo

Women in Pakistan receiving contraceptive advice.

Fall in Birth Rate throughout the World

Attenborough also seems to have ignored the fact that globally, birth rates are dropping. Governments throughout the developing world have launched campaigns to control their populations through family planning and contraception. This includes the developing world. The French anthropologist, Richard Tod, has pointed to the fact that, although families in the developing world may be much larger than in the West, there has been a dramatic decline. In some Middle Eastern nations, such as those of the former Soviet central Asian republics like Azerbaijan, for example, the birth rates are comparable to those of Western Europe. In Britain and much of the developed world, including Germany, Italy, Russia and Japan, the birth rate is actually below replacement levels. The population in Britain has grown only because of immigration. The Japanese are so concerned about their demographic decline that Japanese newspapers have run stories predicting that in a thousand years’ time, the Japanese people will be extinct. One of the reasons why the Land of the Rising Sun is putting so much resources into developing robots is to create a suitable workforce. The Japanese are unwilling to permit mass immigration to provide the country with labour, and so have turned to cybernetics and robots instead. In fact the global decline in the birth rate has alarmed some demographers, anthropologists and economic planner. In mid-1990s New Scientist carried an interview with a scientist, who believed that population growth had peaked or was peaking. He believed that by the middle of this century there would be a population crash. The result would be increased strain on the welfare state due to the cost of caring for an aging population. The economy would also contract, and countries would have to compete with each other to attract migrants to join their nations’ workforce. He also believed that the high mortality rates in some African nations coupled with a low birth rate would cause their populations to shrink. He believed that the first nation that could be so affected would be Ethiopia. We are here looking very much at the kind of dystopian future predicted by the film Children of Men. This portrayed a Fascistic future Britain, in which no children had been born for 18 years.

Racist Fears over Campaigns to Limit Population

Attenborough’s comments here also threaten to increase racial tension and spur on the rise of the racist Right. IN Britain and America the Fascist and Nationalist Right see demands by the ruling elite that we should limit the size of our families as part of a policy of racial extermination directed at the indigenous White population. They believe that there is a deliberate policy by the liberal elite of wiping out Whites, and replacing them with Black and Asian immigrants. Attenborough’s comments will be seen by them as another example of this policy. Black Nationalists may also see it as a racially motivated attempt to exterminate them. Private Eye a few years ago reported the outrageous comments by a Black leader in South Africa, telling people not to use contraception to stop AIDS as this was really another racist attempts by Whites to limit the Black population. Such statements have some verisimilitude due to the fact that BOSS, the South African secret service, had at one time been active trying to develop diseases that would specifically target Blacks. Attenborough might fear that his comments may be ‘misconstrued’ as an attack on the poor of Africa and Asia, but given the highly mixed legacy of European colonial administrations, one cannot reasonable blame them for doing so. About ten or so years ago a history book came out. It was entitled ‘Third World Holocausts’, or something like that. I can’t remember the exact title. I do, however, remember what it was about. The book described the way European colonialists had committed terrible atrocities in their African and Asian possessions from the political and economic ideologies of the time. In the 19th century, for example, there was a terrible famine in one of the Indian states. I believe it was Bengal, during which millions starved to death. The Raj refused to import and distribute food to its victims from the belief that this would undermine the principle of free trade they were trying to adopt across the Empire.

Attenborough’s Comments and the Irish Potato Famine

Irish Famine Photo

Irish victims of the Potato Famine queuing to emigrate.

Much closer to home, Attenborough’s comments recall the attitude of British politicians and civil servants during the Irish Potato Famine. The head of the British civil service, Trevelyan, stated that the victims of the famine should be left to starve. It was, he stated, their fault due to their improvident and irresponsible lifestyle. The result was the legacy of bitterness and hatred which further fuelled Nationalist demands for home rule under Charles Stuart Parnell and violent revolution from the Fenian Brotherhood and later Irish Republican groups. Attitudes like Attenborough’s have partly contributed, however, remotely, to the rise and persistence of terror groups like the IRA.

Fascism and the Green Movement

Attenborough’s views are also similar to some other, viciously misanthropic, extreme Right-wing views found in certain sections of the Green movement. In the 1990s one of the anarchist groups became alarmed at the Fascist tendencies then entering the Green movement. Murray Bookchin, a leading anarchist intellectual, who advocates Green, post-scarcity Anarchism, walked out of a Green conference in Germany when one of the speakers, a former East German dissident, declared that they needed a ‘Green Adolf’. Private Eye, in ‘Ape Sh*t’, its May 1988 review of Brian Masters biography of John Aspinall, The Passion of John Aspinall, remarked on the thuggishness of Aspinall’s political opinions. Aspinall has stated that humans are ‘vermin’, and stated that he favours a policy of ‘beneficial genocide’. He believes Britain’s population should be reduced from 54 to 18 million. He also has explicitly Fascist political sympathies. He supports ‘a right-wing counter-revolution, Franco-esque in spirit and determination’. See Francis Wheen, ed., Lord Gnome’s Literary Companion (London: Verso 1994) 226-7 (p,. 226).

Now I don’t think Attenborough is a Nazi. He has not advocated a Fascist dictatorship nor has any racist views. Indeed, quite the opposite. His programme, Man Alive, in the 1970s brought anthropology to British television and he was always polite and courteous to the primal peoples he spoke to and whose lives he explored. It’s a pity that this respect has not been extended to their children or grandchildren forty years later. Attenborough himself has been responsible for some of the very best of British television. He has delighted and educated the British public with his programmes on animals and wildlife for about sixty years. The BBC’s Natural History Unit in Bristol has brought from fame and honour to the city for its achievements in wildlife broadcasting. When he was controller of BBC 2, he was responsible for bringing some of the most innovative ideas to British television. Who now remembers Brass Tacks, a programme which allowed members of the public to talk about their political views? Unfortunately, Attenborough’s views in this instance less resemble those of an enlightened, genuinely liberal educator, but that of a loudmouthed bigot.

Attenborough’s Comments and the Macc Lads

Attenborough’s view in this instance resemble those of the Macc Lads. This was a northern punk band, which specialised in deliberately offensive lyrics. These could reasonably be described as misogynist, homophobic, and racist. I don’t know if the band themselves actually were. One of their songs describes them listening to the Band Aid global fundraising concert to help the famine victims of Ethiopia and Africa. The song ends with the lines

‘But I didn’t send money
t’ starving n*ggers
Because I’m a fookin’ Nazi’

I’ve been told that the Macc Lad’s songs were not meant seriously. Sadly, Attenborough here appears to have joined them, and this time meant it.

I would hope that Attenborough reconsiders his position in this matter, and issue the apology for his comments that they demand.

Overpopulation in SF Cinema

Apart from this, problems of a vastly overpopulated world has been portrayed in two films, Soylent Green, starring Charlton Heston, and ZPG (Zero Population Growth), starring Oliver Reed. The future in ZPG is one in which, due to population pressure, even domestic animals, such as dogs and cats, have become extinct. The plot involves the attempts by the hero and his wife to preserve their child after the government outlaws having children.

Here’s the trailer for Soylent Green.

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And this is the movie trailer for ZPG.

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