Lying about history is what the political establishment does.


We really shouldn’t lie about our history, says Boris Johnson.

In which case, argues George Monbiot, it’s time, to be open about the atrocities of empire. Boris Johnson, take note!

And an impassioned Martin Fletcher, writing in the New Statesman about the disgraceful white riots in central London last week, describes what we saw as “a new front in the vicious culture war unleashed by Brexit.”

“This is not a war between left and right, but between right and wrong, decency and indecency, justice and injustice, tolerance and intolerance, harmony and division, the Britain of the 2012 Olympics or the Britain of hooliganism. ”

All encouraged, aided and abetted by Boris Johnson.

White rioters in Parliament Square, 13th June 2020

Boris Johnson says we shouldn’t edit our past. But Britain has been lying about it for decades

If we really shouldn’t lie about our history, as the prime minister says, let’s finally open up about the atrocities of empire

George Monbiot, Guardian, 16 June 2020

In 2012, a group of Kenyan nationals won the right to claim damages from the UK after it was found they were tortured by British colonial rulers in the 1950s. Photograph: Carl Court/AFP/Getty Images

When Boris Johnson claimed last week that removing statues is to lie about our history”, you could almost admire his brass neck. This is the man who was sacked from his first job, on the Times, for lying about our history. He fabricated a quote from his own godfather, the historian Colin Lucas, to create a sensational front-page fiction about Edward II’s Rose Palace. A further lie about history – his own history – had him sacked from another job, as shadow arts minister under the Conservative leader Michael Howard.

But, Johnson tells us: “We cannot now try to edit or censor our past. We cannot pretend to have a different history”. Yet lies and erasures are crucial to the myths on which Britain’s official self-image is founded, and crucial to hiding the means by which those who still dominate us acquired their wealth and power.

Consider the concentration camps Britain built in Kenya in the 1950s. “What concentration camps?” you might ask. If so, job done. When the Kikuyu people mobilised to reclaim the land that had been stolen from them by British settlers and the colonial authorities, almost the entire population – over 1 million – were herded into concentration camps and fortified villages. One of these camps, as if echoing Auschwitz, had the slogan “Labour and Freedom” above the gates. Even Eric Griffith-Jones, the attorney general of the colonial administration in Kenya, who was complicit in these crimes, remarked that the treatment of the inmates was “distressingly reminiscent of conditions in Nazi Germany”.

Thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of prisoners died. Many succumbed to hunger and disease, including almost all the children in some camps. Many others were murdered. Some were beaten to death by their British guards. One, as the governor of Kenya, Sir Evelyn Baring, acknowledged in a secret memo, was roasted alive. Others were anally raped with knives, rifle barrels and broken bottles, mauled by dogs or electrocuted. Many were castrated, with a special implement the British administration designed for the purpose. “By the time I cut his balls off,” one of the killers boasted, “he had no ears, and his eyeball, the right one, I think, was hanging out of its socket”. Some were rolled up in barbed wire and kicked around the compound until they bled to death. If you know nothing of this history, it’s because it was systematically censored and replaced with lies by the British authorities.

Only in 2012, when a group of Kikuyu survivors sued the British government for their torture and mutilation, was an archive, kept secret by the Foreign Office, discovered. It revealed the extraordinary measures taken by colonial officials to prevent information from leaking, and to fend off questions by Labour MPs with outright lies. For example, after 11 men were beaten to death by camp guards, Baring advised the colonial secretary to report that they had died from drinking dirty water. Baring himself authorised such assaults. In implementing this decision, Griffith-Jones warned him, “If we are going to sin, we must sin quietly”. When questions persisted, Baring told his officials to do “an exercise … on the dossiers”, to create the impression that the victims were hardened criminals.

As it happens, Baring was the grandfather of Mary Wakefield, the wife of Boris Johnson’s chief adviser, Dominic Cummings. Last month, her own truthfulness was called into question as an article she wrote in the Spectator, discussing her experiences of coronavirus, created the strong impression that she and Cummings had remained in London, rather than travelling to Durham, against government instructions. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Baring’s family fortune was made from the ownership of slaves, and the massive compensation paid to the owners when the trade was banned.

The hidden Kikuyu documents that came to light in 2012 were part of a larger archive, most of which was systematically destroyed by the British authorities before decolonisation. Special Branch oversaw what it called “a thorough purge” of the Kenyan archives. Fake files were inserted to take the place of those that were expunged. “The very existence” of the deleted files, one memo insisted, “should never be revealed”. Where there were too many files to burn easily, an order proposed that they “be packed in weighted crates and dumped in very deep and current-free water at maximum practicable distance from the coast”. So much for not editing or censoring our past.

The same deletions occurred across the British empire. We can only guess at what the lost documents might have revealed. Were there more details of the massacre of civilians in Malaya? Of Britain’s dirty war in Yemen in the 1960s? Of the catastrophic famine the British government created in Bengal in 1943, by snatching food from the mouths of local people and exporting it? Of its atrocities in Aden and Cyprus? One thing the surviving files do show us is the British government’s secret eviction of the inhabitants of the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean, to make way for a US airbase. The Foreign Office instructed its officials to deny the very existence of the indigenous islanders, so that they could be removed without compensation or parliamentary objections.

The erasures and deletions continue. In 2010, the disembarkation cards of the Windrush generation of immigrants from the Caribbean were all destroyed by Theresa May’s Home Office. Many people suddenly had no means of proving their right to citizenship of this country, facilitating May’s cruel and outrageous deportations. In 2013, the Conservatives deleted the entire public archive of their speeches and press releases from 2000 to 2010, and blocked access to web searches using the Wayback Machine, impeding people trying to hold them to account for past statements and policies.

This week, the prime minister asked the head of his policy unit, Munira Mirza, to set up a commission on racial inequalities. She is part of a network of activists whose entire history is, in my view, confused and obfuscated. It arose from the Revolutionary Communist party and Living Marxism magazine. As these names suggest, they purported to belong to the far left, but they look to me like the extreme right. In 2018 I discovered that one of its outlets, Spiked magazine, had been heavily funded by the US billionaire Charles Koch. Other sources of funding remain obscure. In common with some of her comrades, Mirza has cast doubt on institutional racism. Her new role has caused dismay among anti-racist campaigners, who fear yet more editing of history.

Lying about history, censoring and editing is what the political establishment does. The histories promoted by successive governments, especially those involving the UK’s relationship with other nations, are one long chain of lies. Because we are lied to, we cannot move on. Maturity, either in a person or in a nation, could be defined as being honest about ourselves. We urgently need to grow up.

Boris Johnson empowered the thugs that shamed British democracy

The Prime Minister helped fuel the ugly divisions and hatred now seen on our streets. 

By Martin Fletcher, New Statesman, 15 June 2020

During my many years as a journalist I have covered countless protest movements. I witnessed the first stirrings of Iran’s Green Revolution after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s theft of the 2009 presidential election. In 2011 I stood in Tahrir Square in Cairo with tens of thousands of young Egyptians bent on deposing their dictatorial president, Hosni Mubarak. That same year I joined hordes of Libyans as they stormed Bab al-Azizia, Colonel Gaddafi’s Tripoli stronghold. I was in Syria as the popular uprising against the Assad regime gathered pace in 2013.

I know a legitimate protest movement when I see one, and Black Lives Matter certainly qualifies, though it is a shame that a tiny minority played into the hands of its critics by defacing the Cenotaph and Winston Churchill’s statue.

By contrast, those overwhelmingly white, mostly male, shaven-headed, heavily tattooed, bare-chested, big-bellied, beer-guzzling, foul-mouthed, hate-fuelled thugs who gathered in Parliament Square on Saturday afternoon, ostensibly to protect those monuments, emphatically do not qualify. They were a mob – not just a few of them but all of them.

I was there, observing. I watched in disgust as they taunted the police – hurling bottles and beer cans at them, taking close-up videos of their faces, and berating them for their prudent light-touch policing of the previous weekend’s BLM protests. “You’re a fucking embarrassment,” they screamed. “You’re a shower of fucking wankers.” “Treasonous cunts.” “You’re bottle jobs, all of you, letting them do what they want to our statues.”

I watched in disgust as they sought to portray themselves as patriots – wrapping themselves in Union Jacks and St George’s flags, singing “Rule Britannia” and the national anthem, and chanting “In-ger-land, In-ger-land” even as they subverted the traditional British values of tolerance, inclusivity, compassion and moderation. Some wore military berets, England football jerseys or “Help for Heroes” T-shirts.

They chanted “Tommy, Tommy, Tommy Robinson”. They chanted “No surrender”. They chanted “Winston Churchill is one of our own” when, in truth, the man who did so much to defeat the fascism of Nazi Germany would have been appalled by the neo-fascists purportedly protecting his statue.

As I watched those disgraceful scenes unfold, I remembered the warning that Craig Oliver, then Downing Street’s director of communications, gave David Cameron shortly before the prime minister announced the Brexit referendum of 2016: “You may unleash demons of which ye know not.”

And so it has proved. All that has happened since Cameron called that referendum has encouraged, emboldened and given licence to the mob that desecrated the heart of British democracy on Saturday.

There was the cheap nationalism, the nasty jingoism, the cynical populism, the dog-whistle xenophobia and the deliberate inflammation of fears and prejudices of the Leave campaign – one that fostered the ugly divisions that led to the murder of Jo Cox and the surge in racist attacks.

There was the Brexiteers’ subsequent disparagement of Remainers as wreckers, plotters, foes of democracy, citizens of nowhere and metropolitan elitists. Their tame newspapers ran front-page stories denouncing rebel Tory MPs as “mutineers”, and judges who delivered adverse rulings as “enemies of the people”. Andrea Leadsom, then leader of the House of Commons, demanded broadcasters should be more “patriotic”.

Later, after Boris Johnson became prime minister, there was the shocking harassment of Remainer MPs – particularly women. They received death threats and required police protection. Their offices were attacked. Anna Soubry and others were abused and harassed right outside parliament. When opposition MPs told Johnson he was inciting hatred and violence by accusing his opponents of “betrayal” and “surrender” he replied: “Humbug”.

Johnson likes to invoke “the will of the people”, but he is now enslaved by it. He dare not upset his party’s new base. Hence his failure to utter a word of criticism against Donald Trump’s disgraceful response to George Floyd’s killing. Hence his carefully calibrated Twitter thread after the UK’s initial BLM protests, in which he condemned racism but simultaneously asserted that those protests had been “hijacked by extremists intent on violence”.

Hence his thread following Saturday’s disgraceful scenes in which he rightly asserted that “racist thuggery has no place on our streets”, but went on to equate the BLM movement with the thugs of Parliament Square by saying: “These marches and protests have been subverted by violence.” For the record, the BLM cancelled its planned protest in London on Saturday to avoid the possibility of violence, and its protests elsewhere in the country were almost entirely peaceful. There is no equivalence.

Johnson has now announced yet another commission on racial inequality – a cynical ploy to grab headlines and change the narrative. If it was a serious move he would have announced it in parliament, not in a column in his old mouthpiece, the Daily Telegraph, the very same paper in which he used to write about “piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles”.

What we saw on Saturday was a new front in the vicious culture war unleashed by Brexit. This is not a war between left and right, but between right and wrong, decency and indecency, justice and injustice, tolerance and intolerance, harmony and division, the Britain of the 2012 Olympics or the Britain of hooliganism. Sadly, our government is on the wrong side of that divide.

Comments (4)

  • Amanda Sebestyen says:

    Thank you for publishing George Monbiot’s important article showing up Britain’s RECENT imperial history. This is the reality we have to work with and change. However I was very worried that you printed Martin Fletcher’s upper-middle-class rant about beery mobs invading the capital. We know that some of the veteran soldiers who came to London just wanted to validate their past (a sad task as Monbiot points out) and were not part of the far right. BLM Supporter Patrick Hutchinson’s rescue of a drunken white protestor has done much more to spread the message of Black Lives Matter.

  • Elizabeth Morley says:

    Yes, and let’s hear the truth about the Balfour Declaration too!

  • Jerome Kennedy says:

    Let’s hear the truth about the right of Jews to live in Israel, which predates The Balfour Declaration by thousands of years.
    Let’s hear the truth how the Brits are the purveyors of “gentile” antisemitism,
    Let’s hear the truth about Corbyn’s post modern antisemitism

  • RC says:

    Perhaps Jerome Kennedy would care to offer a little evidence – or even argument – for his wild assertions? Perhaps a word or two from an Amalekite or Canaanite – or from Professor Geoffrey Alderman…?

Comments are now closed.