Political thuggery and intolerance must never be allowed to win

Political thuggery and intolerance must never be allowed to win

By Robert J Davies

DURING the last week the Rural Conservative Movement has been engulfed in a Twitter firestorm the like of which we have never seen before – or wish to see again.

For a small pressure group like ours, any publicity is usually good publicity, but not when you find yourself at the mercy of a baying mob who twist your beliefs into something dreadful and unrecognisable. We have been traduced as some sort of covert fascist organisation which to us as true, gentle, patriotic conservatives, is deeply offensive and hurtful. It culminated in one of Britain’s comedy greats, Stephen Fry, jumping on the bandwagon and condemning us without knowing a thing about us. It was desperately saddening and unjust. Coincidentally I am currently reading his latest excellent book Mythos: The Greek Myths Retold, although it’s hard to carry on with it now.

Of course, one should never take things too personally in politics – especially these days, living as we do in a polarised society where civilised debate is hard to come by. Snowflakery is best left to the Left, frankly. And it is the Left who provide the ideological buttress for the vicious, almost murderous Twitter trolls who bully folk like us safe in the knowledge that we’re not nearly nasty enough to bully back. Small wonder that freedom of speech, so long taken for granted in this country, is now a fragile concept.

For those who don’t know, this is how the firestorm took hold. It began last Thursday when the Duke of Edinburgh suffered a car accident while driving near the Sandringham estate. We tweeted about it, expressing thanks to God that Prince Philip was uninjured and also concern that the police felt the need to breathalyse him even though no alcohol could be smelled on his breath. The tweet went viral. Why, I’m still not sure, but it did. Was I the only person in the world to offer such an opinion? It seemed like it.

Let’s not re-examine the merits or otherwise of my sentiments on this subject. Suffice to say that our five minutes of fame led to several more minutes, hours, days in fact, of infamy. Because it came to the attention of mischief-makers among our ideological foes on the Left that a picture used on our Twitter account and website had been painted by a German artist active during the Third Reich, Wolfgang Willrich.

The picture itself, called Heimkehr (Homecoming) is delightful. A young woman cradles a baby on the edge of a field of waving golden wheat. There’s nothing remotely wrong with it. Also, I liked the title Homecoming, and the idea of Europe as a whole, coming home; getting back to what really matters and who we really are. However it was to be judged, not on its artistic merits, but on the world view of its creator – a word view I admittedly didn’t know enough about.

Willrich’s talent had won him a place in the prestigious College of Art in Berlin in 1915, then subsequently, after war duties interrupted his studies, he attended the acclaimed Dresden Academy of Art. There he rejected the – at the time – fashionable abstract and surreal styles in favour of a more realistic style, particularly in the field of portraiture at which he excelled. Unfortunately (and hindsight is a wonderful thing) he allowed himself to be reeled in by the Nazis, who put his talents to work for their own propaganda purposes.

I hadn’t researched this chap properly but subconsciously no doubt, didn’t feel the need to. I just liked the painting. I’m a sucker for idyllic rural art and no fan of modern, abstract pieces. Had I known more, I would have realised that his enthusiasm for supporting the Nazi cause was genuine and not merely borne out of necessity. Alarm bells would (and should) have rung and persuaded me that using a painting by him, however innocent, could be turned against me and the Movement.

How enthusiastic was Willrich for the National Socialist cause? We’ll never know for sure. It’s worth bearing in mind that many people bent with the wind during 1930s Germany. They had to. The churches well and truly buckled under, save, I believe, for Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Also, let’s not forget that between the wars, many people – in the days before the concentration camps became factories of mass murder – were seduced by National Socialism, not least here in Britain. The Welsh and Scottish Nationalists; the proprietors of the Daily Mail; the Duke of Windsor, to name but a few, were particularly enamoured. As for the Labour Party, they were determined to the last not to pick a fight with Hitler, viewing it as an imperial war. Meanwhile, a huge number of Brits and Americans from all walks of life, would travel to Germany for holidays. By 1937, the number of American visitors was nearly half a million a year. (Dirk Voss: American Tourists in Nazi Germany, 1933-1939).

As for Willrich, he painted his way through to the end of the Second World War doing commissions of mainly military artwork. Following Germany’s surrender, he was briefly placed under arrest before being let go, cleared of any crimes. He died a couple of years later. What would have been his view had he kept going for longer into the post-war era? Like many prominent figures, subsequently armed with knowledge of the Nazis’ shocking crimes, laid bare following their defeat, doubtless he would have been appalled and ashamed at the true nature of the regime he had hitherto lent his support and talent.

Yet the outrage – real or synthetic – which followed the revelation that we had used a piece by this artist with a dubious past begs the question, what should one be judging here? The merits of the art itself or the mindset of the person responsible? For instance, should we no longer admire the work of Caravaggio or ever put it on display, out of disgust for the fact that he committed murder, knocking out numerous pieces while on the run?

Is the classic novel Tarka the Otter to be proscribed because Henry Williamson sympathised with certain fascist ideals? D H Lawrence was also suspected too, of holding far-right, proto-fascistic views at one stage, though he seemed to backtrack later. And he appeared to have a very lukewarm opinion of democracy. (Probably how we Brexiteers will feel if Yvette Cooper and Dominic Grieve manage to dash the dreams of millions).

Back to us: those of you who don’t already know, can guess what happened. Our use of that controversial picture was exploited by hard-left agitators to cause us maximum damage, their efforts made countless times more potent by Mr Fry’s retweet to his 12 million followers. The thread apparently unmasking us as Third Reich sympathisers quickly spread round the world and back – despite our speedy removal of the artwork in question. Our account and website were deluged with hatred and abuse.

Here’s a thought: Does it make you fascist, just because a thousand people tell you that you are? Are we any different seven days on from what we were a week ago? Have we become the bogeymen our enemies claim, the better to howl us down? No. We remain who we are – kind, decent, conservative-minded people who love their country, faith, rural heritage, families, neighbourhoods and above all, the traditions and values passed down from one generation to the next. Are we really the type of people who want to see national flags flying from every lamppost and goose-stepping soldiers marching through every town centre? Hardly.

A number of our critics are themselves good, decent, intelligent people and they have rightly pulled us up on our naivety and lack of foresight over the above. Let’s not bracket them with the rest or claim that we got nothing wrong. But as for the foul-mouthed mob – the ones who shout “fascist” the loudest and longest, and many other vile insults besides – they truly are themselves the fascists of the modern era. The Silent Majority must not allow itself to be gagged by them, nor intimidated into giving up on our great country. We owe it to future generations of Britons to ensure that thuggery and intolerance do not triumph.

Robert J Davies is the founder of the Rural Conservative Movement, a writer and former newspaper journalist

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. My grandmother had a print of that painting up in her living room and I saw it almost every day of my life as a child as she lived just a few doors away from her. I never knew the background of the painting or the painter. Though I liked the painting it never really conjured up warm fuzzy feelings in me.

    I looked up your website to see what you believed, wishing not to prejudge. I’m 61 and have come to the conclusion that I can live under left or right wing governments (having seen them both) but I’m more concerned about the other axis in the political compass, that of authoritarian vs libertarian, where I need a more libertarian approach to thrive. My parents were both Conservative, having met at a Conservative Club in South London.

    I am pretty sure I suffer from SAD (Seasonal Affected Disorder) and really struggled when we lived in the UK, needing considerably more sunshine than the UK offers. I now live in Cyprus and thrive. I particularly love the summers, where we have clear blue skies for months on end with not a cloud in the skies. Now I realise that this is not for everyone and the temperatures here, though suiting me, are too hot for many.

    Cyprus is actually the third country I have lived in as an adult, having lived in the USA as well.

    Currently I live with what feels like the sword of Damocles over my head, fearing with dread the possibility I will be forced to move to the UK. When Brexit was announced I looked again around the UK trying to find a location we could move to if forced that would give sufficient days of sunshine. None existed.

    Alongside that there is the issue of identity. My primary identity is that of European. Living in the USA taught me that I am European above and beyond Anglo. I really love having EU citizenship. It appals me to lose my EU citizenship.

    Growing up in the UK and then working for BBC TV News I really don’t remember all the lies being told. We were very strict with verifying stories working in TV News and the left and right might debate, somewhat vociferously, the way forward, but the truth was still the truth. What I hate seeing in the UK now is divide which has no hope of being healed. It’s not because I have strong feelings for the UK, I’ve now worked in about 25% of the countries of the world and could happily live in many of them, so long as the climate has sufficient sunshine, but I hate seeing that in any country.

    The problem is that of truth. When the media in the UK have lost sight of the truth then there is little hope of healing. Brexit won’t heal the UK nor will remaining in the EU. I have applied for Cyprus citizenship as a way of expressing my identity. What I love about the EU is the way it permits diversity. I love the way that it does truly function democratically, whereas the ‘first past the post’ system of the UK means that only 5% of UK MPs are elected by 50% or more of those who voted. In Cyprus 100% of MPs are elected by more than 50% of those who voted.

    In my work I am communicating with very different groups of people and I am always looking for win-win solutions. The problem I see with Brexit at the moment is that there are either win-lose solutions or compromise solutions which are in fact lose-lose solutions.

    What would actually be a win-win solution? I don’t know, and have been discussing this with others professionally involved with bringing together different groups (eg Palestine-Isreal). There are some things that could have been done which would have helped.

    Firstly if EU27 citizens in the UK and UK citizens in EU27 had been offered full and instant citizenship of the country in which they now lived. Even if this included giving up citizenship of their country of birth this would have demonstrated where their loyalties lie. I would have swapped citizenship in an instant! Now we have a terrible mess with millions of people living in daily stress.

    Secondly a negotiation understanding the constraints of the EU by the UK. The EU is constrained by treaties. It cannot negotiate everything, the red lines are not political they are treaty constrained. The EU functions as a legal constrained body. The UK seems to have approached the negotiations in the way of a business deal. It’s not, nor is it anything like that. Sadly now the UK has become the laughing stock of the world and I don’t see a way out of it.

    So… I wish you well. I really wish there was some way forward. I really hate these divides that are splitting churches, communities, charities and families… all of which I have personally experienced.

    1. Richard: thanks for your interesting and considered response and apologies for the fact that it wasn’t published sooner.

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