The ham actor who plays upper-class roles

Nick Cohen writes that Britain is too fond of “characters” to call a far-right politician a far-right politician.

If you want to deceive the French public, you pose as an intellectual. In England, you pose as a character. Like a criminal on a witness protection programme, the ham actor who plays upper-class roles avoids the accountability that prevents democratic life degenerating into the feast of fools we see around us.

In the US you pose as a nice guy. (Women of course don’t get to play this game.) Joe Biden is recycling himself yet again because of all those cozy photos of him with Obama. Joe Biden is not a nice guy.

They get away with it because the old British ruling class never quite discredited itself. Every other major European country was ruled by fascists and communists in the 20th century and suffered occupation and collaboration. In Britain, it is still possible to adopt the mannerisms of the old elite and not be treated with the scorn and incomprehension a modern caricature of a Prussian general would receive in contemporary Germany.

So a Downton Abbey runs for centuries.

Britain’s privileged history explains the denial in part. We are a moderate island, runs the national myth, extremism happens over the water and far away. But the refusal to tear the masks away matters more. I have never seen a television broadcaster hold Farage to account for his blatant misrepresentations of the consequences of no deal.

The BBC could barely bring itself to cover his and his financial backers’ links to the Russian embassy. Journalists call Johnson “Boris”, as if he were a pal entitled to mates’ rates they would never grant a stranger. And when Eddie Mair, then of the BBC, did his job and subjected him to a tough interview in 2017, what would have been a routine occurrence in a healthy democracy caused a sensation.

Every slippery politician is looking for the same chummy consideration. Supporters of the Labour leader are trying to establish him as “Jeremy” rather than “Corbyn” or “Mr Corbyn”, to quote the most egregious example. Politicians become journalists and journalists become politicians, as the firewalls of democracy burn down. You don’t have to be famous to enjoy protection. Claire Fox, of Radio 4’s The Moral Maze, is inevitably one of the most immoral people in public life. She and her Revolutionary Communist party sect have covered up war crimes against Bosnian Muslims, justified IRA murders of civilians and defended child porn. Only when she stood for Farage’s party this month did most voters learn of her dark past. Why was it never mentioned in her hundreds of appearances on the BBC? The question answers itself. The BBC will not apply the same standards to its “talent” as it applies to others.

But hey, she’s probably never told a man he’s not a lesbian.

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