Nearly two years ago I wrote this post about a comic novel – a satire on nationalism, warmongering and public gullibility – on which I seemed to have wasted about eighteen months’ work. Not that I doubted the quality of the thing, you understand. The snag was, if you’re a TL:DR type or paranoid about clicking links, an open-and-shut case of plagiarism by the Fates. It’s fine for life to imitate art if you got the art out there in time, but if you didn’t…

I thought that with the basic storyline I’d given myself some breathing room. An ageing and benignly eccentric children’s cartoonist instantly becomes a national hate figure after a broad-daylight killing by a perpetrator dressed as one of his characters, an aristocratic cucumber. The victim turns out to be a North Korean dissident and enemy of sinister dictator Boh Gi Mon, with whom the said cartoonist is, by the reasoning of the media and therefore the public mind, clearly in league.

This was before I’d ever heard of threat-to-national-security Jeremy Corbyn and his fifth columnist army of Trotskyites.

It seems long ago already that Jeremy Corbyn was new to prominence, does it not? Was the world slightly different pre-Brexit and pre-Trump? It wasn’t too different for me to have as my inciting plot incident a false-flag attack on a politically charged figure for the purpose of besmirching a foreign power and drumming up support for the status quo and a possible war. But it apparently was different enough for an expert from inside the publishing business to tell me, twelve months before the Skripals and fifteen before Babchenko, that this was not credible and the ‘reaction to the [killing] is weirdly extreme’. That wasn’t all she objected to. ‘Calling the left-wing enemies Bogeys is a bit too silly for me – there is a children’s TV programme in which the presenters shout that in libraries for a dare.’ Right, cheers. When for the 1587th time she sees anyone dissenting from received opinion being shouted down as a Putinist troll, she may make a connection. Or she may not. Trolls are not the slightest bit silly.

The witch hunt commences, complete with effigy burnings in the towns and patrols by nationalist thugs in green wellies through the countryside, all with the aim of saving Britain from the Bogey peril and from foreign influences in general.

This is from March 18th this year:

Had someone told my grandfathers, when they were heading off to war (I happen to be writing this on the anniversary of D-Day), that in 2018 we’d have Nazis rallying in Hyde Park in a UK where their grandson’s family were not permitted to live (the price of marriage to a foreigner), I wonder if they could have believed they’d be coming home alive and decorated and victorious. I wonder if they’d have bothered. A man who wants to abolish an entire religion is somehow being held up as an icon of and martyr for free speech.

Before I start sounding told-you-so smug, though, there is another angle too, from which the joke is on me:

About two years ago, around the time of the Crimean annexation/referendum (delete according to nationality and/or political sympathies), I found myself, in the course of earning the daily crust, reading pile upon pile of essays from Russian students using again and again the same phrases recycled from Putin speeches and associated state-owned media coverage. No matter what random and apparently apolitical topic had been set as the writing part of an international examination – parent-child relationships, globalised cuisine, types of education, the march of technology, bicycle lanes – there would come sooner or later a reference to ‘our American colleagues’ or just plain ‘enemies’ wishing to ‘weaken our country’.

It wasn’t always from strangers. Against the same background, I also heard the rubber-stamped slogans and sentiments drop from the unwitting lips of acquaintances I had previously considered intelligent and discriminating. Those et tu moments are silently tragic. It’s hard at such times not to imagine the average Jo(achim) Publik of 1930’s Germany and ponder.

Yes, it was Russia that inspired all this. But the above now describes Britain and America every bit as well as Russia. If mass cretinism sounds like an overstatement or conspiracy-theorist paranoia, bear with me and revisit what most of the western public has swallowed regarding the Skripal case. This, I repeat for emphasis, is the official version.

  •  Russia spent many years and vast sums of money secretly developing a chemical agent in contravention of signed agreements. The man over whom they finally decided to blow their cover was not some terrorist leader or enemy head of state, but an old bloke living in Salisbury whom they’d had in one of their own prisons for six years but eventually traded after enough time for all his information to be out of date. The unwritten rule against killing traded spies (as it makes future deals impossible, like shooting a messenger under a white flag) would not matter one jot to a dyed-in-the-wool KGB man like Putin. Neither would the fact that Russia doesn’t gain anything from it except a lot of stink right before the World Cup. No logical motive, you say? He doesn’t need one. He’s mad. A psychopath. Bonkers. Haven’t we told you that enough times?
  •  Only Russia could have developed this chemical agent. That the formula was published in a book years ago is of no significance. That the UK’s chemical weapons facility down the road from Salisbury were able to identify it so quickly does not in any way mean that they must have had a sample to test it against. That the facility in the former USSR that developed such chemical agents was eventually taken over by the US is also irrelevant. Shut up, Putin troll.
  •  There is evidence that Russia is guilty. Scientific evidence does not show this, but there is other (non-scientific) evidence that does. This consists of a discovered copy of ‘The Big Boy’s Book Of KGB Assassination Techniques, As Issued To All Serving Operatives’. Yes, of course a secret service writes all this stuff down in manuals. How else would agents be able to remember how to smear chemicals on a door knob? And no, we’re not going to let you see a photo of it. But of course it exists. Boris said so, so it’s true. Yes, the same Boris who’s been repeatedly fired from jobs for lying, until he got one in government. Nothing to see here, move along. Don’t you have a tinfoil helmet to mend?
  •  The would-be assassin, who must logically have been dressed in a full hazmat suit as protection from the Deadliest Chemical In The Universe, succeeded in arriving in a suburban Salisbury street and smearing a front door handle without attracting attention or even being noticed. Obviously there was no chance of it being washed off by rain because it was much too powerful. (Yes, if you were in the pub with the Skripals that day, just stick your clothes in the laundry and you’ll be fine. That’s different.) And on leaving the house, both Sergei and Yulia Skripal obligingly touched the outside door handle. (You always do that when you and your wife/husband leave home together, right?)
  •  The Deadliest Chemical In The Universe didn’t actually kill anyone. The Skripals are fine. No, they’re not being held prisoner. No one can know where they are, but that’s for their own good. If Sergei isn’t contacting his dying mother, it’s because he doesn’t want to. And Yulia’s cousin being refused a visa to visit her had nothing to do with anything. You’ve been reading too many conspiracy theories. Get off the internet.

All clear? Now shut up and watch Love Island, you unwashed pleb morons, and go back to sleep.

That, I repeat once more, is the official version as presented by the UK Foreign Office. I freely admit that I struggle to compete. But I tried.

The Cretin Gene’ is available for pre-order (release date June 23rd – “Independence Day”) from all major ebook retailers.

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