I’m remembering a Chinese restaurant – probably in Manhattan – it was loud with cooking and cleaning noises from the kitchen and impatient traffic from the street and even then – when we were half our present age – we had to raise our voices to hear each other.
“What we need are Truth Bombers,” said our friend and immediately Walter and George began to expand on the idea. All that was needed were people whose reputations are so strong, so respected, that everyone would listen, believe them, and would act accordingly – doing – as Spike Lee said – The Right Thing. ‘Well that’s all sorted’ we thought as it came time to crack open the fortune cookies. How on earth could we have been so naive?
Now as governments become stronger in their authoritarian rules, there have always been truth bombers who are shot down before they can clip the sharp manicured nails of those iron fists. Truth Bombers come from all walks of life, particularly among artists and their offspring – celebrities, and activists – with politicians far down the list of those who follow this path.
Somehow this has all bubbled up in my mind from another British boil-over – you can’t be serious – the country says – when Boris Johnson, past Prime Minister of bumbling, put his father forward for a seat in the House of Lords where he had already booted his brother Leo to safety.
On 7 March, Gary Lineker spoke out – well, tweeted actually – which now amounts to the same thing – that the language being used around asylum seekers was “Not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the 30s” and that put the government’s knickers in a twist and Lineker off the air. When he first joined the BBC, Lineker had clearly stated that “there are two things that I’ll continue to talk about, the refugee crisis and climate change.” When Lineker was reinstated to Match of the Day the following weekend, the director-general, Mr. Davie, said he had taken “proportionate action”. Adding “We believe we did the right thing. I think I did the right thing.” The row over Lineker’s tweet led to fresh calls for BBC chairman Richard Sharp to resign. After things quieted down, Lineker added: “What they have to think about first and foremost – the government of the day whether it is Tory or Labour – cannot decide who the chairman of the BBC is, or have any kind of influence on who they put in the director of news or anything else – though it looks like another ermine robe could be floating down the BBC’s back staircase.”
The ten-hour flight from San Francisco was as smooth as those things can be. Dear Taghi Amirani met us at Heathrow – driving us into five minutes of sunshine before the grey clouds of England covered the sky over the old A4 road into London. It is a scruffy road, airport hotels sit bossily beside old fields that have been given up and over to scrub and travelers of all kinds. A few plum trees are in blossom and new emerald-green leaves are appearing on the roadside trees. When the sunlight strikes them my spirits lift at this harbinger of spring. Even the houses in Hounslow, that sit directly under the flight paths of so many planes, look fresh and optimistic. Tulips have been planted to follow the daffodils along grass verges. As we come into the city, blackened tree trunks and branches are leafing out saying yes to this season.
Slowly we begin to settle in – unpacking this – rediscovering that and wondering where on earth is the other thing. And we look at the shift in the news items of today. The main themes of course remain the same, corruption by public political figures. Boris and his Papa now receding into the back pages while two Scottish figures from the Scottish National Party were arrested and then released on bail. Last month it was the former chief executive Peter Murrell – husband of Nicola Sturgeon – the recently resigned First Minister of Scotland – and this week the Scottish National Party treasurer Colin Beattie. Then there is the little matter of Rishi Sunak’s wife’s investments in childcare firms not being mentioned on some disclosure forms. Instead, we get to see Rishi and his wife – who wears the taut skin of a supremely rich woman – on the floor – smiling as they appropriate jumbo Lego blocks from nervous children.
Meanwhile, inflation in England is at over 10%, the highest in Western Europe – Brexit – Thank you again. Junior doctors are out on strike for more than their £14 an hour – the supposed living wage in England. The nurses are once more teetering on striking while surgeries and other procedures are being canceled. The National Health System appears to be falling apart which may be the no-longer-hidden goal of this government that put forward a Prime Minister of color as the fall guy.
It is time for the ten o’clock news and though the Scottish indecent party politics lead, followed by a smiling Rishi on the floor with a toddler’s Lego, the main item is the recent trial of the Russian activist and journalist Vladimir Kara-Murza. Murza is Russian and came to England as a teenager, later attending Cambridge University. He worked in journalism before becoming an adviser to Boris Nemtsov, another Russian political opposition leader who was shot and killed in 2015. Murza now lived in the United States with his wife and family. Then later, he wrote from his cell, “We all understand the risk of opposition activity in Russia. But I couldn’t stay silent in the face of what is happening, because silence is a form of complicity”. He has survived two alleged poisoning attempts but at the onset of this war knew that he had to return to Russia where he was immediately arrested and now found guilty of criticizing the war in the Ukraine, spreading “false” information about the Russian army and being affiliated with an “undesirable organization”. all equating treason. He has been sentenced to 25 years in jail, the harshest sentence yet for political dissidents. Along with Russian Alexei Navalny, Belarusian Alex Bialiatski, and others, Vladimir Kara-Murza is a Truth Bomber.
Which brings us to Sir David Attenborough, another truth bomber – Still flying missions – Sir David Attenborough’s new flagship series, Wild Isles, looks at the beauty of nature in the British Isles. Five episodes are currently airing in primetime slots on BBC One. But the sixth episode – a stark look at the losses of nature in the UK and what has caused those declines will only be available on the BBC iPlayer. It is understood to include examples of rewilding, a controversial concept in some deep rightwing circles. Once again the Government’s knickers are in a twist – and all of a sudden it doesn’t seem so far a stretch between rapping Gary Lineker’s knuckles, clipping Sir David’s prime-time wings, and jailing Vladimir Kara-Murza.
This has been A Letter From A. Broad written and produced for you by Muriel Murch.