29 September 2019 2694 Views

‘Climb Every Mountain’: Is it Time to Fear the March of Media Language over Legal Objectivity in England’s War of Words?

by James Murphy

When I said..DON’T use WW2 imagery to endure Brexit? Maybe I was wrong. Perhaps it has become even more relevant than ever! 



Remember that bit where Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer escaped at the end of The Sound of Music? Or Steve McQueen valiantly defying the baddies to ride a motorbike and play with a baseball in isolation? Some feel that such imagery has been used divisively, of late: a kind of misplaced nostalgia as political weapon. But those same visual metaphors feel even more pertinent now and indeed, helpful, especially if one does long to escape an oncoming storm.

Allow me to explain. nb this is NOT about ‘politics’.

I am not choosing a side here except that of objective language and legal clarity vs the hysteria of the value judgement and subjectivity as impending basis for constitutional comment and resulting law. Also, whilst this is an English symptom I focus on, it’s a problem for all, worldwide and every bit as relevant to other territories. To the extent that there might be no escape at all. Scary stuff, indeed!

So there I was, this morning..minding my own business. And I saw it. There. On TELEVISION (like movies but smaller and not as good).

The Mayor Boris Johnson in Tooting, South London, Thursday November 24, 2011. Photo by Andrew Parsons/ Parsons Media

Our Prime Minister (elected, un-elected, woteva): interviewed today by Andrew Marr.

Boris: the man everyone thought ‘oh hilarious’ and ‘so clever’ ‘just not PM material’? Well, he was planning his leadership while he was in short trousers. He probably has designs on Presidency of the USA, too. King of the world! Emperor of the Universe. Make no mistake, this is a calculating and shrewd, ambitious operator who stopped at nothing to get his dream job. He was utterly ruthless in his quest.

Heck, I even nominated the man to play a Bond baddie!

What he isn’t, though, is an actual thuggish villain. AT NO STAGE has this man incited, invited or condoned violence of ANY sort in relation to Brexit. And yet he is being grilled, mercilessly, by EVERYONE. Because one can do that now, in a supposedly ‘free’ country. Except that it isn’t truly ‘free’ if the use of an innocuous word such as ‘Humbug’ can be read as a call to war / violence/mass civil unrest. And I felt that tide was as good as confirmed by the interviewer, the otherwise distinguished, admirable and brilliant Andrew Marr.

Andrew Marr: the erudite, likeable, impartial, versatile, super-cool highlight of a Sunday morning. An accessible polymath; always educative and entertaining.

But today? It’s like he’s forgotten those wonderful assets. He spent almost the ENTIRE interview, focused on language. Just Boris’ words. What a missed opportunity! It’s like Marr has been ‘got at’, turned to the dark side of bland, consequence free, on message journalism that now pervades the air waves. 

(Marr is on the left) 😉



Let’s THINK about that for one second. Aside form its laughably childish , almost naughty school boy in the headmaster’s office vibe..there are some serious implications. Yes, implications. As in NOT by Marr or BBC’s design. But ‘there’ all the same. Because..words have consequence. Words like humbug, surrender and impartiality..but not, it seems, the kind of scarily screaming indignation with which Boris was ambushed?



  • Consider these points in application to the principle:




BBC have never exactly been careful when it comes to allowing somewhat unflattering depictions of Trump? Same principle MIGHT end up applying here to Boris?

Even DOCTOR WHO once listed ‘Donald Trump’ as among the bad yet inevitable things time throws at us. That was typical Steven Moffat, imho. LOOK! How COOL am I! How up to the minute! The fact that Trump would probably LOVE the one of Moffat’s previous work (notably, the frat boy adolescent  laughs of COUPLING?) is beside the point. But I digress.

BBC top brass have, recently, cautioned /made example of: Naga MunchettyNaga was critical of The Donald and implied there MIGHT be a light whiff of the old racism stuff in the ‘go back home’ comments made by POTUS earlier this year.

Seriously.  There was an official rebuke. For a nice journalist who does her job. She happens to be..well..not white, thereby making it all the more tragically ironic. And her comments were NOT a direct, libel on POTUS. Even the Donald himself might not challenge me on that point? Because it’s NOT the same as saying ‘Donald you daft racist!’.

She simply pointed out, accurately, that the LANGUAGE he used reflected a heritage born from a racist division. Which, it is, because ‘GO HOME’, by its nature, now triggers associations, logically with racial hatred.

That’s the issue here. Some words do, of course, in ANY common sense scenario, reflect years of association with hatred of all sorts, varieties and consequence. To the extent that using the terms, even in haste /jest/innocence is still, prima facie, reckless at best and a gesture of contempt at some level. Ranks are closing to support Naga. But the reprisal from corporate HQ will no doubt be just as defensive and cold? I will watch this case with great interest. To be fair (and..impartial!) to Aunty Beeb, they are at least covering the coverage of the Naga affair and thereby placing themselves under some sort of semi-scrutiny. But it’s still a concern. Especially since the BBC just had their flagship Sunday current affairs show feature a discussion of the word..’humbug’.

  • Speaking of which..





It is a WORD. Nothing more, nothing less. Is it helpful? No. Articulate? Nah. Out of date: yes! It beggars belief that our PM can be held to account, by so many, for such a small slip of tone. Especially when, by contrast, an entire army of tweeting opposition MPs can strike at the likes of Piers Morgan, using the most un-statesmanlike and borderline threatening language. 

HUMBUG CANNOT by ANY stretch be seen as a call to violence. Neither indeed, can the references to ‘surrender’ or ‘war’ or ‘fight’ or ‘collusion with the enemy’. Boris has an agenda to execute a referendum result. He won’t be stopped if he can help it. Opposition includes certain people accused of talking to European powers about how to best Boris. That is collusion, like it or not (see also: the Trump v Biden v Ukriane nasty business).

Is it nasty, life threatening, prison worthy: no. In the language of metaphor and enduring conflict at a civil level but on a political stage that shapes the globe? They are of course an enemy of an objective and it is a ‘war’ of ideas and methods ad assertions, with either Brexit or its indefinite stalling, a kind of prize. We ALL talk like that. SOMETIMES. I have an unending war with losing umbrellas. Differing facts / importance; same principle. I hate umbrellas. I hate my own ineptitude in losing them. But I am not causing civil unrest in consequence at a rant across the Kitchen. 

More seriously..

There is a WORLD of difference between that paradigm of metaphor and casual yet political language and Boris actively inciting an act of war / violence / threat /A N other danger.

Yes, there are lunatics out there who will threaten our democratically elected, brave representatives. But those people ALWAYS exist. They LONG to pervert a Brexit into a zombie apocalypse with themselves at the helm. They might well cite an event, a leader, a party but that does NOT always mean they had direct influence from said or that there is any culpability.

Around 20 years ago, a disturbed man went mad with a Samurai sword in an MP’s constituency surgery. The consequence was a step up in security, in awareness and in appreciation of what MPs do. Nobody used it as a political commentary on the (then) Blair government. Because it wasn’t. Anymore than any counterpart action, today. Yes, there ARE exceptions to that general rule of common sense. But that does not in itself destroy the rule! 



  • Where am I going with This? What is the Movie Moral in all of it? 

Movies of WW2 give us HOPE for endurance, for finding the very best in ourselves against the odds. Community and some affinity even in our most ruthless of enemies. But it is also made clear that the greatest war heroes never WANT war. Heck, even PEARL HARBOR portrays the Japanese as reluctant to begin a bombing campaign. I know..was that accurate? Well, it’s not the point, is it? That’s a MOVIE. It’s a fiction, rooted in fact.

But the REAL as opposed to REEL world does not deal in moral absolutes of good vs evil when the stakes are about things which, by their nature, come from subjective value judgements on nationality and how we can live together or apart. IF you go down THAT road? It will GIVE you the VERY kinds of fear that ARE previously of fiction. People in fear of free speech; value judgement as legal / philosophical fact and syllogistic justice.

In those scenarios you would LONG for the certainty of good old WW2 movies. Because instead, it would be the worst kinds of dystopian sci/fi fantasy:


1984! V FOR VENDETTA! JUDGE DREDD! We would live in suspicion and fear of ‘the other’ except ‘other’ could mean YOU!

Think the hubris that led Tony Stark to create ULTRON; the SITH to ‘rise’ in Star Wars and Magneto to constantly pit human against mutant in X MEN.

The very villainies you claim to fight could in fact be necessary symptoms of a far greater freedom you ought to be defending. By all means criticise, even seek the toppling of an unpopular leader / policy. But DON’T take speech, justice, law and friendship with you as collateral damage. Don’t throw democratic babies out with ideological bath waters (nb: metaphor!).


(side note: Fassbender in X Men / Chris Plummer in Sound of Music..never seen in same place at same time ;)) 



JAMES MURPHY is. (Leave it there..we have no wish to offend any/everyone) 😉




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