[above: Fishmongers’ Hall across London Bridge]
Let “Dover Beach,” Matthew Arnold’s finest poem, be the epigraph for today. Many migrants come on shore there in tiny and dangerous boats, often escorted in by border patrols. They will mostly be allowed to stay in England. Many are not intercepted and fade without trace into the mainland. Many die: a refrigerated truck container was found in Essex to have 39 dead. They all came from Vietnamese villages which had clubbed together for the traffickers’ fees, and the coffins of 16 have been respectfully flown back home for proper burial. Other bodies will be repatriated with the co-operation of the Hanoi authorities. It is another proof of the greatest challenge facing the First World, its enormous and never-ending attraction to the Third World.
But it is not front and center to the election campaign. Immigration is an issue played down in the election manifestoes, usually in relation to EU migration flows and invoking that ignis fatuus “net migration.” Since the great question is non-EU migration, and since the Government has confessedly no idea of the illegal immigrants now in England, the main parties can hardly be said to have faced up to the challenge. They may have to, when the measured progression of the three recent elections is fully known and understood in its demographic dimensions: 2015, 2017, 2019. Meantime Boris Johnson has advocated an amnesty for illegals. As Prime Minister, he has not resiled from the position he took as Mayor of London.
That position has however been shaken by the latest terrorist atrocity, the work of Usman Khan, born in Stoke-on-Trent. The jihadist had been released automatically after serving seven years of his 16-year sentence for terrorism, without a parole-board hearing. He had conned the authorities into accepting his story of reform, and rehabilitation programs are golden to the authorities. He turned up at a conference at the Fishmongers’ Hall, “Learning Together,” devoted to the rehabilitation of offenders, where he was seen as a success story. In the Telegraph’s words: “But the convicted terrorist, who had been released from prison only 11 months earlier, used a break in the afternoon’s proceedings to go into the lavatories and tape a fake suicide vest to his body and knives to his hands.” When he came out he at once began his killings. These were not random: he stabbed and killed his mentor, with whom he was well acquainted, and also another young woman who had worked on his case. Three more were sent to the Royal London Hospital, one of them in intensive care, with slash wounds. There was no security at the Fishmongers’ Hall. A handful of gallant members of the conference then attacked him, led by a Polish kitchen porter, Lukasz Koczocik, who took a ceremonial lance from the wall and engaged the terrorist while taking cuts. Two others joined in, one of them seizing a narwhal tusk and the other a fire extinguisher. The group, composed of ex-offenders, then chased Khan outside on to London Bridge, got him down, and were beating him up (to his protests of “Get off me, get off me”) when the police arrived. The terrorist threat had already been neutralized when the police reasserted their authority by pulling the public members off the jihadist’s prostrate body and by shooting him dead. The Metropolitan Police announcement, made three hours later, made no reference to “Islamic” as a prefix to the terrorist act. It never does.
Art had anticipated life by 90 years, in the black comedy of Evelyn Waugh’s Decline and Fall. The novel has an exactly parallel passage, when the liberal-reforming prison Governor favors a religious maniac who is allowed use of his carpenter’s tools—with which he then saws off the prison chaplain’s head. After the London murders the Left shrilled that the Tories must not be allowed to “politicize” the killings—as though terrorist murders in the capital could be cordoned off from politics. Nigel Farage, alone of the TV speakers, had a clear analysis: Islamic terrorism was a “virus” that would not be eradicated, and was not comparable with “ordinary criminals” for whom redemption was a possibility. They were the “religious maniacs” of Waugh’s fable. The only solution therefore was to lock them up indefinitely, quite possibly for life (and not, “life” as in court sentences). Yet we have now learned that 69 convicted on terrorist charges have been released and are still on our streets.
Other issues come down above all to the impact of the Brexit Party in Northern and Midlands constituencies. Nigel Farage hopes to have a great effect there, and he will have been encouraged by a TV debate (December 1st) in which he was sparklingly superior to the mediocrities whom the other parties put up against him (five plus Nicola Sturgeon). They really should not allow Farage to operate in that setting. When Farage went up against Nick Clegg on TV, mano a mano in 2017, I commented after five minutes: “If I were refereeing this match, I’d stop the contest now.” Farage has now been gifted by the Fates the opportunity to make full use of the London terror attack (December 1st). He has however been undermined by four of his M.E.P.s., who have left his party. They include Annunziata Rees-Mogg, the youngest sibling of Jacob, who plays Jezebel with the same delight in the role as Bette Davis. The Group of Four beams out the message from Establishment Central, like RKO Radio credits in the old movies: the greatest danger to Brexit is Nigel Farage: stop him at all costs. Whatever costs are incurred will not fall to the renegade M.E.P.s, who will continue to enjoy their salaries and perks for as long as Britain remains in the EU.
I once attended a performance of Hamlet in Kronborg Castle, Helsingor (“Elsinore”), which has the title deeds to the play, and I heard a muted growl from the Danish audience at “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.” Something very similar is happening in England now. For the first time, a major terrorist event has occurred in the middle of a general election, and it will make serious impact on the public mood. It has not gone unnoticed that the terrorist threat was quelled by spontaneous public action, and not by the authorities. They conducted the ritual show of public solidarity, with the Prime Minister’s “This country will never be cowed or divided… Our British values will prevail.” That is what is always said after these terrorist attacks, and it will be said after the next one. My instinct is that there is a slow, sullen movement upwards from the seabed of politics that will break surface at the election. No one can predict the form it will take. The scene is as Arnold phrased it:
“And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.”