Letter from London: I Don’t Want to Set the World On Fire

Photo by Shubham Dhage

As a child, I loved making fires. I would be so happy out in the open just clearing some space and setting one up with some wood or paper as my tinder. Twigs and sticks, ideally bone-dry, would then be added. A spark or match or lighter would get the smoke going, followed by more kindling, until larger pieces of firewood needed added. By now the fire would have a power of its own. The main thing was not to play with it, i remember.

The Right play with fire. In fact, smoke has been so thick and pervasive of late that some people don’t even realise how Right they have become in a period of just a very short time. The latest but by no means not only smoke is around the present trial in Germany involving eight alleged members of the German Reichsbürger movement accused of a secret plan to forcefully overthrow the German state. Remember, there is no smoke without fire. Worryingly, this is the third such case in a row in Germany. Unbelievably, its defendants, or self-described cabinet-in-waiting, include a family doctor, a celebrity chef, and an astrologer. You want that to be the beginning of a bad joke but no humour is forthcoming.

One plan was for them to grab German chancellor Olaf Scholz and march him around a TV studio in the crazed hope of enlisting new followers. This at a time of a general rise in right-wing voters across all of Europe, including Reform UK’s more extreme edges. One friend even reckons the likes of the IMF (International Monetary Fund) are ready to let Le Pen’s Right come to power in France and then quietly abandon their implicit support for French debt and let a major debt crisis ensue. The ECB (European Central Bank) will happily cooperate in this, suggests my friend. He also believes that this will then be blamed on far-Right extremism, and the crisis used as an opportunity to destroy the Right across Europe. He is seldom wrong my friend. ‘Macron for all his faults is not stupid,’ he says. Europe is presently bamboozled by everything. There are at the same time growing numbers accused of spying for Russia and China, with the German far-Right, particularly the AfD, rightly or wrongly, accused of being a puppet for Moscow in order to advance Russian goals. How I miss those gentle childhood days by a small campfire and probably a first cigarette.

Separately, MEPs from the Brexit party, from which spawned Reform UK, have in the past voted against things like tackling Russian propaganda. As Belgium’s former prime minister Guy Verhofstadt said only last weekend, ‘In the European Parliament, Farage always defended Putin.’ Of course, this comment came after Farage sparked outrage among opponents by telling the BBC that the West ‘provoked’ Russia into invading Ukraine, confusing in the process some of those who despise Farage but believe he may have the kernel of a valid point there.

I actually received a public written challenge to my opinion of Farage. This was on a well known business and employment-focused social media platform after my article here on Farage. Furthermore, it came from someone I like. They believed, which quite naturally is their right, that Farage was innocent of any derogatory remarks about Muslims in this country, or any other culture or race, suggesting to me they had not been able to see the Sky News interview in which Farage directly attacked Muslims, as mentioned in my albeit long piece. Anyway, I refrained from replying on social media because the corner chosen by my critic did not deserve our squabble.

However, Farage in my continued assessment is an even greater threat than before. This means I must go further and remind people of Farage’s claims that Muslim immigrants are ‘coming here to take us over’. What about him feeling ‘uncomfortable’ hearing foreign languages on the Tube? How about his blaming of immigrants for the time he was stuck in traffic? How about that vile anti-immigration poster unveiled on the same day Labour MP Jo Cox was murdered on the streets of Birstall by someone from the Right? Is it not also alarming that fascist and well known Islamophobe Tommy Robinson, who founded the English Defence League, has come out in support of Reform UK? And how about Farage’s freshly revealed praise for misogynist influencer Andrew Tate who he described as an ‘important voice’? We can see similar patterns of support and later denials by the way with Meloni in Italy whose youth wing makes Nazi salutes like pans make burnt popcorn. Non è niente! It’s nothing, people say, coughing and waving away the smoke.

In the face of all this, it feels poignant to be watching pre-match rituals before an international football match involving a country pat war. I am thinking of Ukraine in the Euros (the UEFA European Football Championship). Carrying the hopes of their nation like the blue and yellow of their flag around their shoulders, what happens I wonder in the mind of those soldiers inevitably watching from the front line, both Ukrainian and Russian? Does it fire them up or stunt the will? Does it make people kill more? (Russia is banned from the competition.) The last Ukraine match I watched was followed by widespread blackouts as Russia attacked critical infrastructure. How tragic this cannot all be sorted by a match between Ukraine and Russia. As pacifist Bertrand Russell once said, ‘War does not determine who is right — only who is left.’

Talking of zombie-like marches into the abyss, I see Danny Boyle is making 28 Years Later. When I worked with him for a considerable but hardly painful period of time on 28 Days Later, I used to delude myself that the new digital technology we were using was egalitarian enough one day to become a liberating factor for filmmakers. Swiftly reinvented sharks however soon put an end to this at the time, largely by upping people’s expectations of a higher resolution. As for the original 28 Days Later itself, I had no idea what a success it would become. It was my third such digital project with Boyle as he reclaimed his love of filmmaking after less happy days making The Beach. Privately, I questioned the ending of the script by Alex Garland, who recently made Civil War. From a budget of $8 million, it grossed more than $82.7 million worldwide. Not that we saw any of that. Just goes to show how little I knew. For 28 Years Later, the third in the sequel after 28 Months Later, inevitably big names are attached, including Cillian Murphy again, Jodie Comer, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ralph Fiennes. These movies are big business, no matter the endings. I also gather they are shooting some of it on Holy Island, or Lindisfarne, a place where I would camp out at night watching the tide come in, rendering it an island briefly. I must have made a good few campfires there. Though no distraction from the good fun had, how these were left was important. After letting them burn down to just a few hot coals and ashes, I would even scrape off some of the embers from remaining partly burned twigs, sticks or logs, then douse everything with water, finally mixing the ashes and drenched embers into the sand.

In fact, don’t play with fire, I still say.

Peter Bach lives in London.