PODCAST 73: George Orwell’s biographer on the 70th anniversary of his death

Richard Bradford, author of Orwell: A Man of Our Time, talks to Toby Young about why Orwell still has a great deal to teach us 70 years after his death. You can read Richard’s recent piece about how Orwell anticipated both Brexit and Boris Johnson’s election victory in the Irish Independent here.


  1. I thought the interview was rather more revealing about Toby Young than it was about Orwell.

    There was a long discussion about what Orwell’s attitude to Brexit during which Toby rightly condemmed a tendancy to equate any popular right wing politician or movement with facism. He went even further however equating support for brexit with aptriotism and wishing to remain with loathing of your own country. It is difficult to support a free debate on ideas when those you disagree with ar unpatriotic and hate their own country rather than people who have a different view of what is best for the future.

    He seemed obssesed with the EU and remarks about the EU’s totalitarian intolerance of dissent while talking about facism and North Korea revealed just how far the polarisation of the brexit debate has taken otherwise sensible peole from reality.
    Orwell’s vision of a totalitarian state using electronic surveillance and of doublespeak and doublethink so seem very relevant in todays world with its polarised camps prioritising ideology above evidence. The most obvious examples would be the ‘debate’ about gender and the way US politics has become detached from any requirment to be based on facts or even be to be self consistent from one week to the next.

    The scariest thing should be that liberal values around the presumption of innocence and due process have been abandoned by left and right. In the UK as an example new stalking protection orders introduced by a right wing government allow orders to prevent or require behaviour which is not a crime in response to a concern by a ‘victim’ about legal but unwelcome behaviour which she need not have even have been subject to. Break such an order and you can face up to 5 years in jail. Yes five years in jail for legal acts whch are simply unwelcome and without being convicted of any crime. This is where left and right have come together to attack basic principles of a free society. The impetus is the identity wars in which every woman is potential victim and every man a potential abuser from the left and compliance on the right as part of a populist desire to be seen to be tough on crime. A sense of perspective and the rule of law has been abandoned. There is a desperate need for classical liberal values.

  2. I enjoyed this. A nicely judged takedown of the biographer’s blinkered view of Orwell, although the ‘Orwell-as-Prophetic-Remoaner’ house of cards constructed by Bradford was all too easily flattened - straws being clutched all over the place.

    Enjoyable interview though I’m not sure the Bradford’s (to be polite) ‘selective’ interpretation of Orwell will win him many readers. Rather the opposite actually.

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