In the closing moments of The Last Battle, the final book in the Chronicles of Narnia, there’s a scene that echoes the bloody-minded self-sabotage of a huge swathe the British electorate. The big fight is over. The good guys have won. Aslan is leading everyone off into the Promised Land. Joy is abundant. Lucy and Eustace have been flung out into this new sunlit Eden, and are looking around in marvel. Then they come accross a group of dwarfs who are experiencing things in an entirely different way. The dwarfs, who have been roundly abused by all and sundry throughout the course of the book, are incapable of seeing the natural beauty in the world around them. Instead they insist that they are trapped in a grim, stale hovel. As head dwarf Diggle puts it, they’re stuck -
"In this pitch-black, poky, smelly little hole of a stable.”
"But it isn't dark, you poor stupid Dwarfs," said Lucy. "Can't you see? Look up! Look round! Can't you see the sky and the trees and the flowers? Can't you see me?"
"How in the name of all Humbug can I see what ain't there? And how can I see you any more than you can see me in this pitch darkness?"
"But I can see you," said Lucy. "I'll prove I can see you. You've got a pipe in your mouth."
"Anyone that knows the smell of baccy could tell that," said Diggle.
"Oh the poor things! This is dreadful," said Lucy. Then she had an idea. She stooped and picked some wild violets. "Listen, Dwarf," she said. "Even if your eyes are wrong, perhaps your nose is all right: can you smell that." She leaned across and held the fresh, damp flowers to Diggle's ugly nose. But she had to jump back quickly in order to avoid a blow from his hard little fist.
"None of that!" he shouted. "How dare you! What do you mean by shoving a lot of filthy stable-litter in my face? There was a thistle in it too. It's like your sauce! And who are you anyway? …. Your wonderful Lion didn't come and help you, did he? Thought not. And now—even now—when you've been beaten and shoved into this black hole, just the same as the rest of us, you're still at your old game. Starting a new lie! Trying to make us believe we're none of us shut up, and it ain't dark, and heaven knows what."
"There is no black hole, save in your own fancy, fool," cried Tirian. "Come out of it." And, leaning forward, he caught Diggle by the belt and the hood and swung him right out of the circle of Dwarfs. But the moment Tirian put him down, Diggle darted back to his place among the others, rubbing his nose and howling:
"Ow! Ow! What d'you do that for! Banging my face against the wall. You've nearly broken my nose."
Stuck between tragedy and farce, the dwarfs are in a self-imposed purgatory. They’ve been lied to so many times- they come into the novel as slaves sold by a fake Aslan- that they’ve erected a mental wall of cynicism to cope. This barrier is so impenetrable that they’ve left no chink for sunlight to creep in. Eventually the real Aslan rolls up to show Lucy just how far the dwarfs have gone in their quest not to be suckered.
Aslan raised his head and shook his mane. Instantly a glorious feast appeared on the Dwarfs' knees: pies and tongues and pigeons and trifles and ices, and each Dwarf had a goblet of good wine in his right hand. But it wasn't much use. They began eating and drinking greedily enough, but it was clear that they couldn't taste it properly. They thought they were eating and drinking only the sort of things you might find in a Stable. One said he was trying to eat hay and another said he had got a bit of an old turnip and a third said he'd found a raw cabbage leaf. And they raised golden goblets of rich red wine to their lips and said "Ugh! Fancy drinking dirty water out of a trough that a donkey's been at! Never thought we'd come to this." But very soon every Dwarf began suspecting that every other Dwarf had found something nicer than he had, and they started grabbing and snatching, and went on to quarrelling, till in a few minutes there was a free fight and all the good food was smeared on their faces and clothes or trodden under foot. But when at last they sat down to nurse their black eyes and their bleeding noses, they all said:
"Well, at any rate there's no Humbug here. We haven't let anyone take us in. The Dwarfs are for the Dwarfs."
"You see," said Aslan. "They will not let us help them. They have chosen cunning instead of belief. Their prison is only in their own minds, yet they are in that prison; and so afraid of being taken in that they can not be taken out.*
“The Dwarfs are for the Dwarfs” is a great Lynton Crosby-esque slogan - chauvinistic, catchy and entirely meaningless. The passage serves as a neat metaphor for all those thin lipped proponents of ‘common sense’ who insist that any attempt to create a better world is some sort of mythical wish list that requires a magic money tree. In the last month the Labour party have put forward a number of policies that seem entirely fair, reasonably costed, and inarguably very popular. But the dwarfs are still rubbing their noses and moaning about being shoved into the wall. There’s a strain of poor buggers across Britain who have got so used to darkness that they can’t imagine the light.
The policies in the Labour manifesto are objectively possible - Nationalising public utilities? This has been proved to be achievable by the numerous European state-owned companies which have successfully managed UK industries. The positive cultural benefits of immigration? Shown time and time again. The link between terrorism and foreign policy? Confirmed by the head of MI5. None of this is mythical. And for the record, there are a whole bunch of magical money trees- they're all flourishing in the sunny climes of the Cayman Islands.
The irony of all this is that there are, in fact, many, many myths that fly around in Britain. And by and large they’re created and spread by the right wing press. An Ipsos Mori survey back in 2013 discovered the following examples of myths the public buy into - a depressing list that suggest the public are almost totally wrong on everything.
- Benefits: that £24 of every £100 of benefits is fraudulently claimed. Official estimates are that just 70 pence in every £100 is fraudulent - so the public conception is out by a factor of 34.
- Immigration: some 31 per cent of the population is thought to consist of recent immigrants, when the figure is actually 13 per cent. Even including illegal immigrants, the figure is only about 15 per cent. On the issue of ethnicity, black and Asian people are thought to make up 30 per cent of the population, when the figure is closer to 11 per cent.
- Crime: some 58 per cent of people do not believe crime is falling, when the Crime Survey for England and Wales shows that incidents of crime were 19 per cent lower in 2012 than in 2006/07 and 53 per cent lower than in 1995. Some 51 per cent think violent crime is rising, when it has fallen from almost 2.5 million incidents in 2006/07 to under 2 million in 2012.
- Teen pregnancy is thought to be 25 times higher than the official estimates: 15 per cent of of girls under 16 are thought to become pregnant every year, when official figures say the amount is closer to 0.6 per cent.
Among the other surprising figures are that 26 per cent of people think foreign aid is in the top three items the Government spends money on (it actually makes up just 1.1 per cent of expenditure), and that 29 per cent of people think more is spent on Jobseekers' Allowance than pensions.
There we have it. The dwarfs are for the dwarfs. We live in a shitty country of our own imagining. May and Dacre and Murdoch and Farage are wicked witches who have woven a dimly lit hovel from lies, and half the country are falling over themselves to move in. People are more likely to regurgitate actual myths while sneering at realities that might improve their lives. Naturally you could argue that it’s the Labour Party’s job to communicate these realities with a bit more skill, but it would take a particular kind of cockeyed Blairite to argue that Corbyn hasn’t had a fair crack at it these last two months. So at least, for once, the electorate are being offered a chance for sunshine. Today we get to find out if they're so battered that all they can see are stable walls.