IN 1872 Lewis Carroll wrote ‘When I use a word’, Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less’. ‘The question is,” said Alice is ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things’.
And why should this be called to mind at this very moment? You’ve guessed. It’s about the Conservative leadership contest and our future Prime Minister. To put it succinctly, it’s about winning. No more, no less than power.
Underpinning this obvious truth is, however, as Lewis Carroll would have it, ‘truth itself’. One hundred and fifty years on from Through The Looking Glass, the era of Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin and Boris Johnson faces us with the harsh reality of history rewritten.
But what if rewriting history was accepted as commonplace, and facts regularly dismissed as mere opinion? Paradoxically, democracy might contain the seeds of its own destruction if we are not more robust in its defence. In other words, we want people, from school onwards, to develop analytical skills.
But this throws up two problems. The first is that not enough people do think for themselves, and therefore weigh up information and challenge what they’re fed over the Internet.
The second is the obvious ‘fact’ that it is becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish fact from fiction. And perversely, the more sceptical people are, the more they reach the conclusion that “you can’t really believe any of this rubbish” and “they’re all liars so you might as well just go with your instincts”.
The result is obvious. When people stop believing credible sources of information and therefore reject the facts because there are ‘alternative facts’, then the manipulators have won.
After all, “it doesn’t matter what Jeremy Corbyn did or said in the past”, or “well everyone knew that Boris (Johnson) was lying over the £350m claim on the side of the bus” and, as his apologists have asserted, “didn’t he have a great record on policing and law and order as Mayor of London?”, forgetting entirely the appalling riots of 2011.
But, of course, it does matter. At this very moment in time, it matters most in respect of the Conservative party members who will choose our next Prime Minister. Flagrant disregard for the truth and for the life and wellbeing of others when dealing with foreign policy – all of these used to matter to the men and women who now have this crucial vote.
Whatever my disagreements with them, I always believed that Conservative Party members not only had a sense of duty but also a sense of basic morality that would prevent them selecting someone who they knew to be deeply, deeply flawed.
That is the challenge that not only faces us in the weeks and months ahead, but necessitates a robust response in renewing our democracy for generations to come. It is my view that Boris Johnson will become our Prime Minister and will quickly forge a pact with Nigel Farage for an early general election.
This would ensure that the newly- triumphant Brexit Party would not stand against Johnson loyalists, but would target their efforts to maximise the damage to their fractured and fractious opponents. Labour is in disarray. Jeremy Corbyn and the small cabal around him have become detached from reality, which is the historic fate of those who develop a bunker mentality.
They seem to believe that they can repeat what they saw as a campaigning triumph in the 2017 general election. And yes, it is true, that outside Scotland, the two-party system reasserted itself with Labour mopping up dispirited Lib Dem voters and the almost invisible Greens.
But the very opposite is true today. Opinion polls, which admittedly should not always be believed, place Labour in a parlous state.
After their European parliamentary election surge, it is the Lib Dems and Greens who are more likely to retain the votes of disgruntled former Labour voters who are in despair not just on Brexit issues, but the party’s lack of leadership and direction.
An alternative scenario does exist that is difficult and potentially dangerous for those, like me, who have always been against pacts that reduce the choice of the electorate and fudge the real differences that democracy is there to expose.
While it is difficult to contemplate a temporary cessation of hostilities, if Boris Johnson in partnership with Farage goes for an immediate election, then an informal alliance of the centre Left would be preferable to annihilation.
The history of the Left in politics across the world has been a fragmentation and an inability to face up to reality. With all the real challenges of finding a formula that allows for a common platform, the unthinkable must now be contemplated.
In the weeks ahead, the future of our nation will be decided by Conservative party members who seem, from the vox-pops, to treat Mr Johnson as an errant nephew whose flaws and peccadillos cannot only be overlooked but condoned as the entertaining antics of a ‘naughty boy’.
Unfortunately, for the rest of us, they would be gravely mistaken. That is why what is currently the business of a relatively small number of political activists is in fact the business of us all.
That is why our concern should turn from bewilderment or hostility into something more positive. That requires the kind of forward thinking and quality of leadership from those outside the Conservative fold to start now to get their act together for the sake of us all.
David Blunkett is a former Home Secretary. The Labour peer was MP for Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough from 1987 until 2015.