Why George Orwell is as relevant today as ever
If George Orwell was guilty of anything, it was not of being too leftwing but too intellectually honest
Friday 24 August 2012
Why Orwell Matters is the title of a book published some years ago by my much-lamented if misguided friend Christopher Hitchens. Whether Orwell matters, he clearly still fascinates, stimulates and enrages. How is it that a writer who died in 1950, at only 46, should be one of the most controversial figures of our own time?
During the war he spent some years working for the BBC (“wasting my own time and the public’s money”, as he characteristically said), and the George Orwell Memorial Trust has proposed that a statue of perhaps the most famous employee in the corporation’s history should be put up outside its new HQ. When Joan Bakewell brought this up with Mark Thompson, the outgoing director general, she was apparently told no, the proposal was “far too leftwing”.
If Thompson thinks Orwell automatically counts as “leftwing” then he hasn’t been following the story closely. It’s true that Orwell said: “Every line of serious work that I have written has been, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism, as I understand it.” But his posthumous fate was to be execrated by part of the left to which he thought he belonged while he was appropriated by a right he abhorred.