PETER HITCHENS: Merry? No, this year we need an Angry Christmas!

Some of my past Christmases have gone spectacularly wrong, from the festive point of view. In 1989, I spent Christmas Eve courageously hiding under my bed in a Bucharest hotel, as tracer bullets whizzed by my window, and the snowy city echoed to the sound of crazy gunfire.

Christmas Day wasn’t much better and when I eventually made it home I promised my family and myself that I’d try not to let that happen again. But how can you tell?

That particular mad journey had begun with what was supposed to be a day trip to Dresden in what was still East Germany. Just as a later visit to Jerusalem somehow finished up in Mogadishu, a city I had never planned to visit and hope very much never to see again.

And in 2003 I managed to find myself on my way back from a miserable, dark and desperate Baghdad as Christmas approached, slumped in the back of a utility truck as it growled endlessly across the reddish Mars-like desert between the River Euphrates and the Jordanian border. 

A general view of a family delivering Christmas presents on December 19 before going into a lockdown at midnight in Cardiff, Wales

It was, as it happened, roughly the same journey as the one taken by the Three Wise Men, but it did not feel much like Christmas and I was worried I would not get back in time. I only just did.

Then there were the Moscow Christmases, amid the heedless atheist roar of a Soviet capital that did not recognise Christmas on any date. 

Yet they were among the best I have ever had, partly because Russia was then full of hope for change for the better, and partly because, celebrated in the midst of vast hostility and indifference, Christmas became an act of defiance.

Mrs Hitchens ingeniously created a Soviet Christmas dinner with a marvellous Russian goose, raised in a snowy forest and bought from a black-clad grandma on a frozen street corner, who probably would have sold us some magic beans if we had asked nicely. 

The pudding (the best I ever ate) was also home-made in Moscow, using dried fruits from ancient orchards by the Caspian Sea, full of tastes mostly forgotten here, and plenty of Armenian brandy. And there was good Georgian wine, from that most beautiful and tragic country.

So that was better than all right. Even the Bucharest Christmas had its happy side when I eventually made it home for a delayed feast, a journey which began when I jumped on the first train out, without any idea where it was going.

As I had lain under the bed in Bucharest, I had dictated over the phone to my wife my account of that place after 40 years of Communist despotism. You never let a phone call go to waste in those days.

Stealing a devastating line from C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe, I called Romania ‘the real-life country where it was always winter but never Christmas’. I knew how that story ended, with the triumphant return of Christmas, and I was pretty sure that Romania was going to be a lot better than it had been, once the shooting stopped.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson pictured speaking during a news conference in response to the ongoing situation with the Covid-19 pandemic at 10 Downing Street on December 19

Prime Minister Boris Johnson pictured speaking during a news conference in response to the ongoing situation with the Covid-19 pandemic at 10 Downing Street on December 19

But what I never thought was that this description of Nicolae Ceausescu’s unhinged, irrational despotism would ever apply here, even slightly. And ‘don’t be silly’, you will rightly say, ‘Modern Britain is nothing like as nasty as that’. That is quite true. But then again, it should not be.

Yet I cannot remember any moment in my life when I have been less exhilarated and cheered by Christmas, a season which I normally love and long for.

This year, it feels as if Christmas has gone into exile somewhere else. Even in church I am expected to undergo a macabre, truncated ceremony where everyone stands around in muzzles as if they were in an abattoir or attending an autopsy, stinking of blasted sanitiser, and it is forbidden to sing (though humming may be permitted).

And some noodle at the World Health Organisation even thinks we should wear face-nappies at home on Christmas Day. A masked Christmas? I’d rather not have one at all.

Frankly, I wish you an Angry Christmas, not a merry one, because if you aren’t angry this year, the chances are very strong you won’t be allowed to be merry next year, or the year after that.

Now the courts can’t be trusted to save us

Once I flew in the front seat of a two-seater Harrier jump jet. I was even allowed to play with the controls a little when we were safely airborne (if you were in North Wales at the time, I apologise for any alarm I may have caused when I swooped a bit).

I felt extraordinarily safe, partly because the actual pilot was so good at his job, but also because of all the careful procedures and devices in place: the fire-retardant gloves, the helmet and visor, the line of explosives which would blow the cockpit canopy apart if I had to use the ejector seat, and the ejector seat itself.

Something similar used to be said of this country. We had so many safety devices to keep us free. Parliament, which we elected in free and fair elections, could throw out a bad government. A vigilant and independent press would spot and attack wrongdoing on high. And perhaps, above all, the courts would pull up any government which exceeded its power.

Well, that all turned out to be false. You can’t call most of the media lapdogs. It is an insult to lapdogs. Parliament has been not so much supine but spread-eagled, asking to be trampled on. But the courts have finally shown that they can no longer be trusted to save us at all.

Contrast: Gina Miller (pictured above, leaving the Millbank broadcast studios near the Houses of Parliament in London in September last year) had her case heard, unlike Covid protesters

Contrast: Gina Miller (pictured above, leaving the Millbank broadcast studios near the Houses of Parliament in London in September last year) had her case heard, unlike Covid protesters

Often, it is the courts which nobly stand up to tyrants. Not here. Last week, the Supreme Court refused to hear Simon Dolan’s last attempt to get judges to review the Government’s shocking abuse of the Public Health Act 1984 to seize tyrannical powers, and hang on to them.

It wasn’t just that they did not support Mr Dolan’s case. They would not even hear it. How can that be? Lord Sumption, himself a former Supreme Court judge and a brilliant legal mind, has suggested strongly that the Johnson Government’s use of the 1984 Act is beyond its powers. There is plainly a case to be discussed.

Yet Mr Dolan has been met with slammed doors and stony faces at every long step on the way up to the highest court in the land. Contrast that with the treatment the same courts gave to Gina Miller’s two challenges to the Government – one over the EU and the other over prorogation of Parliament. She won both.

As it happens, I thought she was in the right the first time, and wrong the second, but that is not the point. Both cases deserved to be heard and tested. Like Mr Dolan, she was disputing the Government’s power to act in arbitrary, bullying ways, which the law is designed to prevent.

Our legal classes are supposed to be terribly concerned about human rights and freedom. Yet when the Government introduces mass house arrest, destroys businesses and tells us who we can meet and who we can hug, the judiciary says, ‘not our affair’.

The ejector seat is broken. I do not know how, if the law won’t help, we can lawfully get out of this horrible mess.

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