I have holidayed many times in Portmeirion, an idyllic jewel of a village on the Llŷn Peninsula of northern Wales. This enclave was the brainchild and life’s work of architect Clough Williams-Ellis. It was Inspired by a visit to Portofino in Italy which Williams-Ellis cited as a “perfect example of the man-made adornment and use of an exquisite site”.
Portmeirion in Wales
He set about finding a location with similar vistas and topography in Wales in order to recreate such a haven. The village is closed to cars, and buildings are a proto-postmodern grab bag of the classical and the lyrical; the grand and the humorous, and much imported brick by brick following discoveries he made during his travels. But central to his vision was that the town should be human scale; everything walkable; everyone a neighbour. Indeed, in his will, Williams-Ellis stipulated that the enclave should never grow beyond its current bounds.
Such was the ‘feng shui’ of the place that it became popular with artists, writers, and musicians as a place of inspiration. Noel Coward wrote Blythe Spirit in one apartment overlooking Tremadoc Bay. George Bernard Shaw and H G Wells swelled the literary clique. The murals of Hans Feibusch sealed its artistic credentials, and the Beatles visited many times. In 1956, the architect Frank Lloyd Wright visited and the experience fed his notions on organic architecture and decentralised community planning, where all services and facilities could coexist and where humanity and the environment are in harmony.
This benign concept and realisation was the perfect setting to give counterpoint to the dark dystopian drama, The Prisoner, where a former spy played by Patrick McGoohan, was, as the title suggests, kept prisoner in an idyllic setting, unable to escape as his handlers tried to determine which side he worked for.
Most of us can tell the difference between reality and fiction. Most can ascertain when intentions are well meant and when they are malign. Or so we might think…
Oxfordshire County Council’s 15-minute city scheme
It is surreal and sobering when such benign assumptions are confounded. We live in an era of conspiracy paranoia where even the most prosaic example of utilitarianism in the Clough Williams-Ellis mould is hijacked. And the hijacking is done by people who are, or pretend to be unfamiliar with Occam’s razor, ie the principle of avoiding complex explanations when simple ones are available.
A case in point is Oxfordshire County Council’s plans for a traffic filter scheme, to promote public transport and nudge residents to use their cars less, as part of the wider idea of a ’15-minute city’ where, as with Portmeirion, every amenity is within walking distance. However, these aspirations have been recast by conspiracy theorists, who see themselves as modern day McGoohans: as examples of a faceless authoritarian elite robbing them of their freedom of movement.
This simple traffic reduction scheme has been hijacked by the group ‘Not Our Future’ whose intention is, as founder David Fleming grandly announced, “to fight for the survival of our way of life as we know it”. As is the way with such demagogues, Fleming buys into the whole basket of contrarian issues – Covid denial, anti-vax (Fleming is presumably no relation to Alexander) and, of course, climate: the natural sciences and social sciences conflated to amplify the engineered paranoia.
As with the non-fictional Portmeirion, town planner Carlos Moreno, who unveiled his 15-minute city model in 2016, sought to create tighter-knit communities through a return to ‘local living’, hardly a new idea. Yet Not Our Future are trying to foment fear of a malign state by suggesting that, like McGoohan, people will be imprisoned in their various villages by way of a ‘climate lockdown’. One MP, Nick Fletcher, has even called it an “international socialist concept”.
But this is not just the usual gaggle of the gullible.
All roads lead to Tufton St
As is so often the case, where you find the irrational denial and paranoia of the credulous, you will also find the guiding hand of the disingenuous climate denialists of Tufton Street who have recruited as foot soldiers and unwitting supporters in their disinformation war, the anti vaxxers.
One of Not Our Future’s founding signatories is Kathy Gyngell, a trustee of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, the UK’s most prominent climate science denial group recently confirmed as sponsored by the fossil fuel industry and in league with FairFuelUK who lobby against any curtailment of petrol driven transport. Founder signatories also include veteran alt right climate denier James Delingpole and actor Laurence Fox, head of fellow obscurantists, the Reclaim Party.
Jennie King, head of climate research and policy at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue think tank observes that:
“Until 2020, fear-mongering about so-called ‘green tyranny’ had little to point towards, and often felt like an abstract, even lame Boogeyman (sic). The pandemic was a moment of genuine trauma for millions of people. That trauma has been weaponised by the anti-climate lobby, who now condemn any public policy as an ‘infringement on civil liberties’ and draw direct comparisons with Covid.”
Compassion is the antithesis of conspiracy
The dystopian world portrayed in The Prisoner was overseen by the faceless Big Brother, ‘Number 1’, presumed but never identified as an operative of the UK government.
The clandestine agents of climate denial in this equally dystopian real world are most definitely agents of the fossil fuel industry who will stop at nothing and resort to any subterfuge through their proxies in the Global Warming Policy Foundation to maintain their grip on power and profit at the expense of the planet.
On its website, Not Our Future proclaims: “It is becoming increasingly clear that government policies worldwide, influenced by unelected and unaccountable supranational organisations are detrimental to our future.”
It is ironic that this supposed faceless authoritarian elite, allegedly robbing them of their ‘freedom of movement’, are a projection of the Global Warming Policy Foundation and their allies, the unelected and unaccountable denizens of 55 Tufton Street. And these were same people who objected so vociferously against freedom of movement during the Brexit debate.
In all these areas, urban design, energy policy, even vaccination, what those taken in by deceitful conspiracists fail to realise is that science, environmentalism and human ingenuity are all that stand between us and the extreme privations of former ages.
Alexander Fleming saved millions of lives with his discovery of penicillin; Clough William Ellis’s mission was to champion happy ‘vibrant communities’, and climate activists fight for the wellbeing of future generations. Such altruism could not contrast more starkly with the selfish mission of the vested interest groups allied to the fossil fuel industries.
Compassion, the idea that we are all in this together, is the very antithesis of conspiracy.