In the on-camera eyes of James Brokenshire MP, Home Office minister, Aneeta Prem, founder of anti-slavery charity Freedom, and Detective Inspector Kevin Hyland, leading the 37-strong anti-trafficking unit of the Metropolitan Police.
James and his Basil Brush hair; Aneeta of the permanently raised right eyebrow; Kevin with his lower jaw pushed forward like the Churchill insurance dog – and the same blue eyes as ‘ex-slave’ Josephine Herivel.
Despite their personal differences, when interviewed about the three women freed from a South London ‘slave house’, James, Aneeta and Kevin displayed identical levels of intensity.
Instead of releasing three women from the remains of a far left sect, perhaps they’ve all been captured by a rival cult – the cult of victimhood.
Imagine the instructions from the new Comrade Bala: look intently at the interviewer. Don’t waiver, except when talking about your personal contact with the three women (blessed are their names), at which point you may allow a smile to flutter across your lips. If the interview is taking place in an informal setting, e.g. breakfast TV, studio guests will remain pert and alert to what you say.
Report to Central Committee, Cult of Victimhood. During their interviews, James, Aneeta and Kevin waved key words from the little book of bruises: shocked, relieved, psychological, traumatised. Aneeta, especially, made full use of ‘traumatised’: the victims were traumatised in captivity; they have been traumatised by current media coverage; my charity is careful to avoid causing them further trauma. These comrades have vindicated the socially progressive slogan: power grows from trauma discourse.
It’s not difficult to satirise the rituals of the cult of victimhood, as performed on a screen near you. While the week wore on, the ‘slave’ story started to wear out. More people were working it out for themselves that if this is slavery, Malcolm X must have been a WASP.
But there’s something else about this melodrama which satire doesn’t do justice to: the pleading look, not in the eyes of the three women (we haven’t been allowed to see them yet), but on the part of the zealots themselves.
Something in their expression suggests they are only just managing to hang on; and only just managing to hold on to the viewers. Looking intently into the interviewers’ eyes, they seem to be saying: don’t leave me; bring me back into the fold, please.
Less like the Red Guards of nearly 50 years ago (on their faces, the lustre of revolutionary zeal), in their anxiety to connect, only connect, the new zealots resemble the parents, teachers and intellectuals who were excommunicated and/or executed during Mao’s cultural cataclysm.
Even in their finest hour, today’s cult-ists are bowed down with anxiety. Whether they are fearful it could happen to them, or that they will be found out, or found wanting – who knows?