Peter Rhodes on the message of Easy Rider, the killing of a cop - and who was it who got the trains running on time?

Read today's column from Peter Rhodes.

Peter Rhodes
Peter Rhodes

FROM the moment police found Pc Andrew Harper's body in a Berkshire lane, the word "murder" was bandied about by everyone from the Prime Minister to reporters. Yet we have passed this way many times before. How often have we seen charges of murder downgraded by the legal system to manslaughter or even wounding with intent? Don't be surprised if, despite 10 arrests for murder, this case doesn't result in a single murder conviction.

BY pure coincidence on the day Peter Fonda's death was announced, one of the Netflix channels had a rare screening of Easy Rider (1969). As you may recall, through the fug of certain substances that hung around in the Sixties, the theme of Easy Rider was freedom. When Fonda died, his family stressed his lifelong commitment to freedom. And only a miserable old party-pooper would point out that the motorcycle odyssey in Easy Rider was financed by a huge cocaine deal at the start of the film. The hippy bikers' freedom was paid for by the drug-enslavement of hundreds of addicts. And while Easy Rider celebrated the so-called counter-culture of music, drugs, liberty and disdain for money and possessions, it made a cool 600 million dollars at the box office. Yessir, there's gold in them thar hippies.

THE reason we are so shocked at the recent survey suggesting kids are becoming more Right-wing is that we grown-ups have been steeped for generations in the belief that democracy is not only the best way, but the only way. That's because we still have the race-memory of the 1930s when democracies like ours and America's came to be regarded by many folk as slow, inefficient and old-fashioned. Dictatorships were the bright new thing - until we realised that they led to the gates of Auschwitz.

A READER of the liberal-Left tries to salvage some hope from the survey by pointing out that 66 per cent of the young people want better public services, which he construes as supporting Left-wing policies. Remind me, again. Who was it who, according to folklore, got the trains running on time? That nice Mr Mussolini. And which German leader built those wonderful autobahns . . . ?

THE snag is that these race-memories don't last for ever. How many of the young people now advocating hard-line government have ever heard of the International Brigade, or can recognise a swastika?

IT comes as a shock when your soft, liberal assumption that everybody wants democracy is suddenly challenged. I recall meeting a Hong Kong businessman shortly before Britain handed the territory back to China in 1997 and asking him what might happen to freedom. "No freedom in being poor," he snapped back. In other words, what mattered to him and his workers was not the right to vote in a multi-party democracy but the right to a full belly and money in the bank.

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