It has surely been generally accepted by now that one of the most unattractive qualities of the liberal tyranny under which we live is its horror of argument. It is an article of faith to the government's followers that any variant from their accepted views could never lay claim either to moral worth or intellectual justification. The dissident is not even allowed to pose as decent but misguided, because such opinions are not only invalid, they are wrong. To disagree with the Melvyn Bragg code of ethics can only mean one thing: you are a bad person.
Newspapers this week have revealed that the BBC banned Frederick Forsyth from his fortnightly essay on the Today programme because of his extreme right-wing views. To most of us, "extreme right-wing views" would imply some kind of paranoid racism or religious intolerance, some desire to persecute a stricken minority, some denial of basic human rights. Was Freddie Forsyth the leader of a secret neo-Nazi organisation, I asked myself. Was he at the forefront of a plot to overturn parliamentary government and replace it with the Rule of the Sword?
Not exactly, as it turns out. Forsyth's crimes are more modest. He likes to poke fun at Blair and at the disparity between the Prime Minister's stated goals and his achievements. Oh. Well, this may seem hideously offensive to a BBC management dedicated to serving and maintaining the Labour Party's public image, but it strikes few terrors into the hearts of the rest of us. There must be something more. There is. Forsyth apparently mistrusts the growth of the European superstate and he fervently desires to retain the pound. In other words, he holds opinions (whether one agrees with them or not) that are shared by the vast majority of British subjects. Could any sane person postulate that such a position puts him, and I quote, "beyond the pale"? Probably not, but the BBC could and did.
Naturally, indeed inevitably, as a result of this dogma stranglehold, many people in the public eye have slipped easily into the Culture of Lies. Every day, on television, on the radio, in print and picture, demonstrably intelligent and reasonably upright men and women tell lies. They say things they know are not true. We all know they're not true and they know that we know they're not true. So it might be argued that there is no serious attempt to deceive; but it is dispiriting all the same.
Historically, the Culture of Lies is nothing new in Europe. The French developed it as a form of government in the 1790s. There was plenty of it in Germany during the 1930s and 1940s. The Russians had to endure it for most of the past century, and even the English had a good dose in the 1650s - but its return cannot really be a cause for rejoicing.
Another startling example came to light during the recent parole review of Tony Martin, the luckless vigilante farmer. His early release was turned down, we are told, by a social worker principally for two reasons. The first was apparently that Martin persisted in the stubborn belief that England in the 1950s was safer than today.
Now there are many criticisms that might reasonably be levelled at the 1950s: they were too repressive. They were too deferential. One might even say that, despite producing both Marilyn and Elvis, they were quite simply too dull. But less safe? When many people (including my own parents) seldom locked their door? When burglary was rare and street crime almost unknown? Hello?
The other opinion that turned the key on Martin's hopes was his insistence that the burglars should take a large share of the blame for the incident that landed him in jail. Clearly, many people, including myself, think that it was wrong for Martin to use a gun and there must be some members of the public who agree that he should have been incarcerated. But I have news for Mr Beard-and-Open-Toed-Sandals. Nobody, absolutely nobody, believes that the events of that terrible night would have occurred had it not been for two thieves deciding to steal another man's property. In the vernacular of the playground, they started it. Of course they should be blamed.
So Martin and Forsyth are just two who faced the bitter choice of those who wish to prosper under a tyrannical regime: to lie and advance or to tell the truth and suffer the consequences.
It is a dismal commentary on new Labour Britain. I do not worry for Forsyth, who is a busy and successful man, but I am more troubled by Martin. I would like to think that the social worker concerned came to question his recommendations, but I doubt it. Self-knowledge and personal integrity are not the strong suits of the PC crusader. Either way, perhaps we should spare a thought for the prisoner, however much we may deplore his crime.
Julian Fellowes, Oscar-winning scriptwriter of Gosford Park, will write occasional columns for the NS