This morning, David Riddick reminisced about the November 5th’s of his childhood days, growing up in London, lamenting: “Now the guys have gone, the fireworks are all safely organised, the parks and commons empty.” He’s not the only one – Quentin Letts wrote a similar article for the Daily Mail a few years ago: “It is no longer ‘a penny for the guy, guvnor’ but ‘five pounds on the gate, please’ at the council’s sterilised, nanny-fied celebration.”
In my corner of Sussex the bonfire tradition is still strong, but even here we don’t see the Guys anymore. The last time I remember seeing children with a stuffed guy was in 1995, and even they looked a little embarrased.
But the figure of Guy Fawkes lives on, not in childhood games but in modern politics. His face has become a symbol of libertarianism and, to an extent, anarchy; of protest against an ever-bigger state.
In September 2004, blogger Paul Staines launched the ‘Guido Fawkes Blog of plots, rumours and conspiracy’ with the masthead slogan “tittle tattle, gossip and rumours about Westminster’s Mother of Parliaments. Written from the perspective of the only man to enter parliament with honest intentions. The intention being to blow it up with gunpowder…” That blog is now read widely in Westminster and has a staff of four, including Staines.
Staines’ original intention was to run the site anonymously, but in September 2005, following a tip off from a Labour party employee, The Guardian ran a piece online naming Staines as Fawkes. However, he continued to refuse to confirm the rumour until the following year, when BBC Radio 4 ran a documentary about Staines, profiling him as the political blogger Guido Fawkes. At that point, he posted a blog entitled “So Much for Anonymity” and added an ‘About’ page to his site.
Meanwhile, the libertarian blogger Old Holborn has been much more successful in keeping his identity hidden. When asked why he used a psudonym in an interview with The Backbencher, an online political magazine, he said
“Attack the message, not the man. The minute your opponents discover your identity, they attack it instead of your message. Rational debate goes out the window whilst they rummage through your dustbin in the hope of undermining your argument. How many voices are silenced for fear of exposure? Whistle-blowers are hounded, ridiculed, persecuted and despised: so the truth is suppressed. There’s a reason that governments hate the “Anonymous” movement – they cannot control it. Anyone can be Old Holborn.”
This anonymity came in useful recently, when a controversial remark about Hillsborough resulted in his Twitter account being closed down. Within hours, dozens of ‘Old Holborn’ twitter accounts were popping up, opened by his followers in solidarity.
Although he doesn’t directly reference Guy Fawkes, he uses a Guy Fawkes mask, as made popular by the film V for Vendetta, when appearing in public. V for Vendetta is about a freedom fighter attempting to spark a revolution against a fascist regime in an alternative Britain.
So although the original Guy Fawkes was essentially a religious terrorist, in his modern incarnation he has morphed into a figure of antiestablishmentarianism. Presumably because anyone fed up with our current state of affairs is often vaguely tempted to blow up Parliament.
But where the original Fawkes failed to overturn the established order, those who use his avatar may yet succeed. For where it was once necessary to procure gunpowder to spark revolution, the modern revolutionary need use nothing more than a laptop and modem.
Guido and Holborn have had some successes when it comes to subverting and ridiculing our Lords and Masters. On the 10th March 2010, pub landlord Mark Hogan was released just eleven days ito a six month pison sentence when Old Holborn turned up at Forest Bank Prison in Salfod with £8445.15 in a briefcase. The money was used to pay off a fine that had been imposed on Hogan for breaking the smoking ban and allowing pub goers to smoke on his premises. It had been donated by more than a thousand libertarians from across the globe.
Guido has acheived more notorious successes. Notably, it was he who brought down Damian McBride, Gorden Brown’s spokesman, by uncovering and publishing the emails written by McBride, proposing the invention and online publication of a series of slurs regarding prominent Conservatives. He was also instrumental in bringing to light the injunctions that had prevented The Guardian publishing a report of a question asked in Parliament by Paul Farrelly MP.
In the wider world, the Iranian election in 2009, and later the Eyptian revolution of 2011 were dubbed ‘Twitter Revolutions’ due to the part played by social media in orchestrating events. Some have argued that the role of the internet has been overplayed in these cases, but to do so misses the point: ready access to the internet in the Middle East has contributed to young people in those countries wanting to overthrow their despotic regimes.
In much the same was as the printing press caused cultural revolutions in 15th Century Europe, paving the way for the reformation, the renaissance and the scientific revolution; and later, the photocopier enabled Russian subversives to overthrow the Soviet regime, the internet is paving the way for a libertarian revolution across the world, as the power of the old heirarchical structures is diminished. This revolution need not involve violence (although if Europe continues in it’s mad Federalist crusade, it might), but rest assured: it will succeed. 408 years after he hid in a dark cellar under Parliament, Guy Fawkes will have his victory after all.