The newspapers have readily reported that Britain’s economy has sunk into the longest depression for 100 years, claiming the slump is worse than the Great Depression. Regular publications are produced by NIESR which also suggest that Europe’s recovery is already behind where it was in the 1930s during the Great Depression. Indeed, NIESR’s latest quarterly forecast (published 5th February 2013), projects growth of 0.7 per cent per annum this year and 1.5 per cent in 2014.
Following the 2008 global financial crisis, British Labour MP, Ed Balls, stated in 2009 that he feared the economic crisis could spark a resurgence in the Far Right politics of the 1930s and the rise of fascism. His warning initially came after a trade union baron warned that Far Right parties were trying to misinterpret and hijack the slogan “British jobs for British workers” – A poorly worded phrase coined by Gordon Brown during his first speech as leader to the Labour Conference in 2007, intended to express Gordon Brown’s vision of getting British people lacking basic skills, or the long-term unemployed, back into the British employment market.
Today, the row over foreign workers continues to gather momentum, with the implication that the in-coming Romanians and Bulgarians are ill-educated benefit tourists, and reports of the UK Government’s negative ad campaign in an attempt to deter Romanians and Bulgarians from moving to Britain.
We have also witnessed escalating Euroscepticism (discussed in my previous blog post); the rise of the UK Independence Party, and increasing British nationalism has seen the British National Party (BNP) celebrating their first ever secured European Parliament seats for leader Nick Griffin and Andrew Brons in 2009. This was the same year that saw the formation the extreme Far-Right group, North West Infidels, and an Islamophobic Far-Right street protest movement – the English Defence League, who exploit concerns about sex-grooming gangs to fuel its anti-Islam agenda and forge networks with far-right groups across Europe. Last year saw the perturbing revival of the National Front, whilst yet another Nationalist party, calling themselves The British Democratic Party, has recently arisen out of the rubble of the BNP. A further indication that we should not get too complacent is the result of a Searchlight poll, conducted last February, which revealed that a staggeringly high number of voters stated they would be prepared to vote for party of the Far-Right, if it renounced violence.
The question is whether Ed Balls was right in suggesting we may be heading towards a return to the fascist Far-Right politics that prospered in the Great Depression of the 1930s?
There are, admittedly, some parallels, and one thing history has revealed is that the Right thrives on economic crisis.
During the Great Depression of the 1930s, Britain saw the Labour Party almost wiped out, with Labour winning only 52 seats in the 1931 election, allowing the Conservatives to rule with a formidable majority. The situation was even bleaker in the rest of Europe as fascism annihilated democracy and the Left. Italy fell first, with Leftists languishing in Fascist jails from the 1920s. Germany’s labour movement was the strongest in the world, but Nazism shut it down virtually overnight and was upping the persecution of the Jews. A military uprising against Spain’s reformist government in 1936 plunged the country into a nightmare Civil War that ended in the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Leftists and the victory of Far-Right dictator General Francisco Franco. The only glimmer of hope for the Left was France’s Popular Front, a coalition of Socialists, Communists and Radicals. Alas, it was an unwieldy government that lasted only two years, and the right were growing ever more aggressive and militant.
The majority of British people like to think that we are above that sort of thing, and like to believe fascism is more exclusive to “excitable foreigners”, who they seem to believe enjoy wearing uniforms. However, it is worth considering that parliamentary democracy was once believed to have been secure in most of the Western world in the 1920s, yet it collapsed quickly enough once the Slump came. Even emphatically anti-fascist Britain adopted its own version of a corporatist state, forming a national government in which almost all the parties were in power, and vastly extended state control with the Public Order Act which came into force 1st January 1937. Britain also saw Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts, supported by the likes of the Daily Mail, loudly agitating for a fascist government on the European model. If one was a true Democrat in 1937, there was most certainly a cause for concern, given the lack of hindsight and far right’s complacency of the atrocities occurring in Europe.
Even during the other major economic crisis seen during the 1970s, when the ‘oil shock‘ of 1973 signalled the end of the ‘Golden Age of Capitalism’, both Left and Right abandoned the post-war consensus in favour of a renewed radicalism. Like with the period prior to the more recent 2010 election, it was unclear which side would win for a while, and indeed for long periods prior to the economic downturn, it appeared the Left was in the ascendancy. The historically unprecedented post-war boom came to an abrupt end, leading to a period of poor economic growth and rampant levels of inflation. Again, the economy had stagnated, but the New Right saw a surge in prosperity with politics beginning to swing to the Right across Europe, first with British Thatcherism. This was soon followed by American Reaganism. Thatcher was so successful in 1979 that even by the time she was succeeded by John Major, the traditional Left had been all but vanquished as a political force. This time round, there appears to be no real alternative for the Right to defeat, as the Left has never really recovered from being virtually smothered out of existence. It has been victim to the rise of the New Right, neo-liberal globalization, and the repeated defeats suffered by the trade union movement.
Above all, it can be argued that it was the aftermath of the collapse of Communism that has seen the subsidence of the Left. As US neo-conservative Midge Decter once stated: “It’s time to say: We’ve won. Goodbye.” From the British Labour Party to the African National Congress, Left-wing movements across the world have shifted their policies to the Right in an almost synchronised fashion, and although we now live in an age of revolt, there still remains no true Left to give it direction and purpose. Even in the “Left-wing” governed US, Obama may have been elected US President, but a newly resurgent Right lead by the Tea Party has seized the House of Representatives and is clearly setting the political agenda. As the Economist has boasted, the Left has been smashed across Europe, and indeed, the British National Party won its first seats in the European parliament not because its supporters are all racist, but because many voters feel insecure and let down by the main parties. The British National Party now use such views to their advantage to rally support, thus playing on the claim that their Far-Right party is “a socialist party… and probably the closest thing to old Labour”, at a time when there is no true Left to provide Britain with direction.
The recent rise of the UKIP could also be an issue for concern, particularly as recent ComRes polls have placed the UKIP in 3rd position, ahead of the Liberal Democrats.
Whilst a benign view of the UKIP by many might be that they are simply small-nation nationalists standing up against an oppressive suzerainty, and are not a fascist party; a darker perspective might be that some UKIP supporters have a more deep-seated antagonism to our current constitutional settlement, one they share with a quiescent sector of our society, that might develop into a poisonous xenophobia.
Indeed, data from a study by Matthew Goodwin, Robert Ford, and David Cutts has revealed that intolerant views were somewhat more common among UKIP supporters than any of the three mainstream parties. However, while only a minority of UKIP supporters were found to be racist, the majority are not, and the UKIP were found to hold fewer intolerant views than the BNP. Yet, UKIP supporters were more likely to support a complete ban on immigration, to support government efforts to deport immigrants, in addition to being less tolerant of Muslims, and less tolerant of homosexuals. Recent statements by a UKIP candidate for parliament has described gay adoption as a form of child abuse, and the survey revealed 41% of UKIP supporters opposed civil partnerships, which is higher than all the mainstream parties and nearly twice the sample average. The study also found that all parties of the Far Right are also more likely to falsely attribute negative behaviour to immigrants as a group; holding them responsible for ‘most crime’ and agreeing with the view that they ‘jump the queue for council housing’; and UKIP supporters were more likely to agree that ‘Islam poses a serious danger to Western civilization’ and a report by Matthew Goodwin and Jocelyn Evans has revealed that 84% were bothered by the construction of a mosque in their neighbourhood. Furthermore, 4 in 10 UKIP supporters are unwilling to put up with its existence, or to offer legal recognition to a group with different views or behaviour from their own.
If we compare the 2012 London Manifestos:
- Create more jobs for Londoners by saying ‘No’ to open-door immigration.
- Priority for Londoners – whatever their ethnic origin – for jobs and housing, over migrants and asylum seekers.
- Until the Government gets a grip on our borders, put a cap on the number of immigrants allowed to settle in London.
- London is already overcrowded. We will NOT give amnesty to illegal immigrants.
- All the other political parties will let in more – we’ll shut the door!
- While immigration policy is determined primarily by the EU (a key reason for our opposition to Britain’s membership) and central government, we will take all measures within the Mayor’s power to protect and advance the interests of indigenous Londoners and members of legally settled minorities who contribute to the common good.
Both parties use the same door open/shut metaphor in reference to to immigration, and both refer to prioritising Londoners. BNP emphasise that ethnic minorities, who are legally settled, will be included in their ‘shut the door’ policy, while the UKIP specifically refers to migrants and asylum seekers. Note that the UKIP do not refer to whether their policy includes migrants who are legal or not, nor the status of an asylum claim. Both state on their websites that they will deport all illegal immigrants.
In a 2010 document titled ‘Restoring Britishness‘, the UKIP refers to combating the Islamisation of Britain, which is also a key BNP concern:
‘Multiculturalism is another tenet of the politically correct class and has been just as toxic to Britain. In simplified form, it is broadly the belief that people from different ethno-religious and ethno-linguistic backgrounds can live together in the same society and that the state is legally obliged to respect all of their cultural mores. The notion that there is, or that there should be, a common unifying culture is denounced as ‘exclusionary’, and calls to integrate are typically met with accusations that the state is issuing ultimatums to ethnic and religious minorities. UkIP fundamentally disagrees.
Ukip will end multiculturalism and promote an all-embracing uniculturalism, one which demands integration, assimilation and a commitment to British values for all UK citizens.’
The UKIP clearly state their opposition of multiculturalism, and this would suggest they oppose ‘the belief that people from different ethno-religious and ethno-linguistic backgrounds can live together in the same society.’ There are constant references to a Marxist influence in British politics, particularly in using Ed and David Miliband’s “Trotskyite” father Ralph as an example.
The BNP have their roots in far more extreme origins through its founder, John Tyndall, and his involvement with the affirmably fascist National Socialist Movement and League of Empire Loyalists. Their members have been involved in far more extreme acts of outright violence such as the notorious nailbombs attacks by David Copeland.
Yet, both the UKIP and BNP advertise themselves specifically as “non-racist”. If both parties need to constantly refer to their lack of racism in their campaign material, perhaps they have something of a guilty conscience?
Should we be worried?
As I revealed in a previous post, it is clear that David Cameron is being swayed into a somewhat fascist direction by the increase in UKIP popularity, and the increase in Eurosceptism in Britain. In addition to David Cameron’s xenophobic speech, there is increasing pressure from Conservative backbenchers to find ways to deter Romanians and Bulgarians from moving to Britain.
Look at the early signs: demands for protectionism; “British jobs for British workers”; blatant xenophobia; the scapegoating of capitalists; nationalisation; the surge in state spending; the contempt for parliamentarians. Is Britain really immune from fascism?
To get the issue into perspective, the BNP have been around for a long time, yet have never managed to make a serious breakthrough. Intolerant views towards immigrants and ethnic minorities is clearly an issue in Britain, but the UKIP votes are more likely to be protest votes during a time of increasing dissatisfaction with the coalition government. With such a loss of public confidence in parliament, growing nationalism and alarm at terrorism, this is a time when one might have expected votes to flow to the BNP. History has revealed that a loss of confidence in parliamentary institutions is characteristic of a time that fascists have come to power, and whilst the election of two BNP MEPs is a very depressing development, the BNP are not doing especially well. Whilst the UKIP are currently ahead of the Liberal Democrats in ComRes Polls, and came 2nd in the Eastleigh By-election, recent opinion polls place Labour in the lead.
We should also be concerned about what is occurring across Europe, where Right-wing populism is on the rise – The Eurozone crisis has seen emergence of the neo-nazi movement, Greece’s Golden Dawn; neo-fascists in France and Hungary making electoral gains; the continued success of anti-Muslim parties in Holland and Belgium; “nativist” movements such as Finland’s True Finns, not to mention the conspiracy theories cited by the Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik.
Societies that preside over massive inequalities of wealth, but also promises its people democracy, equality and freedom, are breeding grounds for resentment. Wherever such resentments exist, the Far Right will try to exploit them to gain political support. Today the Far Right use Islamophobia and the hatred of migrants, because it already exists in our society, just as the Nazis played upon antisemitism, because it already existed in German society.
However, the fascism of the 1920s and 30s was a revolutionary movement asserting a violent imperialism and promising a new social order. By contrast, today’s Far-Right parties are solely based on fear of immigration, fear of aliens, fear of being Europeanised. They have no real political agenda, no vision of a new social order, nor can they legally campaign for the replacement of a democratic government by an authoritarian regime. The fear and hatred they incite, may lead to public furore, but I do not believe it will play a part in politics to the extent that we will see a Far-Right party elected into the British Government any time soon.
Nevertheless, we should still remain cautious. Presenting the Human Rights Convention to the Assembly in 1949, Schuman’s colleague, French lawyer, Pierre-Henri Teitgen, said:
‘An honest man does not become a gangster in 24 hours. Infection takes time. In thought and in conscience, he has to let himself be drawn into temptation. He gets used to the fault before he commits it. He descends the stairwell step by step. One day, he finds evil has beaten him and he has lost all scruples. Democracies do not become Nazi countries overnight. Evil progresses in an underhand way, with a minority operating to seize what amounts to the levers of power. One by one, freedoms are suppressed, in one sphere then another. Public opinion is smothered, the worldwide conscience is dulled and the national conscience asphyxiated. And then, when everything fits in place, the Führer is installed and this evolution continues right on to the deadly gas ovens of the crematorium.’
If you really do love Britain, stop the fascists, the racists, the xenophobes, and the homophobes, etc.
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