I realise it reads like scaremongering; but I really do believe that Britain is in danger of falling into the hands of fascists – or neo-fascists, or quasi-fascists if you like, or at the very least proto-fascists – soon. Cassandra, remember, was right.
Of course it won’t be much like the fascist regimes we’ve seen in the past: Nazi Germany especially, which most people seem to take as their paradigm of fascism, despite its gross peculiarities which make it an extreme case. No, there’s little chance that a British dictator will impose a Holocaust on Jews or any other racial or political minority. Even deporting asylum-seekers to Rwanda doesn’t quite measure up (or down) to that. ‘We’ – the British – ‘just don’t do that sort of thing’, as one of my readers commented on my blog a few days ago. That may be fair comment in the case of a ‘Holocaust’ – although there are episodes in British colonial and Irish history that must throw some slight doubt on it. But it’s a very unreliable and perhaps even dangerous assumption, if we come to depend on it as our bulwark against any kind of fascism in the future.
In the first place, the fact that something hasn’t occurred in the past doesn’t mean that it can’t occur in the future. Nazism was as unprecedented in Germany in the 1930s as fascism is in Britain today. That is, not entirely unprecedented. Both countries had proto-fascist tendencies earlier, as do most present-day countries; even America. (Especially America, perhaps?) In Britain, some imperialist ideologies came pretty close to it. In any case, the whole ‘we don’t do that’ approach relies on a very static view of history. In reality, countries change. Britain has done, quite a lot, over the past fifty years. (See my new book.) So ‘we don’t do that’ is a very unreliable defence, in any circumstances.
Secondly, there are undoubtedly tendencies now in British politics and society which look likely to augur a kind of fascism. Priti Patel’s monstrous refugee policy is one. Her proposed restrictions on the right of public protest are another. Rishi Sunak’s intention to categorise ‘hatred of Britain’ – present-day Britain, one presumes – as an ‘extreme’ view, to be placed on the same level as ‘terrorism’, is a third. Censorship of critical comedy programmes on TV (‘Mock the Week’) can be added to this list. As can right-wing over-reaction to ‘wokeism’; and Michael Gove’s anti-expertise. All of them betoken a certain degree of authoritarianism, at the very least. As of course does the take-over of the Conservative party by UKIP and the ERG. Most popular (or ‘populist’) newspapers’ descent into sheer right-wing propaganda sheets, abandoning all pretence of objectivity – especially of course the Daily Mail, with its history of openly supporting the original Nazism behind it, and its various hatreds and lies – fuels these Fascist tendencies in British society; to an extent that they could be regarded – as I’ve suggested before – as the epicentre of proto-fascism in Britain, taking on the role that the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei did in pre-war Germany. Who needs a Fascist party when you’ve got the Daily Mail?
Working on an electorate that has been impoverished by government policies over the past 11 years, deceived by neo-liberal propaganda to think that ‘austerity’ will bring it all right again, disappointed by an admittedly grossly slandered (the Daily Mail again) Opposition Labour Party, and unable to express its real democratic preferences by a skewed electoral system: with all this a small minority of right-wing ideologues, a few crazies and more sheer amoralists, armed with millions of money, some of it from Russia, and with some clever new propagandistic tools (‘Cambridge Analytica’), and of course with the billionaire-owned press on their side – have succeeded in subverting what used to be a more (if not perfectly) democratic country to their ends; which – in my view – are the ends demanded by a society in which the inevitable internal contradictions of late capitalism are working themselves out.
Whether these ends are identical with or even closely similar to the ones we have seen in previous manifestations of ‘fascism’ we can’t presently tell. They’re unlikely to produce massacres of whole peoples, or slave labour, or new Oswald Mosleys strutting up and down in imitation of Mussolini or Adolf Hitler – those, I agree, we probably don’t do. But ‘fascism’ can take various forms. One seems to be taking place in Putin’s Russia just now. Eastern European states could go the same way. In Britain it looked to be taking a more ‘cuddly’ form while Boris was still de facto PM. Liz Truss or Rishi Sunak might introduce us to different varieties: less sexist in the former’s case, less racist in the latter’s, and much less reliant on the ‘Führerprincip’, perhaps, in either case. But look at the policies, and some of the rhetoric, and you might get a sniff of what we used to call ‘fascism’ in the past. We’ve been warned against it: by Hilary Clinton, for example, and by hundreds more in the USA. They and I can’t all be scaremongers. I’m on Cassandra’s side, here.