I first read this some while ago somewhere and thought it rather hyperbolic. There used to be a joke about how many below-the-line messages there were in various online forums before someone said ‘Nazi’. It was a kind of default accusation made by people who wanted to express a point vehemently. But then it cropped up in conversation the other day with someone who’s views I respect and is not given to making hyperbolic remarks, and it made we wonder…
I reminded myself of the history and development of the rise of the Nazis in Germany and some of the features of that rise and there may indeed be some truth in the charge.
Underpinning the Nazi belief system, which led them to the horrors of the holocaust and – the sometimes overlooked – attacks on homosexuals and gypsies, was the idea of eugenics. This was a belief promoted by Francis Galton, cousin of Darwin which gave a pseudo-scientific gloss to the idea of racial superiority, especially the Nordic races. How different is this to policies of immigration control being proposed by the government? This week we have had the suggestions of Australian type islands in the Atlantic together with a modern day version of the Victorian era prison hulks to be used to store immigrants. These policies may just be to toss some raw meat to the party conference this week to demonstrate their toughness and assuage the hard right elements. They do build on the hostile environment policy which has been in place for many years.
We should not forget though that the early camps in the ‘30s were not extermination camps but places where the undesirables were sent to. The Holocaust came later.
Another key feature of the Nazi rise was the astute use of propaganda. Here we can see a direct read across. The methods are different but the messages and use of half-truths and disinformation are the same and are widespread. The government has been criticised and pulled up by a variety of agencies and outsiders for flagrant lying the prime exhibit being the £350m for the NHS once we leave the EU. There are many other examples. Mistakes get made and all governments have bent the truth since governments were invented, but the current government seems to have moved into new territory with mendacity and deception on a scale not hitherto seen.
Helping in this activity are the social media giants in Silicon Valley, especially Facebook, who rapidly enable the promotion of false information, conspiracy theories and dubious propaganda. The vast data operation run by Cambridge Analytica, using Facebook data, to distort Brexit is an example. Since the great majority of our print media are owned by oligarchs based overseas – who are all right wing – there is a wall of bias and misinformation. Standing in the way, with a remit for balance, is the BBC. This organisation, for all its manifest faults, does try to give a balanced view which, in the case of climate change for example, for a long time gave equal credence to the denialists and the scientists. The BBC has come under sustained attack by Ministers and the right wing press. The proposal to appoint Lord Moore as its chairman and Paul Dacre as chair of Ofcom are part of this desire to ‘bring them to heel’. Some of this comes from Dominic Cummings whose blogs on the subject were unearthed a while ago and were essentially about ‘getting’ the BBC and referred to it as the ‘mortal enemy’ [of the Conservative Party] and that its very existence should be subject to a ‘very intense and well-funded campaign’. Lord Moore has today ruled himself out apparently [4 October].
Charles Moore is also deeply opposed to the BBC and refused to pay the licence fee in protest. [I refrain from quoting Moore’s comments on Muslims and ‘blacks’ as he calls them as they are too unpleasant.] Another part of the attack is commercially based to try and reduce unfair competition. Hence the constant attacks on salaries without ever mentioning that salaries in the commercial media world are usually significantly higher.
One of the constant complaints is that they are all left wing. Andrew Neil? John Humphreys? Craig Oliver? Nick Robinson and Jeremy Paxman were both Conservative candidates at one time. The Dimblebys were certainly establishment if not actual conservatives.
Leading the charge against the BBC is the ‘Institute’ of Economic Affairs, the IEA. Who funds them is never revealed but is believed to be right wing American organisations like the Freedom Institute and the Heritage Foundation. If the BBC was truly left wing, their reporters would ask them insistently ‘who funds you?’ They don’t. This deliberate and concerted attack on the BBC is extremely dangerous. Of course the organisation can be criticised and it has made mistakes. But it does stand for balance and those who accuse it of bias seldom come up with any actual examples. Absurd claims are made about being anti-Brexit yet Nigel Farage was almost a regular on Question Time with 35 appearances. Other UKIP and Brexit people were frequent panellists. It offers considerable value for money bearing in mind its output and the radio stations.
Cummings is also busy trying to neuter the Civil Service and 6 senior people have been fired or resigned. He is busy setting up a huge centralised control centre in 70 Whitehall. Again the attempt is to enforce a single view and to silence any opposition.
Back to the Nazis and another tactic was to neuter the courts and Hitler’s claim to act unilaterally. In Britain we have seen attacks on the judiciary and an attempt to prorogue parliament, illegally as it turned out.
So if we look at all the activities of attacking independence in the BBC and the judiciary; the use of lies, disinformation and propaganda more or less on a daily basis; breaking of treaties such as with the Internal Market Bill and introducing a bill to curtail investigations of mistreatment by our soldiers of foreign prisoners in contradiction to a UN treaty; the proposal to ship out immigrants; disregarding parliament and attacking civil servants – does this equate to a steady drift towards fascism? A definition of fascism is: a governmental system led by a dictator having complete power, forcibly suppressing opposition and criticism, regimenting all industry, commerce, etc., and emphasizing an aggressive nationalism and often racism.
Answer? Johnson is not a dictator and he can be removed at the next election (I suspect he will be gone long before that, et tu Brute might be his last words in office). There is a trend towards ‘forcibly suppressing criticism’ by denigrating journalists and firing civil servants. Regimenting all industry is not happening. Brexit is an example of an aggressive nationalism (‘aggressive’ is questionable however) and racist attitudes are evident in the ‘hostile environment policy’ towards immigrants. So on balance the conclusion has to be ‘not yet’.
Another quite mundane reason is the shear lack of efficiency. Hitler was aided in his activities by Himmler who, although an odious individual, was extremely efficient and organised the SS into an effective force. To take over a country as the Nazis did needs planning of a high order. Recent history has shown the current British government to be inept on a number of fronts. The track and trace system, the A level fiasco, the facemask chaos, and much else has shown a government which would simply be unable to manage a coup of any kind. The words ‘putsch,’ Serco, G4S and Deloittes simply do not go together in the same sentence. Johnson is not a fit person to run anything let alone a plot to seize control.
Perhaps the chief worry though is the mind-set. We have a range of institutions and ways of doing things built upon several centuries of conflict, a civil war, and riots aplenty. We do not have a constitution but we do have a famous set of checks and balances. These all rely on politicians essentially acting in good faith and with a degree of honour. We do have elections. Johnson and his gang of supporters are increasingly authoritarian and ignoring the restraints on their power. Millions are being paid out to cronies and organisations with connections to the politicians, the ‘Chummocracy’ as it’s called. They dislike local democracy and are extremely reluctant to use local authorities in tackling Covid-19, treating them with cavalier disdain. They are proposing to strip away local planning powers. They have recently issued instructions to schools not to use resources from organisations who are alleged to be anti-capitalist. So although we have the appearance of being a democracy, the ‘gang’ want to silence those opposed to it and they have a willing army of a passive media to help them do it. Except for the BBC and to an extent Channel 4 which is where we came in.
Are we drifting towards fascism? I don’t think so – yet. Paradoxically, the Conservatives have a huge majority in parliament. They have the great majority of the print media on their side as I’ve said. New right wing radio stations are opening – Andrew Neil being the latest to try. Despite as they claim, the BBC being full of lefties, minister after minister is only feebly interviewed on their various programmes (if they come on at all). Unions have all but gone and striking is now almost impossible. The City, property developers and hedge fund types give them millions, yet for some curious reason they feel threatened by the left whom they see all over the place. And I suspect this is where the nub of the argument lies.
Recent Conservative policies since Margret Thatcher’s day have been built on the neoliberal beliefs of small government, the superiority of the private sector, low taxes, sound management of the economy and competition. The 2008 crash was a shock to this ideology (they weren’t in power at the time) but they were able to escape with the ideology intact by blaming the Labour Party for overspending. We then had a decade of austerity which has left the NHS, local government and the public sector seriously weakened. With no fault of their own, Covid 19 has thrown a huge ideological spanner in the works.
Spending is massive, and our national debt has mushroomed. We now have large government and high capital spending on things like HS2. Taxes will have to rise. The economy is unsound and hardly able to withstand any serious shock. Brexit will happen in a few months and will deliver another massive jolt. Unemployment will rise inexorably as we go through the winter. New trade deals will not come easily. This is a party which is not just split – with an all but entryist group of politicians in the form of the ERG – but is pursuing policies which are an ideological anathema to them. Not only that, but they know that they will be unable to deliver on the levelling up promises. Devizes MP Danny Kruger’s recently published Levelling Up report is risible and will achieve next to nothing. It is astonishing that such a feeble piece of work has been published at all but I suppose they just wanted to show they are doing something ahead of the party conference. Nor will they be able to deliver on the care home funding crisis which Johnson said he would ‘fix once and for all’ in July 2019.
I suspect they may be seriously worried that at some point, the public may rumble them and the trigger may be post-Brexit problems. Starmer’s arrival as leader of the Labour Party is also a factor causing concern especially in PMQs. To start with, they will be able to blame (in their eyes) the intransigent EU. The right wing media will go into overdrive complaining about it with stories about how we are being ‘punished’ by Brussels. After a while that argument will begin to look weaker and weaker. The heavily indebted economy will not be able to do much about undoing decades of neglect in parts of the north. If succession movements gain momentum that will generate further problems. They do have time on their side however. By the spring of 2021 we may see Covid-19 under control. Aspects of the economy should pick up. There may be a sense of relief that we are over the worst.
The conditions that led to fascism do not exist here. The country has not had the existential shock that WWI delivered to the Germans with widespread poverty, the effects of Versailles and reparations, the collapse of the Second Reich and the actual shock of defeat at the emotional level. This paved the way to the appeal of the Nazis. After all, Brexit is an example of exultant superiority, not a reaction to a serious defeat.
We are drifting towards authoritarianism however. It is a function of our decline as a nation and our waning influence. A rather pathetic cadre of yes-men and women politicians are desperately chasing headlines and with little in the way of vision, are thrashing around with policy statements few of which have much chance of success. Everything one reads about Cummings and his ideas does not inspire confidence. Our long retreat from Empire and hostility towards European integration means many of our fellow citizens are feeling resentful and are distrustful of politicians. It is difficult to see where it will all lead. I suspect some kind of ‘deal’ will emerge from the EU but it will be a long way short of allowing open access to Europe for business. We could see some major firms relocating to the continent. We may have to learn to live with Covid-19 for some time yet although a vaccine may be available in 2021.
What we are witnessing I suggest is an exhibition of weakness not the first stages of a coup. The regular announcement of half-baked and even half-mad announcements is evidence of this: simply toss out some nonsense and people think you’re doing something. Build a bridge to link Scotland to Northern Ireland across a seabed with tons of unexploded wartime munitions – very practical. What could be more absurd than sending migrants to the Ascension Islands for processing? They act as a distraction however. We are not discussing the failure in care homes, we are talking about prison hulks off the coast of Essex. We are not discussing the continuing policy vacuum in the north but the papers are full of some royal family nonsense.
The worry is that each step, small by itself, can add up over time to become a problem. We are not going to see tanks trundling up Pall Mall nor paratroopers abseiling down onto the roof of No 10. But the slow nibbling away of independence, increasing centralised control, use of private contractors who are chums of those in power, corruption and the revolving door, and attacks on the BBC all add up to a worrying trend.