One of those days.
Newspapers so keen on censoring the usual f-word are equally quick to damp down mentions of "fascism". Liberals? They offer the same heartfelt monologues as the last time we had "one of those days".
Previously: What's water?
For many journalists, columnists, and commentators, propaganda is so commonplace they can't even see it.
Today is one of those days when the arc of history no longer seems to bend towards justice.
— George Monbiot on Twitter, 6:01 PM, Mar 7, 2023
We have a lot of those days; a lot of days for grand speeches on fascism and democracy, on what cannot be allowed to stand, which then fade quickly in the minds of those who offer them. Soon we are onto the next thing, slipping on to the next “one of those days”, staring through an Overton Window that’s just narrow enough to install the bars. Another “one of those days” will be along tomorrow or next week; the previous ones drifting into the mists of memory.
The frog in the boiling pot is a myth1; frogs are clever enough to thrash around and jump right out when the heat rises. They do not wait for the water to boil. But we do. The UK looks across the Channel to France and tuts at its protests; it takes so much for our riots to start. Complacency is a British value; it’s just a bit impolite to use words like “racist” or “fascist”; authoritarianism is fine as long as it uses the right terms and creeps in with efficiency and just enough politeness.
The Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, is a ghoul but it is the way she explains her cruelty that causes the real handwringing. Yvette Cooper, the Shadow Home Secretary, and the Labour Party front bench offer Potemkin opposition; they ask for the same cruelty and inhumanity but promise to deliver it with a sheen of competence and ersatz compassion that tastes bitter when you bite into it.
Any time we have “one of those days”, there is someone ready to tell you that you’re overreacting, because Boris Johnson fell from his perch — no chance to become “world king” — and Trump was tossed out with only multiple fascist marches and an attempted coup to his name. There were kids in cages and an endless campaign of drone strike executions under Obama, but he was smooth and did more pleasing skits on television.
The appeasers will come with charts and graphs and soothing words; they’ll persuade you the only real danger comes from the obvious monsters: the Johnsons, the Bravermans, the De Santises, and the Trumps. Gary Lineker responded to Suella Braverman’s video announcing the government’s latest anti-refugee policy by tweeting:
Good heavens, this is beyond awful.
In reply to someone who challenged him, he wrote:
There is no huge influx. We take far fewer refugees than other European countries. This is just an immeasurably cruel policy directed at the most vulnerable people, in language that is not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the 30s, and I’m out of order?
The Daily Mail’s front page screams:
Lineker Faces BBC Rebuke For Likening Small Boats Plan To Nazis
It lines up behind Tory MPs — who gurgle so often about “free speech” and are now demanding, in the words of the oversized Boss Baby, Robert Jenrick, that Lineker be “shown the red card” — and craven BBC bosses who have promised that the presenter will be “talked to about his responsibilities”.
And falling in line behind the Daily Mail, there’s the Shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper who told LBC that “we shouldn’t make comparisons with the 1930s”. So there’s the official policy of the Labour front bench: Never forget (unless it’s convenient to forget for political expediency).
When reports of islamophobia and antisemitism are rising, how can The Sun think it is okay to print a column on ‘The Muslim Problem’ with echoes of the 30s?
Keir Starmer’s 2021 Labour Party conference speech was written by the worst Phil Collins, the former Times columnist turned New Statesman contributor, who wrote for The Times in 2019 that “Labour’s racism [was] worse than the Tory kind” and opined sagely that:
The racism that exists in the Tory ranks is, according to most witnesses, generational and casual. That does not mean it does not matter. Being on the receiving end of racism is never casual. It does, though, mean that the Muslim question will not greatly occupy the thoughts of the average Tory member.
The. Muslim. Question.
The nepo baby Shadow Immigration Minister, Stephen Kinnock, pushed out a poster yesterday that in black and white (and grey and warning yellow) howled:
The Tories Have FAILED On Small Boat Crossings
The focus was not humanity or empathy but cold (and deceptive) arithmetic and the promise of more efficient cruelty (“THE REALITY 2022 set new record high for crossings arrivals of 45,000”)
In July 2019, Daily Mail contributor Simon Heffer said on LBC that he believed Jeremy Corbyn “[wanted] to reopen Auschwitz,” and when challenged by Iain Dale — Iain Dale?! — on his rhetoric, he replied:
I’m sure, in 1933, they had similar conversations in Germany: “The Fuhrer’s never going to do that”
That same month, Jeremy Hunt — now the Chancellor — said:
When I went to Auschwitz, I rather complacently said to myself, “Thank goodness we don’t have to worry about that kind of thing happening in the UK,” and now I find myself faced with a leader of the Labour Party who has opened the door to antisemitism in a way that is truly frightening.
Comparisons with the 1940s were fair game then. The Daily Mail did not object; in fact, the paper, such a fan of Adolf Hitler in the 30s, indulged in and amplified them endlessly. And in January 2023, when a Holocaust survivor confronted Braverman about her rhetoric — calling those seeking asylum “an invasion” — it did not warrant an angry front page.
In a meeting in Braverman’s Fareham constituency, Joan Salter asked her:
When I hear you using words against refugees like 'swarms' and an 'invasion', I am reminded of the language used to dehumanise and justify the murder of my family and millions of others.
Why do you find the need to use that kind of language?
I won’t apologise for the language that I have used to demonstrate the scale of the problem.
The audience applauded her. Reports omit how many were humming Tomorrow Belongs To Me.
In November 2022, a group of Holocaust survivors wrote to Braverman about her “dangerous and dehumanising” rhetoric. Neither of those incidents appears in the Mail’s front page story; a quote from Jonathan Gullis — a member of the oxymoronic ‘Common Sense’ group of Tory backbenchers, who has frequently used the antisemitic dog whistle ‘cultural marxism’ — does:
It is the same old boring Gary, using the same old lazy tropes that anyone who wants to control our border is a “racist” and “fascist”. Let’s see if the BBC will stand up to their multi-million-pound whining baby and remind him his job is to talk football.
A few pages later, Braverman contributes an editorial which opens with the same rhetoric that those Holocaust survivors condemned:
The British people have had enough. I have had enough. Tens of thousands of illegal migrants pouring across the Channel every year and in ever greater numbers. We cannot sustain it. Moreover, it makes us less safe. We all know that strong border security underpins our national security.
Of course, she’s at home in the Daily Mail; it’s always been a trendsetter in the demonising of refugees, which it then pretends it didn’t decades later. It’s the paper of ‘Hurrah for the Blackshirts’; of ‘crush the saboteurs’; of a 2015 cartoon that showed men and women in Islamic dress crossing a border with rats running among them; of the 1938 report headlined German Jews Pouring Into This Country, warning of “aliens [breaking] through the defences”.
Yvette Cooper and her chum Nick Ferrari say we shouldn’t make comparisons to the 1930s. Yesterday, Braverman spoke in parliament of “waves of illegal migrants breaching our borders” and “the small boats problem”. The barking dogs became especially loud as she talked about people “rich enough” to pay the people smugglers and deafening when she said:
Let’s be honest, there are 100 million people around the world who could qualify for protection under our current laws. Let’s be clear: They are coming here.
Behind her, Rishi Sunak smirked and nodded like an ornamental dog on a parcel shelf (actual size!). According to UNHCR statistics, as of November 22, there were 231,597 refugees, 127,421 pending asylum cases, and 5,483 stateless people in the UK, including recent refugees from Ukraine. That’s just over half a per cent of the UK’s total population (0.54%).
Most of ‘them’ aren’t coming here; four out of five refugees remain in the region where they were displaced. Turkey hosts the highest number of refugees in the world (3.7 million), followed by Colombia (1.7 million). 85% of refugees live in developing regions and 73% of displaced people live in countries neighbouring their country of origin. In Europe, Germany, France, Spain, and Italy all take far more refugees than the UK, which ranks 16 out of 28 for asylum approvals.
Asked on BBC Breakfast about the “100 million people” claim, Braverman said:
I see my role as being honest for the British people and to the British people. And I am not going to shy away from displaying the enormity of the problem that we are facing. The UN has confirmed that there are over 100 million who are displaced globally because of all sorts of factors like conflict or persecution; those are many people who would like to come to the United Kingdom. The simple truth is: We cannot accept everybody who wants to come to the United Kingdom.
In his essay ‘Ur-Fascism’ (1995), Umberto Eco outlines 14 features of what he also called “eternal fascism”. The government — and opposition — frequently demonstrate the behaviours detailed on that list:
1 The cult of tradition: Witness the obsession with the flag and the frequent suggestions that “history” is being assaulted by “the Left”.
2 Rejection of modernism: You can see this in Tory policies and press but also in the revanchist Blairite tendencies of Starmer’s Labour.
3 The cult of action for action’s sake: Look at the list of “priorities” that both Sunak and Starmer are obsessed with announcing.
4 Disagreement is treason: Braverman engaged in this in its bluntest form in her email to Conservative Party supporters yesterday:
We tried to stop the small boat crossings without changing our laws.
But an activist blob of left-wing lawyers, civil servants and the Labour Party blocked us.
But you can also see it in the control of the selection process and purging of the membership in Starmer’s Labour.
5 Fear of difference: The rhetoric around immigration from both Tory and Labour frontbenchers is explicitly or implicitly about “invaders” and “taking advantage”.
6 Appeal to frustration. Eco writes:
Appeal to social frustration. “One of the most typical features of the historical fascism was the appeal to a frustrated middle class, a class suffering from an economic crisis or feelings of political humiliation, and frightened by the pressure of lower social groups.
Imagine if he’d lived to see the era of the “Red Wall” and the current strains of the anti-trans, anti-immigrant, anti-young, and islamophobic campaigns.
7 The obsession with plots:
… the root of the Ur-Fascist psychology there is the obsession with a plot, possibly an international one. The followers must feel besieged.
The UNHCR, the European Court of Human Rights, the “lefty lawyers”, the civil service, the “woke mob” — the greedy Tories require multiple plots.
8 The enemy is both strong and weak. Eco says:
By a continuous shifting of rhetorical focus, the enemies are at the same time too strong and too weak.
The Tories and their outriders do this about “the Left” (which includes the Labour Right) and the Labour Right, now in complete control of the Labour Party, do this obsessively about the dwindling left of their own party as well as “the trolls and trots” of social media and, of course, the terrifying jam maker Jeremy Corbyn.
9 Contempt for the weak: “Elitism is a typical aspect of any reactionary ideology.” If you can’t see this in the behaviour of both Labour and Tories, you’re bashing around the world with your eyes shut tight.
10 Pacifism is trafficking with the enemy: “For Ur-Fascism there is no struggle for life but, rather, life is lived for struggle.” Have you tried suggesting anything other than unquestioning support for continued war?
11 Everybody is educated to become a hero: “In Ur-Fascist ideology, heroism is the norm. This cult of heroism is strictly linked with the cult of death.” The ‘normal’ blokes, ‘hard workers’, and homeowners — of all genders — of Britain are the heroes of the stories told by both parties, some are toolmakers; others own white vans; none are on precarious contracts or members of trade unions.
12 Machismo and weaponry: “Machismo implies both disdain for women and intolerance and condemnation of nonstandard sexual habits, from chastity to homosexuality.”
13 Selective populism: “There is in our future a TV or Internet populism, in which the emotional response of a selected group of citizens can be presented and accepted as the Voice of the People.” Eco was a visionary and the vision he had was one of GB News, Facebook meme groups, and the MailOnline comment section stamping on a human face — your face — forever.
14 Ur-Fascism speaks Newspeak: “All the Nazi or Fascist schoolbooks made use of an impoverished vocabulary, and an elementary syntax, in order to limit the instruments for complex and critical reasoning.” Behold the three-word slogans that dominate our politics and the frontline politicians who are the top customers for the nation’s purveyors of ostentatious Union Flags.
Prime Minister’s Questions this week was a particularly stark example of the two dominant varieties of Ur-Fascism clashing with all the jeopardy of a badly-sold professional wrestling match. Sunak accused Starmer of being “in hock to the open border activists…”; Starmer retorted by crowing that he has “extradited countless rapists.”
Many things go unmentioned there including the time when Starmer, as Director of Public Prosecutions, had to be stopped by Theresa May (?!) from engineering the extradition of Gary McKinnon. The IT expert — who is autistic — had gained access to US military databases hoping to find information about UFOs, but did not publish any of his findings. The US indictment carried the threat of him being imprisoned for up to 30 years. May blocked the extradition, concluding:
… after careful consideration of all the relevant material… Mr McKinnon’s extradition would give rise to such a high risk of him ending his life that a decision to extradite would be incompatible with [his] human rights.
Theresa ‘Go Home vans’ May is no ‘girl boss’ hero here; her decision was hugely influenced by a Daily Mail campaign on McKinnon’s behalf. But Starmer considered pursuing charges against him in the UK courts and flew to the US to apologise to then-attorney general Eric Holder at the State Department.
I can already hear the usual social media cries of “Oh, so you’re saying they’re all the same!” (Yes, based on their rhetoric and past behaviour) and “So you want a Tory government then?” (I don’t.) I just don’t want the same policies delivered by an administration with different branding, a claim to greater “competence”, an equally crippling addiction to consultancy and big business donors, and a line in pulling ‘empathetic’ faces while it executes the same cruelty.
The Labour front bench is stuffed with spreadsheet sadists and it’s not my problem that some people find their brand of managerial authoritarianism more palatable because of politesse.
Watching Sunak vs Starmer is like observing an argument between two men who fundamentally believe the same things but have read very different management books or, at its least enlightening, between two men stripped to the waist and banging their fists against their pigeon chests in a pub car park.
On YouTube, Politics Joe titled its copy of Yvette Cooper’s parliamentary response to Braverman a “searing takedown”; it’s a good lure to get people to click but it has as much relationship to reality as those ads for “one crazy trick to lose weight”. Cooper is as searing as a drizzly winter night in Stoke.
She listed figures like the world-weary accountant at a failing paper firm; hers was peevish irritation at the regional manager’s incompetence, not the visceral anger of someone confronted with an abomination. Her issue was not the intent of the legislation but that “it would not work”; she accepts the premise and simply finds the execution disappointing.
A caller to LBC this morning — who came from Bosnia as a refugee and has long been settled in Wales, now with family and children — said Britain reminds him of the Balkans before the war. He asked what we would do if there was ever war here; where would we go?
‘We’ assume it will not and can not ever happen here. It is the same British exceptionalism that leads people to believe that everyone wants to come to Britain as a refugee even as the numbers show that is far from the case. The most effective policy our political class has in deterring asylum seekers and immigrants of all kinds is to continue to make this a miserable place to live: a culture defined by paranoia, cruelty, and greed and utterly unwilling to face up to the darkness in its history and present.
The Tories essentially want to push migration numbers down. Labour, at heart, would like to reduce the level of asylum criminality by legalising it, opening a safe route to the entire world – starting with Afghanistan which, judging by what MPs have to say on the matter, is a nation populated entirely by translators. The opposition might have no policy but the Government has one that, by its own admission, pushes "the boundaries of international law". It is bound to be rejected in court.
He sketches an imaginary Labour Party; one that never created the ‘controls on immigration’ mug and which didn’t spend its last period in government devising ever more baroque forms of cruelty in the asylum and immigration system. Stanley’s snideness about Afghanistan — a country the UK helped to break then abandon — is particularly grim given his paper’s usual flag-shagging faux-concern for veterans, while his shrugging awareness that the policy is designed as a starter before the main course of abandoning the European Convention on Human Rights is a special kind of knowing cynicism.
The Sun’s leader column tries the same trick of pretending that Labour will not be equally hardline on immigration — the number of successful asylum claims was far lower in 2010; at a twenty-year low, in fact — claiming:
BRITAIN wants the small-boats scandal ended. And Rishi Sunak’s radical and robust deterrent is the only game in town. It’s not just more likely to work than any alternative. It’s that there IS no viable alternative, as the total vacuity of Labour’s response proves.
Despite the assumption that Starmer is locked on to be the next Prime Minister, it seems Rupert Murdoch has yet to execute his ‘back the winner’ gambit. Could it be that he still suspects Starmer won’t make it?
If Keir Starmer wins the next election he will scrap the Sunak approach, fall back on camouflage waffle about cracking down on people-smuggling gangs and ensuring new safe routes. And the number of people conning their way to a life in Britain by abusing the asylum system will continue to skyrocket, with all the baleful consequences that implies for our rapidly unravelling society.
This line of argument from the right is stupendously disingenuous; numbers have rocketed under the Tories’ brand of cruelty. If you really hate refugees and immigration generally, it’s Starmer’s Labour who you want in power. The Labour leader’s “politics of bureaucratic fixes and committees and annual reports” (not my words, the words of Des Lynham… I mean… The Times’ Patrick Maguire) is what you’re after.
I know that’s uncomfortable for the “anything’s better than the Tories” contingent but there is an answer: Demand better. Yvette Cooper told parliament yesterday that “Britain deserves better”; I agree — I just happen to include the Labour Party in that criticism (and that goes for all of its leaders up to, including and before Neil Kinnock).
The morality of the UK government’s policies towards refugees is treated as an afterthought across almost all of the media. On Radio 4’s Today programme today, Nick Robinson spent two-thirds of his interview with Braverman talking about figures, practicalities and logistics.
He opened by asking if “send them back” would work this time, rather than challenging the entire premise. He sounded most delighted when he could attempt to bait Braverman on Lineker, and let her claim that people would be sent to Rwanda to “live safe and secure lives” slip past unchallenged.
When Robinson did touch on the moral issues, he tried to make it personal, bringing up Braverman’s parents; she pivoted to the “jump the queue” rhetoric she used in parliament and in her ‘promo’ video for the policy. Robinson let it happen. Chris Mason’s ‘analysis’ following the encounter again focused on the logistics and practicalities of the ‘plan’ — a highfalutin’ word for tickling the tabloids’ nipples — with morality and humanity not making the running.
In a film on institutional racism that wasn’t shown on British terrestrial television, after clips of politicians including Enoch Powell, Margaret Thatcher, and Harold Wilson all expressing variants of the ‘swamped’ by immigration rhetoric, Ambalavaner Sivanandan — the late novelist and director of the Institute for Race Relations — said:
Looked at in terms of the history of race and immigration in this country, it says one thing to me: What Enoch Powell says today, the Conservative Party says tomorrow, and the Labour Party legislates on the day after.
I don’t believe that has changed. In fact, it’s getting worse. With a press and media that want to pretend that we have ideological diversity in politics where there is virtually none, we are living in a one-party state that changes which colour of managerial autocrat fronts it once every decade or so.
This is fascism that flatters folk that it’s something else more sophisticated and quintessentially British; that keeps people on side by reassuring them that they will not be included in some new draft of the over-familiar Niemoller poem. It relies on a media that reassures those who have never been immigrants that it will never happen to them and those whose families were that 'they’ who are coming now are different and less deserving.
Is it really so surprising that newspapers that are generally too mimsy to print the word fuck would flee from the word ‘fascism’? Especially when the fruits of this system have been so bountiful to their proprietors.
This is exactly the time we should make comparisons to the 1930s; its fascism did not arrive fully formed but crept forward day by day. You can’t keep saying it’s “just one of those days”. Those days add up.
Fascism arrives as your friend. It will restore your honour, make you feel proud, protect your house, give you a job, clean up the neighbourhood, remind you of how great you once were, clear out the venal and the corrupt, remove anything you feel is unlike you...
It doesn't walk in saying, "Our programme means militias, mass imprisonments, transportations, war and persecution."
— I sometimes fear… by Michael Rosen, 18 May 2004
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“During the 19th century, several experiments were performed to observe the reaction of frogs to slowly heated water. In 1869, while doing experiments searching for the location of the soul, German physiologist Friedrich Goltz demonstrated that a frog that has had its brain removed will remain in slowly heated water, but an intact frog attempted to escape the water when it reached 25 °C.” [Source]