Neil Faulkner argues that, with Boris Johnson's election, the Far Right has taken control of the British Government.
First published: 29 July 2019 at Public Reading Rooms www.prruk.org.
Britain now joins the growing list of countries controlled by far-right regimes – the United States, India, Brazil, Turkey, Poland, Hungary, Italy, many more. Johnson is the British Trump – proclaimed as such by Trump himself, the supreme symbol of what is now a global tidal wave of nationalism, racism, misogyny, and fascism.
Remain-supporting Tories have been purged and a new regime of Leave ultras has been installed. Johnson himself is a narcissistic opportunist, a serial liar, an Islamophobic racist, and a man devoid of the slightest trace of idealism, principle, or integrity. His leadership campaign was funded by tax dodgers, arms dealers, and carbon polluters. He described Muslim women as ‘letterboxes’ and ‘bank robbers’ in an unashamed pitch for racist votes.
It served him well. A recent poll showed that 56% of Tory Party members believe Islam is a threat to the British way of life (whatever that is); in other words, a majority of this party of the living dead, that has just elected a new prime minister, comprises Islamophobic racists.
Other leading regime figures are also from the political sewer. Sajid Javid is the new Chancellor of the Exchequer. In his previous role as Home Secretary, he used that fact that tiny numbers of migrants were trying to cross the Channel in rubber dinghies to create an anti-migrant panic, ably assisted, of course, by the gutter press. He recently made a high-profile speech ‘applauding’ Nigel Farage and denying that the Brexit Party is ‘extremist’ – opening the door to an electoral arrangement.
The Home Office goes to Priti Patel, a self-proclaimed Thatcherite with a record of homophobia, clandestine Zionism, and indifference to human rights. Dominic Raab takes the other top government post, becoming Foreign Secretary. Raab thinks that feminists are ‘obnoxious bigots’, and that the Government Equalities Office, which leads policy work on women, sexual orientation, and transgender equality, is ‘pointless’ and should be abolished. Jacob Rees-Mogg, the new Leader of the House, would no doubt agree. As well as thinking zero-hours contracts ‘excellent’ and food banks ‘uplifting’, Rees-Mogg, a multi-millionaire with a deliberately cultivated image of reactionary toff, is an anti-abortion and homophobic bigot.
Expect mounting attacks on Muslims, migrants, and minorities. Expect growing threats to abortion rights and LQBT rights. Expect further squeezes on the poor, the homeless, and the disabled. Expect violations of civil liberties and democratic protocols. This is the context in which to read Johnson’s promise to fund 20,000 more police. This will be a regime of moral panics around crime, migration, and terrorism – a regime forever conjuring imagined threats from alien ‘others’ – a ‘state of tension’ regime with more surveillance, more raids, more lock-ups.
The racism and repression will be laced with more spending on education and infrastructure – in classic fascist style – since the aim will be to ‘make Britain great again’ in the context of a Brexit crash-out. But all the signs are that this will be mainly decorative, designed in part to divert attention from the neoliberal core of the regime’s economic and social programme: tax cuts for the rich, the corporations, and the middle class. The plan is to lower corporation tax – Johnson has not said by how much, but rival Jeremy Hunt suggested lowering to 12.5% during the Tory leadership contest – and raising the higher-income tax threshold from £50,000 to £80,000.
Needless to say, the leadership of the Tory Party is chocker with climate-change deniers. Johnson himself is probably not so stupid as to disbelieve the science, but, true to his hollow opportunistic nature, he flip-flops in his public statements. He is certainly on record saying climate change is a ‘primitive fear’ that is ‘without foundation’. But whatever its members may privately think, what matters is that the Johnson government is a corporate regime – a regime of the corporations, by the corporations, for the corporations. This will decide its behaviour.
A political sea-change
Attempts, on parts of the Left, to maintain that this is a ‘normal’ government, albeit of the Tory Right, are disastrously wrong. If Johnson holds onto power, history will record that 2019 marked a sea-change in British politics as significant as that of 1979.
The advent of the Thatcher premiership that year marked the beginning of the neoliberal ‘counter-revolution’, the systematic attempt by the British ruling class to roll back all the gains made by the working class since 1945. For Thatcher, the defeat of the unions was decisive, above all the defeat of the miners in the year-long 1984/5 strike, which broke the back of organised labour in Britain and cleared the way for the neoliberal programme of financialisation, privatisation, and profiteering, with tax cuts for the rich, spending cuts for public services, wage cuts for workers, and benefit cuts for the poor.
The advent of the Johnson premiership represents a further qualitative shift – to the far right, to a programme of ultra-neoliberalism, a programme of corporate power and climate-change denial, laced with nationalism, racism, and misogyny.
Arguments about ‘normalisation’ were heard after Trump’s election. He was merely a right-wing Republican, we were told. We should not be confused by overblown campaign rhetoric. He would moderate once in office, we were assured. Not only sections of the Left but much of the liberal commentariat argued this in 2016/7. They were wrong. Let us consider the political situation in the United States today, which, in a sense, is three years ahead of that in Britain.
The process we described as ‘creeping fascism’ in the first edition of our book three years ago is now much further advanced. Central to our argument was the contention that fascism should be regarded as a political process, and that to focus primarily on the fascist ultras – the street thugs and embryonic paramilitaries – was seriously mistaken, for the primary threat was posed by mass electoral formations headed by suited racists like Trump, Farage, Le Pen, Orban, and Salvini, and by the way in which the political mainstream was contaminated by their politics. This, we argued, was a great ‘moving right’ show, with social-democrats and liberals capitulating to racism by backing immigration controls and traditional conservatives sending in the cops against migrants, banging people up in detention centres, ramping up the Islamophobic rhetoric, creating an ideological climate in which both far-right electoral formations and street-based fascist groups could gain traction. The different elements in this reactionary constellation, we maintained, were mutually reinforcing: the more concessions that were made to racism by centrist politicians, the easier the next political advance of the Far Right would be.
The Trump regime
The Trump regime illustrates these tendencies. Since his takeover of the Republican Party, Trump has shifted the whole of US politics to the right. He has not ‘moderated’ or ‘normalised’ in power. He has continued to ramp up the nationalism, racism, misogyny, homophobia, and authoritarianism. Tens of thousands are now held in appalling conditions in concentration camps on the US/Mexican border. Abortion has effectively been illegalised in several US states, and the Far Right is aiming to extend the ban to the entire country. Trump has just launched a vicious racist attack on four Democratic congresswomen of colour, stirring his reactionary mass base into chants of ‘send her back’ at a Nazi-style rally in Greenville, South Carolina – a highly personalised onslaught on Ilhan Omar, a Somali refugee, naturalised US citizen, and Minnesota congresswoman.
Behind the façade – the taunting of the weak, the attacks on minorities, the contempt for the powerless – is corporate power. Belligerent global posturing and a huge increase in arms spending have fuelled the military-industrial complex. Withdrawal from international climate-change agreements and the trashing of environmental protections at home have served the carbon polluters. The Trump regime is a big-business regime.
Despite all this, the whole chunk of the organised Left that campaigned for Brexit three years ago seems to have learnt absolutely nothing. Instead, they have degenerated into ever more grotesque forms of self-delusion.
A recent piece by one Lexiter – who, incidentally, refused a recent invitation to debate the issues with me before a Labour Party audience – argues that the Brexit vote represents ‘the largest democratic mandate in the country’s history’, that for Corbyn to challenge it would ‘leave the field open for the Tories and the Brexit Party to paint themselves as the defenders of democracy’, that there should be an immediate general election, and that Labour should fight it by ignoring Brexit and talking about other things.
I hardly know where to start. Labour has just suffered a catastrophic electoral meltdown in the Euro elections – taking less than 14% of the vote nationally – and its current opinion poll rating is around 25%. The party haemorrhaged millions of progressive voters to the Liberal Democrats, the Greens, and the Nationalists – all of which have a solidly anti-Brexit position. Many of those losses may turn out to be permanent. For Labour’s equivocation has continued – partly in a hopeless attempt to ‘triangulate’ (reactionary) Leave voters and (progressive) Remain voters, partly because a small group of hard-core Lexiters around Corbyn are determined to exit the EU and build ‘socialism in one country’.
‘Socialism in one country’
This political fantasy should have been dispelled in the 1970s, when the programme of Britain’s last social-democratic government (by which I mean a government that attempted to introduce social reforms, as opposed to the Blair government, which was a neoliberal government of counter-reform) was destroyed by international finance in the form of the IMF and the US banks that stood behind it. But the fantasy lives on: apparently, in this age of internationalised corporate power, of capital flows of billions at the click of a button, Britain is going to surge to economic growth and social transformation if only the shackles of Brussels bureaucracy are thrown off.
In reality, all the signs are that this doomed experiment will never be tried. Labour has an electoral mountain to climb and is hamstrung by the entrenched right-wing hostility of most Labour politicians to the leadership. If the relentless ‘anti-semitism’ campaign – a transparent attempt by Tories, Blairites, and Zioinists to smear, destabilise, and eventually destroy Corbyn – does not cripple Labour’s electoral prospects, the Brexit shambles surely will.
As for ‘the largest democratic mandate in the country’s history’, what can one say? Since when has the Left conceded final victory to the Right on the basis of a single vote, a single battle, a single struggle? Have we not been fighting against the odds, pushing against the stream, for some two centuries – in the interests of the working class? And when has it ever been in the interests of the working class to align itself with the nationalism and racism of the Far Right?
A far-right landslide?
The real danger now is a lash-up between Johnson and Farage. The same poll that puts Labour on 25% puts the Tories and the Brexit Party combined on 44%. With Labour rendered shambolic by internal division and the progressive vote as a whole split – perhaps irrevocably – the possibility arises of a far-right landslide (in terms of seats).
Johnson will be planning a general election. His theoretical majority is tiny, and he has no majority at all for a hard Brexit. The Far Right expects to fight a general election soon, and they will fight it on their centrepiece, the Brexit project, which they will proclaim as the consummation of democracy and the beginning of a new ‘make Britain great again’ era.
If Johnson and Farage win a stable majority and a five-year term, anything could happen. The model for Brexit Britain will be a corporate tax haven and low-wage sweatshop on the edge of Europe. Remaining public services – including the NHS – will be up for sale to US corporate pirates and asset-strippers. Arms dealers and carbon polluters will have free reign. The social order will be poisoned by racism. Police power will increase. There will be crackdowns on the Left – perhaps using, amongst other things, the ‘anti-semitism’ cudgel to illegalise pro-Palestinian solidarity.
We need, now more than ever, a united Left. But it has never been more obvious that unity can be built only on the basis of principled and consistent internationalism – that is, on the basis of unequivocal opposition to the Brexit project of the Far Right.
Neil Faulkner is the author, with Samir Dathi, Phil Hearse, and Seema Syeda, of Creeping Fascism: what it is and how to fight it.