The Daily Mail and the fascist social project

“Fascism” and “fascist” are interesting words. They derive from a specific movement, yet have developed a wider usage beyond simply that of pejorative use: that is, there is something that is fascism that is not simply adherence to the Italian movement that originated the name. Contrast this with “Nazi” which seems more fossilized: the term refers either to the actual proponents of National Socialism, or is generally used as a pejorative for the racist far-right. When we do encounter a contemporary individual who espouses the Nazi ideology we tend, as is happening now with Thomas Mair, to label them “neo-Nazis.”

But fascism has developed a meaning beyond its origin reference, and that meaning is very important in today’s world, because there are real fascists on the rise. Because of this, I think we need to stop using “fascist” as a simple pejorative for people on the right who we consider beyond the pale, and start using it precisely and clearly. And in that vein, I want to say: the Daily Mail is a fascist newspaper.

Wikipedia starts its entry defining fascism as “a form of authoritarian nationalism.” I want to suggest that this is not exactly correct: that though authoritarianism is a natural and willing bedpartner of fascism, it is not an intrinsic part of it. I propose that fascism, it its modern sense, should be seen a social project: it is a means, not an ends. It is an obvious tool of those who desire to lead in an authoritarian manner, but it is used by other individuals and organizations to achieve other ends.

To me, fascism consists of three major components: the demonization of a marginalized section of society as responsible for societal ills, the inculcation of fear and hatred in the populace directed at that group, and the promotion of unreason in public discourse.

The fascist seeks a pliant populace—though not necessarily, as I have indicated, to rule over. In order to do so, they require to divert attention from the institutions and individuals who a reasoned mind would consider the source of social ills. Kicking down—demonization—is the strategy they promote. Instead of looking upwards to those in power for the origins of their problems, the populace are encouraged to look downwards to an already marginalized group; a simple bait-and-switch manoeuvre. But this is, of course, not a particularly reasonable position to hold, by definition the marginalized group are highly unlikely to have the power to adversely affect people’s lives. So the populace must be encouraged to put aside their reason, and the strategy the fascist chooses for this is fear: fearful people’s amygdalas get in the way of their reason. There is then a twin-pronged approach: the demonized group are made into something to fear, which encourages unreason; that unreason then allows the fascist to increase their claims about that group, thus encouraging more fear. If I were a proper sociologist, I would probably now draw a triangle of double-headed arrows, with the words “fear,” “unreason,” and “demonization” at each apex, and believe that in doing so I had proven my point beyond question. Being a poor sociologist, I leave you diagramless, and will happily acknowledge that this is merely a suggested definition.

The point here is, we see this everywhere at the moment, and it is not necessarily accompanied by authoritarianism. Nigel Farage is, of course, a fascist: and that the media have spent the last fifteen years treating him as a harmless amusement rather than calling him out on this is a great part of his success. Yet he, clearly, is too lazy to be interested in actual power. He wanted one thing, which he got, and then ran from the consequences, at least until another fascist took him up and stroked his ego.

But the point I want to make here is that, without doubt, the Daily Mail is a fascist newspaper. That is, it is not just an organ of fascists, it is in itself fascist. It trades in demonization, fear, and unreason: not just in its social reporting. It is something of a joke how obsessed it is with cancer and identifying Things That Cause It. Experts, not just in the political sphere, are treated with disdain and hatred—except, of course, when they produce research than may be misrepresented to enhance their fear agenda. Immigrants, single mothers, immigrants, and more immigrants are repeatedly blamed for all social ills. But Paul Dacre, fascist though he may be, does not seek personal authoritarian power and one sees no evidence that he would embrace such a leader; though he is an enthusiastic proponent of the social project that such leaders adore. The ends Paul Dacre, and his boss Viscount Rothermere, seek with their fascism are more mundane: to sell newspapers and make money. They might well decry a truly authoritarian leader, but they are part—no, major players—in the social project that is modern fascism, and which will enable those individuals who do seek absolute power.

I was first going to write this post in response to the Enemies of the People headline; but I was massively over-worked learning a language which, no doubt, would have the Mail foaming at the mouth with fury. But the course is coming to an end soon, and I was reminded of my desire to say something about the Mail by a piece published yesterday. Following the conclusion of the trial of a far-right obsessive, collector of Nazi memorabilia, reader of extremist books, white supremecist who shouted “Britain First” as he murdered an MP, and who gave his name in the trail as “death to traitors, freedom for Britain,” and who (by the by) was a Daily Mail reader, the paper in question chose to report the trial like this (no link, I will not give them the benefit of even a few advertising-enhancing clicks):

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By placing the blame for a white supremacist ultra-nationalist terrorist murder, against all reason, at the door of the very group that that vile individual hated, and in passing suggesting that other members of the populace should fear that group, the Daily Mail have, in one headline, perfectly encapsulated their fascist project.

A lengthy and complex judgement …

Well today there was a glimmer of good news from the clusterfuck that is British politics at the moment: the High Court has found for the claimants in the Article 50 action, meaning that (pending Supreme Court appeal), Parliament’s approval is required to invoke Article 50. Cue, of course, all those who foamed at the mouth about “the sovereignty of Parliament” now foaming at the mouth because, um, Parliament has been held to be sovereign. This action was never about stopping Brexit—though I live in hope that will happen, and this is certainly an aid along the way—but about ensuring Parliamentary oversight of it.

No need to rehearse all of that here: but there is a piece of fallout from today that I think is worth noting: the statement made to the House of Commons by David Lidington, the Leader of the House, concerning the result. It is, he said, “a lengthy and complex judgement.”

I urge you to go and read this lengthy and complex judgement. It runs to 32 pages and 111 numbered paragraphs (probably about 150 in total). I read it in about ten minutes. Most of it is setting out the background and context: the findings themselves are a mere ten pages. Far from being complex, the judgement is remarkably pellucid (© Robert Jay, 2012): constitutional precedent and laws indicate that the royal prerogative (the government’s authority to take executive action) cannot overrule primary legislation regarding domestic law; that the European Communities Act 1972 is primary legislation that, by incorporating EU law within UK law, has granted UK citizens a range of rights under law; that invoking Article 50 would start an “irrevocable” process that would result in withdrawal from the EU and consequent loss of those rights (a point agreed on by the government prior to the judgement); that the government’s claim that it would replicate those rights in UK law was not germane and, anyway, there are some rights (such as appeal to the EU Court of Justice, and the right to elect MEPs) that UK domestic law could not replicate; and that the government therefore lacks the authority to invoke Article 50.

I have published case law. This is a concise and clear judgement: try wading your way through the various company law test cases in the late 1980s and the 1990s. To claim that the judgement is “lengthy and complex” is, quite simply, not true. What depresses me is how unnecessary Lidington’s lie was, and what it shows about the “post-truth” state of our politics, where a government minister can blithely misinform the House simply for the convenience of not being asked awkward questions (such as: “this is a pretty unambiguous finding, isn’t it?”) and not an eyebrow is raised.

 

At the risk of falling foul of Godwin’s Law …

I’ve been quiet of late, because I’m in Jordan. Ordinarily trips to foreign parts bring a spike in my blogging as I regale you with my hilarious anecdotes and pithy observations. But, firstly, the hilarious anecdotes usually start with large-scale consumption of a substance somewhat frowned upon here; secondly, my pithy observations are being saved up (believe me); and, thirdly, I’m ridiculously busy trying to learn Arabic, which it turns out is something of a tricky language.

But things in Britain go on without me, it would seem, and pretty horrifically so (not least because as every week passes, things get roughly 5% more expensive for me here). I don’t have time for a long rant, or the mental energy to be excoriatingly insightful, so all I intend to do is provide you with a short list some of the anti-Jewish legislation passed by the National Socialist government in Germany in 1933.

February 27, 1933: The Reichstag Fire Decree curtails civil rights in the face of “communist violence.”

  • 2014: R v Incedal and Rarmoul-Bouhadjar becomes first trial to be held entirely in secret, the gagging order is upheld in 2016.
  • 2016: Theresa May announces British troops will not be subject to the European Court of Human Rights.

March 31, 1933: Decree of the Berlin city commissioner for health suspends Jewish doctors from the city’s charity services.

April 7, 1933: Law for the Reestablishment of the Professional Civil Service removes Jews and Communists from government service.

  • 2015: Home Secretary Theresa May launches drive against “entryists” in public service.
  • 2016: UK government bans foreign-born LSE staff from advising on Brexit.

April 25, 1933: Law against Overcrowding in Schools and Universities limits the number of Jewish students in public schools.

  • 2016: Schools must collect data on the nationality and citizenship status of their pupils. Amber Rudd introduces restrictions on overseas university students.

Look, obviously these comparisons are not exact. I am not claiming that the approach of the Conservative government is anything like on the scale or malignancy of the pre-war Nazi-controlled Weimar Republic. But what I am saying is that both of these represent, in an environment of economic strife, a systematic and institutional process of marking out a group of the population as “other,” making them lesser human beings to be monitored and restricted, and identifying them as responsible in large for the economic problems and potentially actively repugnant to the ideals of the state.

As well as scale, there are differences in kind. I can think of two in particular:

  1. In the Weimar Republic, the economic conditions were utterly disastrous for the whole populace (this is not to demean the experience of the half million plus forced to use food banks in 2015), but were also imposed from outside by the punitive stringency of the Treaty of Versailles. In contemporary Britain, the economic straits are a consequence of policies of precisely the same government (or, at least, the same party) that now seeks to blame them on their selected “others.”
  2. Most obviously, Hitler was a maniac, whereas Theresa May is an intelligent and, one presumes, fairly rational human being. The data exist showing that migrants bring a net economic benefit to the UK; that even in the jobs most affected by immigration—low-paid semi-skilled or unskilled service jobs—the effect of migration on wages equates to about 2p per hour; and that migration has virtually no effect on employment levels (and where it does, it is migration from outside the EU that has the effect). No-one would suggest that the Nazis should have known better, because knowledge was irrelevant to their programme. Theresa May does know better—she can hardly be unaware of these data—but knowledge does not appear to be relevant to her programme either. This, above everything else, is deeply worrying.

I get back from Jordan in late December. I have been, whilst here, thinking hard about whether to stay in the UK and fight the good fight; or to leave for other shores and let the country descend into institutionalized xenophobia without me. The latter option is winning out at present … I can just see nothing, nothing good that can come of our present direction, nor any practical way to change it.

An awkward conversation

“Hi, this is Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Could I speak to the Foreign Secretary please?”

“Ah, yes. Ah. That would be me. Boris. Fluster, fluster, affable grunt.”

“Boris Johnson?”

“Um, yes. The very same.”

“Boris Johnson, the who first came to national attention for being sacked from The Times for making up quotes?”

“Yes, well, um, fluster, fluster. These things happen. But I’m very affable, and so let’s just forget about that, shall we? Thoroughly honest chap now.”

“But weren’t you also sacked by Michael Howard for lying about one of your many affairs?”

“Um, well. You know. Matters of sex. Keep it private and all. Not in the public interest.”

“Speaking of sex, didn’t you write a poem about me having sex with a goat?”

“Well, um, you know, defence of freedom of speech and all that.”

“Well you didn’t seem so keen on freedom of speech when you discussed with your friend Darius Guppy—a convicted fraudster and self-confessed ‘potential psychopath’—having a journalist beaten up for taking too close an interest in his dodgy dealings.”

“Ah, well, bluster, bluster, that was all a very long time ago…”

“Ah.” [Long pause.] ”So, do you think that freedom of speech extends to politicians blatantly lying to their voters? Because your fellow Brexit campaigner Penny Maudant repeatedly stated on the Andrew Marr show that there was nothing the UK could do to stop us, Turkey, joining the European Union despite the fact that the Treaty of Europe clearly states that accession to the union must be approved by all member states, and you condoned this and repeated the inference that Turkey’s accession was a certainty.”

“Well, um, I’m sure there’s some explanation which, if I fluster charmingly and affably you’ll think I’ve made when I’ve actually said nothing.”

“I’m afraid I don’t see your charm, Mr Johnson, nor your aff. Perhaps it’s just an English thing. Maybe you could clarify something for me. We’re not in the commonwealth, so I was wondering, do we count as piccaninnies or not?”

“Ah, um. Well. How about if I just flick about my blond hair amusingly?”

“I think we’re probably not, because wasn’t your great grandfather Turkish?”

“Um, well, yes the old boy was now you come to mention it.”

“And didn’t you once make a documentary lauding Turkey’s desire to join the EU?”

“Well now, yes. But, you know. Things change. Um. Realpolitik and all that.”

“You mean you thought you could get to be PM if you hung all your principles, your colleagues, in fact your entire country out to dry?”

“Oh, now, I say …”

“I don’t think I want to talk to you any more, Mr Johnson. I think you’re dishonest, dishonourable, bigotted, and solely interested in your own advancement. I think you’re a really nasty piece of work, in fact. I mean, you’re not in my league, that’s true. But for a British politician, you really are a quite a shite. So. I wanted to negotiate our post-Brexit trade deal. Perhaps you could put me through to Dr Liam Fox, I understand he is the Secretary of State for International Trade.”

“Phew, yes. That’s me off the hook.”

[A pause.]

“Hello?”

“Hello, am I speaking to Dr Liam Fox, Secretary of State for International Trade?”

“Um, well, he’s not available at the moment. This is a highly experienced trade negotiation consultant acting for him.”

“Ah. Could I have your name please?”

“Why, yes. It’s Adam Werrity.”

“Ah. And exactly how long have you been a highly experienced trade negotiation consultant?”

“Oh, since Wednesday.”

[Click.]

June 23rd was the day that Whig history ate itself

I haven’t blogged much about Brexit, partly because I’ve been busy, and partly because there seemed to be little I could say that had not already been said. Sure, I could have poured scorn upon the assorted narcissists, neo-nazis, and nasties who conned the country into this disaster. I could have reflected upon the irony that David Cameron—for whom an insinuation of a lack of patriotism is an easy, cheap hit upon a man who dares to not like the medieval hangover that is the monarchy—will doubtless be wearing a proper suit and doing up his tie when he sings the national anthem of the United Kingdom for the last time, as that very union that he hung out to dry in order to mop up a few votes from UKIP is dissolved. I could have ruminated upon the extraordinary duplicity and ego of Boris Johnson—that Brexiter who had us all running in fear from 80 million Turks, yet who not that long ago was ardently advocating their joining the EU, and to whom the achievement of that expansion, far from being a reincarnation of Third Reich or Napoleonic domination as he more recently claimed, would be a glorious unification of the East and West Roman Empires. Or, perhaps, I could have dallied a little over the backstabbing Michael Gove, whose impersonation of a human being is quite passable on good days, but who appears to have skipped Basic Human Interactions 101 (as well as instruction in simple co-ordinative feats such as drinking a glass of water or clapping), making him stunningly blind to the fact that the double-crossing of a double-crosser is not usually seen to cancel itself out. I might even, if I had the stomach, have pondered a little upon the human pile of excrement that is the loathsome Nigel Farage, that neo-fascist schoolboy barely grown up, spinning his campaign of hatred and racism for years on end only, upon achieving his aim, to up and run as fast as he can when he realizes the scale of the clusterfuck that he has unleashed upon the country.

But I shan’t waste my time with this hideous brigade of liars and fantasists, mainly because I can’t spell parallepsis. Instead I shall offer one slight observation which I believe is relatively novel, and I haven’t seen anywhere else: that June 23rd was the day that Whig history ate itself, and that if nothing else good can be rescued from this unnecessary and unworkable mess, it is at least this.

The Whig interpretation of history is a historiographic stance, an interpretation of British history, that presents the events that have transpired on this particular lump of rock as consisting of a slow and incremental progress towards better governance and greater liberty. It is a deeply ingrained narrative, one which dominates our schooling and our public discourse, and one that is utterly, utterly wrong.

Whig history starts at 1066—the last undeniable major upheaval—and claims that, from that point onwards, we have, in a good conservative fashion, inched our way bit by bit towards our (apparent) current glory. All other upheavals are minimized or ignored: what schoolboy learns of the Anarchy, the twenty year civil war between Henry I’s only legitimate child and her usurping cousin? The Barons’ Wars and the Peasants Revolt are footnoted, the stunning rejection of Rome by a previously devout Catholic (“Defender of the Faith” does not refer, as the idiotic Prince Charles seems to think, to the Church of England—it was a title granted by the Pope to Henry VIII for a theological tract opposing the Reformation and upholding Rome) gets reduced to the ins and outs of his marital bed and a money-grab for monastic gold. The subsequent bloody conflicts are largely smoothed away: the violent re-entrenchment of Catholicism under Mary is presented hindsightedly as guaranteed to fail, despite the fact that in her five years of rule she was highly successful in her progress towards the restoration of the faith, and that it was only the fact that she bore no children and the extraordinary coincidence that her right-hand man—Archbishop Reginald Pole—died the same day as her that stopped her project in its tracks.  Similarly written out as an aberration is the interregnum: necessarily Cromwell is portrayed as a hideous maniac (who hears of the Putney Debates?) and the Restoration of the monarchy is a glorious (and inevitable) return of the proper way of things. The 1688 Dutch invasion and overthrow of the King is presented as a invited takeover of power, purely on the grounds that some quislings in Parliament were in cahoots with it. England has been a kingdom, a kingdom within a union, a republic, even a papal fief. The Magna Carta was not a progressive constitutional reform, it was a peace treaty in a civil war (and one that was reneged upon almost as soon as the ink was dry upon it), the Great Reform Act was not a considered movement towards more representative democracy, it was forced by radical uprising—who hears of the Peterloo Massacre? Women’s suffrage was, similarly, forced upon a previously wholly unwilling government in the aftermath of the First World War.

Whig history takes the anarchic, radical, violent history of this country and smooths it away, soothingly telling us that England, and then the UK, is stable, it is well-behaved. History moves slowly and gently, and always progressively. As such, this interpretation is the tool of conservatism: it says that the British way is the slow, gradual way. Not for us revolutions and uprisings, we are the tortoise to the hare of radicalism. And it is still used: Michael Gove, when he was education secretary and had yet to discover a taste for sharp knives, rewrote the history syllabus expressly to have it taught in chronological order, with a clear “narrative of British progress.” I am not asserting active conspiracy here, of course: simply that those who run the country tend to have come up through a schooling which promotes this view, they find it meshes nicely with their political aims, and so it becomes convenient to believe it and to promote it yet further.

But, finally, their commitment to this view is what has caused them to come unstuck. Why did David Cameron take such a wildly irresponsible gamble on the future of the country? Because he never believed that we did this kind of thing. Why did Boris Johnson put all his pro-European ardour aside to campaign for Out? Because he wanted Cameron destabilized and unseated, and it never occurred to him that we might actually do what he was campaigning for. Why did none of the fuckers have a fucking plan: the Brexiters for what they purportedly wanted to happen, or the government because any responsible regime plans for all foreseeable circumstances? Because none of them thought it would happen, because those kind of things don’t happen here. Because they bought their own fork-tongued narrative of history, sat complacently upon it, and have now been bitten in the arse. The only leaders who really considered Brexit a possibility are the true bigots and maniacs—à la Farage— who have turned tail and run from the catastrophic consequences. Even they were Whigs to a certain extent: they could not believe that this would be catastrophic. Michael Gove, another True Believer, famously derided the massed ranks of “experts” who warned of disaster: how could there be? We don’t do disaster. They believed that change, being slow and gradual, could simply be reeled back: that we could easily turn the clock back a hundred years or so to Empire, glory, and dark people in their proper place. Finding that is not the case, they have scarpered.

So, welcome to Brexit Britain. We are economically screwed, probably on our way to constitutional collapse, a rainy little nowhere island viewed by the rest of the world with suspicion and derision. But at least we won’t have to put up with this silly, self-justifying narrative of establishment conservatism. A thin sliver of hope lies in the fact that maybe, just maybe, having put this nonsense aside, we may find room for the true, progressive, leftist radicalism that will be essential to preventing the poorest and worst off in society—those who have been fucked by thirty years of neo-liberal economics and were conned into believing that their destitution was the fault of foreign powers and not successive callous and indifferent UK governments—from suffering yet further as the fallout of this monstrously deceitful campaign continues.