Norsefire on the Horizon?
We live in an age where senior SNP politicians are openly expressing worry about the rise of a far-right figure in England. Alyn Smith, MEP, said that the situation in England is so precarious that one wrong move, so to speak, could lead to the emergence of the far-right. Smyth cites Tommy Robinson, and the associated campaign to free him after he was rightfully locked up for contempt, while attempting to exploit trials involving child abuse to smear Muslims. Smith’s conjuring of Robinson of course hints at the way all these causes of the right intersect with Brexit. Many people, mostly Labourites and Unionists, might make the charge that Smith’s comments are some attempt by the SNP to fearmonger, but those people don’t know Alyn Smith. He doesn’t do hyperbole. He can just sense the political mood, as many of us who have seen the grand catastrophe of Brexit can.
I often cast my mind back to those early debates I had with some Lexiteers, including one with Corbyn’s now economic advisor. While they said Brexit would pave the way for a veritable anti-neoliberal utopia of the left, one of our warnings was that Brexit would radicalise everything to the right. Well, we were 100% right.
UKIP have always been a party of racists, including literal Neo-Nazis (the fact the disintegration of the BNP accompanied UKIP’s rise is no coincidence in terms of activists, members and electoral forces), but they always maintained a kind of right-wing Tory leadership. Norman Tebbit-like people who would maintain decorum while tolerating loathsome extremes in private. The mask of plausibility in an age of multiculturalism and anti-racism (derided by the right under that vague spectrum of ‘political correctness’) – well, in today’s England, Brexit England, there’s no longer a need for the mask.
Now UKIP have a leader who is openly supporting the fascist, Islamophobic pogromist Tommy Robinson. Everything is being dragged rightwards in England, while the conditions of a ‘no deal’ Brexit might very well put all of us across these islands in uncharted political territory – I’m thinking of Weimar Germany in October 1929, when the Great Depression hit Europe like a tonne of bricks, and overnight revamped the at that point rapidly disintegrating NSDAP (the overall radical right, the Volkisch right, as they were called, were still alive and kicking in Germany, but the NSDAP were like a dying fish, following the Beer Hall putsch of November 1923 until the Great Depression). Brexit could have similar consequences, especially the consequences of a ‘no deal’ scenario, which would splinter the British economy and lead to a social and economic crisis on par with World War 2, with potential food shortages and the possibility of a return of rationing. Progressive politics rarely ever do well out of crisis –societies facing crisis almost always turn inwards and towards the most bestial instincts of such societies. In England, we can now see the kind of beasts of the far-right who could potentially capitalise on a Brexit dystopia. Such a dystopia would’ve been unthinkable even 5 years ago, but now government departments are planning for it.
I don’t foresee a fascist party emerging as a serious force in the UK any time soon. But if you look at the balance of political forces in England, it’s more bleak than I’ve ever see – more bleak than I could ever have imagined when I first became politically aware during the Major years, when we were told, so famously, by a certain Mr Blair, that things could only get better. My own view on the ascendant alt-left, namely Corbyn’s Labour, is that it would be a huge catastrophe, given the relation of their kind of pro-Putin politics, dressed up in the phony languages and symbols of the ‘anti-war’ movement and superficial notions of ‘anti-imperialism’, to wider global happenings that have a direct effect, a boomerang effect, on domestic politics.
But the rise of the alt-right in a similar fashion would represent something altogether more immediately sinister. It’s perfectly true that the only two political leaders to call for triggering Article 50 on the night of the Brexit victory were UKIP’s Nigel Farage and Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn. It’s also true that Corbyn espouses a ‘left-wing’ anti-immigration message regarding freedom of movement – he dresses up the old far-right slogan of ‘British jobs for British workers’ and the idea that immigrants drive down the wages of ‘indigenous’ workers in the language of immigrants being exploited by EU bosses. No matter the spin of Corbyn’s supporters, it’s simply a form of racism associated with the conservative left that simultaneously reflects their conservative core, as well as acting as a device of populism, appealing to the reservoir of racism that lies behind our entire current predicament. However, to reiterate, the alt-left represent one kind of threat, the alt-right have these things at their political core and they represent the tip of an iceberg of concrete fascism.
Thus far the alt-right have been confined to the fringes. However, the Tommy Robinson affair, and UKIP’s embracing of it, as well as its connivance with fascist conspiracists like Paul Joseph Watson (the leader of the English wing of Alex Jones’ fascistic pro-Trump conspiracy media outlet ‘Infowars), are symptomatic of the radicalisation of the right. In fully mainstream terms, we see the rise of old school League of Empire Loyalist type Tories like Jacob Rees-Mogg, who has direct links with people like Steve Bannon and British fascists. Both of these elements of the spectrum of the emergent alt-right grimly demonstrate that there is the bones of a genuine threat from the right that could capitalise on their political ground zero, their political point d’honneur, Brexit.
It’s not just an English phenomenon, or a peculiarity of British nationalism – these kind of politics, the politics of neo-fascism, are being revived across the world, with Europe sliding rightwards against the liberal democratic grain. We’ve seen a host of European countries experience either the alt-right gaining political power, such as in Italy, Austria, Poland and, of course, Orban’s Hungary – minorities are increasingly unsafe, with Muslims and Roma most in jeopardy. But the rightward slide of the UK also has a direct and astounding international component – If someone told me almost 10 years ago that the Islamophobic fascist football hooligan, Tommy Robinson, he who started the EDL, and who is an almost comical caricature of a typical English racist, would essentially have backing from people serving in the administration of the President of the United States, I’d have considered the person to be having some kind of nervous breakdown.
It’s not quite Darkness at Noon here yet , but I remember reading the astoundingly brave anti-Nazi writer Fritz Gerlich (murdered in Dachau, after being arrested during the Night of the Long Knives – all that remained of him was his broken glasses, callously sent to his grieving widow) writing about how Nazism had come upon Germany like ‘a smouldering fire that in the blink of an eye turned into a terrifying blaze’.
I can really understand it. I can now understand how quickly you find that ‘civilisation’ is like a thin layer of ice over a sea of barbarism. We can now see the cracks. I genuinely wonder not if but when it will fully shatter.
After the shock of the Leave victory in the Brexit vote, I used to joke that the next stop was ‘Norsefire’, referring to the fictitious fascist party that rules England in Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta. It’s becoming less and less of a joke every day. Do I see Norsefire on the horizon? No, but I see the kind of people who would make up Norsefire stepping out of the shadows.