The Threat of Fascism is Here by Hani Thapa
George Orwell famously explained the difficulty in defining fascism because of its changing face, as there were many differences in ideology and structure between the key fascist states. The attempt to define such a fickle phenomenon has challenged historians, although contemporary critics seem to agree on a few defining characteristics: extreme nationalism, the idea of a ruling race, and violence as a necessity to govern. Moreover, Yale professor, Jason Stanley views fascism as “a technique to gain power.” He suggests power and control are the central priorities but the technique and ideologies will differ among fascist states, which is perhaps why earlier critics, such as Orwell, struggled to pinpoint an all-encompassing definition. The United Nations (UN) prophetically warned of the rise in fascist rhetoric in 2016, uncoincidentally also the year of Brexit and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Since then, the UK’s Conservative Party has hurtled into fascist territory; as with Benito Mussolini, the prototypical fascist leader, there is a similar “cult of personality” building around Boris Johnson or “BoJo” (a popular nickname used for the prime minister) with increased public support of his vaccination programme, a focus on him as a father, a covid survivor, and the supposedly fun-loving politician who entered an Olympic event on a zip wire.
Nationalism and Race
In the years preceding Brexit, the Conservatives had tacitly generated an atmosphere of xenophobia, with Theresa May’s (who was Home Office Secretary at the time) policies of the hostile environment . This meant that people who looked or sounded “foreign”, disproportionately Black people and POC compared to white British people, could be challenged to present identification documents proving their right to reside in the UK, thereby questioning their Britishness. While this policy was designed to identify undocumented immigrants, it inevitably created a hostile environment for all immigrants. Then, spearheaded by the Conservatives in alliance with the UK Independence Party (UKIP), the Brexit Leave Campaign identified and exploited these simmering anxieties around immigration, presenting an alternative vision of Britain that would be an independent nation, taking back control of its borders. In their essay Race, Crisis, Brexit, Satnam Virde and Brendan McGeever explain that over time, Britain’s immigration history has been “thoroughly racialised”, for example with the migration of Caribbean and Asian people in the post-war period. For this reason, the rhetoric of “taking back control of our borders” employed by Brexiteers, was “coded language”, to quote Virde and McGeever, with underlying connotations of racism, that in reality suggested closing the country’s borders to Black people and People of Colour (POC). Within this “coded language”, Virde and McGeever argue that Brexit drew upon “reservoirs of imperial longing in the majority population.” They suggest that the Conservatives’ vision of independence, sovereignty and a “Global Britain” evoked a deep nostalgia for the British Empire as a great colonial power, which would be the formerly lost image of Britain that
Brexit would restore. However, this was actually a time marked with the slavery of Black people by white people, so to restore this lost image of Britain means reinforcing white supremacy and perpetuating notions of a “ruling race” - a key characteristic of fascism. In the Conservatives’ recent and most insidious attempt to champion the UK’s national identity, a new report has denied any substantial claim of institutional racism and concluded that the UK “should be regarded as a model for other white-majority countries.” This piece of propaganda is a complete fabrication of reality that upholds a false image of national grandeur by erasing the experiences of many Black people and POC, and presenting Britain as an exemplary nation, one that has overcome systemic racism. Ultimately, it is a performance of the type of extreme nationalism, as mentioned in the introduction, that gives rise to fascism.
A crucial aspect of Mussolini’s authoritarian rule was that he employed the police and militia to surveil the population and eliminate disobedience. An exact parallel of this is taking place here in the UK, as the government has announced the recent Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which will increase police powers allowing them to impose constraints, such as time limits and acceptable noise levels, on protests that create “serious disruption”. This has been proposed following the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests of last year and the recent vigil held for Sarah Everard, a young woman murdered by a Met Police officer no less. This bill is the most wicked of the Conservative’s policies. Controlling how and when we can use our voices by leveraging violence is entirely anti-democratic, going against the fundamental principles of freedom of speech. Therefore, this bill will create a strict social order whereby the Conservatives’ are the ruling entity that will decide who can speak and who will be silenced. Further, this social order will give rise to a “ruling race” as the bill will disproportionately affect Black people and POC who have been at the forefront of historically significant UK protests, such as The Grunwick Strike of South-Asian women fighting for workers’ rights and the Bristol Bus Boycott of Black and Asian people demanding employment.
Mussolini’s fascist party came to power during the post-war period in Italy - a time of disillusionment caused by the human cost of war, the divide between pro-war and anti-war groups, economic hardship, and unemployment. Finding a common enemy in socialists, who orchestrated worker’s strikes, much of the fascist support came from their elite nationalist allies who, as landowners, wanted to maintain the class hierarchy. While the factors may differ, similar social conditions of discontentment have taken shape here in the UK. Systemic racism, the climate emergency, and misogyny have caused unrest among the British people; in recent years, thousands of protestors have marched with BLM, Extinction Rebellion, and in support of women. Thus by proposing this bill that will contain or eradicate protests, the Conservatives have identified an opportunity to be perceived as the party of order, much like Mussolini.
What’s most concerning is that with over 100 years between Mussolini’s fascist regime and the current Conservative government, there are also significant advances in modern media, much of which is also digitised thus far-reaching, that better places the Conservatives to enact authoritarianism, than Mussolini. For example, one study found that the UK’s right-wing press coverage of the refugee crisis was “the most negative” expressing “hostility” towards migrants. The Conservatives have relentlessly demonised refugees with the language of invasion and insurgence. However, their newspaper monopoly allows them to avoid accountability because major publications, such as The Telegraph and The Sunday Times, endorse the Conservatives, especially during elections, as was the case in 2015.
We must see the Conservative Party for what it truly is: a white-supremacist and self-interested institution that seek to divide and conquer our country under an authoritarian regime. Having encouraged suspicion against migrants with the hostile environment, the Conservatives then weaponised xenophobic nationalism during their Brexit campaign, securing a majority vote in 2019 on the basis of getting Brexit done. With significant support behind them, they are now employing the police, just as Mussolini did, to impede opposition. Over the years, the Conservative Party’s policies and tactics have become increasingly fascist and now our democracy is under attack, so the dreaded question we must apprehend is: what next?
Article written by Hani Thapa
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