Monday, 14 September 2020

Are we there yet? How do we know?


Yesterday, Prof Richard Murphy posted an article claiming that, by any reasonable analysis, the UK now has a fascist government. He’s not the only one to have suggested something similar recently. One of the problems with the word ‘fascist’ is that is has become a term of political abuse applied to those of a general ‘right-wing’ bent which has largely stripped it of any hard meaning, such that labelling the government as such isn’t necessarily helpful. It’s very difficult to define what fascism is, as this lengthy piece demonstrates, because people who are regarded as ‘fascists’ in the past seem to have had a wide variety of different beliefs, and those beliefs weren’t fixed either.

What we can say is that there are certain common elements of states which we have historically labelled as fascist. Amongst those are a belief in the superiority of one nation or group, an authoritarian approach which seeks to subordinate law and the judiciary to the executive, over-riding parliamentary democracy, control of information, and demonisation of ‘others’. All of those are currently in evidence in the UK to an increasing extent. Another common characteristic is the ‘strong leader’ taking on the role of ‘national saviour’, but in fairness I doubt that anyone would put Boris Johnson in that category. He may harbour his own delusions here, but he isn’t an electrifying speaker and doesn’t possess any clear or consistent message to promote, even if he were capable of articulating it. He’s emerged as more of an incoherent bumbler than even his biggest enemies suspected would be the case. Perhaps the ‘strong leader’ is not such a requirement after all if the leader has the right people around him; there’s plenty of evidence that Cummings believes in the natural genetic superiority of some people (mostly himself) and that the bigger the lies, the more they’ll be believed.

It is, though, the trajectory rather than the current state which is the more important. The demonising of immigrants is nothing new, but the attacks on the judiciary and the stated objective of exempting the government from any form of accountability in the courts are new, as is the wilful contempt of international agreements. Labelling solicitors doing their jobs and protecting their clients under the laws of the land as ‘activist lawyers’ shows a disregard for the rights of individuals, as does the proposal to opt out of the human rights convention. Perhaps the most insidious of all is the way in which the public are not only increasingly inured to abrupt policy changes, usually announced outside parliament and without consultation, but also encouraged to buy in to an aggressive and punitive attitude towards those who don’t conform to whatever the latest rules are (unless those not conforming are in any way part of the government, of course).

One thing which history does teach us is that authoritarian regimes don’t always suddenly come to power overnight: there’s a process involved. And when there are a series of small changes, it becomes easier to accept each one individually and impossible to know when a point of no return has been reached. This was summed up rather well, I thought, by an unnamed Tory MP and ex-Minister who said that he has a speech resigning the Tory whip written and ready in his top drawer and that his colleagues are waiting for some sort of ‘final battle’ with Cummings adding, “But history shows there isn’t one final battle. It’s a series of capitulations.” That ‘series of capitulations’ on issues which are seemingly individually small is the biggest danger to what remains of our freedom and democracy. The only people who can halt the process at the moment are the Tory MPs in the House of Commons. It is said that there might be 20-30 Tory MPs prepared to vote against the proposal to breach international law; but with 365 Tory MP’s in the Commons, that would still mean that there are more than 320 prepared to vote in favour of international lawlessness, a fact which even traditional Conservatives now outside politics find hard to believe. Either those 320 have fully bought into the process themselves, or else they’ve already made too many capitulations to be able to stop. I’d like to believe that there are more honest and reasonable people in the Tory ranks, but – in another characteristic of an authoritarian regime – Johnson has already purged them. If a deliberate act of lawlessness isn’t enough to flush out those with reservations, it is hard to see what might be.


dafis said...

authoritarian, incoherent, lacking specific direction - these are all characteristics of a kind of unwelcome style of government but I doubt whether we are yet into anything like full on Fascism. There again you are never likely to recognise such an extreme until it has you in its grip, unlike the old style authoritarian shit which relied on a series of events, as in Italy and Germany, or full blown revolutions in the case of China and USSR.

We are now paying for the gift of a large majority in a GE which gives the culprits the defence of democratic process. We are becoming aware slowly how undemocratic our democracy is in reality but things will need to change before there is any real reduction in democratic deficit. Sadly Middle England, which is a large proportion of the electorate, seems content to let Johnson and Co have their way but things will change when the cost of their misconducts comes home to roost.

Spirit of BME said...

I read Little Dickie Murphy’s piece and I do not think we are quite there yet. He is right in pointing out the slide into government by decree ,which you and I called out at the time, when no opposition party ( In fact they support even harder rules) stood up to the Emergency Powers Bill that has created this health dictatorship we now live under.
Although the English have deep in their water their past Germanic genes, which in an emergency shows itself as a yearning for order and power, they do act differently, and the script goes like this.
The first thing post crisis, the usual political statement that ‘lesson have been learnt’, will be issued, which is code for no official or politicians will be dismissed or go to jail for the cockups they have masterminded. Then, (and this is the dangerous bit) based on this statement new Bills on Security and Health will be put forward in passive language that encompasses the basics of the current power but will render the emergency powers redundant.
As for the WA the question is do, they have the power to do it? The latest legal briefing I have read states they do ,based on a case in 1964 when HMG signed the Geneva Convention on the Seas, 20 days later they broke the terms and a court case ensued where Justice Diplock(as he was then) stated in a legal (not political) judgement that they did, as the Crown in Parliament is sovereign.
Germany has a similar position, as the Constitution is sovereign and trumps any treaty or law that the government enacts. We saw this recently when the EU proposed a bond floatation ,which the Constitutional Court ruled illegal in Germany and it was withdrawn ( a clue here as to who might be running the show) , Greece and Slovakia need not apply the same argument as it will be ignored.

John Dixon said...


"As for the WA the question is do, they have the power to do it? The latest legal briefing I have read states they do ,based on a case in 1964 when HMG signed the Geneva Convention on the Seas, 20 days later they broke the terms and a court case ensued where Justice Diplock (as he was then) stated in a legal (not political) judgement that they did, as the Crown in Parliament is sovereign." I'm not a lawyer, but I don't doubt that the 'parliamentary sovereignty' principle means that it is entirely legal under UK law for parliament to renege on, withdraw from, or amend the terms of, any international agreement made by the UK Government. BUT - and there are at least 2 big 'BUT's - firstly that doesn't make it legal in international law; other parties to agreements can still potentially use the terms of those agreements in international courts, and secondly, the 'sovereign' domestic parliament cannot bind other parties to uphold their side of the bargain once an agreement has been unilaterally breached.