SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES:
Are you ready for ‘Fascism Lite™’?
On a fine, warm sunny morning in June, a few days after the EU Referendum, as I wandered around the stalls on Mansfield’s Market Place, the positive sunlight seemed to take the edge off the fact that 71% of the local voters had voted leave. I paused at one of the second hand book stalls and as I browsed, I cheerily commented to the couple running the stall;
“Lovely weather, eh? It’s like being abroad.” The icy reaction from the female proprietor, followed by that of her male partner, eliminated the sun’s heat.
“We don’t need ‘abroad’!” she spat, which was followed by a surly confirmation from Mr. Bookseller; “No. We’re British. We’ve taken our country back!” I was stunned that a casual attempt at conviviality should be met with such reactionary venom. After all, there was nothing in my misguided utterance which suggested how I’d voted. It was simply that word ‘abroad’ which had triggered that rabid response. Dispirited, I walked away, consoling myself with the facile thought that I had simply collided with two UKIP extremists.
I tried to remember if I’d ever faced such vitriol on the mornings following all the General Elections I’d participated in since 1964. But they were just changes of government. Labour, Tory, Liberal, we still remained civil to one another. June, 2016, was obviously something far more critical. Over half a year later, ‘critical’ seems a defunct adjective. In social and political terms, perilous and grave seem far more apt.
Now in my mid-70s, I can look back across an electoral British landscape where a citizen could choose whatever political inclination took their fancy. Although a devout socialist, I was at one time engaged to an equally fervent Tory girl. Altruism existed then. Generosity of spirit seemed the British Way. That’s probably why we never had a revolution. We had our differences, but we cruised through them. Yet after 1979 something snapped. Here in the Nottinghamshire coalfields, the Miner’s Strike of 1984-5 drove deep divisions among the working population. There were 13 pits when I moved here in 1987. Today there are none. Yet since 1987, although this town has returned a Labour MP to Parliament, namely Sir Alan Meale, (an old friend of John Prescott), there has always been a cantankerous undercurrent against Labour. In 2015 Mansfield District Council, with an elected Mayor from the ‘Independent Forum’ was ruled by Labour. Standing as a Conservative or a Liberal here would be political suicide, so local Tories adopted a suitable disguise. They found it in the designation ‘Independent’. It worked. In 2011 there were 26 Labour members and 10 of the Mansfield Independent Forum. Today there are just 18 Labour Councillors, 2 UKIP and 16 Independents. Although the town has a tiny coloured population, it does have a large proportion of immigrants, mostly Poles and other Eastern Europeans. As one incensed taxi driver quipped to me a recently, “Shopping in Tesco these days is like being lost in Bratislava, but their days are numbered …” a comment which amply demonstrates that UKIP’s message rang loud and clear in Mansfield.
I have written various politically-based columns for Mansfield’s local paper, the Chad. (Chesterfield Advertiser). But I’ve had to desist since June 2016. The troll factor has closed off that avenue. The level of hatred received simply for attempting to elucidate various conveniently ignored facts surrounding Brexit is more than dispiriting. After recently comparing the current mood of the UK to that of Germany in the 1930s, I was virtually accused of treachery and misinformation, a sad paradox in the new world of post-truth.
This new disingenuous world is nothing remotely like the one I dreamed about and hoped for 50 years ago. Checking out the Face Book pages of some local malcontents, it’s been amazing to see how many of them are now expressing equal admiration for Trump and Putin. One meme displays a photograph of the leaders of the EU with the caption “These create terrorists” with an accompanying picture of Putin captioned “He destroys them.” So everywhere you look, from the Daily Mail, the Express, down to the Face Book page of British Sovereignty & Heritage Magazine , if you’ve any grasp of history you might be reminded of Shakespeare’s line from Macbeth: “Something wicked this way comes.” That ‘something’ looks and smells like fascism. Six months ago I would have thought such a conjecture to be ridiculous. Yet the foundations are in place; austerity, xenophobia, a bigoted media tsunami of lies, so the various components of the traditional fascist mind-set are staring us in the face. They include the following:
· The endorsement of a ‘historic mission’ aligned with nationalism and patriotism.
· A personality cult around a charismatic leader who admires aggressive militarism.
· Relentless, fictitious media propaganda against any rational dialogue.
· Attacking any liberalism whilst trashing any progressive or ‘modernist’ ideals.
· The appeal to the ‘ordinary man’ whose ‘heroism’ and suffering will be rewarded.
· Providing scapegoats and dehumanising them as unwelcome, unwanted and inferior.
· The ostensible support of the ‘hard working’ taxpayer who should form an alliance with the moneyed elite.
· ‘Pick and mix’ politics; no consistent ideology.
Of course, this won’t be the black shirted, jack-booted goose-stepping blitzkrieg fascism of the past. That’s consigned to movies - Hitler promised a ‘1000 year Reich’ and in entertainment terms, the panzers are still rolling. The new ‘fascism lite™’ will drive a Bentley or a Lexus and be conducted from skyscrapers by leaders in uniforms from Versace, Armani or Gucci. Does this all sound like ridiculous paranoia? Think on.
There are menacing parallels between the public reactionary mood of today and that of the period following World War I. Back then the social theories which had underpinned the French Revolution of 1789, namely “Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity” were firmly rejected as loathsome, as they are today by those keen to ditch the EU’s Human Rights legislation. One wonders therefore if Donald Trump might ever realise the profound influence the France of 1789 had on America’s Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights. If one reads the work of America’s George Seldes (1890-1995), who described himself as ‘Journalist, Investigative Reporter, Press Critic and Muckraker’ you will find a startling resonance in his reports on the rise of fascism when compared to today’s developments. Writing about the 1930s, in March 5, 1988 he said “The history of this period is a press forgery. Falsified news manipulates public opinion. Democracy needs facts.”
If the populist press now needs a motto, they could take a lead from the Daily Mail, a paper enthralled in the 1930s by Britain’s fascists and Der Fuhrer. The motto of Mussolini’s Blackshirts was “Me ne frego” (I do not give a damn.)
2016’s Yuletide lights which once signified ‘peace and goodwill to all men’ cast a sarcastic glow over this town’s bustling market place. In Lady Chatterley's Lover, D. H. Lawrence refers to Mansfield as "that once romantic now utterly disheartening colliery town.” It’s hard to think what he’d make of it today.