Tory Party conference – echoes of Nuremberg

LBC’s James O’Brien did a superb job of placing the anti-immigration narrative of the Tories, unleashed at their first post-Brexit party conference in Birmingham, into its rightful and very worrying context. Simply put, we have entered a politics that bear a striking resemblance to that which Europe lived through in the 1930s, when in similar conditions of economic depression, austerity, and the ensuing assault on workers’ wages, conditions, and living standards, the politics of race and ultra nationalism were able to achieve mainstream legitimacy and traction.

If, by now, there is anybody on the left who still believes Brexit somehow enhances the prospect of a more just, equitable, and progressive society coming to pass, they are not only delusional but also mendacious. Those who sided with Farage and company — and here George Galloway with his obscene appearance at that now notorious UKIP anti-EU rally, where he baldly proclaimed, ‘Left-right, left right, all the way to victory,” springs to mind — in making the case for “taking the country” back should be hanging their heads in shame over the reality of Brexit, as opposed to the theoretical and doctrinal wonderland they inhabited while campaigning for it.

The warnings issued by those who saw further and deeper, that Brexit would unleash a tidal wave of right wing consciousness across the country, such as that which followed the Falklands War, were blithely ignored – even contemptuously dismissed – by people who should know better. The result is that we now have a Tory Prime Minister embracing the politics of anti-immigration and xenophobia in a move designed to curry favour with an indigenous white working class that has been persuaded that dwindling public services, low pay, and job insecurity is a product of immigration rather than inequality and Tory austerity.

With her speech — which followed on from an even more reactionary effort by her Home Secretary, Amber Rudd — Theresa May has drawn a clear dividing line in British society on the question of immigration and the status of migrants. In other words, you either stand in solidarity with migrants or you stand against them. Any nuanced middle ground left available to stand on when it comes to this question has now disappeared

Much of the responsibility for this state of affairs, the ability for such nakedly and brutal xenophobia to take root, lies with the left. As Ben Chu wrote in The Independent:

The academic evidence we have is very clear that immigration does not undermine average UK living standards, but actually enhances them. Some researchers have found that there is a negative impact on the wages of unskilled natives — but only a mild one. Overall the impact is positive.

Yet some on the liberal left, despite acknowledging this evidence, are moving to the view that telling people that they’re wrong when they complain of a negative economic impact of immigration is condescending.

Prior to the EU referendum, British society was already being dragged deeper and deeper into a swamp of identity and anti-politics. Seen in this light, Brexit marks an all-too regressive and reactionary culmination; tantamount to the reassertion of far right nostrums not only on free movement, but also on all immigration, minorities (particularly Muslims), and multiculturalism.

The reason such a vile and toxic mix has been able to gain the traction it undoubtedly has is austerity and the unleashing of the class war it describes and has informed. It has led to the collapse of the political centre ground, not only in Britain but all across Europe and the US, where Donald Trump’s campaign for the presidency has served to elevate the same xenophobic and reactionary politics to mainstream legitimacy as Brexit. The space vacated by this collapse has been largely filled by the right and far right rather than the left. In sum, the right is currently winning the battle of ideas with the result the triumphalist re-branding of the Tories as a patriotic defender of British workers against their foreign counterparts and interlopers, coming over here to steal British jobs and push down the wages of British workers.

Jeremy Corbyn’s response to May’s conference speech, while of course welcome, was an exercise in attacking the Brexit horse after it has bolted. He and his team failed to understand the danger Brexit posed during the EU referendum campaign, else why was his campaign so lacklustre and woefully dispassionate?

The SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon, who is the only party to leader to have emerged from the wreckage of Brexit with any credit, again proved her mettle when in response to May’s conference speech, she opined:

Theresa May’s vision of Brexit Britain is a deeply ugly one — a country where people are judged not by their ability or their contribution to the common good, but by their birthplace or by their passport. It is a vision the Scottish Government wants no part of, and one which we will never subscribe to.

The British people in 2016 are sleepwalking, just as people in Germany and elsewhere in the 1930s sleepwalked, into a sewer of right wing demagoguery and racism. Nobody should make the mistake in thinking it can’t happen here.

It can.

11 comments on “Tory Party conference – echoes of Nuremberg

  1. George W on said:

    The tories strategy at the moment is to try to portray the EU referendum as a referendum about immigration. Polls demonstrated that actually the leading reason, about 50% of those who voted leave said, was about sovereignty and accountability, although admittedly about a third said it was about controlling immigration. It’s bizzare that some of the left like John are agreeing with her.

    I voted leave because the EU is an undemocratic neoliberalism organisation that’s membership terms enforce a privatised austerity economy like my Union and the socialist ideas of my political heroes Tony Benn, bob Crow, Dennis Skinner…etc

    The idea that everyone who voted leave is a racist is about as convincing as saying everyone who voted remain is an enthusiastic supporter of austerity.

    I think it’s a good thing that we will be leaving an organisation that enforces privatisation and austerity, the fact we have a Tory government currently doesn’t change that. It’s certainly preferable to an empowered Cameron to carry on with his austerity programme and is stuck inside the undemocratic EU-which would be the case had the referendum gone the other way.

    There are no short cuts to socialism and it’s always going to be tough-that’s why it’s called a struggle. The referendum happened we need to continue to build the labour movement and put forward a progressive case for a brexit government against the dangerous nonsense the tories are coming out with.

  2. John Grimshaw on said:

    George W,

    1. I think it’s important to understand in any of this that different sections of the English and Welsh population voted differently for different reasons. People with university educations overwhelmingly voted remain whereas the poorly educated voted out. Older people particularly those in the home counties voted out. People in the North who voted out did so because they felt left out, those in the South because they were comfortable in their reaction. Younger people largely voted in. I know a lot of younger people who were very angry with older people because they see the out vote as having denied them opportunities. London, Manchester and Liverpool voted stay whereas lots of rural places voted out. Big farmers voted stay small farmers voted out. NI and Scotland voted in. NI somewhat surprisingly, probably because it has a large rural economy and they were mindful of the subsidies. What fisherman we still have all voted out.

    The reason why I mentioned the above rather than to simply point out the fractured nature of our society, is also to point out that if we are to salvage anything out of this mess we need to use this knowledge to identify the best places to fight back against this (as John points out) increasingly worrying government. I would suggest aiming a campaign especially at younger people around the need for mass social housing. Corbyn is already saying that’s what a government under him will do and I believe there ia already one campaigning group been set up.
    2. I don’t think John is siding with Tories and I don’t see how you can infer that from what he has written.

    George W: the fact we have a Tory government currently doesn’t change that.

    You don’t think the Tories won’t be encouraging privatisation as well as anti-immigrant policies?

  3. George W on said:

    John Grimshaw,

    “You don’t think the Tories won’t be encouraging privatisation as well as anti-immigrant policies?”

    Boring straw man.

    I didn’t say that.

    Read it back. Think.

  4. George W on said:

    I could say:

    Do you not think that Cameron had he won the referendum would have carried on with his privatisation/austerity programme?

    But you clearly ain’t arguing that.

    A future labour government would be able to implement a socialist programme without the EU’s neoliberal straitjacket.

  5. George W: The idea that everyone who voted leave is a racist

    Not everyone that voted Brexit is a racist, but every racist voted for Brexit.

    George W: about as convincing as saying everyone who voted remain is an enthusiastic supporter of austerity.

    The campaign for Brexit was not fought on the basis of anti-austerity but anti-immigration.

  6. George W on said:

    John,

    All racists voted brexit?

    Which way did David ‘swarm of migrants’ vote? Or for that matter our current prime minister who you say is leading us to fascism?

  7. George W: Which way did David ‘swarm of migrants’ vote? Or for that matter our current prime minister who you say is leading us to fascism?

    The EU referendum was a struggle between political wings of British capital – free marketeers and empire loyalists. Behind the empire loyalist wing was a far right that swims in the same pool as the left when it comes to winning the hearts and minds of a working class battered and bruised after enduring six years of austerity. The pro-Brexit left, I’ll say it again, was but a mouse riding the back of a tiger. This is self-evident.

  8. John Grimshaw on said:

    George W:
    John Grimshaw,

    “You don’t think the Tories won’t be encouraging privatisation as well as anti-immigrant policies?”

    Boring straw man.

    I didn’t say that.

    Read it back. Think.

    Actually I prefer wicker man if you don’t mind.

    In my rhetorical question I was trying to point out that just because we are in the process of leaving the EU and it’s “dictatorial” rule doesn’t mean we will then stroll into a social democratic paradise. Your dislike of the EU is, in my opinion, out of all proportion to reality and in doing so you conveniently ignore the fact that we have a very powerful and reactionary British establishment to deal with. I doubt very much whether they will allow workers to take over, or have some degree of power in society just by virtue of the fact that some EU rules no longer exist. Besides which as the Brexit process is so complicated i.e. extraction rule by rule who knows which ones they are going to keep and not keep?

  9. John Grimshaw on said:

    George W: Do you not think that Cameron had he won the referendum would have carried on with his privatisation/austerity programme?

    You could’ve. And I would’ve agreed with you. Although as an aside I’m beginning to think that austerity is a devalued word as it has been used so much. Attacks on the working class maybe?

  10. John Grimshaw on said:

    We have talked here and elsewhere about the spike in racist attacks and behaviour caused by the Brexit vote, largely carried out, I suspect, by empowered racists. What I didn’t realise that there was also a massive spike in attacks on LGBT people. Hate crimes against LGBT persons during July, August and September were up 147% in comparison with the same period in 2015. This figure according to GALOP is too low as a quarter of LGBT people it spoke to only reported the last hate crime they had experienced.