If it wasn’t obvious before, it’s crystal clear now: Boris Johnson is a far-right authoritarian leader. He unlawfully suspended parliament to avoid MP’s scrutiny and force the UK to crash out of the European Union without a deal. He’s purged the Conservative Party of ‘moderates’. He has delivered political speeches with uniformed policemen lined up behind him, breaking any facade of police neutrality. He’s even used police to escort sacked Conservative advisors out of Whitehall: for which he must pay damages. And he’s made openly racist, sexist, and homophobic comments.
Fascists on the streets are no longer chanting ‘Tommy Robinson’ but ‘Boris, Boris, Boris!’. And while he may have lost his parliamentary majority, his spectacular antics have a greater prize in mind: winning the next election so that he can gut the state; trample on workers’ rights and environmental regulations; enable the hedge funds who’ve invested heavily in a no deal Brexit to make a killing; and open up the British market to his billionaire backers. And if Britain becomes an authoritarian regime in the process, so what?
Boris’ elevation to the premiership has not happened in a vacuum. In Britain, decades of right-wing media messaging from outlets like the Daily Mail and the Express have launched attacks on the institutional foundations of liberal democracy: parliament, the judiciary, the civil service. They have whipped up xenophobia and reaction amongst a significant constituency of the British electorate.
Supposedly ‘liberal’ outlets like the BBC, with their anti-labour and anti-Corbyn editorial policy, have stoked this further, consistently platforming spokespeople of the far-right, from Steve Bannon to Generation Identity. Big data and targeted advertising on social media played a critical role, with the Cambridge Analytica scandal highlighting the rife abuse of data for political ends.
Public services devastated by decades of austerity, and a capitalist system that has left many workers exploited with high living costs and low wages has created rage amongst the British people, some of whom who have been persuaded by the media and the racist Tory regime to scapegoat migrants rather than politicians and bosses. The Brexit vote encapsulated this sentiment.
As this study from LSE shows, it was not a monolithic ‘working class’ that drove the Brexit vote. Instead, the ‘squeezed middle’ played an instrumental role. Many Tory voters in the shires — white, older — swung the vote. Neoliberalism has created atomised individuals and broken down any sense of community solidarity.
The squeezed middle, struggling to cope, turns to patriotism, nationalism, and strongmen leaders to fulfill their need for belonging. This trend is repeated across the globe: from Trump’s America to Orban’s Hungary, from Modi’s India to Bolsonaro’s Brazil. In my recent book, co-authored with Neil Faulkner, Samir Dathi, and Phil Hearse, we call this process Creeping Fascism.
It is now crunch time for Brexit and the liberal parliamentary order as we know it. For the Labour Left, the crisis is existential. Labour’s Brexit fudge isn’t working. The party has wasted years promising to deliver a ‘jobs first’ Brexit, failing to expose it for the racist, far-right, billionaire-backed venture that it is.
In doing so, it’s hemorrhaged progressive remain voters across the country. It’s not just the polls – long discredited on the Labour Left for their failure to predict the 2017 election – that prove this. The EU election results were a hammer blow to Labour, and the Peterborough by-election evidenced a huge drop in vote share.
The progressive vote is now split between Labour, the Liberal Democrats, and the Greens. With the Tory Party and the Brexit Party now headed for an electoral alliance, the far-right vote is soon to be unified. If things remain as they are now, we will have a Tory-Brexit Party majority government in power by the end of the next election.
Labour MPs and the shadow cabinet know it. That, of course, is why legislation for a general election has not yet passed. The only way for Labour to stand a chance, and we must repeat this over and over again, is for Labour to unequivocally back a radical remain position.
It must not be the remain campaign of Cambell and Blair. We must go, all guns blazing, on an offensive against the Brexiters and their fundamentally capitalist, racist agenda. We must defend migrants and free movement. As Sabrina Huck recently argued in LabourList, capitalism as a system must be explicitly criticised and a real socialist transformation offered. And our manifesto as a whole: domestic and foreign, must be far more radical than 2017.
A four-day week, universal basic income, rent controls, housing as a guaranteed right for all, complete nationalisation of railways and the energy industry are just some of the ideas that have been floated. Of course we can and should dare to go even further. A positive, inspiring, visionary manifesto from the Labour Party can break us free from the current constitutional quagmire and threat of fascism.
But a radical policy agenda is not enough. Labour most mobilise its mass movement onto the streets. The fascists are emboldened. On Saturday, they brazenly attacked two demonstrations and started altercations with the police. They openly stated their intentions to attack Diane Abbott and Owen Jones (who has already been ambushed and beaten on his birthday), both of whom were speaking at the rallies. This is an escalation of their previous mobilisations. The Left must be ready to take control of the streets to defeat the fascists and create a new generation of activists to fight for socialism in Britain, Europe, and the world.
This is the only way to tear apart the Tory and Brexit party’s base of Leave voters. The appetite for a clean break with the existing order exists: the task for Labour is to ensure this radicalism is channeled to the Left, not to fascism and the far right.
Seema is co-author of Creeping Fascism: what it is and how to fight it with Neil Faulkner, Phil Hearse and Samir Dathi. Follow her on Twitter @seema_syeda.