Sajid Javid’s 18 July speech on extremism, which praised Nigel Farage, was a clear indicator of what is being prepared – either a Boris Johnson Tory government with Farage given a major role, or a Tory-Brexit Party coalition government, all depending on the electoral arithmetic. If and when Boris Johnson is elected Tory leader, any parliamentary difficulties over Brexit are likely to lead rapidly to a general election. Given Labour’s current state, it would be tempting for Johnson to call one anyway, in an attempt to win the Tories another five years in power.
While refusing to call Donald Trump’s attacks on four non-white Democrat congresswomen ‘racist’, Javid singled out Nigel Farage for praise, claiming he was not an extremist. Bizarrely, the basis for this exoneration of Farage was that he had walked away from UKIP, an increasingly hard-right party.
To imagine that Farage’s tactical split from UKIP exonerates him from the promotion of anti-immigrant racism is to demonstrate memory suppression at amnesiac levels. Although long a theme of the Conservative right, anti-immigrant racism was weaponised at new mass levels by UKIP, especially after the election of Farage as leader in 2006. This led directly to UKIP’s electoral breakthrough in the 2009 European election where UKIP won 17% of the vote. This result emboldened and encouraged the Tory right to fight for a referendum on EU membership, a campaign which led to Brexit and – barring a miracle – the election of Boris Johnson as Tory leader.
A Johnson-Farage coalition government would be a disaster for public services, democratic and trade union rights, the NHS and the welfare state generally, the living standards of the bulk of the British population and the environment. It would be a stunning victory for Donald Trump and political reaction worldwide. But it is a distinctly possible outcome, given the electoral arithmetic predicted by the polls.
None of the four main political parties – Labour, Tories, Brexit Party and Lib-Dems – are scoring more than around 28% (and in general most polls put all of them well under that figure). Labour have been wounded by political failures on Brexit and an inability to forcefully refute the anti-Semitism smear campaign. Behind this is the sabotage of the Labour right.
Jeremy Corbyn has been the victim of the most vicious witch-hunt smear campaign since the McCarthy witch-hunts in 1950s America. It has been evident since his election as Labour leader in 2015 that most right-wing Labour MPs would prefer a Tory government to a Corbyn government. Their disappointment with Labour’s gains in the 2017 election was obvious. Right-wing Labour has promoted every smear attack on Corbyn and directly conspired with their right-wing liberal media friends, including in the Guardian and Channel 4 News, as well as the usual suspects in the BBC and right-wing newspapers.
The Brexit Party is now playing an essential role in the campaign to prevent a Corbyn government. Labour is pressurised among pro-remainers by the Liberal Democrats and Greens; that is crucial because in the referendum 67% of Labour voters cast their ballot for Remain. Johnson’s supporters are likely calculating that defections to the Brexit Party among Labour pro-Leave voters will complete a pincer movement, making a Labour victory impossible. In any case, a Johnson Tory Party can easily agree political terms with Farage, given the massive policy convergences. And lauding Farage sends a message to Tories who voted for the Brexit Party in the Euro elections that it is now OK to come home.
Sajid Javid’s speech came at an event at which the Commission for Countering Extremism called for evidence, towards a new report on ‘extremism’. Confusion on this issue can be seen in the Commission’s request to 30 academics to write up their definitions of extremism. This is an extension of the so-called Prevent strategy, a spectacular failure.
Up until now the government has concentrated on Islamism and the far right as the key targets for anti-extremism initiatives. But Javid and lead commissioner Sara Khan included ‘far left’ as well as ‘far right’ in their definitions of extremism. Given the present atmosphere, there must be a danger that pro-Palestinian campaigns will be targeted as ‘anti-Semitic’, and thus racist and extremist. At any rate, the Brexit Party will be given a clean bill of health and criticisms of Trump will be couched in the most diplomatic language.
The rapidity and scale of these shocking political developments are breathtaking. If they go unchecked and undefeated they will deal a body blow to progressive politics, devastate many communities and eradicate much that is decent in our society, for a generation or more. It’s time for all of us to step up to the plate.