First Labour lost the 2015 election, then Corbyn won the Labour leadership, then Brexit, then Corbyn wins again and now the unthinkable. Trump is heading to the White House. Not forgetting Leicester winning the premier league. It has been an incredible cycle of incredible results, each more momentous and unprecedented than the last. It is a small mercy, and by a small margin the Scotland didn’t leave. And they may still.
Many of these results have shocked progressives, liberals and centrists to the core. How could people vote this way? Locked in an echo chamber of social media, filled with a homogenous chorus, they missed the reality of what was happening. Whilst their ideological opposites were on the ground, in the streets, fighting for change. And winning.
British people have lived through an unparalleled time of peace (notwithstanding foreign wars) and liberalism. It wasn’t too long ago that homophobic and racist attitudes were the norm, the minimum wage was a lofty concept, paternity leave didn’t exist and people scoffed at the idea of ‘so called’ climate change. Even the NHS is relatively new – my Grandparents were alive when it didn’t exist.
These changes were fought for, sometimes literally. Have you ever wondered why Britain First have to ask for permission to go on marches? You can trace it back to the Battle of Cable street in 1936. Europe in the 30’s was in the grip of fascism, Hitler in Germany, Mussolini in Italy and in Britain we had Oswald Mosley, who had direct links to them both. Whilst not a senior politician, he was still a powerful political force, a highly charismatic orator whom many people found persuasive.
Imagine a very good looking Nigel Farage, except instead of pensioners handing out leaflets, he had his own personal militia who would beat up and intimidate political opponents. The Blackshirts.
Seeking to capitalise on a successful British Fascist movement (they had over 50k members) Mosley planned to march with several thousand fascists through a Jewish area. Bear in mind this is 1936 and this man had links to Hitler. Despite several calls to ban the march, the Government did not intervene, and actually supported Mosley with 6k police officers. It is unclear how far support for his movement ran through these two institutions.
Anti-fascist groups built roadblocks in an attempt to prevent the march from taking place. The barricades were constructed near the junction with Christian Street, towards the west end of this long street. An estimated 20,000 anti-fascist demonstrators turned out, and were met by the 6k police, who attempted to clear the road to permit the march of 3,000 fascists to proceed. The demonstrators fought back with sticks, rocks, chair legs and other improvised weapons. Rubbish, rotten vegetables and the contents of chamber pots were thrown at the police by women in houses along the street. After a series of running battles, Mosley agreed to abandon the march to prevent bloodshed.
Putting aside the moral arguments for and against violence, this is generally recognised as a tipping point in general support for British Fascism. Moreover legislation was swiftly brought in that required police consent for marches, and forbade the wearing of political uniforms in public. The British union of Fascists died out and Mosley was imprisoned during the war.
History could have been very different. But that is pure speculation.
The far right is on the move again, across Europe and in America. In the 30’s, they demonised the Jews, today Muslims. If there is one thing scarier to the proposed policy, it is the amount of support it has.
The same is true for Trump, it isn’t just that he is scary, it’s that despite everything that has been unmasked about him, people still voted for him, in their millions. Is he the disease? or merely the symptom?
What we need to realise is that civil society is always just a few steps away from anarchy. There are people who want to live in a very different world from us, and the precious modern world we live in, is a privilege, and if we want to maintain it we need to do something. Preferably not (just) through a keyboard or a touchscreen.
Wake up, fight for the world you believe in (I’m not advocating violence) because other people are already fighting for the one they believe in. And they are winning. Winning big (or bigly as Trump might say).
It isn’t enough to mock and sneer at our political opponents, in fact it’s looking like that is fuelling the fire. Calling someone a racist when they have been sucked in by a racist usually makes them more entrenched.
The obvious question is how should we ‘fight for the world we believe in’, what is the answer? Well that’s worth another blog post, and the answer is multi faceted indeed. Probably the best thing you can do is join a political party, it’s the fastest way to be drawn into the orbit of political involvement. But go along to the meetings and sign up for volunteering, otherwise its pointless clicktivism. The party I am a member of recently gained a lot of new members, but I haven’t seen many of them locally. Except when there was a major vote.
Change is hard and painful, it take time and energy. But the first step to change is awareness, and the second is acceptance. We have seen what is going on, we now need to accept it is more than a momentary blip. And then we need to find a way forward.