James Belchamber

White supremacy, and silencing your opposition: why are the Tories embracing fascist ideas?

On Wednesday an opposition political banner was taken down in Stanway, Essex, on the orders of Kevin Bentley, the Conservative deputy leader of Essex County Council. Kevin says he "reported" it but didn't specifically "order" for them to be taken down - in the same way that your boss might tell you about a problem but not specifically demand you fix it. This silencing of opposition is.. well, fascist in nature.

Don't squirm - that's the word for it.

It's also not the only instance - the Scottish Conservatives also slipped "14 words" into a Tweet about IndyRef, a famous dog-whistle designed to signal support for white supremecy that has been repeated uncritically by news outlets.

If there were any indication that the Conservative Party has now embraced populist nationalism, with all the fascist-inspired excesses that come along for the ride, this should be what awakens us to it.

But why are the Tories embracing fascist ideas?

Conservatives and fascists are found on right-wing of politics (I have written previously on Liberalism being left-wing), so let's ground ourselves on what that means. From Wikipedia:

Right-wing politics embraces the view that certain social orders and hierarchies are inevitable, natural, normal, or desirable

This gives us an idea of what they share - specifically, an idea that certain social orders (e.g. a specific ethnicity being dominant/oppressed) is.. well, somewhere on the spectrum from "inevitable" (pointless to try and change) to "desirable" (should be enforced).

But this spectrum also acts as a conveyor belt - if you believe that e.g. poverty is inevitable for some people ("I wish it wasn't so, but what are you gonna do?"), you're only a few coerced steps from promoting poverty as desirable for society ("Some people need to be poor to scare the rest of society into working hard!").

Of course, if you see a particular social order as desirable then you will seek to enforce it, and this is what fascism is, which is why it sits so naturally with conservatives.

(It's also very attractive to go from being a helpless victim to an empowered enforcer - there is a lesson in here about Liberals needing to empower people before fascists do but we have already written about this)

In Britain and Europe fascism was dealt a huge blow by the defeat of Nazi Germany, which led an axis of fascists on the continent. Across Europe ideas that were once considered "in play" from a political perspective became completely verboten. Those ideas didn't disappear - there have been many attempts to revive them over time - but they were kept in check by a pride in defeating the Nazis that bled into a discomfort with political ideas that looked like nazi ideas.

The Conservative Party, the standard-bearer for the British right, rejected these right-wing groups - but right-wing activists never stopped trying to find a way in. They kept testing the waters with new ideas to see what would break through; to see what would stick.

Brexit was not a single or isolated event - it represented a success for the right in breaking the (weak) British commitment to working with our European neighbours. Alongside it they have managed to bring human rights back into play, a (British-led) commitment to basic values across the continent which is now framed as a European imposition on British sovereignty.

It has also opened the floodgates for normalising more right-wing ideas. On winning the referendum, and on the subsequent resignation of David Cameron, the far right flooded the Conservative party - and have set to work, testing every way in until they can find another regression that can be achieved. Opportunist politicians have piled on, seeing a way to consolidate their power - which group Kevin from Essex comes from is an exercise left to the reader (less so, maybe, the author of the white supremacist dog-whistle tweet in Scottish Conservatives HQ).

As the generation that faced down the nazis die out, the success of Brexit has reinvigorated the right. Groups like Britain First brazenly invade mosques and hotels, with the belief that the government is now "their" government. Right-wing terrorism is now considered the fastest-growing terror threat to the UK.

These aren't mistakes. These aren't bumbling idiots, showing up the party. This is by design - not an organised design, but a cocktail of influence, infiltration and signals from the top. The modern Conservative Party is either using fascist ideas to consolidate power, or they have adopted fascist ideology as doctrine.

The outcomes will be the same, regardless of the intent.

Want to keep in touch?

Sign up to our weekly briefing - with all the latest news, opinion and analysis from justLiberals and our partners.

We'll never share your email with anyone else.