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By Jason Michael
IT IS NOT OFTEN SAID, but it was a delight to read Neil Mackay’s article on the threat Nigel Farage poses to democracy in The Herald this morning. “Democracy in Britain is far from in good health,” reads the sub-header, “but if it ever really starts to erode, the threat will come from a kind of Rotary Club fascism. The danger will wear a blazer, not jack boots.” Nigel Farage has been a laughing stock in British politics for as long as most of us can remember. As the leader of UKIP, he was the butt of endless jokes about his inability to win a Westminster seat – and sure, Britain’s first-past-the-post electoral system has kept him and the great majority of far-right candidates from the centre of political life. But he has always been a shadow hanging over mainstream politics and, thanks to the more representative nature of the European parliament, he has long enjoyed a secure platform in the margins. He has refused to go away. Yet, suggesting only two years ago that he posed a threat to our democracy, myself and others were dismissed as quacks; as fantasists and fearmongers.
Jason Michael (@Jeggit) November 12, 2016
Whether Mackay has just woken up to this or has known it a while does not matter. That he is aware of it now and writing about it is important. He certainly hits the nail on the head when he writes:
[Farage has] played political hokey-cokey for years – either trying and failing to become an MP, or stepping back by resigning as UKIP leader after the EU referendum. His behaviour doesn’t represent indecision, it represents a man biding his time. It would appear the time is now ripe.
Students of the far-right are well acquainted with this strategy of waiting. Since Oswald Mosley and his British Union of Fascists, all the essential ingredients of true ideological racism – white supremacism and fascism – have been patiently waiting in the undergrowth, moving through a series of permutations; the National Front, the BNP, UKIP, and the Brexit Party – to name a few. Farage is not like the more obvious racists. He’s not like Nick Griffin or Tommy Robinson. He is careful to distance himself from the more unsavoury elements of the “march and grow” far-right, but this does not mean he is any less of a danger. In fact, his efforts to appeal to the respectable, to the polite middle-class, makes him more of a danger. Farage has perfected the art of presenting the right image of British fascism, a strategy tried and abandoned in the late 1990s by the British National Party. Not all neo-Nazis sport skinheads and wear flight jackets and bovver boots.
Farage can deny the report of an old school teacher that he “publicly professed racist and fascist views” as a pupil at Dulwich College or the rumours he revelled in his initials matching those of the National Front and that he often sang an antisemitic song with the lyrics “gas ’em all,” but what he can’t deny is his known links to the National Front and his documented racism. Like all true ideological racists, Nigel Farage is a political chameleon, adapting to his surrounding so as to best advance his agenda – the creation of a fascist British white ethno-state. His long-term objective has not relied on the smash-and-grab Putsch or the March on Rome, but on the French far-right strategy of Alain de Benoist; an effort to “attract those few thousand people who make the country tick.” As the Front National journal Eléments explained:
A few thousand is not many in absolute terms, but a few thousand of such importance, sharing the same thoughts and methods, represent the potential for revolution.
Ever since Nick Griffin wrested control of the BNP from John Tyndale in 1999 the party has followed this programme of best-foot-forward; focusing the drive of British nationalism on identity politics – the fight for “white rights” against the fictional threat of an immigrant take-over and so-called white genocide. Under the moderate leadership of Michael Holmes, UKIP at this time was a broad anti-EU and anti-establishment protest group, but would soon be hijacked by Farage and his racist cronies and used as a clean-slate operation through which they could push their far-right agenda. Writing to his supporters after the coup, Holmes, a retired newspaper publisher, dished the dirt on its new leader Jeffrey Titford, saying he had once been a member of New Britain – a group which strenuously advocated the repatriation of immigrants. This was the new direction of UKIP. This was the UKIP Farage took charge of for the first time on 12 September 2006.
Mackay rightly warns that Farage is moving “his hands toward the levers of power” and that we should “prepare for it.” Right now, polls are showing 23 per cent support for Farage’s Brexit Party, making it the second party after the Conservatives on 24 per cent. Given the support for a hard Brexit on the right of the Conservative Party and Boris Johnson’s complete lack of scruples, if these figures remain unchanged, Nigel Farage will be in a coalition government with the Tories after the next general election. Before Brexit the European elections were never much of an indicator of Westminster voting intentions, but with the singularity of Brexit and the chaos it has produced this has changed. This was something I wrote about in last month’s iScot Magazine:
This single issue and voters’ priorities are unlikely to change before the next general election, which may be sooner rather than later. It is no longer unimaginable to think that Farage will be elected, that his party will be the junior partner in a coalition, or even that he will be Prime Minister.
It is likely Brexit will bring about the conditions for a far-right and illiberal party to gain power in the UK, and it looks as though Mr Farage is about to pull that off. Yet, there are a number of things Neil Mackay has gotten wrong. Firstly, he assumes that Farage’s fascism will be different – that it will be more “Rotary Club” than Berghof, more blazers than jackboots, and more pin-stripe suits than Hugo Boss SS uniforms. But he’s mistaken – or rather, he’s missing something. The sedate, the quiet prestige, and the bureaucratic chic has always been central to the appeal of the far-right. In her assessment of Adolf Eichmann, this was precisely what Hannah Arendt captured of the man and the movement of which he was a part in her 1963 book, Eichmann in Jerusalem – “the banality of evil:”
The trouble with Eichmann was precisely that so many were like him, and that the many were neither perverted nor sadistic, that they were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal. From the viewpoint of our legal institutions and of our moral standards of judgement, this normality was much more terrifying than all the atrocities put together.
Fascism, contrary to popular belief, never actually arrives in uniform. Neither Benito Mussolini nor Adolf Hitler began in uniform or standing on massive stages in front of tens of thousands of regimented fanatics. Always and everywhere, like the racism that often fuels it, fascism begins with ideas – dangerous ideas – that are strung together by almost invisible social misfits. These ideas spread like a virus and are exploited by charismatic and populist leaders to further their own ambitions for power and to further their hateful political agendas. Only then, after it has gained enough support, does it make the full transition to totalitarianism and the outward show of absolute conformity and despotic strength. This is what Mackay fails to see in fascism, the complete boring normality of it – its utter banality.
Britain Elects (@britainelects) July 03, 2019
What else he gets wrong is the related assumption that Farage’s fascism won’t be forceful, but will deny people their rights “with legislative amendments.” Is this how he imagines the Nazis did things, by simply rocking up and confiscating people’s citizenship and human rights with the help of a well-placed truncheon? Yes, they did use force, but the force they used was always legitimate force. Europe’s fascists of the 1920s and 30s were scrupulous legislators. They too had learned to put their best foot forward. Every right taken from the Jews of Germany between 1933 and 1939 was taken as part of a process of legislative amendments, of which the Nuremberg Laws of 15 September 1935 represent the crux. After the Wannsee Conference in January 1942 and the adoption of the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question” – Endlösung der Judenfrage, every Jew murdered in the Reich and in Nazi occupied Europe and North Africa was murdered in accordance with German law.
For sure, Farage’s very British fascism and his post-imperial racism are different, but, then, every fascism and totalitarian régime is unique. If he does come to power his fascism will not be Hitler’s, Mussolini’s, or Franco’s. It won’t be like the fascism of Vichy France, Antonescu’s Romania, or Horthy’s collaborationist Hungary. Farage’s fascist Britain will be Faragist. It will be a monster of his making, and yet it will embody all the essential ingredients that make fascism what it is – and to this will be added all the bile of his far-right ideas of British qua English racial supremacism. Being the political chameleon that he is – like both Hitler and Mussolini, we won’t know all the details of his plans for liberal democracy and the rule of law until… well, until it is too late.
Britain’s Far Right Pedigree