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New Labour’s phoney battle with fascism

The more the party’s crisis deepens, the more it cynically ups the ante against a far-right phantasm.

Tim Black

Tim Black
Columnist

Topics Politics UK

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The New Labour government’s feverish last days are making for a pitiful spectacle. Fascists and neo-Nazis dominate its waking dreams. Each and every place New Labour looks, anti-Semites and racists gawp back. It seems that the more purposeless New Labour becomes, the more determined it is to see the far right everywhere. We may not have much going for us, runs the thinking of this politically exhausted organism, but at least we’re not EVIL.

The Conservative Party have been the latest recipients of New Labour’s febrile moral posturing. The focus here has been the Tories’ membership of the EU parliamentary faction European Conservatives and Reformists. Numbering 26 of the 54 MEPS involved, the Tories are allied with, amongst others, Polish politician and alleged anti-Semite Michael Kaminski of the Law and Justice Party (PiS) and Latvian right-wingers For Fatherland and Freedom, a party that still parades through Riga in remembrance of the Latvian Waffen SS divisions, despite many of the soldiers’ links to the slaughter of 90,000 Jews between 1941 and 1943.

At the recent Labour Party conference, foreign secretary David Miliband spotted the opportunity for a bit of sullying by association: ‘Eric Pickles, the chairman of the Conservative Party, explained without a hint of shame that we should not condemn one of their new allies, the For Fatherland and Freedom party, who every year celebrate the Latvian Waffen SS with a march of SS veterans, because they were only following orders.’ The pursuit of Kaminski, aided and abetted by the Observer and the New Statesman, has proved even more fruitful. Involved in the fascist National Rebirth of Poland when younger, Kaminski was also, in 2001, a prime mover in opposing the Polish government’s apology for the 1941 Jedwabne massacre in which 300 Jews were killed. ‘If you are asking the Polish nation to apologise for the crime made in Jedwabne’, Kaminski said, ‘you would require… the whole Jewish nation to apologise for what some Jewish communists did in Eastern Poland’.

‘There will be incredulity in Washington, Beijing and Delhi, never mind Berlin and Paris, that a party aspiring to government in Britain – the party of Winston Churchill no less – chooses allies like this’, wrote Miliband in the Observer. That’s right, Winston Churchill, author in 1920 of Zionism Versus Bolshevism: A Struggle for the Soul of the Jewish People. Jews, he trembled, are ‘the most formidable and the most remarkable race which has ever appeared in the world’, before proceeding to separate out the ‘national Jews’ from that other strain, the ‘terrorist Jews’ who, from Karl Marx to Hungarian communist Bela Kun, are part of a ‘worldwide conspiracy for the overthrow of civilisation’. Churchill was hardly a bald anti-Semite, as his own support for Zionism shows, but racialising radical politics, and alluding to the Jewish plot to take over the world, hardly makes him a great liberal either. That the Conservative Party – ‘the party of Winston Churchill no less’ – might ally themselves with far-right groups is about as surprising as Kaminski getting hold of Zionism Versus Bolshevism and nodding approvingly.

Not that accuracy matters to Miliband and New Labour. Debate-closing and moral mudslinging are the real aims here. Hence it is enough to talk darkly of ‘just following orders’, the ‘Latvian Waffen SS’, and Kaminski’s alleged strain of Holocaust denial to have the desired effect. A few friendships here, some coffees there, and throw in attendance at the Tories’ party conference, and Adolf’s their uncle: the Tories are guilty by association, ‘an unreformed party, out of touch with the modern world and dangerous for Britain’, as Miliband puts it. The debate which should be had out, in this case over the Lisbon Treaty and the role of the EU, is shut down. Labour’s support of the Lisbon Treaty goes unchallenged, and the Tories’ prevarication over whether to stage a referendum remains ill-defined. Where politics should be, there exists a simple Star Wars-lite narrative about the evil Tories and the good Labour Party.

This isn’t only the fate of the never-to-be-held debate about the EU. The more bereft and distant Labour becomes, the more the spectre of the far right provides a means to conjure up some semblance of purpose. Take the furore around the BBC’s supposed concessions to the British National Party. On 30 September, BBC Radio 1’s Newsbeat programme featured a rather vacuous interview with Mark Collett, BNP publicity director, and Joseph Barber, who runs the BNP record label, Great White Records, or as Newsbeat called them ‘24-year-old Joey and 28-year-old Mark’. They said that England footballer Ashley Cole, born in East London, was not ‘ethnically British’ and said they’d be as sad about a white-free England as one without sparrows. If that wasn’t enough to turn the UK rightwards, BNP henchman-in-chief Nick Griffin will be on Question Time later this October, alongside, amongst others, New Labour’s Jack Straw.

Writing at the weekend, the secretary of state for Wales, Peter Hain, was keen to spot the spectre of far-right dominance on the horizon: ‘Freedom of speech is precious, and nobody seriously argues for the BNP to be banned. Equally the BNP consistently abuses its own freedom to deny it to others. As history shows, giving racists and fascists a platform, treating them as equals with democrats, always leads to tragedy. They need to be confronted, not appeased.’

Underpinning Hain’s as-history-shows scaremongering, is a disdain towards the recipients of these two public broadcasts. Anyone with an ounce of faith in the public would hardly view the opinions of a couple of white-is-right no-marks as the first steps on the way to 1930s-style tragedy. And you’d think that having Nick Griffin on Question Time would be a prime opportunity to challenge him on certain issues, to expose and ridicule his views on anything from ‘voluntary repatriation’ to the fluidity of ethnic categories. Or it would be if any of this was about political debate and argument. But it’s not. It is about posturing, and presenting Labour as, if not for something, then at least against bad men like Griffin or Kaminski.

The threat of the far right has expanded to fill a political vacuum. In doing so, anything approaching genuine political contestation, be it a debate about the role and purpose of the EU or immigration policy, is lost, short-circuited by the overriding threat of the far right. It is not that the far right is actually a threat in the UK (as Rob Lyons has pointed out on spiked, they have just under 60 councillors, about a quarter of one per cent of all UK councillors (1)). It is that in the absence of a positive politics of their own, mainstream political parties are drawn to a far-right phantasm as something they are not. Incapable of an actual political contest, New Labour prefers instead to battle the straw man of fascism, or, as Prince might say, party politics like its 1939.

Tim Black is senior writer at spiked.

Previously on spiked

Mick Hume noted how, when all else fails, the elite goes after the BNP. Elsewhere, he said it shouldn’t be an offence to belong to the BNP. Rob Lyons said ‘the far-right surge’ was a myth. Nathalie Rothschild asked: ‘Who’s afraid of the BNP?’ Or read more at spiked issue British politics.

(1) See The myth of a far-right surge, by Rob Lyons

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics Politics UK

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