Extreme electioneering

In the UK, the (pre-election) election campaign is in full swing. The Conservatives are performing terribly in polling, and their main tactic appears to be straight from the Trumpian playbook. They pick a fight that hardly anyone considers real in the hope that it will at least let them keep their hardcore base. The more controversial, the better, they think. Labour’s tactic when this happens is to broadly agree with the aim the Tories are heading for but just say they think the governing party is going about it the wrong way.

We’ve seen this on migration, where Labour are softly opposing the government’s plans to send people arriving in the UK via small boats to Rwanda. They claim that they also want to stop the people trafficking connected to this, but they’d do it differently. They will soon allow the Safety of Rwanda Bill to pass through parliament because they believe that the measures will fail, and they want to benefit from the failure. This is an astonishing game to play with the lives and welfare of some of the most vulnerable people in the ‘care’ of the state at risk.

This week, the Tories chose a philosophical discussion on ‘extremism’ as the issue to divide the nation on. It follows the bizarre Downing Street statement made by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak two weeks ago, where he used the excuse of rather peaceful protests calling for a ceasefire in Gaza as the backdrop to suggest the country was in the grip of ‘mob rule’. Since then, the minister for Communities, Michael Gove, has been beavering away at a new definition of extremism, with the aim of barring named groups and individuals from having access to direct talks with government officials and ministers.

The Gaza protests have been large, with relatively few arrests for such events. The focus has been on slogans and chants that the establishment hurries to deem antisemitic, and the government seems to want to use this issue as a wedge to divide people. Labour is perceived to be weak on antisemitism, so the Tories hope to gain some advantage. That a major international crisis is being cynically used for electoral gain is repugnant. Everyone could and should be trying to stop the killing. One minister was quoted recently by a Sky News journalist saying they were ‘worried’ that there could be peace in the Middle East and that peace would help Labour. They literally want the bloodshed to continue because they think it helps them electorally. That’s how cynical they are.

The new definition is as follows:

Extremism is the promotion or advancement of an ideology based on violence, hatred or intolerance, that aims to:
1. negate or destroy the fundamental rights and freedoms of others; or
2. undermine, overturn or replace the UK’s system of liberal parliamentary democracy and democratic rights; or
3. intentionally create a permissive environment for others to achieve the results in (1) or (2).

It’s worth noting that there is no appeal for a group labelled as ‘extremist’ under this plan. If they think you’re extremist, then that’s what you are, regardless of whether you are or not. It is clearly a plan open to abuse. This from a government that is using legislation to declare Rwanda a safe country, regardless of whether it is safe or not, just to win a court case. These things are indicative of how dark the UK has become of late.


Ironic Extremes

Two significant things happened this week to add irony to the new extremism definition. The first was their former deputy chairman, Lee Anderson, defecting to the Reform Party. Anderson was effectively expelled from the Tories after claiming that the Labour mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, had given the capital over to Islamists. The Conservatives found it hard to call his words racist, and Nigel Farage was quick to say he would be welcomed in the Reform Party. Anderson defected this week, and at a press conference on Monday, he was happy to trot out the phrase ‘I want my country back’, the watchword of ignorant, racist and far-right agitators across England.

The other incident was far more unpleasant, although ranking these things feels a bit grubby. I guess that’s where we are in British politics right now. According to The Guardian, Tory donor Frank Hester made the following comments in a work meeting in 2019: ‘It’s like trying not to be racist, but you see Diane Abbott on the TV, and you’re just like I hate, you just want to hate all black women because she’s there, and I don’t hate all black women at all, but I think she should be shot.’ Diane Abbott is a veteran black Labour MP, the first black woman to be voted to parliament. As with Anderson, the Tories initially found it hard to say Hester’s words were racist. Their tune on this has changed all week long, but one fact remains: they intend to keep the £15m he donated to their election campaign.

When he announced the new definition, Gove himself was asked in parliament about his relationship with Paul Marshall. He has received donations personally from Marshall, who co-founded the right wing conspiracy TV channel GB News. Marshall was recently named in a report by Hope Not Hate regarding far-right posts on X, which he had liked and retweeted using a second account, presumably to avoid detection. One of the tweets that he liked read, ‘Civil war is coming. Once the Muslims get to 15 to 20% of the population, the current cold civil war will turn hot.’ Gove, who received funding for his failed party leadership bid from Marshall in 2016, described him as a ‘distinguished philanthropist’.

What a week to preach about extremism. They are doing this, they tell us, to protect liberal democracy against dangerous ideological currents. This current government has attacked protest rights in several pieces of legislation over the last few years. They are literally using their violent ideology to stamp on the freedom of protesters. What is liberal democracy if it is not an ideology based on the state’s monopoly on violence? What of structural violence? What of the enforced austerity that has destroyed public services, leading to many demonstrations in the first place? What of the violence faced by protesters from police and the constant threat of it if you decide you wish to campaign against current and historic injustices?

While it’s pretty obvious that anarchist groups could easily end up being named under this definition, I think it’s important we don’t enter into a discussion on what a ‘correct’ definition might be, if that’s even possible. This entire debate has been confected by the Tories. It is fake, it is dangerous and it should be criticised on these grounds. Of the groups listed under the new arrangements, three are deemed Islamist and two are from the far-right. The obvious question here is whether or not these groups currently have access to government departments and / or ministers. Do these two far right organisations need to be named on this list for the government to think twice about having meetings with them or giving them grants? Of course, they are taking money from racist donors. Maybe they do need reminding not to talk to fascists too.

Why should we even react to this stuff? It is only happening because of the election. And Tories love to go for irony and lap up the condemnation. They did a similar thing back in the autumn when they staged the announcement that they would axe the HS2 rail project at an old railway terminal in Manchester, right where it would hurt. These decisions are surely deliberate. We are meant to be incensed enough to satisfy their few remaining voters.

If we’re calling them out, we need to be upfront that we know what they’re trying to do. Some of this is just cynical electioneering, but we should also be mindful that they will probably lose the election. If they do, Labour will inherit a country utterly Torified since they were last in power. They won’t have the money to reverse austerity, and decimated health, welfare and disability services will make lives harder for years to come. They’re not going to spend a lot of time reversing heavy handed protest laws. Things could get much darker yet.




Jon Bigger

Reprinted from Freedom News, March 16th




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