An Ugly Parallel
"The more economic difficulties increase, the more immigration will be seen as a burden…”
To say that “a lot has been written, a lot has been said…” about the events of the last 4/5 days would be the understatement of the century. I have not known political and social times such as these in my adult lifetime and, judging by the reactions of political commentators, journalists, MPs and those in wider society older than me, neither have a lot of other people.
I’ve made my feelings clear on the EU referendum, both in the weeks/months leading up to the result and since Friday morning, to people I have spoken with, to my local MP and on various social media platforms. I voted Remain and I am cautiously optimistic that triggering Article 50 isn’t on anyone’s political agenda just yet.
That said, I don’t intend for this article to be a broader ‘pro/con’ piece on whether we should remain in the EU or not. This is about something else that’s been hovering uncomfortably around this debate and in the years leading up to it.
Julia Hartley-Brewer recently tweeted this:
“Not a single Leave campaigner ever said/suggested/hinted/implied that a vote to Leave was about racism.”
As you would expect, she received an angry response from a large number of people on Twitter, some of whom she entered into debate with, others whom she did not (me included. You can read what I tweeted to her on this point here: https://twitter.com/beatroute66).
On the face of it, she can argue the point. Most people’s everyday definition of racism in the UK is on a one-to-one, aggressive level – one individual, usually white, says something offensive to another individual, usually not white. The “you can’t say that!” type of racism, you can call it. Sadly, there has been footage of an awful lot of this type of racial abuse being shared on social media since last Friday.
That is one form of racial abuse. Racism is at its most potent and has a much wider impact, however, when it's indirect, implied and stealth. Calculated, slow burning racial abuse can cut much deeper and have more effect in the long run than a short, sharp use of the ‘N’ word in someone’s face or physically attacking someone because “they’re not from round here”.
Let me explain.
Following the Versailles Treaty, signed in 1919 at the end of WW1, Germany was subject to a range of terms that effectively neutralised its ability to be a powerful force again (that was the idea). Economically and territorially, the treaty hit the country hard. A mixture of a weak coalition government, political turmoil and global depression at the end of the 1920s lead to a huge rise in unemployment within Germany, not to mention hyperinflation (remember the ‘wheelbarrows of money’ pictures?) and social collapse as millions suffered huge hardship.
Enter The National Socialist German Workers' Party – the Nazi Party to you and I – whose leader, one Adolf Hitler, slowly and but surely pointed the finger of blame not at a divided government, the perilous global economy or even its own country’s actions in taking Europe to war in the first place, but at the “enemy within”; Jews, Communists, immigrants, homosexuals and so on. Effectively, anyone who wasn’t German who happened to be living in Germany at that time.
Hitler was a great orator, a sociopath and a bully. He also had an effective ‘marketing department’ that was able to design propaganda posters & leaflets that could tell you how great a nation Germany *could be* one minute and how “these people over there” were to blame as to why it wasn’t the next. The rich Jew, for example, taking your money, your job and so on.
Slowly, but not slowly enough (only twenty years’ separate the end of WW1 and the start of WW2), millions of Germans were taken in and started to vent their frustration and anger at those being demonised. The Nazi Party’s popularity soared and by 1933 Hitler was appointed Chancellor. Within two years the Nuremburg Laws marked the beginning of an institutionalised anti-Semitic persecution that lasted for the remainder of Hitler’s life.
I don’t need to tell you the rest.
Why the history lesson? Well, to my mind, there is a similar tale to tell here in the UK over the last few years.
The 2015 General Election and recent EU Referendum both tell a chilling tale. Labour’s support in the likes of Sunderland, Barnsley, Birmingham, Hull, Burnley, Clacton, etc, etc, has dwindled of late to say the least. In years gone by, when times were hard under a cruel Conservative government, working class people ‘in the sticks’ would turn to a strong Labour opposition – the party of the people, after all – believing that they had been, once again, ignored and punished by the party of the rich and privileged.
Things changed. The Blair years of ‘New Labour’ and, more recently, the perception of Jeremy Corbyn as a metropolitan, North London socialist academic thinker has turned off large swathes of the working class voters around the country. The 2008 global economy crisis, bad bankers and the Conservative’s severe austerity cuts that followed have driven plenty around the UK into poverty, food banks and deep despair.
Alongside all of this, a small (but very vocal) political party who, as with Hitler back in the early 30s, love their country and want to make it “great again”, have been chipping away at the British public bit-by-bit.
UKIP is led, of course, by one Nigel Farage. A bullish, arrogant chap who likes a pint, a fag and the Union Jack. In fact, he bloody loves the Union Jack; he bloody loves Great Britain and he bloody loves letting you know these two things on a daily basis.
But, sadly, Nigel doesn’t love everything. He doesn’t much like the EU, he certainly doesn’t like “the establishment” (I could write an entirely separate article on that point alone…) and he definitely, definitely doesn’t like the number of immigrants – EU migrants or otherwise – in this country.
But, Farage isn’t a stupid man. He knows, in the main, that we’re a tolerant, welcoming nation. He’s very aware of the “you can’t say that!” mentality that sits within a good number of British folk and he very rarely (not ever, though) gives those good reason to challenge him.
Farage is a master of what I referred to earlier on as “indirect, implied and stealth” racism. He once blamed immigration and “the population going through the roof” on arriving at a UKIP function late due to traffic on the M4. He once suggested that he wouldn’t be keen living next door to a Bulgarian or a Romanian family. He once mused about similar sex attacks to those that occurred in Cologne last year happening here in the UK if “something wasn’t done about migration”, suggested that Tuberculosis in this country was the fault of Eastern Europeans and, more recently, as part of the Leave campaign, he stood in front of a poster that showed large swathes of Balkan refugees fleeing across the Slovenian border, beaming and pointing at the words “BREAKING POINT”.
He is the bloke down the pub, nudging a guy at the bar next to him and saying “have you seen that new Indian couple at number 23? We don’t want them round here, do we? I see he has a nice car. When did you last get a new car, Clive? Three kids as well - saw them on the school run. I heard that Sharon and Pete’s kids couldn’t get their lad into the local school; what’s that all about?!” and so on.
At a time when plenty in this country are either out of work or, in work, but can barely put food on the table, constantly telling them we’re overloaded (because of immigration), that people from “over there” will come here to steal your job, your house, your benefits, your children’s place at the local school and, quite possibly, your daughter’s virginity, is it any wonder that millions of British people mistook leaving the EU with putting an end to *all* immigration or that reports of racially aggravated behaviour to the police have risen 57% since last Friday?
Farage’s constant tactic of pointing the finger of blame at immigrants - and not global events, exploitative corporations or a range of bad government choices and cuts over the last 6 years – as the reason why so many British citizens can barely make ends meet has created a situation in this country very much akin to Germany of the early 1930s. The parallels are both striking and ugly.
That may sound dramatic, but just watch.
And if you don’t believe me, re-read the quote at the top of this article and tell me if you think it came from Hitler or Farage. I’ll bet that you really have to think about it.