Recently there has been some well-deserved condemnation on blogs and Twitter feeds that I read about the British government’s attacks on immigration, which took the form of vans telling people who are in the country illegally to “go home or face arrest”, as well as spot checks on people coming through certain London train stations, in which UKBA (UK Border Agency) officers were observed to be stopping non-white travellers. This has led to some to declare that the UK is sinking into fascism, which seems to be based on ignorance of what fascism really is.
The government’s attempts to defend their position have been laughable. Last Friday on the BBC Radio 4 evening news programme, Peter Bone, Tory MP for Wellingborough, went on about how human trafficking was one of the most heinous crimes and traffickers took their victims into certain London railway stations which the UKBA were aware of. He declared that most of the trafficking came from “central Europe” and that contrary to the claims that mostly or exclusively non-white people were being stopped, most people in “central Europe” were white. Anyone with a brief grasp of geography and recent history knows that central Europe is now part of the European Union and it’s legal for people from those countries to live and work in the UK. And the observers all said that non-whites were being stopped, not central Europeans.
Then Mark Harper, the immigration minister, claimed in an interview with the Guardian last Saturday that people were stopped because of “suspicious” behaviour, such as “hanging back from a station barrier, avoiding eye contact, a sudden change in walking direction or pace, and seeking to avoid confrontation with someone perceived to be a threat”. This assumes that the only reason someone would want to avoid an encounter with police or immigration is that they’ve got something to hide, rather than having been harassed or abused by them in the past. It’s callous logic and reeks of white privilege.
However, it is a mistake to call these developments fascist or representative of a move towards fascism. Fascism is defined by totalitarianism: a state controlled by an organised cabal (usually a single party), usually featuring a personality cult based on the leader (hence the building-sized portraits of presidents like Assad of Syria or people expected to greet each other with a reference to him), propaganda everywhere with little or no room for dissent as the press is mostly or all state-controlled, and a heavy government hand in the economy. None of this is going on here and now, and people are not being arrested and tortured for mild dissent from the government’s line.
The spot immigration checks that have been going on in London has a more recent inspiration - Arizona and the American South, where recent laws aimed at keeping out Mexican and other central American migrants have led to widespread harassment of Hispanic US citizens. The logic displayed on the Daily Mail’s front page last Friday, that the murder of Daniel Pelka would not have happened if his mother’s criminal boyfriend had been expelled, has been seen in American media coverage of crime and immigration; the fact that he could have gone and done the same in his home country (Poland) is of no significance to them, nor the fact that immigration control is done for cultural and economic reasons, not because foreigners are criminals.
There is no doubt that we are living in harsher times and that in other parts of Europe the Far Right are definitely on the march — Hungary being an important example. The UK, however, has no history of the Far Right being popular and this recent spasm of anti-immigrant action has been a desperate attempt to regain popularity, not a sustained policy over years. Like other parts of the English-speaking world, we have a press that encourages a harshness based on reflexive idiot logic and politicians who sometimes use them and sometimes only too willingly cave into their demands, but our politics has none of the characteristics of fascism. Some of the people who fought actual fascism have come out in support the policies of the British right, and the kind of free-market economy they advocate could not exist in a fascist state which favours monopolies and state capitalism. I would agree that we are becoming a less civilised country with a less rational and thoughtful mindset, but this is not the same as fascism and only someone who has not studied fascism could mistake the two.
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