Forget partygate, Sue Gray’s report (not that I demean its seriousness) or the calls for Johnson’s resignation (not that I approve of law-breaking) but none of these events will change the direction of travel for Britain; the co-ordinates have been set, the actors are in mid-play and the denouement appears inevitable. Authoritarianism.
Accompanied by the death of democracy, in the land of the Magna Carta. Am I scare-mongering? Am I a conspiracy theorist? Look at the deportations of the Windrush generation and others. ‘The Windrush scandal began to surface in 2017 after it emerged that hundreds of Commonwealth citizens, many of whom were from the ‘Windrush’ generation, had been wrongly detained, deported and denied legal rights.’
Once one community has been attacked, it sets a precedent and makes it easier to attack another, and another, and so forth. I know people in the Asian community who were shocked and outraged at clause 9 of the ‘Nationality and Borders Bill’ (“Clause nine of the bill would effectively remove the requirement for the Home Secretary to notify an individual when stripping them of their British citizenship, affecting the fundamental rights of an estimated six million people in England and Wales, according to exclusive figures calculated by the New Statesman.”) The UK’s citizenship deprivation practice affects minorities and those of migrant heritage much more than it does white British nationals born in Britain. Did anyone in the Asian community really believe that Priti Patel wouldn’t turn her Gorgan gaze on them?
Added to these outrages, the right to protest is under threat, the NHS is being quietly privatised, the country is reeling from the damage being wreaked by Brexit, and over a million people may be disenfranchised by the proposed requirement in ‘The Elections Bill 2021-22’ to show ID when voting. A move labelled as voter suppression and criticised by many, including The Electoral Reform Society as being unnecessary, the UK’s elections are regarded as safe and secure.
Making it harder for people to vote, is one of the tactics deployed by governments who’re stealthily turning a democracy into an authoritarian state. The words ‘authoritarianism’, ‘totalitarianism’ and ‘fascism’ are regularly used, and not all of us know their precise meanings and differences, so I’m going to take a moment to list their main characteristics:
Authoritarianism: based on the principle of blind submission to authority. Opposed to individual freedom of thought and action, including political plurality. Power is concentrated in the hands of a leader or a small elite who’re not constitutionally answerable to the people. Weakens and dilutes the separation of powers (the separation of powers between the legislative, executive and judicial, provides for checks and balances so that no branch of government has unlimited power, becomes authoritarian and harms democracy. The separation of powers enables a core element of democracy, the “rule of law”; the principle that everyone is equal before the law, thereby providing equality and protection for citizens).
Totalitarianism: form of government that theoretically permits no individual freedom, and seeks to subordinate all aspects of individual life to the authority of the state. Italian dictator Benito Mussolini described it as “all within the state, none outside the state, none against the state.”
Fascism: ultra-nationalism (i.e., ‘Take Back Control’. ‘Make America Great Again’), racial nationalism, dictatorial leadership, elitism, militarism, masculinity, forcible suppression of opposition, strong regimentation of society and economy.
All three systems are terrifying. Forget free speech, being stewards of our own destiny, equality before the law. Forget the Hillsborough campaigners achieving victory, the Midlands 3 winning their fight against extradition. Forget campaigning for women’s rights, against racism, and all the other causes we take up to make our lives better and fairer.
A country doesn’t go from democracy to authoritarianism in one go. The writer and Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison in an address given at Howard University during its 1995 Charter Day celebrations, delineated a 10 step process by which a country and its people can be steered towards repression and control. “…Let us be reminded that before there is a final solution, there must be a first solution, a second one, even a third. Something perhaps like this: (Note: in the following list, the italics are mine and refer to the UK)
- Construct an internal enemy as both focus and diversion.
(i.e., immigrants and the EU).
- Isolate and demonize that enemy by unleashing and protecting the utterance of overt and coded name-calling and verbal abuse. Employ ad hominem attacks as legitimate charges against that enemy.
(The hostile environment, false promises and demonisation of the EU and immigrants.)
- Enlist and create sources and distributors of information who are willing to reinforce the demonising process because it is profitable, because it grants power and because it works.
(Nigel Farage, the Daily Mail, The Sun etc. And to its shame, the biased reporting of the BBC.)
- Palisade all artforms; monitor, discredit or expel those that challenge or destabilise processes of demonisation and deification.
(The attacks on woke culture, people on the left, Labour party politicians etc)
- Subvert and malign all representatives of and sympathisers with this constructed enemy.
(i.e., Remainers, centre-left papers such as The Guardian)
- Solicit from the enemy, collaborators who agree with, and can sanitise the dispossession process.
(people of colour in political and governmental roles.)
- Pathologise the enemy in scholarly and popular mediums; recycle for example scientific racism and the myths of racial superiority in order to naturalise the pathology.
(attacks on lawyers, doctors, Muslim women)
- Criminalise the enemy. Then prepare, budget for and rationalise the building of holding arenas for the enemy – especially its males and absolutely its children.
(Former Cabinet minister David Davis attacks a plan to send asylum seekers to another country while they wait for their application to stay in Britain to be processed, a policy he compares to the US detention camp in Guantanamo Bay.)
9. Reward mindlessness and apathy with monumentalised entertainments and with little pleasures, tiny seductions, a few minutes on television, a few lines in the press, a little pseudo-success, the illusion of power and influence, a little fun, a little style, a little consequence.
(i.e.,Unboxed Festival, costing £120m; Crown stamps re-introduced on pint glasses; The Royal Yacht etc).
- Maintain, at all costs, silence.
(I suggest lying is a form of silence)
Referencing Toni Morrison’s graduations, I believe we’re at the first phase, meaning the legal stage of authoritarianism. ‘The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill’ jeopardises the right to peaceful protest and gives the police increased powers to impose restrictions. ‘The Nationality and Borders Bill’ will make it easier to strip people of their UK citizenship. ‘The Elections Bill 2021-22,’ with its requirement for photo ID will hit voter turnout and risks upsetting trust in the electoral system. Who can forget the nightmare unleashed on America when Donald Trump undermined trust in the result of the 2020 Presidential election? Our democracy is being undermined by these Bills and other legislation.
Soon all elections could be Putin style, and those who pose a challenge be given a taste of unlawful coercion. Let’s remember that our Prime Minister, Mr. Boris Johnson himself, was quite happy to supply information so that a journalist could be beaten up.
A chilling event occurred in November 2021 when an RNLI lifeboat, going to the rescue of refugees was blocked by fishermen shouting “don’t bring any more of those home, we’re full up.” Zoe, a woman who witnessed the scene told LBC radio station “It was really upsetting, and you could hear the hatred in their voice.”
Whip up enough fear and enmity, and we could all become monsters. In the essay The Terror of Totalitarianism Explained the writer notes ‘… what these regimes create is so devastating to humanity that it would be naive to assume that humanity will always bounce back.’ And quotes Hannah Arendt, known for her study of totalitarianism, “They have corrupted all human solidarity. Here the night has fallen on the future. When no witnesses are left, there can be no testimony.” Perhaps the most desolate, haunting line ever written, sounding the death-knell of hope.
A chink of opportunity may be still be available to us in the UK. Authoritarianism is built on people’s apathy, passivity and fear. An informed electorate could turn the tide. All evidence suggests a progressive alliance of centre-left parties could win the next election. Once in power, they could begin to change the direction our country is being steered in.
Democracy may be slow and messy; a coalition of parties may take longer to agree polices and principles. However, such considerations are nothing compared to the horror that our lives could become as our government tightens its hold on power, refuses to be accountable and transparent; uses our taxes to enrich the already rich, and themselves. They don’t believe in the social contract: the quid pro quo that people give their votes and the elected government works for the best interests of the people. For all their promise and assertions, the government are clearly not working for the common good.
Our lives are ordinary, often full of routine; our days dictated by our work, family needs, tasks that need to be done, stuff that needs to be organised and so forth. But, at the moment we know we can criticise the government if we want to, we can campaign for whichever political party we want to, practise our beliefs as we wish to, and go to the courts to get justice if we need to. Life may be short, but we know instinctively, deeply, in the core of our hearts, we’re entitled to respect, dignity and equality. Democracy is the only political system which values us, in which we have every right to participate; to which we can contribute with our ideas, life experience, thoughts and knowledge; helping to shape a society to serve our needs, the needs of our children and our children’s children.
In today’s Britain no-one can afford to stand on the side-lines; we can no longer afford ‘whataboutery,’ neither can we afford tribal politics on the centre-left. Election after election has been lost to the Conservatives because centre-left parties fail to work together. Pragmatism, practicality, a recognition of the danger is now imperative. Our democracy, and way of life will only be saved, if everyone on the centre-left comes together, forms a progressive alliance to defeat a government driving us into a repressive and dark future.