Not content with taking us out of Europe, the anti-EU right-wing forces in Britain have set their sights on some of our most cherished institutions.
Without ‘great ingredients’ like Brexit and Jeremy Corbyn, the party should fight the election on ‘culture wars and trans debate,’ says the new Tory deputy chairman Lee Anderson. The outspoken MP, who wants to bring back the death penalty and has links to Nazi-supporting members of a scooter club, is part of a cohort of Conservative politicians promoting a dangerous far-right narrative.
Our home secretary was accused of fanning the flames of intolerance for likening asylum seekers crossing the English Channel to an ‘invasion.’ Tory MPs Bob Blackman and Nadine Dorries have shared tweets by the far-right activist Tommy Robinson, while the MP Andrew Rosindell’s Facebook account was found to have joined a ‘Free Tommy’ group.
Within this threatening political obsession with culture wars and ‘free speech,’ attempts to infiltrate and influence British institutions are gaining traction.
Driven by some sort of imagined better alternative, though what, we’re not quite sure, the right-wing alts who scream patriotism – Lee Anderson wants every public building to fly a Union Jack flag – and cling to ‘traditional’ values, are doing their best to inspire opposition to our much-loved institutions.
Not content with taking us out of Europe, the anti-EU right-wing forces in Britain have set their sights on some of our most cherished and ‘British’ organisations. Perhaps emboldened by their Brexit win, for some time, illiberal populists have turned their wrath on the NHS, BBC, universities, the Church of England, the legal system, and even the National Trust.
Right-wing contempt for our justice system, which, like our health service, was once considered to be the envy of the world, has escalated during the post-EU referendum years. In November 2016, the Daily Mail promoted antagonistic rhetoric on its front page. ‘Enemies of the People, fury over ‘out of touch’ judges who defied 17.4m Brexit voters and could trigger constitutional crisis,’ read the headline. In 2021, concerns were raised that the Judicial Review and Courts Bill could be used to quash public dissent against the actions of the government, and undermine the rule of law. At the same time, the then prime minister and his home secretary demeaned lawyers as “lefties” who act “against the public interest.”
The National Trust, another enviable emblem of Britain’s unique heritage, has been the target of a wannabe right-wing infiltration. For several years , an insurgent group has been waging a ‘politicised’ campaign against perceived ‘wokeness’ within the National Trust. Fortunately, the insurgents have yet to have any success, and have achieved little more than make themselves look pathetic and desperate.
But it is our beleaguered NHS that is perhaps the biggest victim of right-wing animosity at sources of national pride. 12 years of flat funding have run the health service into the ground. Yet still we have a prime minister who, not only refuses to negotiate with nurses on pay to avert strikes, but also refuses to rule out NHS staff getting sacked in his strike crackdown.
The question is why do the right-wing hate everything that is good about Britain, and how far will they go?
Much of the problem is owing to the right-wing belief that many of our institutions are socialist, and remnants of the 20th century social democratic consensus.
That the Church of England is ‘woke’ is a popular grievance of the right. Citing socialism as the dominant political viewpoint of the church, some Conservative churchgoers even claim they are scared of being a Tory in today’s CoE. Rather than being wrapped up with an issues-based identity-politics that the right love to claim, the socialism of the CoE is surely derived from Gospel teachings on caring for the poor as set out by that notable working man, Jesus of Nazareth. The right’s ‘woke’ accusations says everything about their own obsession with identity politics and culture wars.
Then there’s the NHS. Created by Aneurin Bevan, an obstinate and radical democratic socialist, our inherently unequal country has a socialised healthcare system thanks to decades-long fights by the left. This unique equalitarian institution that guarantees everyone access to a quality standard of care, regardless of their wealth, is frequently celebrated as an embodiment of national spirit and ‘Britishness.’ Yet the supposedly ‘patriotic’ right are hellbent on destroying it. How? By grossly underfunding it to damage public confidence, so the private sector can muscle its way in, and profit, is one argument.
But, perhaps more importantly, why?
Fortune favours the rich
Hostility towards some institutions may partly stem from party donors thinking there are financial opportunities. As we know, the right are in the grip of neo-liberalism, or Trussism as it’s also currently known, a clapped out and discredited ideology – not really a philosophy – to distribute resources to the already rich. Just look what happened in the pandemic. In a frantic rush to procure personal protective equipment, Covid tests, ventilators and other critical equipment, the government handed out thousands of contracts to a select few companies who they were connected to. And these Tory-allied firms reaped billions.
Take the recent Richard Sharp and Boris Johnson £800,000 loan scandal. The BBC chair (another institution at the mercy of right-wing fury) was a friend of Johnson’s, was Rishi Sunak’s old boss at Goldman Sachs, and has given generously to the Tory party. It came as little surprise to learn that the BBC chair owns a multibillion pound stake in a healthcare company that was granted nearly £600,000 for Covid research while he worked in No 10 as an economic advisor.
Willing to abolish the 45p tax rate and scrap the cap on bankers’ bonuses so that already mega-rich bankers could get even richer at a time when many of us couldn’t even afford to put our heating on, Trussonomics favours the rich at the expense of the poor. As Stewart Lansley, a council member of the Progressive Economy Forum, said:
“The new governing philosophy, it seems, is to be built around an intensification of Britain’s deep-seated pro-rich, anti-poor bias.”
Despite the market chaos Liz Truss’ short-reign created, the Tory right-wing and their press are still championing for Truss-like tax cuts. ‘Sunak’s tax blunders prove it – Liz Truss was right all along,’ was a headline in the Telegraph last weekend.
This discredited ploy to make the rich richer at the cost of the poor has not yet found itself on the philosophical scrapheap because its beneficiaries – i.e the already rich – fund the think-tanks and politicians which in turn promote their cause.
The American influence
Some of the most influential right-wing think-tanks in the UK, which include the Institute of Economic Affairs, the Adam Smith Institute, and the Policy Exchange, which promote a free market agenda of low tax, the privatisation of public services and lightly regulated business, are opaque about their funding. Wrapped up in opaquely funded ‘dark money’, believed to be from a handful of wealthy American donors, such organisations can invest to warp democratic processes like elections and then, in turn proceed to the detriment and immiseration of the poor, vulnerable and disadvantaged. Of course their moral justification is that wealth ‘trickles down’ and that the wealthy engage in entrepreneurial activity which promotes growth. At least that is what they have been telling us for the last 40 years but experience has well and truly busted that flush, except for inside some think-tanks.
In the wake of the Brexit vote, free market think-tanks have gained extraordinary access to the UK government. In July 2019, when Boris Johnson became prime minister without a mandate or general election, and went on to appoint an exceptionally right-wing cabinet, the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) congratulated itself. Noting that 14 of Johnson’s cabinet, including the foreign secretary Dominic Raab, the chancellor Sajid Javid, and the home secretary Priti Patel, were “alumni of IEA initiatives,” the free market think-tank sent an email to its supporters, saying: “This week, liberty-lovers witnessed some exciting developments.”
Hard-right think-tanks in the US have exerted influence in the UK, where they have a strong relationship with right-wing politicians and share the same fantasy view that they want to impose on the country. Liz Truss has long-standing connections with the Heritage Foundation and American Enterprise Institute, free market think-tanks that aim to shrink the size of the US government and scrap environmental protections.
It might brand itself as a beacon of the intellectual conservative establishment, but in reality the Heritage Foundation regularly spouts hateful ideas, dedicating energy to extremist policy recommendations, such as anti-critical race theory legislation, climate change denial, and anti-transgender youth healthcare. Organisations like this would be very happy to see the UK become a laboratory for their crazy ideas and ‘puppets’ like Liz Truss could well hold the key.
Boris Johnson has a strong support base among the hard-right in the US. In June 2019, a video revealed that far-right former Donald Trump strategist Steve Bannon, had helped Johnson to write his speech when he resigned from the role of UK foreign secretary.
“Johnson had previously denied any association with Bannon as a ‘lefty delusion’,” DeSmog reported.
Our current PM, Rishi Sunak, is not without connections to influential free-market right-wing think-tanks. In 2015, after becoming an MP, he wrote a report calling for the creation of ‘freeports’ around Britain for the Centre for Policy Studies (CPS), which was co-founded by Margaret Thatcher. Before becoming an MP, Sunak worked for the Policy Exchange, another murkily-funded think-tank. As chancellor, he spoke at the IEA, which is, like the other two organisations, consistently ranked among the least transparent think-tanks in the UK.
From healthcare privatisation to dark money think-tanks, the reactionary politics of America have swept onto the UK’s shores. And with it, suppressive and dangerous policies are gaining traction in Britain, such as voter suppression through the introduction of ID cards, trickledown economics, and climate change denial.
Just this week it was reported that millions of voters are at risk of not being able to vote in the upcoming May local elections due to the government’s plans to enforce photo ID checks at polling stations. And guess what? Among the most affected will be ethnic minority voters, younger voters, and poorer voters.
Surging global right-wing populism and contempt for liberal democracy aggressively peddled by the likes of Donald Trump, Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, and Viktor Orban in Hungary, is taking seed in the UK. This authoritarian worldview of using the power of the state to enforce right-wing moral values, such as the advocating traditional family unit values, crackdown on immigration, and fury at ‘woke’ lefties, is shared by many on the Tory right.
Sadly, Britain has witnessed lately the devastating impact of the normalisation of right-wing hysteria. Far-right protesters hurled missiles outside a hotel where asylum seekers were being housed in scenes likened to a ‘war zone.’
Last weekend, the Tories’ newly appointed deputy chair, Lee Anderson, who wants Britain to bring back the death penalty, came under fire for his links to white supremacists and the far-right. The controversial MP described members of a Nazi-supporting Skegby Scooter Club who wear t-shirts donning ‘white pride,’ as “real salt of the Earth people” who “make me feel proud to be Ashfield born and bred.”
Far from being conservative, the rising of far-right rhetoric within the Tory party, seemingly emboldened by global populist figures and by the Brexit vote, actually want to blow everything up that’s great about Britain.
There is hope, however. The US, where there is less support for ordinary citizens in terms of employment protection, healthcare, social security, etc, than in Europe, is not an overwhelmingly right-wing country, as recent elections, and some of the policies of the Biden administration have demonstrated.
In spite of being bolstered by the toxic legacy of Donald Trump and other far-right world leaders, Britain’s ‘woke’ outlook on the likes of national sentiment, national identity and immigration, has become more popular, as shown by the September 2022 edition of the British Social Attitudes Survey.
Despite doing their best to chip away, penetrate and privatise, it is unlikely that the dangerously self-interested diehards will be successful in their bid to infiltrate British institutions so they can model them for their own self-serving gain.
At least we can live in hope.
Right-Wing Media Watch – Right-wing press turn criticism of Lee Anderson appointment into ‘class shaming’
Bring back the death penalty because “nobody has ever committed a crime after being executed,” the Tories’ new deputy chairman recently told the Spectator. It surely doesn’t take a loony leftie, a hard-line Marxist, a woke snowflake, and so on, to be disappointed and critical of Rishi Sunak’s promotion of Lee Anderson.
The prime minister’s decision to make an MP who believes poor families can feed themselves on 30p a day, and ‘nuisance’ council tenants should be forced to live in tents and pick vegetables at 6am, in order to pander to the right-wingers in his party sparked justifiable outcry.
Desperate to swing things round to make the critics look like the bad guys, the right-wing media painted Anderson’s criticisers as working-class shamers.
‘The class shaming of Lee Anderson’ shouted Spiked. The article not only attempts to offer some justification to the MP’s pro-death penalty stance by alluding to a YouGov survey which showed a sample 52 percent of voters think those found guilty of multiple murders should face capital punishment, but also that the new deputy Tory chair is the victim of ‘chattering-class scorn’ that is ‘dripping with snobbery.’
Pointing to the Euro 2020 tournament in 2021 when Anderson boycotted England matches over players taking the knee, the new deputy chairman was, according to Spiked, “mocked by right-on liberals”, so is “well used to being the butt of chattering-class scorn.” The author, Jordan Tyldesley, proceeds to argue that contempt over Anderson’s comments about food bank users, poor people’s budgeting habits, and illegal immigrants, is because he is a man from a modest background, a former miner, no less. “That means he can’t be dismissed as just another out-of-touch posh Tory, as middle-class liberals would normally do to someone with his views. And this has, if anything, turbocharged the snobbish, often classist animosity towards him.”
When reading this article, I felt a sickening lurch in my stomach. For one, the Tory party, and politics in general, need more working-class politicians, the left have been arguing that for years. For two, Lee Anderson’s outrageous comments bear little resemblance to the views of the wider working class and trying to equate criticism towards blatantly far-right, hate-driven rhetoric to classism, is an insult, not only to the ’middle-class liberals’ but also to the working-class. Sadly prejudice finds a home in the Golf Club bar just as much as the local pub. Speaking of which, one of the people to reputedly have disagreed with Anderson was the barman who pulls his pints. Immigrants needed to be treated right was his ‘working class’ opinion.
This incredible rant was not confined to the pages of Spiked.
The Daily Mail went for the same angle. ‘Pure snobbery! Top Tories defend new deputy chief Lee Anderson over death penalty row and hit out at ‘sneering attitude’ of critics,’ read the headline.
The article quotes several MPs who have accused Anderson’s critics of ‘looking down on working class values.’ This includes former minister Brendan Clarke-Smith MP who said: “This is snobbery. You get the sneering attitude from SNP and Labour, and I just don’t think a lot of them have got the life experience to be able to do that.” While Scott Benton, MP for Blackpool North, dismissed the response as “the usual Leftie hysteria.”
The Mail also points to Anderson’s claim that the death penalty has a “100 percent success rate.” It offers to critical evaluation of the claim, like how George Kelly, who was executed in Merseyside in 1950, was innocent. As was Mahmood Mattan, a British Somali father of three, who was executed in 1952 for a crime he didn’t commit.
Nor did the article point out that the UK’s murder rate is at its lowest in 30 years, despite the lack of executions
But then pointing to such information would put a spanner in the theory that the backlash towards Lee Anderson’s promotion stems from him being from a working-class background and not for his shocking remarks.
Woke-bashing of the week – Book banning in the ‘land of the free’
Talking of right’s obsession with culture wars and free speech, and the UK looking to the US for influence, one of the most worrying ‘woke-bashing’ trends has to be the rapid expansion of book banning in education settings across America. The issue has raised concern that restricting information undermines one of the primary functions of education – to teach students how to think for themselves, thereby discouraging freedom of thought.
There is nothing quite like the escalating censorship of books in US schools that ties into the American conservative philosophy – ‘free markets until the market produces a result we don’t like, and free speech unless it’s leftist speech.’
Articles routinely surface in Britain about ferocious book censorship culture wars simmering in the US. This piece in the FT entitled ‘Banning books in the land of free,’ points to a number of depressing recent incidents involving the book prohibition trend.
Human rights campaigner Kenneth Roth had successfully run a Human Rights Watch advocacy group for years. However, in January, his proposed fellowship at Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) was controversially removed. Roth said the ‘donor-driven censorship’, had resulted from his previous criticism of human rights abuses in Israel. This was denied by HKS and, following outcry over the incident, the dean reversed the decision and apologised.
In Florida, the governor Ron DeSantis, who is likely to stand as a Republican presidential candidate, relentlessly attacks the so-called ‘woke.’ As well as his Stop-Woke (Wrong to Our Kids and Employees) Act, DeSantis has banned professors at the University of Florida from providing evidence against the state’s voting law. The governor claims that professors at public colleges have no right to freedom of speech. He even attempted to takeover a liberal arts college in Florida.
Book banning and the attack on the education system is an issue of concern for PEN America, a literary and free expression advocacy organisation. PEN found that in the 2021 -22 academic year, more than 2,500 books had been banned in schools and libraries throughout the US, significantly higher than last recorded. The books targeted, according to PEN, were overwhelmingly “by authors of colour, by LBGT+ authors, by women.. [or[ about racism, sexuality, gender, history.”
The scale of book censorship in education settings has yet to reach Britain, but with a new party deputy chairman who says the Tories will have to fight the general election on ‘culture wars and trans debate,’ the right’s crusade against progressive culture could be set to move up a notch this side of the Atlantic.
Books carry knowledge, and knowledge is power, which makes them a threat to an increasingly authoritarian government like Britain’s, where like in the US, an anti-woke shtick threatens to explode.
Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is author of Right-Wing Watch
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