Give MRSA to Lesbians

That’s a policy from the Tory Policy Generator, but this is a quote from Martin Pugh’s new book, Hurrah for the Blackshirts: Fascists and Fascism in Britain Between the Wars, discussing the House of Commons’ 1921 debate on the Criminal Law Amendment Act:

Members took it for granted that lesbianism was a psychological disorder and Lieutenant Colonel Moore-Brabazon suggested: “There are only three ways of dealing with these perverts. The first is the death sentence… The second is to look upon them as frankly lunatics and lock them up for the rest of their lives… The thid way is to leave them entirely alone, not notice them, not advertise them.”

I didn’t know, though I should have known, that one of Britain’s leading fascists in the 1920s was the transvestite lesbian, Valerie Arkell-Smith, aka ‘Colonel Barker’. It’s a good book.

New Labour and Fascism, #5/5

What, then, to make of all of this?

I don’t really know.

Obviously Mr Blair isn’t a fascist, or an apologist for fascism, and the Labour Party isn’t a fascist formation. (If it were, I wouldn’t be a member.) But demi-semi fascist phrasemaking does fall easily, far too easily, from Mr Blair’s lips, and it’s doubly depressing that it seems to be on those occasions when he goes out of his way to talk about his most deeply-held political convictions that he sounds most like the heir to the ideological apologists for the Vichy regime.

In the most sensible thing ever written about the third way (Mr Blair’s that is, not Mussolini’s), Steven Lukes — commenting on the second most sensible thing ever written about the third way, Stuart White’s instant-classic paper, “Interpreting the “Third Way”: Not One Way But Many”  — had this to say:

“I suggest that the very point of the rhetoric of the Third Way is to fudge such distinctions [between left and right, communitarianism and liberalism, elitism and democracy], thereby enabling the political leaders who foster it to pursue their project while enlarging their constituency among the ideologically inclined. So the Third Way can unite Anthony Giddens (for whom it signifies the renewal of social democracy) with John Gray (for whom social democracy belonged within a historical niche that is gone beyond hope of memory); high-minded pieties about family values and British pride with talk of flexible self-invention in a postmodern world; and media manipulation and Leninist party control with constitutional decentralization and support for citizens’ juries.”(Lukes, Liberals and Cannibals, Verson 2003, p.173, based on remarks given at a conference at Harvard’s Center for European Studies, November 1998.)

That’s always seemed to me to be about right.But I’d add just this one observation, that while we’re familiar with the ways in whicih third way rhetoric has been terribly useful for the government as it seeks to cover its left flank while shifting Labour politics to the centre and then to the right, we should pay more attention than we do both to the ideological ancestry of this kind of political language, and to the extent to which this way of talking can be used, and has been used, as political camouflage for an odious accommodation not merely with Mr Blair’s celebrated “forces of conservatism”, but also with the politics of the far, far right.

UPDATE [1.4.05]: Consider Phlebas has more.

New Labour and Fascism, #4/5

So, as I say, by the Spring and Summer of 1999 I was getting interested in the idea that there might be interesting and somewhat robust connections between the left-wing ideological apology for Pétainism and Mr Blair’s third way. But what happened in 2001 took me quite by surprise.

On the same day as the elections in which the Italian post-fascist Alleanza Nazionale swept back into office on the back of Silvio Berlusconi’s victory in the Italian general election, Tony Blair visited his constituency in Sedgefield, County Durham, in order to receive the nomination of the local Labour Party as its candidate in the forthcoming General Election. His acceptance speech was presented to the media as the Prime Minister’s “first keynote speech” of the general election campaign, and it was one in which he described the major outlines of his political creed and tried to articulate (again!) the big ideas that animated his political activity, and it turned out that the core values of the Labour Party were virtually indistinguishable from those of Marshal Pétain’s.

If you remember, the Vichy regime replaced the revolutionary republican slogan “liberté, egalité, fraternité” with an alternative triad, “travail, famille, patrie“. And, as you probably don’t remember, because it wasn’t given quite as much media coverage as it ought to have had (just a snippet in the Guardian Diary), Mr Blair in that speech said this, that “Here in Sedgefield in 1983, in a supposedly traditional Labour constituency, I learnt, thankfully, that others felt exactly the same, who believed in the values of hard work, family, patriotism, equality of opportunity, and who felt they were the real values underpinning the real purpose of the Labour Party, if only we could rediscover that purpose.”

Earlier in the speech, he had claimed that around this time, in the early 1980s, he stopped allowing what he had read or what he had learnt to guide his politics, and that he “started to think about it on the basis of what I felt”. Well, equality of opportunity aside — and that appeal is used in New Labour discourse as much to legitimise present or future inequalities as it is to challenge them — what Mr Blair felt, and what he felt his constituents felt, was best articulated in terms of a Vichyite slogan, with the same concepts being deployed in the same order.

New Labour and Fascism, #3/5

What if, despite the rhetoric, the relevant ideological ancestors for what passes for Mr Blair’s political thought aren’t the fascists themselves, but those who busied themselves making apologies for authoritarian right-wing rule in the fascist era, above all in Occupied France?

This thought first struck me in the Spring of 1999, when reading Alexander De Grand’s biography of Angelo Tasca, In Stalin’s Shadow (Northern Illinois University Press, 1986). As I wrote somewhere else back in June 1999:

Tasca (1892-1960) is best known for his activities in the Italian Communist Party in the 1920s, where he was one of the leading opponents of Antonio Gramsci in the debates over party organisation and strategy. Having been expelled from the Communist Party in 1929, he wound up in France, where he made the significant error of choosing to collaborate with the Vichy regime, for which he occupied an important post in the Ministry of Information. According to Alexander De Grand’s political biography (… p.161), Tasca introduced the idea of the Third Way in courses he gave at Vichy training academies. The key text was a set of lectures on ‘Le rôle de l’état‘ delivered in April 1943; it remains unpublished, in the Tasca archives at the Fondazione Giangiacomo Feltrinelli in Milan, but De Grand usefully highlights some of the key themes in Tasca’s political thinking during this period.In particular, Tasca called for a reconceptualisation of the idea of rights, as he sought a new understanding of rights that would be distinct from both a liberal treatment of rights as inviolable possessions and the totalitarian ambition to have the scope and content of all rights dictated by the state. Tasca also broke decisively with the socialism he had hitherto espoused. He rejected, for example, the natural equality of citizens, and went as far as to insist that there was no “problem of the �lites” and that “the masses” were a “negative factor in the Revolution”…. Tasca further argued that the middle class was the sole active historical force; he emphasised themes of social stability and inter-class harmony; and he thought that those who sought change should work for a moral transformation of the already existing political class, rather than seek to transform the social or economic structure of France.

I still think that this isn’t a bad presentation of the ideological core of Blair’s politics, c.1996-8 or so. Like Angelo Tasca, Tony Blair then concentrated his political-theoretical attention on the idea of “rights”, empahsising his “social” understanding of rights which balanced them with “responsibilities”. Tasca’s rejection of socialism and a politics of class conflict and his celebration of the middle classes sits comfortably alongside the broader contours of New Labour politics. And, finally, with respect to the moral transformation of the political class, it’s worth remembering the politics of moral renewal associated with New Labour in this period, after the Major years of brown envelopes and endemic Tory sleaze.

UPDATE [4.30pm]: Jamie has more.

New Labour and Fascism, #2/5

A handful of rightists have been keen to emphasise the political parallels between today’s centre-left and yesteryear’s fascist right on the one hand, and today’s post-fascist right on the other. An example of each:

1. Michael Diboll wrote an article for the Spectator (27.11.1999, “Unite against the Centre”) which discussed New Labour in light of Oswald Mosley’s programme for Britain. He pointed in particular to the Government’s belief in a strong executive led by a handful of powerful ministers grouped around the Leader, to the marginalisation of both the Cabinet and the Parliament, the increased authority of technocrats, and to the legitimation of government decisions through the use of periodic referenda (the referendum being, in Clement Attlee’s famous phrase, a device “for demagogues and dictators”).

2. And on 22 February 2000 a mischievous Jörg Haider published an article in the Daily Telegraph — widely reported around the world — which drew attention to the substantial overlap between his own governing philosophy and that of Mr Blair. Both New Labour and the FPÖ, he wrote, had leaders who “have reformed their parties and have freed them from the old ideological ballast”, who are searching “for a new sense of community in the globalised world of today” and whose government promised equality of opportunity, low taxation, a tough law and order policy, welfare state reform and a “community-oriented politics”. Both countries’ governments wanted strict control over their own national borders, and on this issue Haider noted that, “If Blair is not extreme, then nor is Haider”, for “the latter is arguably less tough on asylum seekers and immigrants than Labour and Blair!”

Neither the Spectator nor Mr Haider are necessarily reliable guides in these matters, however. (An anonymous Downing Street spokesperson called the comparison between Mr Blair and Mr Haider “risible”.) So what else, if anything, might there be to say?

New Labour and Fascism, #1/5

Geoffrey Wheatcroft has an interesting op-ed in the Guardian today, describing some of the ways in which the rhetoric of leading politicians frequently includes characteristic fascist tropes, and he provides plenty of examples to illustrate his claims. (Harry’s not happy, and says so here.)

The suggestion that Tony Blair’s New Labour has something in common with interwar fascism is, of course, not new. The label that Mr Blair chose to describe his own politics, that of the Third Way, itself invites the comparison, owing to its popularity among mid-century fascists who saw their political creed as one which rejected the extremes of state socialism on the one hand and liberal economics on the other. One contemporary academic analyst of fascism, Roger Eatwell, for example, puts the search for a “holistic national radical Third Way” right at the heart of his extensive and authoritative examination of fascist ideology [Fascism: A History, p.11].

(A digression: Michael Mann’s new book, Fascists, one of many I’m half-way through at the moment, is superb. At least, the first few chapters are. I don’t yet know about the rest.)

Another old fascist slogan, “Neither Left Nor Right But Forward!”, has also become something of a staple among partisans of contemporary Anglophone centre-left politics. Blair guru Anthony Giddens published a book called Beyond Left and Right back in 1994, and the Labour Party is going to the country about now with the remarkably vacuous slogan, “Forwards, Not Back”. My favourite example of this kind of language, however, comes not from a Blairista but from a “New Democrat”: the New York Times reported in December 1998 that Al Gore had told a Democratic audience that, “Six years ago, we moved politics forward, beyond right and left. Today let us move politics not only farther forward, but also upward, to a higher place, to a place far beyond the false divisions and dichotomies of the past.”

OK: so some of the slogans are the same. (We knew that.) What else?

Right-Wing News

Since we’re mostly focussing on Right-Wing Britons today, here’s another snippet, from the Guardian: [via]:

The Backbencher hears that Kilroy’s increasingly desperate search for a political home may be about to come to an end. Having been narrowly rejected by both the English Democrats and the New Party – a tax-cutting, British trucker-loving outfit whose logo depicts five blue people conducting a seance – Kilroy is apparently now hoping to lead a putative party called Veritas, set up by four disaffected members of the New Party’s national executive. The New Party “knows nothing about it” and Kilroy isn’t answering his mobile, but the Backbencher hopes to be able to confirm the wanderer’s latest perch shortly.

A moment of lucid reasoning from the English Democrats, as they realise that they shouldn’t touch RKS with the proverbial barge pole. Who’d have thought it?

Image of the Week

As the lovely people in the Conservative Party meet for their annual conference, here’s an unfair juxtaposition of the Tory Party’s new logo with a detail from a fascist poster from 1935.

UPDATE [Noon]: So I see over at the Guardian, which has a discussion of the new logo, that Dr Liam Fox says that the new logo signifies “Clarity, Strength and Unity”. So I must be completely wrong to be associating the new-look Tories with the old-style fascists…