In this series Luke explores the Eight Modern Giants introduced by Economist Guy Standing in his recent report Basic Income as Common Dividends. This article is Luke’s take on the rise of the far right across the world and particularly in the UK. He interprets the role of the media and politicians in scapegoating the vulnerable for years of economic failure. Luke concludes by discussing what a Basic Income can do to stop this trend and how it will provide people with hope for the future, rather than a harking to days gone by.
Luke Brotherdale Smith – Citizen’s Basic Income Network Scotland Volunteer
The final article of this series focuses on Standing’s Eighth ‘giant’ that poses a threat to modern Britain, and this is the increasing prevalence and popularity of extreme right wing thought. In a week that our Prime Minister has decided to abandon democracy, this seems like an incredibly appropriate ‘giant’ to be discussing. Now the threat of the far right isn’t just limited to the UK, throughout the world we are seeing more support for right-wing parties and personalities. Be it the Donald over in America (we’ll come onto him), the Islamophobe Marie Le Pen in France or the antisemitic Hungarian President Viktor Orban, divisive politics and the politics of hate have become normalised and in fact supported around the world. Here in the UK we can sense an anger and unrest bubbling under the surface, a consequence of the growing dissatisfaction of a status quo. Across the world we are seeing a tiny elite growing wealthier by the day while the rest of us fight for crumbs: political and economic uncertainty and insecurity are endemic. This uncertainty is something politicians such as Nigel Farage and Prime Minster Boris Johnson (I can’t believe it either) have exploited for their own gain. But are the everyday struggles people face across Britain and the world due to immigration and Islam (as certain papers and politicians suggest)? Or are these the scapegoats needed to further political careers and prevent the real issues being discussed? I’m going to explore what the far right believe, why they are becoming increasingly normalised (particularly in Britain) and how a Basic Income can be pivotal in arresting the drift towards the populist right.
Defining right-wing populism is hard as there are different manifestations across the world. But Standing writes that typically, uniting all these far right groups are nationalism, anti-migration posturing, hostility to centrist and leftist politics, toleration of authoritarianism and anti-democratic policies. This new far-right is built on a desire to maintain ‘traditions’ and a strong identity against the modern pressures of multiculturalism and globalism. And this creates a yearning for ‘the good old days’ and other such phrases we hear white blokes utter in pubs all the time. We are all aware of the height of fascism under the likes of Hitler and Mussolini in the 20th century – they too were defined by a nationalist authoritarianism and both formed dictatorships, abandoning democracy itself. But some may feel like we’re lightyears from that (or not as Boris decides democracy is overrated). There aren’t huge swathes of parties launching military assaults to seize power or start dictatorships, so why the hell is Standing getting concerned about Fascism? Well, in essence we are now faced with a new breed of fascism, Neo-Fascism, which has (temporarily at least) accepted elements of democracy, and seeks election based on traditional fascist policies. Lets call this ‘Democratic Neo-Fascism’; groups such as the Front National (now Rassemblement National) in France are less defined by their totalitarianism and belief in an almighty leader. Instead these groups attempt to accommodate themselves within liberal democracy and focus more on the nationalist and anti-migratory principles which Standing touches upon.
The rebirth of fascism and far right politics has been created by conditions similar to those which created nazism and 20th century fascism. Standing writes the major reasons for the growing support of the far right are chronic economic insecurity, precarity, inequality and overall declining living standards. All these factors have led to people feeling devalued, ignored and left behind by an economic system which is simultaneously benefiting the wealthy elite more and more. So, bluntly, more and more people are having a shit time and are angry about it, and who can blame them? A number of the ‘giants’ Standing analyses have contributed to this anger and dissatisfaction of the status quo. There is greater inequality, chronic insecurity, people are stressed, in deeper debt, and in precarious employment that is miles away from the secure and unionised work of which people reminisce. In fact, you could quite easily argue the huge rise in support of the far right is largely a reaction against the exact ‘giants’ I have spent the last two months discussing.
But of course anger at current systems doesn’t have to manifest as right-wing anti-migratory and racist bigotry. Take Karl Marx for an example, he was – at best – not particularly fond of his economic situation, but certainly didn’t drift to fascist ideas. It is only when the media and politicians exploit and manipulate this anger and fear for their own gain that we see people turning to the extreme right for solutions. Let’s look at the UK. Since the 1980s, we have seen inequality increase as work has become more precarious. Since the 2008 crash we have seen stagnating and declining living standards and the policy of austerity has simply pushed people into greater debt and increasing economic insecurity. So you’re grafting your backside off, your pay isn’t increasing – but your rent, weekly shop and private debt is. At the same time all the mainstream papers are talking about a ‘surge in migrant numbers’, people who are using our NHS, education system, taking benefits and jobs and everything else you can imagine. We can clearly see why a hostility to migrants has increased parallel to the decline in people’s living standards. The elites who run the media and run the country are scapegoating foreigners for the failed economic policy they have supported and overseen for decades. Why do you think papers like the Sun and politicians like Nigel Farage forever point the finger elsewhere when discussing modern hardship? Because Rupert Murdoch (the Sun’s owner), Farage and their fellow elites all benefit from the economic policies and decisions that are making people poorer and angrier. But they don’t want people to get angry at them, to tax the wealthy more and to demand better NHS funding. Oh no. So instead, lets just blame the immigrants (who benefit our economy vastly more than the ultra-wealthy).
As discussed when I wrote about the ‘giants’ of Inequality and Insecurity, these economic failures haven’t accidentally occurred, we didn’t stumble upon them. They are a choice. The government have chosen to tax the rich less, tax-cuts financed by a reduction in NHS and education spending (AKA austerity). It’s almost as if these billionaires don’t want to pay more tax, and so are scapegoating the most vulnerable to distract from the real issues. We can clearly see how this blueprint has played out and why the far right have gained so much support in the UK. Without oversimplifying the issue, we can start to see how the scapegoating of EU migrants and the ‘EU bureaucrats’ for much of our own government’s failure catalysed the Leave vote in the 2016 referendum. But of course this pattern isn’t simply consigned to the UK.
Across the pond in the USA we have seen a dramatic increase in neo-fascism as their President has essentially normalised all forms of bigotry and scapegoated ‘Mexican rapists and murderers’ for the country’s economic failures. The so-called ‘American dream’ is utterly fictional, inequality has grown every year for 30 years, but of course when someone can’t make it to the top, it’s because a Mexican has stolen their job – right? I read an interesting tweet describing the Trump administration the other day:
“a political system based on a very powerful leader, state control, and being extremely proud of country and race, and in which political opposition is not allowed”
Oh hang on, my bad, that wasn’t a description of Trump’s administration, thats the Cambridge Dictionary definition of fascism. For anyone questioning whether Trump really displays neo-facist tendencies, take a look at the thousands of Mexicans locked in ICE detention camps – or what are better known as concentration camps. The USA government has just moved to abolish limits on the amount of time children can be detained in these camps. So those ‘ICE detention centres’ Trump exclaimed were going to keep out all the ‘bad’ Mexicans are now permanent and they’re going to be able to detain children indefinitely. Growing economic insecurity, huge inequality and a feeling of being ignored and left behind by the ‘Washington elite’ has created huge unrest in the States. This anger has been harnessed and directed at Mexicans and Muslims and any other scapegoats Trump and co can get their hands on. But obviously Trump and his rich pals not paying their tax and offshoring their work away from America has nothing to do with this crisis. And in cahoots with the Donald backing him all the way? It’s Fox News. And who owns fox news you ask? Ah, that’d be one Rupert Murdoch. Yes, the same billionaire who owns the Sun and scapegoats the vulnerable in the UK too. Again, there is a crystal clear pattern here. A pattern of the elites looking after each other and their interests, and the rise of neo-facism and the far right is a by-product of this.
After witnessing the very worst of humanity manifest itself within far-right groups in the 20th century, why are we suddenly seeing an increase in these ideas once more? As that all too familiar quote from George Santayana reads, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” It really seems we have not only forgotten the horrors of fascism and the far-right but we have also become ignorant to the conditions that produced its peak from 1920 and into the 1940s. Perhaps some of you reading about ‘nationalist and anti-migratory principles’ don’t feel there is much wrong with these ideas, maybe even think they are notions you could get behind. It sure is evident these ideas are supported by many throughout the UK, yet this just goes to show how numb we have become to once extreme right-wing thought. We have failed to remember the past and the dangers of such ideology and in doing so we have allowed the normalisation of such ideas. Not only have we failed to combat the politics of division and hate which manifest as nationalism, we have also failed to voice the benefits and positive impact immigration and multiculturalism have.
For far too long we’ve allowed the Daily Mail to lie about migrants ‘coming over here’ and **insert lie that demonises foreign people**. Be it benefit fraud, rape, murder or abusing the NHS, you name it, the Daily Mail have had is plastered all over the front of their paper. Of course it’s not just the one paper, in fact it’s a number of them. But when we should be shouting back about the richness of multiculturalism and the economic and human benefits of immigration, we haven’t. It wasn’t five years ago that the UK’s two biggest parties were in consensus about limiting migration and were plucking unreachable and detrimental figures of immigration reduction out of nowhere. It is no wonder that with no one voicing the importance and benefits of immigration, far-right ideas have seeped into the mainstream and now dictate our government (more on him later).
So I guess now is as good a time as every to speak up for immigration and multiculturalism. In fact nothing epitomises the brilliance of an outward looking and open country than our NHS. Plenty of people on the right will claim immigrants are hurting our ‘proud, British National Health Service’ and putting great strain on it (whilst ignoring the huge funding cuts their government have implemented). But in actual fact, what makes the NHS so British is the global nature of it. Since its birth in the 1940s it has been underpinned by large numbers of foreign doctors and nursers. In 1964, over 40% of junior hospital posts in England and Wales were filled by overseas doctors. Today, 13% of all NHS staff are not British. So next time we read a hateful headline or hear someone slagging off immigration and longing for the ‘good old days’, don’t forget the past or the present, but instead set the record straight and talk up how important immigration is and has always been.
For anyone doubting the icy grip the far right now holds over the UK, a wealthy man 99.86% of the UK population had no say in electing threatens to abandon democracy through suspending parliament. Welcome to 2019 Britain, folks. By proroguing parliament the (little) voice and power we held in our democracy is gone. The MPs who we democratically elect to represent us are no longer able to to do their jobs. And thus democracy is suspended. The length of this pause is unprecedented, unconstitutional, but is utterly indicative of Boris Johnson and his far-right allies who now control Number 10. As if I’m some sort of of boxing announcer, I thought I’d rattle through a couple of people now running our country, to leave nobody under any illusions of the far-right takeover.
So coming in as the new Leader of the House is Jacob Rees-Mogg. No, he hasn’t just stepped out a time machine travelling from the Victorian era, but his views are pretty similar to those of the early 1900s and before. Consistently voting against gay marriage and opposing abortion under all circumstances including rape and incest, Rees-Mogg is as backward as his fashion sense dictates. But alas, here he is holding an incredibly senior role in running our country. Rees-Mogg’s strong pro-life views, do however, suddenly stop for those who are either disabled or on benefits. Mogg has consistently voted for real cuts to social security and support for the most vulnerable. But of course graduating from Eton and Oxford and with wealth reportedly over £100m, Mogg’s pro-life outlook does manage to include his rich mates, with him voting against a Mansion tax and opposing higher tax for the wealthiest (which of course includes himself).
Coming in as our new Home Secretary is Priti Patel. Lots of people have praised the addition of Patel due to her increasing the diversion of a heavily white, middle-aged, privately educated and very monied cabinet. But after supporting Theresa May’s ‘hostile environment’ and backing stricter asylum laws which do things like allowing the detention of pregnant women in immigration jails, Patel doesn’t seem to represent the openness and liberty many hoped she would. Patel briefly supported capital punishment, but you’ll be relieved to hear she has now apparently changed her mind – what a progressive! Having voted against gay rights and gay marriage as well as the usual support for cuts to benefits and opposition to higher tax, we again see a similar pattern of the type of people now running our country.
And finally, coming in as our new Prime Minister is Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson aka Boris Johnson. Being educated at Eton and then graduating from Oxford University, Boris’ first policy announcement was a tax cut for the wealthiest. If you take a fleeting look at the existing inequality in this country, such a policy decision is utterly unfathomable. Despite supposedly being ‘good fun’ and ‘charismatic’, BJ’s casually racist comments referring to women in burqas as akin to bank robbers and homophobic slurs labelling gay men ‘bum boys’ are simply a dogwhistle to more extreme versions of the apparently playful comments he makes. Make no mistake, de Pfeffel Johnson has seen the rightward shift of our country and is now looking to exploit it for his own power. A man who was set to support remain in the 2016 referendum is now desperate for a no-deal Brexit – because it’s his best chance of holding onto power.
So how can a Basic Income halt and reverse this lurch to the far-right? Quite simply, it will address the root causes and problems which have driven the huge surge in neo-fascism and right-wing popularity. Be it in the 1930s or the 2010s, economic insecurity, large inequality and precarity are the fuel which light extremist movements ablaze. You cannot blame people for being angry. Decades of failed economic policy have completely left people behind and the manipulation of this anger by politicians and the media has created the political crisis we found ourselves in. A Basic Income can be a crucial way of earning back people’s trust, giving them a stake in the country and a little bit of hope. The first article of the series talked about the ‘giant’ of inequality and how cutting funding to public services at the same time as cutting the rich’s tax has seen a trickle up of wealth. With a Basic Income, this wealth will be redistributed and we can begin to bridge the gap between the few elites and the rest. The second article was the ‘giant’ of insecurity. Continued cuts to social security and falling wages have created great unrest and a longing for the ‘good old days’ and the secure work of yesteryear. A Basic Income will ensure people have basic security, giving a universal right to subsistence. The article on the ‘giant’ of precarity discusses the erosion of workers’ rights and reduction of ‘traditional’, proud jobs and the communities which formed around them. Again, this has driven a feeling of betrayal, being forgotten and a desire to wind back the clock. A Basic Income will empower all workers to say no to exploitative employers and it will provide certainty and safety, not induce panic and anxiety. These ‘giants’ have grown stronger and stronger and with it so have the far-right.
A Basic Income will help us destroy these ‘giants’ and the growing popularity of neo-fascism and extremism they have fuelled. Rather than pining for last century’s glory days, a Basic Income is a policy offering hope and a stake in the future so many feel they don’t have.
This blog is one of a series looking at Guy Standing’s recently published report, written for the Shadow Chancellor, ‘Basic Income as a Common Dividends’. Influenced of course by Beveridge, Standing reflects on the eight modern giants he sees as stalking modern Britain. He comments on how these giants are having a protracted negative effect on society as well as the economy, and how a Basic Income can be a key tool in combatting the growing challenges these giants pose. In the next few weeks, we will be releasing a series of articles analysing Standing’s eight giants and delving further into how the Basic Income can (and will) combat them.
The giants are inequality, insecurity, debt, stress, precarity, automation, ecological crises and the rise of neo-fascism and the far right