I have been on holiday over the last week and intermittently catching up with British politics because, well, even on holiday I can’t quite let it go. This weekend, I happened upon the David Lammy story in which he compared the ERG to the Nazis. When confronted by Marr on his programme, Lammy decided to double down. Asked if comparing the ERG to the Nazis, and indeed the South African apartheid regime was fair, Lammy said that “I would say that that wasn’t strong enough”.
Being abroad, I figured that Lammy and most of his followers would be embarrassed by these comments. Catching up on Twitter this morning, I see how wrong I was. There has been a flood of support for Lammy’s words instead. Equally, a sometimes measured but mostly ugly backlash against Lammy’s comments from sections of the right as well. I think the whole episode might mark a new cultural low, even in the Brexit era.
I would have hoped that Trump and Brexit would have taught left leaning liberals a trick or two, but every time I get my hopes up on this front I am sorely let down, and the reaction to Lammy’s comments basically saying that Jacob Rees-Mogg is worse than Hitler is a perfect example. For years, the Left painted George W Bush as a Nazi. Then, along comes Trump and what is there left to say? “No, I know we said Bush was a facist, but this time we really mean it!” Hyperbole in politics has real blowback; when you exaggerate people’s faults on the other side of the political argument, it makes it impossible for you to be credible when the real Nazis come along. In this case, this could be relevant sooner than we might hope.
We have UKIP morphing into a proper BNP style facist party in front of our eyes and also seeing its poll ratings creeping up at the same time, justifying Batten’s horrid approach. In the meantime, the pro-Brexit argument is falling apart in front of us. “Project Fear”, as the Leavers described the Remain warnings about Brexit, was basically an argument that Remainer warnings that we very well might end up with no deal with the EU represented fear mongering of an unreal sort – only to now see the same people argue precisely for the very thing they described as Project Fear during the campaign.
What I’m saying here is that there are real fascists on the move in the UK now. If you want to take them on, go for it. But don’t paint the ERG into the same corner. Yes, they are deluded about Brexit and yes, they seem to have become enraptured in a cult that makes them say very stupid things that contradict their previous convictions, such as arguing that the Queen should take more control over Royal Assent of laws. I think they have behaved deplorably over the past few years and disagree with them on almost everything. But they are not worse than a group of people who systematically rounded up a race of people are gassed them to death by the millions. They are not even relatively close to being such a thing, even the worst amongst them. To say otherwise is deeply disrespectful to those victims of fascism in the past, and those suffering under real fascist rule today.
At worst, the ERG MPs may turn out to be useful idiots for the rise of fascism in the UK. That in itself is a pretty strong charge, and one I would have accepted as reasonable for Lammy to have said. Perhaps the worst thing about all this is, it makes Remainers (and by extension, the case for Remain) look hysterical and a bit silly. Brexit is close to collapsing in on itself via its own contradictions – can leading Remainer MPs then just stop comparing Tory MPs to mass murderers, please? And can you not applaud them when they do but instead see it for what it is: very counter-productive.