Political labels frequently deceive. In Austria, a populist-right, conservative nationalist party , formed initially by ex-Nazis, calls itself the “Freedom Party”. in Russia, a Far Right party that is neither liberal nor democratic calls itself the Liberal Democratic Party. When Oswald Mosley, a charismatic but typically arrogant member of the British upper class, founded the British Union of Fascists (BUF) in October 1932, he at least gave his party an honest, accurate name. They were fascists who advocated dictatorship. The party did exactly what it said on the tin.
During the extraordinary turmoil that has gripped British politics in the last few weeks, I have listened to Boris Johnson and heard Mosley. Not Mosley the Conservative, nor Mosley the Fascist, but Mosley of the New Party, the oddly named and rather menacing outfit he created and led for nearly 20 months after he left the Labour party and before he founded the British Union of Fascists.
Johnson has pursued a career in parliamentary politics for 18 years but is clearly tiring of democracy and willing to use all kinds of devices to subvert it, and try to rule and get his way without any effective scrutiny or accountability. Mosley pursued a career in democratic parliamentary politics from the end of 1918, first as a Conservative, then as an independent, then as a Labour politician until 1931. He had failed in his first attempt to win a seat for Labour in 1924 but succeeded in 1926, and resumed his career as an MP following democratic conventions, until February 1931, when he suddenly ditched Labour and almost overnight announced the New Party.
This increasingly nationalist party, with left of centre economic instincts, became
obsessed with “strong” government and paranoid about the threat of communism. it was the vehicle through which Mosley honed his critique of democracy. For him it was the worst of all systems, one in which the state paid one set of politicians to make policy, and paid the other set to obstruct policy. The New Party spoke of creating “effective government”, one that was “unencumbered by a daily opposition.” Just pause for a moment and say that sentence aloud: “unencumbered by a daily opposition.”
Is that what Johnson seeks in his pro-rogue state? You can be sure that in the five weeks in which parliament in prorogued Johnson will be making statements and trying somehow to enact law-making. I don’t rule out him and his guru Cummings manufacturing a crisis and declaring some kind of state of emergency.
Before prorogation, he carried out a ruthless purge of dissidents within the Tory Party. People often talk of Farage and Johnson in the same breath. Farage though, for all his own nationalism and racism, is obsessed above all with deregulated capitalism, loosening any constraints upon it. Johnson is more interested in state power, under his control. He is much more authoritarian and much more dangerous.
But he has a difficult opponent in Jeremy Corbyn who is rooted in unshakeable commitment to democracy, and knows constitutional matters inside out.
We must expect a barrage of the most filthy propaganda against Corbyn and his close allies over the next five weeks, from the elements of the right wing press that are overwhelmingly pro-Johnson. (Not all of them are any more). And it is going to require Corbyn’s close allies, and his supporters at one remove on the centre-left, especially those on the front bench, to step up.
They will need to defend Corbyn against lies and smears, push the case against all expressions of authoritarianism and for democracy in our politics. And crucially, they need to spend the next five weeks showing the same energy and commitment as Corbyn does, in visiting the marginal constituencies, especially in the leave-voting working-class areas of the Midlands and the North. There they need to make the case for socialist policies that will be needed to rebuild and regenerate communities for all, policies which are anathema to both the Conservatives and to the Brexit Party.
In a strange sort of way, Johnson’s authoritarianism has succeeded in moving the arena of struggle into communities and into the streets, rather than Parliament. We can win that struggle.