Brexit Camp’s Immigration Rhetoric Boosts Far Right

by Ken Ferguson

The decision by the far right populists at the heart of the Brexit camp to put immigration front and centre of their campaign is like striking matches at a petrol pump. Strip away the code word “immigration” and what is revealed is a rancid and revolting political message: racism.

Daily_Mail_sandwichNo doubt Gove, Johnson, Duncan Smith and the rest would hotly deny any such charge but you don’t need to be wearing white hoods and burning crosses to seek to benefit from it. Tales about millions of Turks “swarming” into Britain, a continual drumbeat assuming immigration is a problem all repeated daily by a right wing press who never let the facts get in the way of a good lie–all are harnessed to the anti EU chariot.

That these same papers–including the one time supporter of Mosley’s home grown fascists the Daily Mail–have been cheerleaders for austerity, spending cuts and sackings for six years now is, of course, not included in the script.

Nor is the role of Johnson, Gove and the heartless IDS in driving through attacks on claimants – ably assisted by the same papers part of the tale.

Sadly the tactic of using neo-racist attacks to cover up economic crisis has a long and chilling history.

Racism against Irish immigrants fleeing famine in the 1840s, mass panic about the “yellow peril’ and most infamously the anti-Semitism which blamed Jews for Germany’s defeat in 1918 which led to horrors of the Holocaust.

It is a tactic deployed by politicians, some of whom think they can control it, but which has throughout history opened the way to mob violence and authoritarian governments and, often, war.

Of course the Leave side also includes left wingers who believe that Brexit will lead to a socialist renewal but as many including the SSP warned their voices are marginalised and the entire campaign has been conducted almost exclusively as a debate of the right. And the forces of racism unleashed by this campaign risk not just a hard right government led by Johnson and Gove but gives aid and comfort to forces of the far right using similar rhetoric across the EU.

The SSP and others on the left have consistently warned of the rising tide of far right racist parties across the continent and more widely of the danger that the endless grind of austerity will spread despair, disillusion and , in the absence if a progressive alternative boost the populist right.

The recent narrow defeat inflicted on far right Austrian presidential candidate Norbert Hofer by pro EU Green Alexander van Bellen represents both a close call for democrats across the continent and a stark warning of the dangers that lie ahead. This is happening from Finland in the North to Greece in the South and the growth of Xenophobes like UKIP and the emboldening of the anti immigration right here in the UK are part of that process. A Brexit vote will see the likes of German far right AFD and Le Pen’s Front National dancing in the street and pushes Europe closer to the abyss of at best a right wing authoritarian continent and a worst a victory for the proto fascists circling for the kill.

© Mstyslav Chernov (CC BY-SA 4.0 - cropped and resized)
© Mstyslav Chernov (CC BY-SA 4.0 – cropped and resized)

The barbed wire and tear gas deployed by hard right governments in Eastern Europe against fleeing refugees offers us a very stark and real warning of the brutal inhumanity that these forces would represent in power.

Underpinning this danger is the combination of hard line austerity, frozen wages, service cuts and insecure work alongside a meek acceptance of these problems by mainstream politicians of both Tory and Labour governments. Just as in the rise of nazism in the 1930s the failure of the left to offer a fighting coherent challenge to these attacks opens the door to the simplistic slogans of the far right and give credibility to their ideas.

This is already evident in the Brexit campaign where the brutal Duncan Smith and toffs like Johnson are portrayed as concerned to raise workers pay, spend more on the NHS and generally behave like good concerned social democrats.

In reality of course they support anti union laws, insecure jobs and have spent years trying to undermine and ultimately privatise the NHS. Sadly this process was also endorsed by New Labour which largely explains their deep crisis.

This is why the SSP has taken the view that a REMAIN vote is the least toxic of what are essentially two pro neo-liberal options.

However for the left the result on 24th June, either way, must be a call to action to bar the way to the far right by fashioning a real alternative based on the needs of people and planet and rooted in real democratic change. Just as the SSP has been at the centre of the fight for democracy, independence and change here it is vitally important that it build strong links with progressive forces across Europe and the presence of Colin Fox in Spain for next weekends election is an example of what must be done.

The choice before us is stark and winning this ongoing battle is essential.

Ken Ferguson is the editor of the Scottish Socialist Voice