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Dr Stephanie Petrie is an Honorary Senior Research Fellow in the University of Liverpool’s School of Law and Social Justice
“I live in a Britain where there is increasing poverty.
The gap between the rich and poor has been growing for 30 years and the richest 10 per cent now have 850 times the wealth of the poorest 10 per cent (Pickett and Wilkinson, 2014).
Support for mainstream political parties is dwindling whilst support for the UKIP party along with intensification of hatred for minorities, especially immigrants, is growing. Civil liberties and rights in many areas have been curtailed – from access to legal aid to welfare benefits.
Society in 2020
If this trajectory continues what sort of society will exist in 2020?
There are many similarities for me with Germany between the two World Wars and the conditions that facilitated the rise of Hitler and Nazism. I know this because my mum was a German war bride – she was not Jewish or a refugee. She married my dad who was a soldier from Blackburn.
I grew up knowing there had been a war between the British and the Germans but it was referred to a bit like a football match –‘we beat the Jerries!’ Visits to my mum’s small town were regular and my extended family was more familiar to me than my English relations as we moved around a lot.
But this seemed too simplistic to me even at a young age.
Perhaps Nazism couldn’t have happened during the post war Welfare State in Britain, but conditions are very different now. Like Germany between the wars, we have and will continue to experience grave economic circumstances for decades. Like Germany large sections of the population live in abject poverty. Like Germany blame is placed on sections of the population who are dehumanised and held responsible for impoverishing the ‘authentic’ citizen. Like Germany politicians who peddle this view were initially seen as bizarre and not treated seriously but disillusionment with mainstream parties increased their popular appeal.
Alliances with mainstream politicians allowed Hitler to become Chancellor legitimately – and the rest is history.
As part of the post WWII generation I have always felt a responsibility to ensure such a murderous regime never happens in my country. I now know this means we must resist the gradual manifestations of inhumanity that become enshrined in our laws and policies and the gradual removal of our liberties and rights especially for certain sections of the population.
Finally any alliances between mainstream parties and parties with racist and divisive policies should ring warning bells as history mustn’t be reprised.”
A brilliant, insightful and, above all, depressing analysis. Dr Petrie paints an all too credible picture of the UK slipping into a very dark place. This is all the more horrific given the very clear lesson from history we should be aware of.
A casual comparison of the rhetoric of Nigel Farage in early 21st century Britain and Benito Mussolini in early 20th century Italy is striking. Indeed if you mix up the words ‘Italy’ with ‘UK/England’, ‘Jewish’ with ‘Muslim’ and ‘European Union’ with ‘The liberal democracies’ you would be very hard pressed to tell the difference.
It is of course taboo to link fascism with UKIP or even racism with UKIP. No politician can afford to suggest such comparisons are valid; after all it is political suicide to alienate the 30% of the population who seem to be find a personal resonance in the extremely unpleasant statements made by Mr Farage.
As a non-politician I have no hesitation in saying that UKIP is not creating the racism and fear, they are simply responding to it. I suspect the same could have been said about the original fascist party. The original Italian fascists included many Jews, just as UKIP has Muslims and many members of non British descent in its ranks. It is well known that Mussolini was supported by a Jewish lover while forming his ultimately anti-Semitic party. So it is quite possible to be in a relationship with (or even married to) the evil ‘other’ and still stand for violent bigotry.
Of course Mussolini always spoke out against the minority of extremists in his party, expelling them from the party when they were caught exhibiting excessive zeal, as Nigel Farage has repeatedly spoken out against extremists in his party who have spoken out prematurely for positions the majority of people in this country still find to be repugnant.
It is also worth pointing out that Mussolini strongly disapproved of Hitler, while appreciating his skills as a leader. I do not for a moment wish to equate any present world leader with Hitler, such a comparison would be unfair.
Dr Petrie has explained why UKIP has such vast support and it is clear that given this popular power base, democratic parties are going to find it difficult to offer effective opposition. Are we therefore doomed to watch history repeat itself with the only consolation being the smug satisfaction of being able to say I told you so?
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