Populism and hatred do not erupt, they are stoked

By Stephan Lewandowsky, University of Bristol

This was once a referendum about whether or not the UK should remain in the EU. But not anymore. The referendum has effectively turned into a plebiscite about diversity and tolerance vs divisiveness and hatred: the Leave campaign in particular has largely ditched its long-demolished economic arguments and remoulded itself into an appeal to increasingly shrill and ugly emotion.

How could it have come to that? How could a campaign find so much popular traction by explicitly disavowing rational and informed deliberation?

Some commentators have responded to those questions with bewilderment and resignation, as if right-wing populism and hatred are unavoidable socio-political events, much like volcanic eruptions or earthquakes.

Far from it. Populism and hatred do not erupt, they are stoked. The “Tea Party” in the US was not a spontaneous eruption of “grassroots” opposition to Barack Obama but the result of long-standing efforts by libertarian “think tanks” and political operatives.

Likewise, the present demagoguery in the UK against the EU arises at least in part from media ignorance or hostility towards migrants, and a similar well-funded but nebulous network of organisations (often linked to human-caused climate change denial).

Populism is not an inevitable natural disaster but the result of political choices made by identifiable individuals who ultimately can be held accountable for those choices.

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Brexiters mostly lost out from what Margaret Thatcher did but drew nourishment from what she said

Andrew Brown writes: In 1945, things were dreadful, but everyone knew their role and knew what their country should do. Now things are very much better, but no one knows where they belong. The post-war consensus and much of the optimism lasted until about 1973 but collapsed altogether under Margaret Thatcher. In a sense, this campaign is the last outworking of her legacy. Both sides of the argument are the children of Thatcher, who opposed the European Union rhetorically and emotionally but did as much as any political leader to knit us into the single market.

The Remainers are largely those who profited from her revolution: the rich, the skilled, and the educated, especially those who live in London and the South East portion of England. At the same time, they tend to be the people who resisted and were repelled by her message and her instinctive social nostalgia. They are, in a word, Blairites: He largely continued her policies but switched the rhetoric 180 degrees to welcome a future as quite glorious — and imaginary — as Thatcher’s vision of the past had been.

Under both Tony Blair and Thatcher, and under their successors, the rising prosperity of London and the South East has been accompanied by an astonishing loss of jobs, hope, and self-confidence in other parts of the country. There, in the traditional heartland of England, is where the Brexit movement draws its emotional strength. The Leavers are mostly those who lost out from what Mrs Thatcher did but drew nourishment by what she said. So they felt doubly betrayed in the post-Blair era, when the economics of the new order went on hurting them, and the rhetoric turned against them, too.

But the Leavers are not a homogenous group. Take away their English nationalism, and they fall into two profoundly opposed groups. By far the largest are the foot soldiers, small-c conservative and genuinely hostile to immigrants of every sort. (More than half the immigrants in this country are from outside the European Union.) The ordinary Leavers are found almost everywhere outside London, in all the places where globalization has devastated the economy and where many of the jobs that are left have gone to foreigners.

They are nourished by the extraordinary and unremitting hostility to “Migrants” in some parts of the press. The Daily Express, a traditionally patriotic tabloid now owned by the pornographer Richard Desmond, has run 37 front page splashes warning about migrants this year alone. Few were based on anything anyone else would recognize as news. The Daily Mail, its more respectable competitor, has run more than 20. Even if you never buy these papers, the front pages are displayed in every supermarket, and their effect is cumulative. My mother, who is still alive but rather confused, asked me the other day, as I drove her through the English Tourist Board poster countryside, where all the migrants were. Why couldn’t she see any since they were invading the country? [Continue reading…]


Brexit is a fake revolt — working-class culture is being hijacked to help the elite

Paul Mason writes: I love fake revolts of the underclass: I’m a veteran of them. At secondary school, we had a revolt in favour of the right to smoke. The football violence I witnessed in the 1970s and 80s felt like the social order turned on its head. As for the mass outpouring of solidarity with the late Princess Diana, and by implication against the entire cruel monarchic elite, in the end I chucked my bunch of flowers on the pile with the rest.

The problem is, I also know what a real revolt looks like. The miners strike; the Arab spring; the barricade fighting around Gezi Park in Istanbul in 2013. So, to people getting ready for the mother of all revolts on Thursday, I want to point out the crucial difference between a real revolt and a fake one. The elite does not usually lead the real ones. In a real revolt, the rich and powerful usually head for the hills, terrified. Nor are the Sun and the Daily Mail usually to be found egging on a real insurrection.

But, all over Britain, people have fallen for the scam. In the Brexit referendum, we’ve seen what happens when working-class culture gets hijacked – and when the party that is supposed to be defending working people just cannot find the language or the offer to separate a fake revolt from a real one. In many working-class communities, people are getting ready to vote leave not just as a way of telling the neoliberal elite to get stuffed. They also want to discomfort the metropolitan, liberal, university-educated salariat for good measure. For many people involved, it feels like their first ever effective political choice.

I want to have one last go at convincing you that leaving now, under these conditions, would be a disaster. First, let’s recognise the problem. For people in the working classes, wages are at rock bottom. Their employers treat them like dirt. Their high streets are lined with empty shops. Their grownup kids cannot afford to buy a home. Class sizes at school are too high. NHS waiting times are too long.

I’m glad it has become acceptable to say: “You are right to worry about migration.” But I wish more Labour politicians would spell out why. Working-class people, especially those on low pay in the private sector, worry that in conditions of austerity, housing shortages, wage stagnation and an unlimited supply of migrant labour from Europe has a negative effect on their living standards. For some, that is true.

They are right, too, to worry about the cultural impact. In a big, multi-ethnic city, absorbing a lot of migrants is easy. In small towns, where social capital is already meagre, the migrant population can feel unabsorbed. The structure of temporary migration from Europe means many of those who come don’t vote, or don’t have the right to – which feels unsettling if you understand that it is only by voting that the workforce ever achieved progress. It feels as if, through migration, the establishment got to create the kind of working class it always wanted: fragmented, dislocated, politically distant, weak.

But a Brexit led by Ukip and the Tory right will not make any of these things better: it will make them worse. [Continue reading…]


Leading Brexiters support the transfer of public money from the poor to the rich

George Monbiot writes: The common agricultural policy is a €55bn incentive to destroy wildlife habitats and cause floods downstream.

All the good things the EU has done for nature are more than counteracted by this bureaucratic idiocy. Millions of hectares of wildlife habitat in the EU are threatened by this rule; clearance has taken place already across vast areas. Why do we hear so little about it?

I spent part of this spring in Romania, in the midst of hundreds of thousands of hectares of wood pasture: a mosaic of flowering meadows, marshes and trees. I have seldom seen such a profusion of life anywhere on earth. I watched golden orioles, hoopoes, honey buzzards, red-backed and great grey shrikes, lesser spotted eagles, black storks, yellow wagtails, roe deer, wild boar and bears. Cuckoos were so common they flew around in flocks. All nine species of European woodpecker live in one small valley where I stayed; so do bee eaters, goshawks, corncrakes, quails, nightjars, tortoises, tree frogs, pine martens, wildcats, lynx and wolves.

All this is now on the brink. Across Romania, farmers are beginning to realise that they can make money simply by cleansing the land. In eastern Transylvania I saw the heartbreaking results: the mass felling of trees and destruction of wildlife, not for any productive purpose, but just to meet the European rules. It’s the same kind of vandalism, driven by diktat and blindly enforced by bureaucrats, that the Romanians suffered under their former despot, Nicolae Ceausescu. The European subsidies rules are responsible for one of the world’s great unfolding disasters, which ranks only a little way behind the fires in Indonesia and the collapse of coral reefs.

This dog that hasn’t barked exposes the real agenda of the leading Brexiters. They denounce the transfer of public money from rich to poor; they are intensely relaxed about the transfer of public money from poor to rich. It also challenges those who wish to remain.

I will vote in on Thursday, as I don’t want to surrender this country to the unmolested control of people prepared to rip up every variety of public spending and public protection except those that serve their own class. But if we are to live in Remainia, we should insist on sweeping change. Daylight robbery and mass destruction: the EU is supposed to prevent them, not deliver them. [Continue reading…]


Racism and paranoia are threatening to engulf stable societies. It’s time to fight back

Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam International, writes: The murder of British MP Jo Cox last week has forced the world to look at itself anew. This week, social movements will hold events to remember Jo’s life in many cities, including Ottawa. Members of parliaments in Canada and everywhere have been asked to “stand together to stem the poisonous rising tide of fear and hate that breeds division and extremism.”

We all need to hold ourselves to this same challenge. It feels like the world is entering a frightening new phase. No one is immune, anywhere.

Jo Cox dedicated her life to the struggle against injustice and intolerance. I did not know Jo myself, but so many across Oxfam did and were touched by her. So many people were inspired by her compassion, commitment and energy for change. She was clearly an incredible woman.

Jo was a passionate feminist, a woman after my own heart. While working in Oxfam she got involved in a discussion about how women can best become genuinely empowered. “Education,” said one person. No, said Jo, the answer is politics. Support women as they seek political power — the rest will follow. Everything I have ever experienced, working with women in Africa and across the world, tells me she was right. [Continue reading…]


Jo Cox ‘died for her views’ her widower Brendan tells BBC News


More In Common: A Worldwide Celebration of Jo Cox:
On Jo Cox’s birthday this Wednesday, show the world that we have far #MoreInCommon than that which divides us.

Across the world, we will gather together to celebrate Jo’s life; her warmth, love, energy, passion, flair, Yorkshire heritage, and her belief in the humanity of every person in every place, from Batley and Spen to Aleppo and Darayya.


Brexit may lead to the destruction of ‘Western political civilization’ warns European Council president

The New York Times reports: The rest of the European Union nations are looking at the possibility of a British departure from the bloc with disbelief, trepidation and anguish. But they are also preparing to retaliate.

If Britons do vote in a referendum on Thursday to leave the European Union, they can expect a tough and unforgiving response, with capitals across the Continent intent on deterring other countries from following the British example, European officials and analysts said.

In other words, Britain will be made to suffer for its choice.

With other issues pressing, including Greek debt, the migrant crisis and terrorism, the largest and most powerful European nations will want clarity, and are not likely to tolerate a long period of post-referendum confusion.

“In is in — out is out,” the powerful German finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, told Spiegel magazine. “I hope and believe that the British will ultimately decide against Brexit. The withdrawal of Britain would be a heavy loss for Europe.”

The president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, spoke apocalyptically about a British exit, or “Brexit,” to the German tabloid Bild. He said all members of the European Union would suffer, as would the postwar structure of Europe that had kept the peace.

“Why is it so dangerous?” Mr. Tusk asked. “No one can foresee what the long-term consequences would be. As a historian, I fear that Brexit could be the beginning of the destruction of not only the E.U., but also of Western political civilization.” [Continue reading…]


Record 65 million displaced by global conflicts, UN says


The New York Times reports: More people are on the run than ever before in recorded history, the United Nations said in a report released Monday.

They include those fleeing marauders in South Sudan, drug gangs in Central America, and the Islamic State in the Iraqi cities of Mosul and Falluja. While most are displaced within their own countries, an unprecedented number are seeking political asylum in the world’s rich countries. Nearly 100,000 are children who have attempted the journey alone.

All told, the number of people displaced by conflict is estimated to exceed 65 million, more than the population of Britain.

The new figures, part of the United Nations refugee agency’s Global Trends Report, come as hostility is surging toward migrants and refugees in the Western countries where they are seeking sanctuary and relief.

The European Union has shown signs of fracturing over how to handle the influx of people crossing the Mediterranean Sea.

The United Nations high commissioner for refugees, Filippo Grandi, expressed alarm on Sunday about what he described as a “climate of xenophobia that is very worrying in today’s Europe.” [Continue reading…]


Brexit is being driven by English nationalism

Fintan O’Toole writes: The Brexit campaign is fuelled by a mythology of England proudly “standing alone”, as it did against the Spanish armada and Adolf Hitler. But when did England really stand alone? The answer, roughly speaking, is for 300 of the past 1,200 years. England has been a political entity for only two relatively short periods. The first was between the early 10th century, when the first English national kingdom was created by Athelstan, and 1016 when it was conquered by Cnut the Dane. The second was between 1453, when English kings effectively gave up their attempts to rule France, and 1603, when James VI and I united the thrones of England and Scotland.

Otherwise – and this includes all of the past 400 years – England has always been part of at least one larger entity: an Anglo-French kingdom, the United Kingdom in its various forms, a global empire, the European Union. The English are much less used to being left to their own devices than they think they are.

English nationalists can quite reasonably point out that many emerging nation states have even less experience of being a standalone, self-governing entity – my own country, Ireland, being an obvious example. The big difference is that other countries actually go through a process – often very long and difficult – of preparing themselves politically, culturally and emotionally for the scary business of being (to borrow a term from Irish nationalism) “ourselves alone”. In England, there is no process. A decisive step is about to be taken without acknowledging the path ahead. [Continue reading…]


Jo Cox, Brexit and the politics of hate

Daniel Trilling writes: The main threat of far-right attacks in recent years has come from men acting alone or in small groups. They may sympathize with fascist ideology, or they may have passed through the ranks of a far-right party at some point, but they are not acting on orders.

An attack like this, or a plot for one, is uncovered every few years — rare, but more common than many Britons would like to admit. In June 2015, a member of the neo-Nazi group National Action was convicted of the attempted murder of a South Asian man at a supermarket in Wales. In 2007, a former B.N.P. candidate was jailed for stockpiling explosives in anticipation of a coming “civil war” caused by immigration. In 1999, David Copeland, a neo-Nazi lone wolf, set off three nail bombs in London, targeting the black, gay and South Asian communities, killing three people and injuring more than 100.

These people may act independently, but their behavior and ideas are not shaped in a void. Far more people move through the periphery of far-right politics than formally join a party or organization. The details that have emerged about Mr. Mair’s life place him in this periphery: The Southern Poverty Law Center has reported that he was a longtime customer of Vanguard Books, the publishing arm of the National Alliance, an American neo-Nazi group. The police have reportedly found Nazi regalia and far-right literature at his house.

Social media has extended the far right’s reach. Sources tell me that Britain First has only a few hundred members. But its Facebook page has more than 1.4 million likes and churns out nationalist, Islamophobic and anti-immigration memes. “Saying UK borders are secure, open to 500 million people,” declares one meme, which displays a photo of the European Union’s flag, “is like saying my home is more secure with the doors and windows left open.” Another shows Muslims praying in the street in London and asks: “Is this what our war heroes died for?” Many of these are widely shared — and they often echo the coverage of immigration and ethnic minorities found in much of the British press.

This points to an uncomfortable truth: Far-right politics cannot be as easily cordoned off from the mainstream as people would like to believe. Fascists attach themselves to popular causes and drag the debate in their direction. Populists and parties of the center take note and then try to appeal to voters susceptible to the far right’s messages by taking xenophobic positions of their own. [Continue reading…]


Jo Cox murder suspect tells court his name is ‘death to traitors, freedom for Britain’; new indications of Britain First ties

A photo of anti-Muslim protesters in Dewsbury which includes a man resembling Thomas Mair was posted on the Britain First Facebook page in October 2015. The man's identity has yet to be established.

A photo of anti-Muslim protesters in Dewsbury including a man resembling Thomas Mair was posted on the Britain First Facebook page in October 2015. The man’s identity has yet to be established.

The anti-Muslim, extreme right-wing, Britain First party, has disavowed any connection to Thomas Mair, the man who has been charged with murdering British MP Jo Cox.

When Mair appeared in Westminster magistrates court in London today, he answered the judge’s request to confirm his name by saying: “My name is death to traitors, freedom for Britain.”

The Guardian also reports:

The prosecution told the court that Mair told police he was “a political activist” as he was being arrested moments after the fatal attack. This assertion was repeated in a summary of crime released by the prosecution.

Mair also allegedly said “this is for Britain” and “keep Britain independent” as he stabbed and shot the MP for Batley and Spen, prosecutors said both in court and in their printed outline of the case.

Police searching Mair’s property found newspaper articles related to Cox, as well as far-right and white supremacist literature, they claimed.

Whatever assessment is made of Mair’s mental health, there seems to be no question that this was a politically motivated murder.

Witnesses to the murder reported that Mair shouted “Britain first” while attacking Cox.

The photograph above (which is circulating on social media) shows members of Britain First’s Northern Brigade in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, just three miles away from Birstall where Cox was murdered. Whether the man in the baseball cap is indeed Mair remains unknown. But there is mounting evidence of Mair’s long-standing ties to right-wing extremism in the form of Nazi regalia found in his home along with literature on how to construct homemade guns and explosives.

Britain First recently organized an “activist training camp” in North Wales where its members “learned things including self-defence, martial arts, knife defence,” according to a report at WalesOnline.

In March, Britain First made clear its deadly hostility to EU supporters:

Deputy leader, Jayda Fransen, admonished their “pro-EU, Islamist-loving opponents” for “ruining our country”.

She added: “They think they can get away with ruining our country, turning us into a Third World country, giving away our homes, jobs and heritage, but they will face the wrath of the Britain First movement, make no mistake about it!

“We will not rest until every traitor is punished for their crimes against our country.

“And by punished, I mean good old fashioned British justice at the end of a rope!”


England and Wales are in the midst of a working-class revolt

John Harris writes: For the last five days I have been driving around England and Wales, filming scores of people as they talk about which way they’ll vote in the European Union referendum.

From ardent leavers in Merthyr Tydfil and undecided people on the English-Welsh borders to university students in Manchester who were 95% for remain, my Guardian colleague John Domokos and I have sampled just about every shade of opinion, and soaked up an atmosphere of often passionate political engagement. If a common journalistic pose is to roll one’s eyes and pronounce oneself impossibly bored with the whole thing, that is not where most people are at all.

Hardly anybody talks about the official campaigns, and the most a mention of the respective figureheads of each camp tends to elicit is a dismissive tut – but just about everyone agrees that this is a fantastically important moment, and a litmus test of the national mood.

What must David Cameron make of it all? This story is unfolding, let’s not forget, because of his ludicrous belief that a referendum might somehow definitively address the EU-related divisions in his own party and the public at large – as if a month or so of political knockabout under Queensberry rules could sort everything out, and the country could then go back to normal.

Fat chance, obviously: he now finds his Eurosceptic foes emboldened by a sense that many Conservative voters are on their side, while politicians of all parties – and Labour people in particular – are gripped by something that has been simmering away for the best part of a decade. To quote the opinion pollsters Populus: “Both socioeconomic groups C2 and DE disproportionately back the UK leaving the EU.” To be a little more dramatic about it, now that Scotland has been through its political reformation, England and Wales are in the midst of a working-class revolt. [Continue reading…]



Mainstream politicians ‘clueless on migration debate,’ says Jo Cox’s husband

The Guardian reports: The husband of Jo Cox plans to continue with a project that aims to build an international alliance to combat “the dangerous breeding ground” of economic insecurity on which the populist right has fed across European politics.

Brendan Cox has let it be known that he is determined to continue with the work in memory of his wife, who was killed on Thursday, but believes this will only succeed if lessons can be learned from why the right has so far taken the initiative on the migration issue.

In a paper he has circulated – and asked the Guardian to quote from – Cox argues that one of the problems is that those hostile to refugees are better organised, more focused on galvanising public opinion, and better at tapping into human emotions, including over wider economic insecurities.

Mainstream politicians, he writes, “in most cases are clueless on how to deal with the public debate. Petrified by the rise of the populists they try to neuter them by taking their ground and aping their rhetoric. Far from closing down the debates, these steps legitimise their views, reinforce their frames and pull the debate further to the extremes (Sarkozy and the continuing rise of Front National is a case in point).” [Continue reading…]


From Great Britain to Little England

Neal Ascherson writes: In less than a week, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland could be tearing up its European treaties and backing into Atlantic isolation.

The slogan “Take back control!” has been showing up everywhere in the last two weeks. It’s about sovereignty: the idea that unelected bureaucrats in Brussels, not the Westminster Parliament, make the laws of England. Above all, it means taking control of the country’s frontiers. This would break decisively with a sacred principle of the European Union: the free movement of people, which, for more than 20 years under the Schengen Agreement, has allowed Europeans to travel among member states without passport checks, and live and work in those countries with no visa requirements.

With fateful timing, the latest official figures for net migration to Britain, published at the end of May, showed the second-highest annual number on record, 333,000 in 2015; European Union nations accounted for more than half of that figure. This was far higher than government targets, and played directly into the Leave campaign’s refrain about “uncontrolled immigration.”

Is it a baseless panic? Many European countries tolerate far higher levels of immigration. Scotland, with a new community of some 55,000 Poles, actively encourages it. In England, support for Brexit and for the xenophobic U.K. Independence Party is often in inverse proportion to the scale of the problem: The fewer immigrants there are in a town, the louder the outcry against foreigners. In contrast, polling in inner London, where about four out of 10 inhabitants are now foreign-born, shows a clear preference for staying in Europe.

The English, normally skeptical about politics, have grown gullible. Both sides pelt the voters with forecasts of doom should the other side win. None are reliable, and the Leave figures have been especially deceitful. Remainers predict an economic armageddon of lost growth, a devalued pound and withered City of London. The Leavers’ Conservative leaders, assuming the mantle of a government in waiting, promise that “their” Britain could cover all the lost European subsidies and grants to farmers, poor regions, universities and schools. Evidence that they could find these additional billions is scant.

But there are deeper motives here than anxiety about the exchange rate or banks in London decamping to Frankfurt. Behind Brexit stalks the ghost of imperial exception, the feeling that Great Britain can never be just another nation to be outvoted by France or Slovakia. There’s still a providential feeling about Shakespeare’s “sceptred isle” as “this fortress built by Nature.” Or as an old Royal Marines veteran said to me, “God dug the bloody Channel for us, so why do we keep trying to fill it in?” [Continue reading…]


A day of infamy

Following the murder of Jo Cox, in a nation that has become inflamed by anti-immigrant rhetoric, Alex Massie writes: When you encourage rage you cannot then feign surprise when people become enraged. You cannot turn around and say, ‘Mate, you weren’t supposed to take it so seriously. It’s just a game, just a ploy, a strategy for winning votes.’

When you shout BREAKING POINT over and over again, you don’t get to be surprised when someone breaks. When you present politics as a matter of life and death, as a question of national survival, don’t be surprised if someone takes you at your word. You didn’t make them do it, no, but you didn’t do much to stop it either.

Sometimes rhetoric has consequences. If you spend days, weeks, months, years telling people they are under threat, that their country has been stolen from them, that they have been betrayed and sold down the river, that their birthright has been pilfered, that their problem is they’re too slow to realise any of this is happening, that their problem is they’re not sufficiently mad as hell, then at some point, in some place, something or someone is going to snap. And then something terrible is going to happen.

We can’t control the weather but, in politics, we can control the climate in which the weather happens. That’s on us, all of us, whatever side of any given argument we happen to be. Today, it feels like we’ve done something terrible to that climate.

Sad doesn’t begin to cover it. This is worse, much worse, than just sad. This is a day of infamy, a day in which we should all feel angry and ashamed. Because if you don’t feel a little ashamed – if you don’t feel sick, right now, wherever you are reading this – then something’s gone wrong with you somewhere. [Continue reading…]