Stirring up hatred of Muslims has real-life consequences

Screaming blue murder

Lee Anderson, Liz Truss and Suella Braverman are trying to further their despicable careers in the only way they know how, writes Paul Demarty: by hate-mongering against Muslims

It is now, somehow, 22 years since Theresa May made her first political intervention of any consequence.

It is sobering to think that people will vote in the next general election who were not even born when she denounced her own party in a conference speech for its petty cruelty, its total reliance on scaremongering about benefit cheats, asylum-seekers and what have you. “You know what people call us?” she told the crowd: “the ‘Nasty Party’”.

It was a pretty nasty outfit at the time; Iain Duncan-Smith had been elected leader as a standard-bearer of the right, and the rightwing press preferred to stick with Tony Blair for the time being. Blair’s government could be nasty enough, anyway - and was gearing up to be extremely nasty to the people of Basra the following year, much to the braying satisfaction of The Sun and the Mail. Nastiness just did not pay the same dividends for Duncan Smith as it did for Margaret Thatcher. What were they to do? The lesson drawn at length was David Cameron - hug a hoodie, blather on about the environment, legalise gay marriage …

Smash-cut to 2024, and nastiness is apparently the only trick left in the Tory box. The government itself has expended every penny of political capital it has to ram through mass deportations of asylum-seekers. Those slightly outside the circle of trust are on even worse behaviour. Suella Braverman - late of the home office, but forced to step down when those woke snowflakes at the Metropolitan Police refused to clamp down hard enough for her on pro-Palestine “hate marches” - is back in The Daily Telegraph to tell us that Britain has been taken over by Islamists. Lee Anderson MP demurred from this judgment - apparently it was only London that had been coopted in this way, thanks to mayor Sadiq Khan.

Meanwhile, Liz Truss, the ‘blink and you’ll miss her’ former prime minister, has hit the US far-right punditry circuit, and produced a book called Ten years to save the west. Slated for release in April, it will no doubt be fighting for space in the nation’s remainder bins with Nadine Dorries’ The plot by June. Judging by her deranged appearance at the notorious Conservative Political Action Conference in New York, Truss seems to have rewritten the Dorries account of how a shadowy ‘they’ got rid of Boris Johnson to be about … herself.

Until last week, all three of the above were MPs in good standing: Anderson has since been stripped of the Tory whip, because, although his claim was rather less insane and inflammatory than Braverman’s, he named Khan specifically, and the only thing ‘protected’ by parliamentary standards is the individual reputations of the great and the good, not the poor beleaguered masses of ordinary Muslims in Britain, who, particularly women, have been subject to a reported three-fold increase in hate crime since October 7.

Help them

There are narrower and wider explanations for this odd behaviour by Anderson, Braverman and Truss. The very narrowest is a matter of career prospects. Few expect the Conservatives to win the next election. (Anti-Muslim ravings may help them, but could just as well help Labour, whose usually strong attraction for the Muslim vote is somewhat complicated by Keir Starmer’s thirst for Gazan blood; a look at Anderson and Braverman may scare Muslim voters back to the devil they know.) Many MPs, even in hitherto safe seats, may be at risk of ejection from the Commons, so the question is: what’s next?

There are several options. One is to prepare for the post-Sunak leadership contest. Another is to jump ship, perhaps to the Faragist Reform party. A third is to rotate out of front-line politics into the far-right punditocracy. At a guess, these seem to be the respective ambitions of Braverman, Anderson and Truss. Braverman clearly used her former cabinet position as an audition to run as the far-right candidate for Tory leader when the time came. Anderson’s suicide-by-cop routine came after he was already identified as a defection risk. His ridiculous Alf Garnett shtick will sit nicely in the latest home of ‘good old British common sense’. As for Truss, surely she cannot be looking for another go at the top job; her American jaunt is a reminder of where the action really is for shallow, hysterical culture-warmongering. A home will be found for her at GB News or some such place.

Whatever their particular goals, all three of these are quite prepared to spout nonsense along the way. Sadiq Khan, for example, might wonder how it is he is an Islamist today, when barely a week ago he was being denounced for naming the various London Overground lines in line with a corporate-feminist agenda. Is Khan rejected for being Osama bin Laden or Sheryl Sandberg? Who can tell?

That said, why is this a good idea? Why does it stick? It does so first of all because of the immediate situation: the British state is currently, in line with its subordination to the United States, backing Israel, as it attempts to bomb and starve millions out of the Gaza Strip. This is, let us say, a harder sell than the Ukraine war, since Ukraine was at least actually invaded by a superior force and therefore commanded an instinctive sympathy for the underdog.

As it becomes increasingly clear that Israel intends to commit a wave of ethnic cleansing that dwarfs all the other horrors of this millennium, there is little left for its backers other than just doing their best to blanket the world in absurd lies about opponents of Israel. So the movement is caricatured as primarily Islamist, rather than a coalition of Islamists, ordinary Muslims, secular leftists, Jewish groups who demur from Zionism, and so on. By misrepresenting the movement in this way, it can be presented as an external threat, in true Camp of the saints style.

Right drift

But there is a wider canvas still, which is the steady drift of bourgeois political culture to the right. The collapse of the USSR entailed a drastic narrowing of the horizons of social democracy, with the Blair government obviously far to the right of Harold Wilson and James Callaghan (and similar points could be made about Gerhard Schröder, Lionel Jospin, Bill Clinton, and so forth). The well-nigh universal commitment of centre-left and centre-right parties all over Europe and North America to market reforms, privatisation and attacks on the social safety net - in most of those countries accompanied by extensive deindustrialisation - pauperised many, and broke the power of organisations like trade unions that could countervail this damage.

The respective parties nonetheless needed something to give to at least parts of their base. The social democrats largely plumped for identity politics, whether in the form of culturally progressive reforms in the sphere of sexuality, or the promotion of diversity measures of various sorts, to project an image of neoliberal market society as truly progressive relative to what it succeeded. This dovetailed nicely with the ‘humanitarian’ gloss increasingly put on imperialist misadventures around the globe. For the right, it was enough to declare war on precisely these liberal cultural policies and what have you. Since neither party in a given country can actually give anything to their base (Liz Truss illustrates the fate of those who try …), the inevitable result is increasingly irrational forms of both reactionary and (supposedly) progressive cultural politics.

Cultural politics

This dynamic tends to favour the right, so long as there is not a serious left oriented to the working class. The displacement into cultural politics prevents the social democrats from holding on to their base, and builds resentment, which is exploited by the far right; the far right, in turn, displaces the centre-right (as in Italy) or is subsumed into it (as with the Brexit Tories or Trump Republicans). This authorises ever more irrational counterattacks - viz. the entirely unevidenced claims of Trump’s collusion with the Putin regime - that produce very similar political pathologies (the characterisation of all dissidents, right and left alike, as foreign agents).

The stupidity of Truss, Anderson and co should not therefore be taken to indicate that there is no danger here. Every class politics has foolish and dishonest advocates, as well as intelligent and sincere ones. There are intelligent reactionaries at work today as well - you just do not see them on GB News, any more than you see intelligent liberals on MSNBC. Their stupidity works, as we said, because it is carried along on a real historical current.

By contrast, the working class, socialist left is not invested in the survival of the bourgeois political regime. It does not need to square pauperisation with the legitimacy of capital accumulation and therefore it needs neither cosmetic, tokenistic changes in the composition of elites according to race, sex, etc, nor an outgroup who can be scapegoated for all the ills befalling us. Indeed, so far as the concerns of liberal progressivism on race, sex and so forth go, we can do better, since for us the point is to make such struggles the occasion of universal solidarity, not the proof that such solidarity is impossible, as per identity politics of the modern sort.

We have not done a terribly good job of it recently. The left’s bias for ‘action on the streets’ too easily leaves it open to being cornered by one or the other wings of bourgeois politics (usually the liberal wing). Yet the necessarily irresolvable contradiction of the bourgeois political cycle ensures that the way is never truly closed to us. That is why it is a matter of socialism or barbarism, rather than just barbarism.