Former Ambassador, Human Rights Activist
I am today in Izmir. The last time I was here, eleven years ago, I called on the bereaved family of an aid worker murdered by Israel on the Mavi Mamara. A decade later, as witness the case of Shireen Abu Aqlah, Israel is still carrying out blatant public murder of good people; there has been no progress at all. The only thing that has changed is that the suppression of critics of Israel has become much more intense across social media, mainstream media and political debate.
I have in the last 18 years shared a platform with almost every prominent left wing figure in the UK I can think of. Out of all of them, the one I enjoyed listening to the most was Mhairi Black. I was therefore not in the least surprised by the warm social media reception of her speech in the House of Commons on the slide to fascism.
I endorse what she says, and I think that the strongest evidence is the extraordinary collaboration of billionaire and state owned media in forwarding the neo-liberal political agenda. In a situation as complex as the Ukraine, the absence of any nuance whatsoever across the entire mainstream media is simply staggering.
My own position, for example, is that the invasion is indeed illegal and a war crime – but that does not make Ukraine faultless. The tolerance of Nazism, the anti-Russian language and other policies and failure to implement the Minsk agreements were very real problems. The war on Iraq, as just one example, was equally criminal and NATO expansion is foolish. A negotiated settlement is needed.
These cannot remotely be characterised as crazed or outrageous opinions, whether you agree or not. But you will not find anywhere, in any mainstream media newsroom, any of those views beyond “the invasion is indeed illegal and a war crime”. It is not just that the editorial line is precisely the same in every single mainstream media outlet. It is that dissent from the editorial line is not published. This total harmony of state and corporate media in favour of a rigorous pro-war propaganda is precisely of the essence of fascism.
As recently as the Iraq War, opponents of the war were occasionally allowed on to give another perspective. A few years later I was invited on to all new channels to explain why the UK was wrong in claiming British sailors temporarily arrested by Iran had been in Iraqi waters. The Daily Mail a decade ago published a centre page article on why the war in Afghanistan was about hydrocarbons and about the massive increase of heroin production in NATO controlled areas.
Such pathways for dissent have over the last few years become completely unavailable.
To return to Mhairi, the difficulty is that she belongs to a party which is itself highly intolerant of dissent and has no feel at all for individual liberty. I might instance the banning of protest outside the Scottish parliament, the hate speech act, the SNP initiated jailing of Manni Singh for starting an approved demonstration two hours late, the appalling leadership approved pile-on on Joanna Cherry, the creation of a single centrally controlled police force, the incredibly sinister “named person” plan thankfully struck down by the courts, and the political use of the Crown Office for prosecutions.
I have never heard Mhairi dissent from any of this, and I do not know where she stands. The last time I set eyes on her was at the 2019 SNP conference, where I was a delegate. I went over to say hi, and was headed off by a horde of besuited minders. She appeared to me quite literally captured by the system.
A final thought on fascism. Boris Johnson reminds me not so much of Mussolini as Berlusconi. The latter appeared a ludicrous figure to us, with his outrageous financial self-interest, sexual antics and dishonesty. Yet Berlusconi kept winning elections because he appealed to something deep in the Italian psyche which did not care about all those other things. That seems a real parallel with Johnson, who appeals to enough English – and I mean English – people who feel he reflects their worldview. The rest of the world is mystified, and that includes Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, where even the unionists can’t stand him.
It is to me a cause of deep sadness that having ignored the opportunity for Scottish Independence opened by Brexit, Sturgeon is now ignoring the opportunity provided by antipathy to Johnson. In a fascist state the functions of central political control extend through both public and private sectors and all permitted political institutions, including permitted parties. That is a thought worth considering.
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