Escaping from the authoritarians

People who have come to this country because they cannot put up with the political trends in their homeland are often worth learning from. I have supporters in my ward from Eastern Europe who came to the UK despairing of the post-communist rise of the authoritarian right in their country of birth. Interestingly they want nothing to do with the Labour Party. It is the socialist element they are wary of. As for the present UK Government, I feel for my friends, whose citizenship ceremony I shared in, but who now say “But this is the sort of unacceptable government behaviour that made us leave Poland”.

Whatever else it is, I have never regarded Labour as a socialist party but I am well aware that the Labour Party contains socialists. Occasionally they get to dominate one or more key party committees and even more rarely they get to elect the Leader, which tends to end in tears.

When George Orwell was writing in the 1940s he was looking at a world where the major powers included vile dictatorships of what would traditionally be seen as extreme left and and extreme right. He saw them as behaving in very similar ways. This equivalence was later echoed by our own Donald Wade MP with his oval diagram in the 1960s. In “The Lion and the Uniform” Orwell delightfully suggests that goose-stepping armies could never be imported into this country because you cannot keep control if people are laughing at the army’s parade-step.

I suspect that Liberal Democrats need to avoid banging on simultaneously about the extremes of left and right. Followers of the more overt forms of socialism are always prone to factionalism, which hinders their progress. They are hardly a current threat. The real and present danger – some of us would say the evil forces we have to resist – is down to the third-rate politicians running the country. Orwell would probably be bemused by the way they don’t mind if we laugh at them but he would have had some understanding of people who use distraction and destruction as tools for dismantling democracy.

One of the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic is the lack of opportunity for mass protest and I am sure that the enemies of the people (i.e. the Johnson/Gove/Cummings gang) know that only too well. In “normal” times deliberate attacks on the rule of law and contempt for Parliament might have inspired large demonstrations in every major city in the land – hopefully with opposition MPs and even some Tories joining in. Rarely has the no.1 political enemy been so obvious and the means of combating it so problematic.

* Geoff Reid is a Bradford City Councillor and a retired Methodist Minister.

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12 Comments

  • Peter Martin 14th Sep '20 - 3:00pm

    “……, I have never regarded Labour as a socialist party but I am well aware that the Labour Party contains socialists.”

    That’s good. You should be aware. The composition of the Labour Party is not a lot different from when Jeremy Corbyn was picking up 60% or so of the vote in leadership elections. So at least that number would self identify as ‘socialist.’ Probably many more. I’d consider Andy Burnham to be socialist too.

    But Rebecca Long Bailey lost decisively to Sir Forensic. So doesn’t that mean Labour Party members have seen the error of their ways? Not really. RLB obviously wasn’t ready for the job. It’s a pity Andy Burnham didn’t stick around. Many members managed to convince themselves that KS was a socialist too, because at least his parents had named him after one.

    We’ll have to see how that works out.

  • richard underhill.,. 14th Sep '20 - 4:16pm

    Geoff Reid | Mon 14th September 2020 – 2:32 pm
    “goose-stepping armies could never be imported into this country because you cannot keep control if people are laughing at the army’s parade-step.”
    The Ministry of Silly Walks did provide lots of laughs, but what about efficiency of travel?
    After Allied forces landed in Normandy in 1944 German army reinforcements lacking petrol needed to walk from southern France. They were clearly authoritarian, but would it be accurate to portray them as humorous?
    So, why did the USSR copy the practice? Was it because they preferred to use tanks for their repression, as in Hungary in 1956, and in Czechoslovakia in 1968?
    Does socialism have a human face?
    Czech playwright Vaclav Havel was imprisoned by the communists. I watched a triplet of his plays in a theatre in London. In one of them the prison governor was required to write frequent reports on this dissident and finding it boring asked the prisoner to write the reports himself, but met a refusal.
    Every time he was elected as President (3) Havel authorised the release of minor prisoners, giving him the last laugh.
    What do you think of the formalities of the border guards of India and Pakistan?

  • richard underhill.,. 14th Sep '20 - 4:27pm

    I hope the current Labour leader gets well soon, after all I am a Liberal Democrat. I do remember that the lead singer of the Ugly Rumours went to Washington and apologised for burning down the White House, causing facial contortions on George Bush (junior),
    ISBN 0-19-913074-4.

  • @ Richard Underhill, “After Allied forces landed in Normandy in 1944 German army reinforcements lacking petrol needed to walk from southern France”……….

    Richard Underhill always entertains…. though given that my Dad was a Typhoon pilot in Normandy I’m afraid I happen to know a little bit about it. Is he suggesting the following German Panzer Divisions (all of whom Dad had some form of acquaintance with) pushed their tanks and equipment all the way by hand from the south of France ?

    1st SS Panzer Division Leibstandarte SS
    9th Panzer Division (Wehrmacht)
    I SS Panzer Corps
    II SS Panzer Corps
    2nd Panzer Division (Wehrmacht)
    2nd SS Panzer Division Das Reich
    9th SS Panzer Division Hohenstaufen
    10th SS Panzer Division Frundsberg
    12th SS Panzer Division
    17th SS Panzergrenadier Division Götz von Berlichingen
    21st Panzer Division (Wehrmacht)
    101st SS Heavy Panzer Battalion
    102nd SS Heavy Panzer Battalion
    116th Panzer Division (Wehrmacht)
    503rd Heavy Panzer Battalion

  • jayne mansfield 14th Sep '20 - 5:36pm

    A wonderful addition to my family has been a Polish in law and family.

    The Poles have suffered dreadfully from Nazism and Communism. I am aware that there is discussion amongst the Polish people as to which was worse.

    I am not sure what lesson I am supposed to learn from their desire not to have any association with the labour party. When it comes to centralised authoritarianism, and propaganda that would be-fit North Korea, may I point out that Labour has not been in power since 2010. And I am not sure that Labour governments before that could be the sort of party that they are frightened of.

    In the age of Johnson/ Cummins politics, it seems to me to be a case of out of the frying pan into the fire for them.

  • Jayne Mansfield – We learn that people can misunderstand the Labour Party because of their particular experience of a regime calling themselves Socialist. I didn’t say I agreed with my friends’ misunderstanding. I have my own problems with the Labour Party which are to do with its more conservative elements!

  • Anyone who wants to be reminded of the importance of Liberal values only needs to speak to someone who lived behind the Iron Curtain in Eastern Europe and hear about the complete lack of freedom to remind them.

    It seems that Communism/hardline Socialism and Victor Orban style nationalism are in many ways two sides of the same coin. What they have in common is a contempt for individualism, freedom of expression and the rule of law.

  • You do remember Mandelson and Campbell don’t you? Or are you counting everything since 1997 as the same government. A quote from he Guardian 2007.
    ‘Spin and scandal: how New Labour made the news.’

    Remember, the dodgy dossier, Blair and Campbell running for cover and the suicide of a world leading scientist?
    Mandelson weeping into the camera.
    Blaire never shedding a single tear despite the fall out from the second war with Iraq.
    Imagine Corbyn and cronies in power.
    Plenty to be frightened of there me thinks.

  • Johnson,Gove,Cummings gang.Yes they know exactly how to control the population.Only groups of six.Constantly changing the ‘plans’, rules It is convenient for them that the virus is here causing confusion,chaos people disagreeing with each other. One example commented on the news concerning ‘snitching’ on people who do not obey the rules can lead to worse Fascism,Nazism started small and grew.We must be aware..

  • jayne Mansfield 14th Sep '20 - 7:50pm

    @ Geoff Reid,
    I too have my problems with some elements of the Labour Party, so we are on the same page with that. I also have problems with elements of the Liberal Democrat Party.

    However, my focus, prior to Johnson’s election and now his government, is how we can best challenge his politics, and how one can unravel the damage he has done and continues to do. Succumbing to a divide and rule strategy seems doomed to fail given his majority.

    I understand the fears of your friends given Poland’s history , but I am not sure what point you were trying to make by raising it.

  • This is why we needed a comprehensive written constitution before embarking on Brexit. People tend to expect the best when there are no rules and this has worked quite well in the past. That time has now gone and we need to delineate the powers of different parts of our governance.

  • Andrew Tampion 18th Sep '20 - 7:02am

    Peter Hirst
    The United States have had a comprehensive written constitution for over 200 years and it didn’t stop Abraham Lincoln suspending Habeas Corpus without Congressional approval. Nor did it prevent President Lincoln arresting political opponents without trial and expelling some of them from the United States.

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