Could a depression bring fascism to Britain?
This post is commenting on Ed Balls’ views about the seriousness of the global economic situation found here
By: Daniel Hannan, Feb 10 2009
What if he’s right, this Balls fellow? What if fascism – or at least some mutant strain of fascism – comes to Britain on the back of a new Depression?
We like to think that we’re above all that sort of thing: we leave fascism to excitable foreigners who enjoy uniforms and parades and shiny black boots. Then again, parliamentary democracy seemed pretty secure in most of the Western world in the 1920s. It collapsed quickly enough once the Slump came. Even Britain, emphatically anti-fascist, adopted its own version of the corporatist state, forming a national government in which almost all the parties were in power, and vastly extending state control.
Could it happen again? Listen to the way people talk about their politicians. Read the comment thread here. Consider the ease with which people accept the argument that a court or a quango, rather than the electorate, should decide whether an MP is doing enough for her constituents.
As Charles Moore puts it in today’s paper:
Because voters are so angry – rightly – about “sleaze”, they have almost forgotten that those they elect must have “privileges”. That is to say, they must have rights against the power of what is still sometimes called the Crown, but which means, in reality, the might of government and the power of “Europe”. Parliament has sacrificed these privileges, preferring material ones, and has therefore lost respect. If we had a civil war today, few would fight for it. Potential tyrants will note that fact with interest.
I watched a similar thing happen in South America in the 1990s where, again, parliamentary rule seemed secure. If you listened carefully, though, you detected a disquieting undertone. People had started to give up on politics and politicians. “They’re all the same”, people said. “They’re in it for themselves”. “It doesn’t matter how you vote: nothing ever changes”.
Sound familiar? During the boom years, the system seemed to be working, and the angry muttering of the voters was a harmless descant to the main political melody. Once the banks failed, though, things changed. South Americans started turning against the parliamentarians whom they blamed for their discontents, and handing supreme power to a set of angry caudillos who articulated their dislike of the old elites: Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, Evo Morales in Bolivia, Rafael Correa in Ecuador. Alright, they may not exactly be fascists, these strongmen, but they have destroyed every independent check on their power: their legislatures, their courts, their electoral commissions, their independent media. If not anti-democratic, they are anti-parliamentary, basing their appeal on plebsicites, state spending, patronage and aggressive nationalism. They are, if you like, Bonapartists.
Who’s to say it couldn’t happen in Western Europe, even in Britain? Look at the early signs: the demands for protectionism; “British jobs for British workers”; the surge in state spending and nationalisation; the scapegoating of wicked capitalists; above all, the contempt for parliamentarians. Are you absolutely sure we are immune?