I have written nothing so far about the vitriolic and increasingly violent election battle in Bethnal Green, but the incumbent Labour MP, Oona King, was one of the first subjects I wrote about when I started this blog. She is a sort of family friend, and I’m sorry to be so critical of her, but there it is. The Guardian profiled her a couple of years ago with this introduction:
She comes from a distinguished American political clan, and was tipped by many to be the Blairista most likely to succeed. So why isn't Oona King in the cabinet?
It was left unmentioned by the interviewer, but the answer was contained in the same article when Mrs King gave her views on the place of the United States in the world order:
It's a fucking fucked-up power man, it's a fundamentalist Christian power if we're not careful. It's terrifying.
So Oona King is not in the Cabinet because anyone with common sense – and certainly the PM – can see her potential for blowing up. She also memorably wrote an article for The Guardian two years ago in which she demonstrated an idiosyncratic grasp of history:
The original founders of the Jewish state could surely not imagine the irony facing Israel today: in escaping the ashes of the Holocaust, they have incarcerated another people in a hell similar in its nature - though not its extent - to the Warsaw ghetto.
I won’t on this occasion go into why a historical analogy between Gaza and the Warsaw Ghetto is wrong and reprehensible, but note only Mrs King’s baffling parenthetical distinction between the “nature” and the “extent” of the suffering in either case. She seems at least to be aware that Nazi genocide is a case sui generis but can’t work out why. She thus tries to cover herself with a casuistic distinction that breaks down the moment you try to analyse what she means. The only sense I can make of it is that she believes Israel seeks to murder every Palestinian in Gaza (the “nature” of the two cases), but has so far unaccountably failed to realise that aim (their “extent”). Politicians and others who write for the press often get accused of not knowing the first thing about the subject on which they write, but Mrs King is an unusual case where the charge is literally and not merely hyperbolically true.
But for all Oona King’s weaknesses, she is facing down an unscrupulous campaign to unseat her and doing so with conspicuous personal courage. She deserves support not only from those of us on the Left but from everyone else who subscribes to democratic values. Mick Hume in The Times today makes an unexceptionable observation about the Respect ‘coalition’ that is attempting to defeat Oona King:
Respect acts as a reminder of why I describe myself as “on the left, but not of it”. It has been accused of flirting with the Islamic lobby in its campaign against the Iraq war, and it is noticeable that its manifesto commitment to defending civil liberties against the Government makes no mention of defending free speech against new Labour’s incitement to religious hatred laws. But even worse than that is Respect’s embrace of today ’s fashionably backward Western prejudices, opposing everything from GM foods and nuclear power to more animal research and road building. As the Left turns into the enemy of progress and the embodiment of self-loathing, Respect sometimes sounds like the most conservative voice in this election — a pretty remarkable achievement, given who it is up against.
But he understates. The reason that all democrats, and not merely those on the Left, should support the Labour campaign in Bethnal Green and Bow was intimated by Nick Cohen in The Observer this week:
In 2005, in London's East End, George Galloway, a former Labour MP and moustachioed loudmouth, is urging supporters of Respect to propel him back to power. Just as Mosley bent the knee to the fascist leaders of his day, so Galloway bent the knee to Saddam Hussein when he flew to Baghdad and burbled: 'Sir, I salute your courage, strength and indefatigability.'This analogy with fascism, unlike Oona King’s, is well-chosen. The Respect ‘coalition’ is, as Cohen points out, not properly described by the term – habitually employed by the BBC – “anti-war”. The party has an ideological character derived from the organisation that controls it, the Socialist Workers’ Party. The best historical precedent I can think of is the Progressive Party under whose auspices Henry Wallace ran for the White House in 1948. Ostensibly devoted to a foreign policy of accommodation and cooperation with the Soviet Union, the party was a straightforward front for the Communist Party, which in turn was an instrument of the Comintern. (The analogy isn’t quite exact: Wallace, who had been Vice-President to Franklin Roosevelt, was a featherheaded and gullible man who probably never realised the use to which he was being put. Of the many things I could say about George Galloway, I would not include the charge of gullibility: he knows what he's doing.) If you refrain from pointing out the ideological character of Respect, then you delude the public and possibly yourself. It is like referring to the British National Party on its own terms as a nationalist organisation while making no reference to its neo-Nazi antecedents, organisational links and ideology.
Saddam Hussein’s regime is properly described as fascist – among other things – because fascism provided the inspiration and model for it. As the historian Walter Laqueur writes in his valuable survey of Fascism: Past, Present, Future (1996, p.162):
The Iraqi political system is [i.e. under Saddam] not just a military dictatorship or a one-party system. It has been striving for totalitarian rule, with a massive use of terror and propaganda, the cult of its leader, unbridled nationalism, and military aggression that have taken it as far on toward full-fledged fascism as most European fascist regimes and movements did in the 1930s.
I have written many times, and will point again in the hope that it will be repeated widely, that in the Iraq War the Socialist Workers’ Party, for which the Respect ‘coalition’ is an electoral front, explicitly campaigned for military victory for fascism. It commends to its supporters overt and shameless anti-Jewish bigotry. In an open letter published on the party’s web site, SWP ideologue Alex Callinicos of York University maintains that "road-side bombs that kill American soldiers and attacks on Iraqi recruits to the puppet regime’s army and police and on its officials" are "legitimate attacks" (for an example of such attacks on “Iraqi recruits to the puppet regime’s army and police”, see – please see – this report).
The SWP, under its label of convenience, is one of two organisations fighting this general election that promote fascism, antisemitism, totalitarianism and political violence. Even in allying with theocratic Islamist reaction the SWP is following where the British National Party has led. The BNP leader, Nick Griffin, was caught on camera last year rousing his supporters with anti-Muslim demagoguery, but in the late 1980s was a prominent advocate of a current in European fascism known as the “Political Soldiers”. This group gained its intellectual ballast from the doctrines of the Italian fascist theorist Guilio Evola and its historical inspiration from the Romanian Iron Guard. Its cult of violence was expressed in support for the Islamic Republics of Iran and Libya. (Griffin, with his associate Derek Holland and prominent Italian fascists, split from the National Front in 1989 to found the "International Third Position", which advocated Holy War on the model of the Revolutionary Guards of Iran. Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, a specialist in esoteric doctrines and the far-Right, at Lampeter University, gives a fascinating account of the bizarre notions of Evola and his later followers, including Griffin, in Black Sun: Aryan Cults, Esoteric Nazism and the Politics of Identity, 2002, pp. 52-71.)
Securing the defeat of these two parties, which politically and morally serve the same ends, is the first duty, and will be the greatest satisfaction, of civilised voters.