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Are Labour ready for the venom that will be flung at them in office?

Every mistake Labour makes will be woven into a systematic story of hate

Image: The New European/Getty

It must have been agony at Derry Street, as the Daily Mail’s front page deadline approached. It was Monday June 12; the Johnson era in Westminster was collapsing and the era of Johnson the Mail columnist had not yet begun. Suella Braverman’s Home Office had just seen 600 refugees arrive in boats in a single day. The Tory party, which the Mail backed to the hilt as it ran Britain into economic stagnation, was imploding in office.

So hats off to the person who came up with the headline: “A vision of Keir’s Britain?” – over a picture of Africans crowded into a dinghy, and Just Stop Oil protesters blocking a road. This is how it’s going to be, was the subtext: same as now, only with someone in government to blame.

The headline was a pointer to how the wider radical right – from Nigel Farage to Britain First – will react if Labour does form a government.

Everything they don’t like now, but attribute to external, uncontrollable and mysterious forces, will be pinned on Starmer and his “woke” government. And while the Mail story was so ridiculous as to be funny, living in a country with a plebeian far right at war with the government will not be funny. Because governments are their ideal target, and they haven’t been able to fight one in earnest since 2016.

To understand what Labour will face, you have to imagine how every breaking news story will be manipulated, once an alliance of fascist rumour mills, tabloid headlines, GB News, National Conservatism and the Tufton Street think-tanks start singing from the same hymn sheet.

The tragic triple murder in Nottingham last week was immediately targeted by far-right activists on social media after its alleged perpetrator was identified as a “West African migrant”.

Steve Laws, a prolific far-right propagandist, said in a Twitter video: “This isn’t a one-off incident as they would have you believe. This happens all the time, whether it’s raping, assaulting, murdering, stealing or trying to kidnap children… the reality is we need to deport millions of people, we need to clear them out.”

When the mother of one victim pleaded with a crowd of Nottingham mourners to avoid using the case to promote racism, Paul Golding, head of the far-right party Britain First, said: “Her child was murdered by an African migrant in a terror attack. Her main message is to let the “open borders” politicians – who are responsible for the death of her son – off the hook.”

Anti-fascist monitoring groups have seen a surge of online hate speech conflating the attacker (who has lived in the UK since the age of four), the refugee boat arrivals and “open-borders politicians”. But what the fascists could not do was blame the government.

And that’s logical. Braverman and Sunak can’t open their mouths without saying “Stop The Boats”. Braverman has accused the Dover arrivals of “invading” Britain. Robert Jenrick claimed in April that “excessive, uncontrolled migration threatens to cannibalise that compassion that marks out the British people”.

If you’re one of the angry young racists calling for revenge in the wake of the Nottingham attacks, it would be hard not to acknowledge the permissive environment the Tory government has created for your politics.

But what happens when the tables are turned? Though I have no high hopes that a Labour government will be economically radical in its first years, or brave enough to re-enter the Single Market, social liberalism is in Labour’s DNA.

Sadiq Khan has asked his own officials to stop calling refugees “Illegal immigrants” and I cannot imagine Yvette Cooper doing anything less at the Home Office. Even the bluest of Blue Labour thinkers do not use words like “invasion”, or “cannibalism”. And Labour will demand – because the communities it represents demand it – accountability for racist and misogynist policing.

In short, at some point in the next 18 months, the “woke blob” demonised in Tory folklore will find itself in power. Every mistake Labour makes will no longer be cast as tolerable bumbling in a difficult situation: it will be woven into a systematic story of hate. Every real advance it achieves for women, ethnic minorities and LGBTQ+ people will trigger coordinated resistance, egged on by the politicians and pundits grouped around National Conservatism.

How will it play out? I don’t know – because the last time we had a Labour government we didn’t have a radicalised Tory party, Twitter was in its infancy, Telegram didn’t exist, and Vladimir Putin wasn’t at war with the west.

All I know is that, in the new thought architecture of fascism, migrants are the “invaders”, liberals and feminists their “collaborators” and all forms of socialism are portrayed as “Cultural Marxism”. On a global scale, far-right mythology says that wokeness is a plot by a shadowy globalist elite around George Soros and the World Economic Forum. In no way could the Tory government be accused of being part of it. There is every chance that Labour will be tarred with that brush from day one.

If so, while I acknowledge the hard necessity of left governments sometimes bowing to the bond markets, when it comes to fascists, populists and racist Tories, the only option is to fight them.

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