So the last week of domestic politics hit new levels of controversy with the Prime Ministers swerve to capture the anti-immigration vote whilst simultaneously claiming to be the party of the people. Her statement of “if you believe you’re a citizen of the world you are a citizen of nowhere” speaks to a narrative of divisive nationalism, something that has never been a force for good domestically or internationally. Couple this with the Home Secretary’s announcement of making firms disclose their numbers of foreign workers (and subsequently naming and shaming those who presumably don’t employ enough British people). I’ve also seen reports of schools collecting information specifically asking if your child is non-British . Furthermore there were reports of non-British academics working at British universities who are experts in International Relations and our relationship with the EU no longer being asked to contribute analysis on Brexit, even though they were already providing expert advice on the subject (UPDATE: Read this article for clarification on this point http://jackofkent.com/2016/10/what-did-the-foreign-and-commonwealth-office-say-to-the-london-school-of-economics-about-foreign-academics/) . To top it all off there was the announcement that fracking was given the go ahead in Lancashire over the express wishes of local residents.
Unsurprisingly these announcements caused uproar on social media with much of the commentary comparing the Tories to fascists in general and the Nazis in particular. This led to an inevitable backlash as it was argued that the atrocities committed by the Nazis are not even on the same scale as the new Conservative policies. It was argued that to compare the two was at best stupid and at worst disrespectful to those who suffered at the hands of the Nazis. I’m generalising but the sentiment was along the lines of “you’re overreacting, don’t be daft (it’ll never happen here)”.
However unpalatable the Conservative announcements are I agree that it is hyperbole at this stage to compare them to the Nazis or other fascists. The activities of those specific and general far right movements are still far removed from those of the Conservatives. Currently. I might not think that Theresa May et all are about to start goose stepping down Whitehall however I do think that taken together these data points represent a deeply deeply fucking unpleasant slide to the right, pandering to the views of UKIP voters and offering up a deeply divisive narrative outlining a scapegoat for many of the ills affecting some UK citizens.
In the Intelligence domain there is a toolset known as Indicators & Warnings (I&W). This toolset is used to flag up potentially significant events that may then be used by analysts as a heads up to keep an eye on something in case there are more serious developments. They are individual data points that on their own aren’t very useful, and more often than not they don’t lead to anything more. But sometimes they are the first sentences of a more serious narrative.
In this case the announcements are just data points so it doesn’t (shouldn’t) mean we start complaining of the UK sliding into the the Third Reich, but it does mean we flag it up. We discuss it. We are warned by it. But we don’t call it something it isn’t and we don’t give in to hyperbole. If we do it undermines our position, weakens our argument and makes it easier to be dismissed.
As I’ve said before the level of debate has to be raised. Its too easy in this post factual environment to add to the wall of noise that is generated by social media. We have to learn to filter out the right signals that add value to the discussion and present them in the right way, rather than just amplify everything. We need clear analysis to spot oncoming threats otherwise we risk being overwhelmed by the noise. Flag something up but don’t make it out to be something it’s not.
“Never again” needs to be the central strategy here but crying wolf too early, too loudly and too often will just turn us into the proverbial shepherd boy.