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Is this the path the UK is taking?

(64 Posts)
MaizieD Tue 15-Sep-20 21:09:12

The author of this piece is an International History professor at Strathclyde University and a German national. I thought it was interesting. Several British people have likened our current political 'atmosphere' to 1930s Germany. This is from closer to home, so to speak.

Start
As a German I have often asked myself how a country can fall. My country of birth fell far beyond the deepest abyss. How else could one describe what happened: a European country that developed an industrial-scale killing machinery designed to eradicate lives. Millions of them.
I have never found growing up in a country with that history easy. But that is, of course, not the point at all: this history is not a story about my feelings. It is the story about a murderous fascist regime and the lives it extinguished. This fact must never be forgotten.

If anything, I think it's good that I felt uneasy growing up in Germany. It's what forced me to frequently confront the question I began with: How could Germany get to the point of carrying out systematic mass murder? Like questions about other atrocities, eg in Rwanda, this too
has no simple answer. We can cite ideology; some undoubtedly were willing executioners while others chose to look away. Ultimately, the story is complex, its outcome always tragic. But one point is clear: the downfall of Germany did not begin with genocide—that is where it ended.

At this point in this thread (at the very latest), some will say that 1930s Germany is not 2020. They are right: it is impossible, and would be wrong, to draw direct parallels with a decade that is nearly a century removed from ours. I am not suggesting that we do.
But historical developments can inform how we interpret what is happening today. Understanding them can help us make sense of the present. And that is what we must try because there is nothing normal about what happened in Parliament last night. Nothing familiar.

It was brazen for the UK Government to announce the intention of breaking international law with the Internal Market Bill. For a majority of Parliamentarians to support that, however, is not just brazen; is not simply a dark moment. It is as pitch black as it gets in a democracy.
What if not respect for the rule of law is a responsibility that we can all unite behind? As others have rightly noted, this is not about Brexit or even the union. It is simply about what is right and wrong. The answer to that question does not come in a limited and specific way: it comes only in the way of what is right. Breaking the law is not right. I have now witnessed the country I chose to make my home dismantle itself for 4+ years. Sometimes slowly, often at speed. Dismantle what it stood for; dismantle every standard in the land; its reputation.
Lies - normalised. Hatred - normalised. The proroguing of Parliament - normalised. Forcing over three million people, neighbours, colleagues, friends and family, to apply to stay or face deportation - normalised. No deal - normalised. Now the breaking of the law is next in line.

The problem is that each normalisation plays with fire and eventually that fire becomes uncontrollable. If trust in politicians, in institutions and the rule of law is further undermined, there is a real danger of collapse. Mr Cummings may well rejoice at the thought of that,
but nobody else should even contemplate it. Look at the US to see what happens when democracy itself becomes hollowed out to the point that post boxes are being removed to prevent people from voting and white supremacists are praised by the President.

But it can't happen in the UK, right? Of course it can. There is no magic shield. We know of far right vigilantism on the Kent coast and hotels around the country, asylum seekers being hounded. We know of the British Union of Fascists' flag being openly displayed on Trafalgar Sq.
We know of the deliberately manufactured ‘culture war’ about the Proms that was designed solely to create further division; we know of the accusations of 'wokeness'. And then remember too how peace in Northern Ireland is being jeopardized without even the blink of an eye.

This would be bad enough on its own, but now couple it with the Covid crisis. This is the UK’s perfect storm. And that brings me back to Germany’s downfall. Its initial trigger was not genocide nor concentration camps; it was not Nazi ideology. It was Germany's own perfect storm.
It developed for different reasons specific to the German national story - one reason why we must not blur or confuse it with what is happening in the UK now; that would be both ahistorical and wrong. But there is one thing I need everyone to understand: Germany's perfect storm
might well have passed, but it consolidated instead. There were different factors, but a vital one was the hollowing out of democracy and the undermining of the rule of law. That is why, as a German, I ask every MP to understand that. I ask them to look at Hungary and the US to see what that can mean in 2020. This is not about parallels, its about common patterns. Recognizing them and understanding them in their context helps us. I truly hope MPs in the UK will use that help to stop that perfect storm from consolidating here.
I cannot predict what its outcome would be if that fails - history no longer helps us with that. But Brexit is premised on stripping away rights that much we know. The possibility of that continuing unchecked does not bode well for anybody, no matter your political views. /end

End

Elegran Wed 16-Sep-20 09:41:51

Do, do read the book I mentioned. As a novel it is no literary masterpiece, but it is a chilling map of the transition from one kind of nation to a completely different one, by small steps, all of which followed on from one another and involved (mostly) perfectly honourable people doing what seemed best at the time, or what was asked of them by the country they loved.

FarNorth Wed 16-Sep-20 09:48:57

there is nothing normal about what happened in Parliament last night.

That is the point, grandad.
The general populace is working away as well as it can, within the restrictions on it, and is at the mercy of its leaders who are, meanwhile, shamelessly and publicly taking steps to break the law.

Witzend Wed 16-Sep-20 09:51:18

Anyone seeing parallels with 1930s Germany might do well to read A Berlin Diary, and The Rise And Fall Of The Third Reich - both by William Shirer, an American journalist who was there in the years before WW2 and during the first part of it.

Both are immensely readable, whether you usually enjoy this sort of thing or not. I don’t, but still found them unputdownable. I first read the Berlin Diary many years ago - it was bought by my father during WW2 - and only recently revisited it, which led to the other (a very fat book so I got it on my Kindle.).

Much as I deplore this shitshow of a government, I don’t think we’re off down that path just yet.

MaizieD Wed 16-Sep-20 10:20:20

Much as I deplore this shitshow of a government, I don’t think we’re off down that path just yet.

I'd be really interested to know why you think that, Witzend?

We have a bill before Parliament which would enable the government to have absolute power over withdrawing, amending and adding to legislation without any recourse to Parliamentary scrutiny or approval. Do you not find that rather worrying?

Greta Wed 16-Sep-20 10:26:51

It worries me greatly that we now have a government who feels breaking international law is justifiable. Also, that parliament no longer needs to be involved in decision making. What makes it worse, I feel, is that so many people seem to be unaware of what is going on or don't care. We seem to sleepwalking into a very dangerous situation.

Alegrias Wed 16-Sep-20 10:37:40

The German people in the 19th/early 20th century were amongst the most cultured and educated in Europe. When Nationalism started to rise, educated people laughed at the silly little man with the funny moustache and thought it would never amount to anything. Then he got elected. Not so many years ago, David Cameron was referring to UKIP in uncomplimentary terms, and now Nigel Farage is the most successful politician in Britain, without even being elected to the UK Parliament. He has got exactly what he wanted.

We're not exceptional in these island, we might think we are but the last few months and years have shown that anything could happen. Our "inbuilt tradition of fairness and democracy" could disappear in a puff of smoke, and nearly has already.

Whitewavemark2 Wed 16-Sep-20 10:38:17

MaizieD

^Much as I deplore this shitshow of a government, I don’t think we’re off down that path just yet.^

I'd be really interested to know why you think that, Witzend?

We have a bill before Parliament which would enable the government to have absolute power over withdrawing, amending and adding to legislation without any recourse to Parliamentary scrutiny or approval. Do you not find that rather worrying?

Step by step

growstuff Wed 16-Sep-20 10:44:44

Witzend

Anyone seeing parallels with 1930s Germany might do well to read A Berlin Diary, and The Rise And Fall Of The Third Reich - both by William Shirer, an American journalist who was there in the years before WW2 and during the first part of it.

Both are immensely readable, whether you usually enjoy this sort of thing or not. I don’t, but still found them unputdownable. I first read the Berlin Diary many years ago - it was bought by my father during WW2 - and only recently revisited it, which led to the other (a very fat book so I got it on my Kindle.).

Much as I deplore this shitshow of a government, I don’t think we’re off down that path just yet.

I've read the Shirer book. I've also read countless original diaries by Germans from the period. Shirer was American and an outsider. The diaries I've read were by people actually living in Germany. Quite honestly, they could have been written by GNers. Germany was a highly educated and civilised country with a thriving culture, but people were unhappy with the government and the financial situation. They were suspicious of Communism and felt their national pride had been dented by the Versailles Treaty. They had been persuaded that there was a global Jewish conspiracy. They saw Hitler as a breath of fresh air and overlooked the more sinister things he said. They had little idea what was about to happen.

growstuff Wed 16-Sep-20 10:46:20

PS. The Nazis never had an overall majority in any free election.

EllanVannin Wed 16-Sep-20 10:52:41

My late H was a very clever man as was his father and I never fully knew where their stance on politics really was, except that now and again my H used to say that we should have lost the war to Germany. To this day I could never understand as he never went into a political explanation.
What his take on politics today would be would be interesting if he'd lived.

Daisymae Wed 16-Sep-20 11:02:19

I agree about feeling very uneasy about how thing are turning. Equally I know a lot of people who have stopped engaging with the news, which can't be good for democracy. It feels like the main influencers in government have their own agenda which had little to do with any political manifesto. I'm not sure where we are headed but anyone with a strong grasp on things us excluded from the cabinet. Why would any leadership act in this way?

Elegran Wed 16-Sep-20 11:02:52

We could sleepwalk down the same path if we don't stay awake to the erosion of the institutions and laws that ensure that we don't go there. That has happened in other countries and at other times. What magic cloak of protection does anyone think we are special enough to have, to walk blindly in safety? Do they believe that all the safeguards we have just fell into place while no-one was paying attention?
Quis custodiet custodies ipsos?

Doodledog Wed 16-Sep-20 11:15:04

I think that the way in which people have been persuaded to turn on one another over the past few years is chilling. We have been systematically divided into Leavers and Remainers, Boomers and Millenials, 'Woke' and Blinkered, North and South, Experts and whatever the opposite is, 'Covidiots' and 'those who agree with our way of dealing with the virus' and so on. The UK is dismantling before our eyes, and soon we will be four tiny states with animosities going back centuries. Any group of people is easier to control if it is divided and easily manipulated, which is what we are becoming.

Not only are people perfectly happy to see others as 'them', but they are happy to report one another, to name and shame on social media, to get really angry with one another, and to support the idea of 'marshalls' ensuring that we don't meet in groups of more than six.

I find all of this scary.

Kamiso Wed 16-Sep-20 11:29:11

www.spectator.co.uk/article/why-didn-t-the-eu-punish-germany-when-it-broke-international-law-

Double standards yet again! Perhaps “researching” with an open mind would show a more enlightened attitude instead of bashing the UK at very opportunity.

If the last election hadn’t been such a landslide for the Conservatives we could have been at the mercy of Jeremy Corbyn. He would still be sitting on the fence deciding if it was safe to jump.

Keir Starmer seems to be expending all his energy stopping the squabbling in the totally disparate Labour Party. Time to save your energy and help him regain trust in socialism instead of brooding 24/7 over Boris & Co. Not good for your mental health - bitterness can eat you up.

MaizieD Wed 16-Sep-20 11:30:33

Of course, it would have been much worse under Corbyn...

(Just threw that in because I fear he's getting a bit neglected these days grin )

MaizieD Wed 16-Sep-20 11:32:46

Oh, blimey!!! I spoke too soon... I was writing my post just as Corbyn got an outing on this thread 🤣🤣🤣

trisher Wed 16-Sep-20 11:36:26

So the old argument deflect from the discussion by bringing in irrelevancies. I was thinking of Priti Patel and her description of Extinction Rebellion as a "terrorist organisation", something which many have agreed with and yet all they are doing is demonstrating. PP herself approves of hanging (there is a brilliant clip of Ian Hislop tying her in knots about this). She is an example of right wing ideas creeping into the everyday and it is scary

GrannyGravy13 Wed 16-Sep-20 11:48:09

Both extremes of politics are scary, what the UK needs is a credible Centre Party, and I cannot see that happening anytime soon.

Kamiso Wed 16-Sep-20 11:53:32

Why is it irrelevant that Germany can break
agreements but the U.K. causes outrage when it puts national interests first?

Using the same deflection technique that you accuse others of? Are we all supposed to ask permission to post anything that is disapproved of by the BritBasherBrigade? Do you spend every waking moment stalking the internet or do you text each other warning about disruption in the lower ranks?

Luckygirl Wed 16-Sep-20 11:54:40

Our PM is a known liar, with a casual disregard for morality and the rule of law. What did people expect when they voted him in? Decency?

It is a joke. We reap what we sow; and however sick we feel about the sowers we are completely impotent. Our electoral system ensures that.

Davidhs Wed 16-Sep-20 11:58:35

All this talk of dictatorship is linked solely with Brexit, the government trying to save face and get something they can call a victory. Saving face by 2 lunatics was what caused 2 world wars, once the differences over NI are solved it will all go away. Personally I think the U.K. will back down - eventually, there will be a change of leader, maybe 2 and at the next election the Tories will get thrashed.

Maybe that’s wishful thinking, one thing for sure we need to trade in a mutual trusting way with our nearest neighbors or the future is very bleak

As for the population turning on each other leavers have been very quiet recently, it was all going to be so easy. Finally it’s dawning on them if we want to trade with another country we do it on THEIR terms or not at all.

Before someone argues, there are a lot of US products that we don’t and won’t allow, we dictate what can be imported and they are close allies.

varian Wed 16-Sep-20 12:05:20

The UK is a sham democracy- we are ruled by a right-wing dictatorship with a huge parliamentary majority elected by a minorty of votes.

We need a strong campaign to establish a true democracy before it is too late.

The Electoral Reform Society stands for this.-

"The Electoral Reform Society operates on a simple premise - that politics can be better than it is. We campaign for a better democracy.

The Electoral Reform Society is the UK’s leading voice for democratic reform. We work with everyone – from political parties, civil society groups and academics to our own members and supporters and the wider public – to campaign for a better democracy in the UK.

Our vision is of a democracy fit for the 21st century, where every voice is heard, every vote is valued equally, and every citizen is empowered to take part. We make the case for lasting political reforms, we seek to embed democracy into the heart of public debate, and we foster the democratic spaces which encourage active citizenship."

www.electoral-reform.org.uk/who-we-are/what-we-stand-for/

MaizieD Wed 16-Sep-20 12:22:57

All this talk of dictatorship is linked solely with Brexit, the government trying to save face and get something they can call a victory.

Actually, David, it isn't. They are using Brexit, and Covid (what a gift it's been to them) as an excuse to radically attack and alter our government institutions, to promote discord in the the population and to attack the Rule of Law. This has a much more far reaching effect that just 'getting Brexit done'. It's getting the whole country done over- right royally done over...

growstuff Wed 16-Sep-20 12:31:38

I disagree about the causes of both world wars too David. Neither was about saving face. Both were quite deliberately engineered - but for different purposes.

growstuff Wed 16-Sep-20 12:32:56

Kamiso

Why is it irrelevant that Germany can break
agreements but the U.K. causes outrage when it puts national interests first?

Using the same deflection technique that you accuse others of? Are we all supposed to ask permission to post anything that is disapproved of by the BritBasherBrigade? Do you spend every waking moment stalking the internet or do you text each other warning about disruption in the lower ranks?

Maybe you'd like to explain what you're on about (if you actually know).