People are talking about the ugly protests outside parliament as if they are a new and strange phenomenon in British politics. The rough bellowing at politicians. The hollering of the word ‘Nazi!’ at people who clearly aren’t Nazis. The attempt to shout down politicians and journalists who simply want to make a political point. It is all so shocking and strange and un-British, commentators claim. Really? To me, the protests look and sound incredibly familiar. They look like another expression of the nasty, censorious, violent-minded political correctness that has been growing for years in this country. These protests aren’t fascism in action — they’re political correctness in action.
All the elements are there. The branding of your opponents as fascists and Nazis. ‘Anna Soubry is a Nazi!’, the self-styled ‘yellow vest’ mob hollered on College Green while Soubry was being interviewed by the BBC. The casual flinging about of the ‘fascist’ slur is par for the course these days. Corbynistas do it. Online virtue-signallers do it, in particular against anyone who voted for Brexit. Campus warriors against ‘offensive’ speech do it all the time. To them, anyone who isn’t 100 per cent trans-friendly and in favour of mass immigration is basically Goebbels reincarnated.
There’s the protesters’ attempts to drown out people’s voices. Their use of the heckler’s veto to silence those they disagree with. They’ve done that to Sky reporters, MPs, Guardian columnists. This is very familiar too. It’s been happening on campuses for years. Witness the ugly barracking of Maryam Namazie by those who dislike her criticisms of Islam. Or the fact that Julie Bindel can’t set foot on a campus without 50 snowflakes screaming for her to be silenced. Or the way Jacob Rees-Mogg and virtually anyone who is to the right of John McDonnell can expect to be greeted at universities by protesters determined to heckle them into oblivion.
Those stupid people in College Green might be hard right, but they are using tactics that were developed by the left. The tactics of intolerance, of censorship-by-shouting, of historically illiterate accusations of ‘fascism’ against anyone who isn’t completely on their side. For the record, I am uncomfortable with the suggestion that these people should be arrested or that public-order legislation should be used to clear them away. That space outside parliament is a sacred democratic arena in which all forms of protest, including ugly protest, must be allowed. But there’s no doubting that the recent rowdier protest against Soubry in particular was unpleasant — but it was familiarly unpleasant.
I’ve seen it all before. I’ve seen pro-Israel speakers on campuses being branded scum, fascists, murderers. I’ve seen humanist critics of Islam like Maajid Nawaz being branded fellow travellers of the hard right. I’ve seen feminists who are critical of the politics of transgenderism (‘TERFS’) being denounced as scum and fascists and being physically attacked too. Last year when I spoke at Oxford a gathering of about 30 people waved placards denouncing me as alt-right, a homophobe, a misogynist — all lies designed to convince authorities at the university to prevent me from speaking. (I support their right to carry out such defamatory protests, by the way!).
Indeed, some of the same leftists who are agog at what has happened outside parliament have themselves engaged in this debased PC culture of silencing. Take Owen Jones. He’s shocked — shocked, I tell you — that people he knows or likes were shouted down on College Green. This is a man whose obsessive slamming of feminists who criticise trans self-identification frequently unleashes — wittingly or unwittingly — vile misogynistic mobs who brand said feminists bitches and fascists, etc. I’m sorry, but the left cannot go about debasing political debate and then turn around and say, ‘OMG why has political debate become so debased?!’
So, PC warriors, Twittermob members, shrill virtue-signallers, No Platformers, and the rest of you — see that mob outside parliament? That’s what you look and sound like to many people.