I ask because I’ve just been watching the excellent Andrew Marr series History of Modern Britain and the scenes from Germany and Italy in the 20s and 30s chime unpleasantly with this week’s Republican convention in the US. Googling the question ‘is Donald Trump a fascist’ connects to several interesting articles and although the answer in general seems to be ‘no’ you’ve got to worry.
The Washington Post’s analysis (click here) is a good read and rates Trump according to eight ideological traits and three as a political movement awarding 0-4 Benitos (as in Benito Mussolini) for each one. It scores him 26 out of a possible 44 hence the conclusion that he’s not a fascist, or maybe just not quite. Question now is how would Boris Johnson score?
Starting with ideology (and with the Washington Post Trump scores in brackets):
- Hyper-nationalism. You’d think that Johnson’s declared commitment to the Brexit cause and ‘take back control’ would score him high and his recent Covid related obsession with world-class this and world-beating that reinforce this. I’d give him 3 (Trump 2).
- Militarism. No evidence of this, thank goodness. Score zero (Trump 2).
- Glorification of violence and readiness to use it in politics. Again no evidence of this. Score zero (Trump 1).
- Fetishization of youth. And again. Score zero (Trump 0 as well).
- Fetishization of masculinity. Johnson’s record of philandering and his failure to include many women in his team would suggest that he’s got a bit of a problem in this regard. I suspect he’s good for 2 (Trump 4).
- Leader cult. ‘Fascists always looked to a leader who was bold, decisive, manly, uncompromising and cruel when necessary’. Well Johnson’s clearly got a mixed card in this respect and his recent Covid performance has been anything but ‘bold’ and ‘decisive’. But he has been ‘uncompromising’ where Brexit has been concerned so probably a 3 again (Trump 4)
- Lost-golden-age syndrome. This would seem to overlap hyper-nationalism to some extent and the continuing references to how successful the UK had been before the EU and the ever constant obsession with world war 2 ( a bit of a nation wide problem) call for a score of 4 (Trump 4)
- Self-definition by opposition. There used to be an acceptance by the Tories that sometimes they might lose an election and that that would not be the end of civilisation as we know it. That seemed to go out of the window when Jeremy Corby came along but recently Labour under Keir Starmer doesn’t seem to be such a bogey man. Just maybe Johnson’s Tories may be more about defining themselves more for what they are and less as the essential insurance against Labour. Score 2 at present (Trump 3).
As a political movement, fascism displayed three further important traits:
- Mass mobilization and mass party. Difficult this one. Obviuosly the Tory party predates Johnson but he leveraged the ‘vote leave’ campaign to his advantage and to some extent his championing of Brexit has been all about seizing what was UKIP (later the Brexit party) territory. Score 2 (Trump 2)
- Hierarchical party structure and tendency to purge the disloyal. Johnson’s behaviour at the end of the last parliament when he sacked Ken Clarke et al suggests a high score here and his failure to punish incompetence in recent Covid days suggests that he places a high premium on loyalty. Score 2 (Trump 1)
- Theatricality. Johnson is said to be very charismatic in person and seems to revel in his disheveled ‘naughty boy’ persona. He’s also big on the Latin and continues to cultivate an Etonesque language. Score 3 (Trump 3).
In Italy and Germany this theatricality (is there really such a word?) was underpinned by some pretty uncompromising and brutal architecture (the photo above is a cinema in Acireale in Sicily). So far neither Trump (who’s already got the White House and the neighbouring Washington monuments) not Johnson have indulged in any grandiose projects although maybe we should count Trump’s Mexican wall and hasn’t Johnson talk about a bridge between Scotland and Ireland?
Total for Johnson 21 (Trump 26) so in fascism terms must try harder.
There are two important factors. The first is Dominic Cummings. He would probably score more on numbers 8 and 10 but that wouldn’t be enough to make a significant difference.
The second is the British psyche. We’ve been there before with Oswald Mosley and his brown shirts. Despite what was happening in Italy and Germany in the 30s Mosley failed miserably because (a) he was opposed/denounced by a broad coalition of liberals and the left, and (b) he was seen to be frankly ridiculous by the population at large. Andrew Marr reckons that we do not take such strutting and posturing seriously. Being ‘bolshy’ might be the cause of much of our economic under performance but it’s a useful insurance against a regime which would deprive us of what we seem to believe is our right to misbehave.
So no, Boris Johnson is not a fascist. He’s a pretty shabby leader though. He’s got a weak team, at least three of which are probably eyeing his job, he’s almost certainly lost the support of the civil service (the equivalent of a football manager losing the dressing room?) and he’s under the influence (or even control) of an unelected amoral anarchist. That’s bad enough.