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Who are Breivik’s fellow travellers?

It would have been a lot neater, and no doubt a lot more comforting, if Anders Behring Breivik had been declared too insane to stand trial. The survivors of his massacre would have been spared the sight of Breivik saluting the TV cameras on his way into court and he would not have been able to use the international attention to promote the doctrine that he claims justified the killings.

In a short film played to the court on the first day of the trial, Breivik set out his theory that western civilisation was under attack from multiculturalism, an “anti-European hate ideology” orchestrated by “cultural Marxists”, who had encouraged the Islamic “colonisation” of Europe in order to destroy traditional Christian values.

Taken in isolation, his views do seem like a paranoid delusion – and that is perhaps why an initial psychiatric report declared Breivik to be suffering from schizophrenia. Yet if the beliefs he claims to hold really are delusional, then the frightening thing is that they did not spring forth from a single, deranged mind: they represent a far-right ideology shared by groups across Europe and the US.

Breivik claimed to be part of the “counter-jihad” movement, a network of bloggers and political activists who believe that Muslim immigrants threaten not only violence but “demographic jihad”, simply by living here and having children. These ideas have inspired a new wave of far-right movements, chief among them being the English Defence League.

The leaders of this street protest group, which emerged in 2009, are Breivik’s ideological cousins: its principal spokesman, Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (who goes by the pseudonym “Tommy Robinson”), has distanced himself from Breivik’s methods but was quoted in an interview praising his “cunning”. Last year, in the aftermath of the Norway killings, Yaxley-Lennon predicted similar events in Britain if people did not “listen” to the EDL.

Dark origins

The “cultural Marxism” that Breivik blamed for Europe’s Muslim takeover is a conspiracy theory that was born in the US. It contends that a small group of Marxist philosophers associated with the Frankfurt school of critical theory plotted to destroy western civilisation by encouraging multiculturalism, homosexuality and collectivist economic ideas.

Although many don’t realise it today, the theory is anti-Semitic in origin and its early proponents emphasised that these philosophers were all Jewish. Breivik’s lengthy “manifesto” devotes an entire section to profiling Theodor Adorno, Herbert Marcuse and other Frankfurt school thinkers.

A threat to ethnic purity; betrayal by corrupt elites; the presence of a foreign invader – these are familiar themes for the far right. But the ideology of the “counter-jihad” movement marks a shift from neo-Nazism, whose followers believe above all in the international Jewish conspiracy – and that immigration is a Jewish-led plot to dilute European racial stock.

The difference here is that Breivik’s themes have widespread mainstream credibility. Islamophobia is rampant across western Europe, while Britain’s press leads the field with its drip-feed of anti-Muslim coverage.

Even the idea of “cultural Marxism” has found its way into the mainstream, dovetailing with right-wing ideologues who would have us believe that liberal elites have foisted their agenda on an unwilling population. In the US, it was promoted by the likes of the late commentator Andrew Breitbart, while here it has been echoed by conservatives. Last September, the writer James Delingpole claimed that the BBC had fallen victim to a Marxist “plan to destroy western civilisation from within”. Earlier this month, a Daily Mail blogger even suggested that the New Statesman’s founders, Beatrice and Sidney Webb, were dedicated to the “destruction of traditional western civilisation” and that the London School of Economics, which they also founded, was a nest of Frankfurt-style subversion.

To think that every cultural conservative is a secret extremist or a killer-in-waiting would be another kind of paranoid fantasy. But the point about far-right ideology is that it is parasitical on the mainstream.

The fascism of the 1920s and 1930s succeeded because it played on wider fears, winning the support of those who would never have thought of themselves as “extremists”. The Nazis used anti-Semitism because it already existed in German society. Their successors today use Islamophobia because it already exists in our societies. From a tiny grain of truth – the existence of Islamist terror – has been spun a whole mythology about the imminent collapse of western civilisation and, whether they realise it or not, conservative ideologues are helping spread the poison that enables the far right to grow.

Daniel Trilling’s “Bloody Nasty People: the Rise of Britain’s Far Right” will be published by Verso in September

Daniel Trilling is the Editor of New Humanist magazine. He was formerly an Assistant Editor at the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 23 April 2012 issue of the New Statesman, Islamophobia on trial

Photo: Getty Images/Richard Stonehouse
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Here's how Jeremy Corbyn can win back the Midlands

The Midlands is where elections are decided - and where Jeremy Corbyn can win. 

The Midlands: this “formless” place is where much of Labour’s fate lies. The party witnessed some of its most disappointing 2015 results here. In those early, depressing hours of 8 May, Nuneaton was the result that rang the death knell of Labour’s election chances. Burton, Cannock Chase, Halesowen & Rowley Regis, Redditch and Telford weren’t far behind. To win here Labour need to build a grassroots movement that engages swing voters.

Luckily, this is also a place with which Labour’s new leader has a natural affinity. The bellwether seat of Nuneaton is where Jeremy Corbyn chose to hold his last regional rally of the leadership contest; just a couple of counties over you’ll find the home Corbyn moved to in Shropshire when he was seven. He cut his political teeth round the corner in marginal constituency The Wrekin; it was in this key seat he did his first stint of campaigning. Flanked by a deputy leader, Tom Watson, who represents Labour stronghold West Bromwich East, Corbyn has his eye on the Midlands.

As MP for Islington North since 1983, Labour’s leader has earned London-centric credentials that have long since overshadowed his upbringing. But Corbynism isn’t a phenomenon confined to the capital. The enthusiasm that spilled out of Corbyn’s summer leadership rallies across the country has continued into the autumn months; Labour’s membership is now over 370,000. It’s fast catching up with 1997 figures, which are the highest in the party’s recent history.

London is the biggest beneficiary of this new movement - with 20 per cent of Labour’s members and 19 per cent of new members who signed up the week before conference coming from the capital. But Corbynism is flourishing elsewhere. 11 per cent of all Labour party members now reside in the southeast. In that same pre-conference week 14 per cent of new members came from this mostly Tory blue area of the country. And since last year, membership in the southwest increased by 124 per cent. Not all, but a good deal of this, is down to Corbyn’s brand of anti-austerity politics.

A dramatic rise in membership, with a decent regional spread, is nothing to be sneered at; people are what you need to create an election-winning grassroots movement. But, as May proved, having more members than your opposition doesn’t guarantee victory. Corbyn has spoken to many who’d lost faith in the political system but more people need to be won over to his cause.  

This is clear in the Midlands, where the party’s challenges are big. Labour’s membership is swelling here too, but to a lesser degree than elsewhere. 32 per cent of party members now and 13 per cent of those who joined up in seven days preceding conference hail from this part of the country.

But not all potential Labour voters will become card-carrying members. Corbyn needs to speak to swing voters. These people have no party colours and over the summer they had mixed views on Corbynism. In Nuneaton, Newsnight found a former Labour turned Ukip voter who thought Corbyn would take Labour “backwards” and put the economy at risk. But a fellow Ukip voter said he saw Corbyn as “fresh blood”.

These are enduring splits countrywide. Voters in key London marginal Croydon Central gave a mixed verdict on Corbyn’s conference speech. They thought he was genuine but were worried about his economic credibility. While they have significant doubts, swing voters are still figuring out who Labour’s new leader is.

This is where the grassroots movement comes into play. Part of the challenge is to get out there and explain to these people exactly who the party is, what it’s going to offer them and how it’s going to empower them to make change. 

Labour have nascent plans to make this reality in the Midlands. Tom Watson advocated bringing back to life this former industrial heartland by making it a base for manufacturing once again – hopefully based on modern skills and technologies.  He’s also said the leadership team will make regular regional visits to key seats. Watson’s words chime with plans floated by shadow minister Jon Trickett: to engage people with citizens’ assemblies where they have a say over Labour politics.

But meetings alone don’t make grassroots movements. Alongside the economy, regional identity is a decisive issue in this – and other – area(s) of the country. With the influx in money brought in by new members, Labour should harness peoples’ desire for belonging, get into communities and fill the gaps the Government are leaving empty. While they’re doing this, they could spread the word of a proper plan for devolution, harking back to the days of municipal socialism, so people know they’ll have power over their own communities under Labour.

This has to start now, and there’s no reason why the Midlands can’t act as a model. Labour can engage with swing voters by getting down to a community level and start showing – and not just saying –  how the party can make a difference. 

Maya Goodfellow is a freelance journalist.