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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
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Local government needs genuine devolution, not just austerity

The public trust local government. It's time for George Osborne to do the same.

George Osborne’s set pieces have not been kind to local government. Since 2010, central government funding has been cut by 40 per cent in real terms resulting in job losses, closure of frontline services, and funding gaps growing to unsustainable levels.

Despite the harsh cuts meted out to councils and poorer communities suffering the biggest cuts, figures from the cross-party Local Government Association show that over 70 per cent of people trust their council more than national government to take the right decisions about local services.

It is innovative Labour councils which are leading the way in rebuilding trust in politics. Oldham Council, led by Cllr Jim McMahon, has seen resident satisfaction increase threefold just four years after taking over from the Lib Dems and turning around local services; while Barking and Dagenham recently set up as a private landlord to tackle the housing shortage.

This is not just innovation for the sake of it, it is innovation because control from the centre in Whitehall is failing. Short-termism in the economy has led to weak productivity and poor growth; big-talking rhetoric hides a growing housing crisis; and overblown reforms driven from the centre such as the Tories’ NHS reorganisation are a disaster.

The opportunity for ambitious devolution has never been greater. Yet despite their rhetoric, the Conservatives’ commitment to empowering communities remains remarkably limited.

They want to impose mayors on communities that don’t want them as a pre-condition for handing over more powers.  The recent Budget offered next to nothing for the North East, and the most deprived communities continue to be clobbered with the biggest cuts.  For the Tories, devolution seems to mean little more than trying to devolve the blame for their unfair cuts made in Whitehall.  It is still the same old politics of things done to you, not with you.

The forthcoming Spending Review is a historic opportunity for the Chancellor to put his trust in local government, and there are three key tests the Government should meet in November’s Spending Review.

First, boost the economy. Greater local control over employment schemes and putting Local Enterprise Partnerships on a long-term financial footing would help unlock the potential of our regional economies to grow and provide better jobs. The LGA has identified further areas of central government funding that could be devolved in order to boost the economy by £80bn.

Second, deliver more efficient public services. Good public services are at the heart of strong communities, but the Tories have cut budgets without extending the power to change how services are run.  Despite growing numbers of older people, adult social care spending has been cut back to 2004/05 levels. By closing the funding shortfall and allowing for integration of social care and health services, local government can deliver savings and better outcomes, but our centralising Tory Government won’t let it happen.

Third, reshape Whitehall. Devolution must be a long-term commitment beyond the spending review, but the machinery of government is not yet ready for it. Labour recently won a vote in Parliament on introducing a test to assess whether new laws are compatible with devolution, but the Chancellor can go further. Restructuring and adequately resourcing the Local Growth Fund, which currently accounts for a fraction of the funding available for local growth projects, would be a good start.

By meeting these tests – boosting the economy, delivering more efficient public services, and reshaping Whitehall – the Chancellor could show he has a commitment to real devolution rather than just talking about it. The public trusts local government to run efficient and effective services, and Labour trusts local communities and local people to have a bigger say. It’s time the Chancellor did the same.