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Think Charlottesville couldn't happen in the UK? Then look at today's Sun

When columnists call for a solution to “The Muslim Problem” it begins to legitimise the kind of hate boiling over in the US.

The sight of actual, real-life, flag-flying, gun-toting, "blood and soil" chanting Nazis and white supremacists marching through Charlottesville in the US this weekend was chilling, even before one of them drove into counter-protesters, killing one and injuring almost 20 more. 

As is often the way for those in the UK, watching what happens to our English-speaking transatlantic partner prompts the question "could it happen here?".

History suggests it's unlikely. Britain has had its own racist movements – the English Defence League, Britain First, further back the National Front – but most of the population takes pride in the country's history of opposing fascism. Not only is the Second World War seen as our greatest moment, but the Battle of Cable Street, in which thousands of Jews, trade unions and communists fought and won street battles against Oswald Mosley's Blackshirts, is celebrated right across the political spectrum. 

Yes, we have the likes of Thomas Mair, the far-right murderer of MP Jo Cox, but we have no significant, organised groups espousing the kind of white supremacist ideology on display in the US this weekend.

That's what we reassure ourselves with at least. 

Yet in what seems like an inadvertent masterstroke of timing, along comes Sun columnist Trevor Kavanagh to remind us how you get from civilised debate to goose-stepping in small, easy steps.

In Monday's Sun, Kavanagh has penned a column mostly about Chancellor Philip Hammond and Brexit, but with a few paragraphs dedicated to the conviction of a group of mainly British Asian men in Newcastle for running a sexual abuse ring.

There are obviously debates to be had about how this case and other instances of sexual abuse are carried out by groups with shared religious or cultural backgrounds (though maybe let's include the Catholic Church in that debate).

But Kavanagh, of course, went a lot further than that, linking the convictions to Brexit's promise of full control of immigration and asking: "What will we do about The Muslim Problem then?"

This isn't so much a political dog-whistle as a full on Wagner symphony. The Sun has been asked for a comment on whether it was a deliberate attempt to mirror the Nazis' second-favourite euphemism for hating Jews (the first, remember, has already been used by former Sun columnist Katie Hopkins after she'd left for the Mail.) It seems unlikely it was a mistake, given that Kavanagh's terrible views do not detract from his skill with words. 

The other argument (as it was with Hopkins) is that Kavanagh is just voicing his opinion as an independent columnist. That argument is a little difficult to hold up when Kavanagh is the Sun's former political editor, as well as its current assistant editor (he also sits on the board of media regulator the Independent Press Standards Organisation). 

But even if you set aside Kavanagh's exalted position at the Sun and take it simply as one columnist saying something objectionable for attention, it's part of a broader pattern of writing across the tabloid press that seeks to dehumanise minorities, and these days that mostly means Muslims. 

You will course see worse things on social media and the dark corners of the web. There is more explicit enthusiasm for applying Nazi tactics to minority groups in the UK on, for instance, the comments posted to Mail Online.

But while the right-wing tabloid press's statements, hints, and calls for serious debate in the face of oppressive "political correctness" are more subtle, their appearance in the supposedly mainstream media legitimises the most extreme of views. 

And to see how that works you only have to turn back across the Atlantic. 

Donald Trump's rise was backed by a drip drip of subtly-legitimatised hate from the likes of Breitbart and Fox News, augmented by the more crazy fringe of those like Alex Jones at Infowars, who talk of a white culture under threat. And there is a feedback loop running through Trump himself, where his comments and sometimes lack of comments boosts those messages. When he branded both sides in Charlottesville as equally violent, and refused to answer questions about support from white supremacists, it gave succour to the most openly fascist organisations on the internet

The US example shows what years of this process results in. It softens up the public for even more vicious views, and pushes the Overton Window so being a Nazi seems just another viewpoint – one sympathised with by parts of the supposed mainstream and perhaps, even, at least a little, the president himself. 

The US is perhaps a decade or two ahead of us down this path, but in Kavanagh and other writers like him, we have at least the beginnings of the same process. Maybe something like Charlottesville taking place here seems like a distant prospect. But we have plenty of people with huge media platforms doing their best to prepare the ground. 

Jasper Jackson is the New Statesman's digital editor. He was formerly assistant editor of Media Guardian, and editor of TheMediaBriefing.

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Jeremy Corbyn supporters should stop excusing Labour’s anti-immigration drift

The Labour leader is a passionate defender of migrants’ rights – Brexit shouldn’t distract the new left movement from that.

Something strange is happening on the British left – a kind of deliberate collective amnesia. During the EU referendum, the overwhelming majority of the left backed Remain.

Contrary to a common myth, both Jeremy Corbyn and the movement behind him put their weight into a campaign that argued forcefully for internationalism, migrants’ rights and regulatory protections.

And yet now, as Labour’s policy on Brexit hardens, swathes of the left appear to be embracing Lexit, and a set of arguments which they would have laughed off stage barely a year ago.

The example of free movement is glaring and obvious, but worth rehashing. When Labour went into the 2017 general election promising to end free movement with the EU, it did so with a wider election campaign whose tone was more pro-migrant than any before it.

Nonetheless, the policy itself, along with restricting migrants’ access to public funds, stood in a long tradition of Labour triangulating to the right on immigration for electorally calculated reasons. When Ed Miliband promised “tough controls on immigration”, the left rightly attacked him.  

The result of this contradiction is that those on the left who want to agree unequivocally with the leadership must find left-wing reasons for doing so. And so, activists who have spent years declaring their solidarity with migrants and calling for a borderless world can now be found contemplating ways for the biggest expansion of border controls in recent British history – which is what the end of free movement would mean – to seem progressive, or like an opportunity.

The idea that giving ground to migrant-bashing narratives or being harsher on Poles might make life easier for non-EU migrants was rightly dismissed by most left-wing activists during the referendum.

Now, some are going quiet or altering course.

On the Single Market, too, neo-Lexit is making a comeback. Having argued passionately in favour of membership, both the Labour leadership and a wider layer of its supporters now argue – to some extent or another – that only by leaving the Single Market could Labour implement a manifesto.

This is simply wrong: there is very little in Labour’s manifesto that does not have an already-existing precedent in continental Europe. In fact, the levers of the EU are a key tool for clamping down on the power of big capital.

In recent speeches, Corbyn has spoken about the Posted Workers’ Directive – but this accounts for about 0.17 per cent of the workforce, and is about to be radically reformed by the European Parliament.

The dangers of this position are serious. If Labour’s leadership takes the path of least resistance on immigration policy and international integration, and its support base rationalises these compromises uncritically, then the logic of the Brexit vote – its borders, its affirmation of anti-migrant narratives, its rising nationalist sentiment – will be mainlined into Labour Party policy.

Socialism in One Country and a return to the nation state cannot work for the left, but they are being championed by the neo-Lexiteers. In one widely shared blogpost on Novara Media, one commentator even goes as far as alluding to Britain’s Road to Socialism – the official programme of the orthodox Communist Party.

The muted and supportive reaction of Labour’s left to the leadership’s compromises on migration and Brexit owes much to the inept positioning of the Labour right. Centrists may gain personal profile and factional capital when the weaponising the issue, but the consequences have been dire.

Around 80 per cent of Labour members still want a second referendum, and making himself the “stop Brexit” candidate could in a parallel universe have been Owen Smith’s path to victory in the second leadership election.

But it meant that in the summer of 2016, when the mass base of Corbynism hardened its factional resolve, it did so under siege not just from rebelling MPs, but from the “Remoaners” as well.

At every juncture, the strategy of the centrist Labour and media establishment has made Brexit more likely. Every time a veteran of the New Labour era – many of whom have appalling records on, for instance, migrants’ rights – tells Labour members to fight Brexit, party members run a mile.

If Tony Blair’s messiah complex was accurate, he would have saved us all a long time ago – by shutting up and going away. The atmosphere of subterfuge and siege from MPs and the liberal press has, by necessity, created a culture of loyalty and intellectual conformity on the left.

But with its position in the party unassailable, and a radical Labour government within touching distance of Downing Street, the last thing the Labour leadership now needs is a wave of Corbynite loyalty-hipsters hailing its every word.

As the history of every attempt to form a radical government shows, what we desperately need is a movement with its own internal democratic life, and an activist army that can push its leaders as well as deliver leaflets for them.

Lexit is no more possible now than it was during the EU referendum, and the support base of the Labour left and the wider party is overwhelmingly in favour of free movement and EU membership.

Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and Diane Abbott are passionate, principled advocates for migrants’ rights and internationalism. By showing leadership, Labour can once again change what is electorally possible.