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Flickers of light and north London elites

Anti-semitism and racism are to be found in spades in today’s Toryland, says DAVID ROSENBERG

FOR those members of the media/commentariat who have spent the last four years largely looking in the wrong place for the presence of anti-semitism in British politics, the week leading up to Friday’s anniversary of the battle of Cable Street might just have provided a flicker of light for them, encouraging them to look elsewhere.

On Tuesday, Priti Patel, the hard-right home secretary, an immigrant herself, spoke out forcefully against immigration and “freedom of movement” and lambasted those she thinks encourage it. 

“This daughter of immigrants needs no lectures from the north London metropolitan liberal elite,” she said.

Some of us are all too familiar with that code. It was the kind of slur thrown around by the pro-Tory tabloids when Ed Miliband became the first Jewish leader of the Labour Party back in 2010. 

They referred to him then as a “north London geek,” who wants to  serve “the north London metropolitan elite.” 

They ran headlines questioning his patriotic credentials, accusing his father, an “east European refugee from nazism” (they don’t like to use the “J-word”) of being insufficiently grateful to his adopted land of refuge. 

And then came the pictures and headlines illustrating his alleged awkwardness with a bacon sandwich. Yes, it’s OK, we get it.

Patel mixes in unsavoury right-wing circles. Back in February she and Jacob Rees-Mogg were taking to Twitter to express their fulsome support for Turning Point UK. 

This new extremely right-wing youth group is an offshoot of a US group of the same name that has links to conspiracy theorists, and characterises its enemy as espousing “cultural Marxism.”

You might have heard that term before from the lips of Tory MP for Fareham Suella Braverman in a speech that even brought criticism from the very pro-Conservative, and obsessively anti-Corbyn, Board of Deputies of British Jews. 

“Cultural Marxism” is a hate target of “intellectual” far-right circles. It signifies for them followers of the ideology of Frankfurt School Marxists — mainly Jews — whom they depict as conspiring to undermine Western (capitalist) civilisation. The Board of Deputies asked her to pledge not to use this phrase again.

Joining Patel in her support for Turning Point UK was the execrable Jacob Rees-Mogg. His contribution last week, the day before the Cable Street anniversary, was to repeat another favourite far-right anti-semitic trope, used frequently in Hungary, Poland and the US in particular. 

He accused George Soros of combining money-power and political reach, as the “Remoaner funder in chief.” This followed his intervention on September 3 when he directly referenced conspiracy theories by describing two Jewish politicians, Oliver Letwin and John Bercow, as “illuminati who are taking the powers to themselves.”

Rees-Mogg is not the only Tory to indulge in Soros conspiracy theories. Theresa May’s close adviser Nick Timothy, now working as a Daily Telegraph columnist, beat Rees-Mogg to it in February 2018, when he accused Soros of a secret plot to stop Brexit. 

When May stepped down, she rewarded Timothy with a CBE. Anti-semitism is certainly no bar to honours in today’s Toryland.

Rees-Mogg has form with the far right, having accepted an invitation to be a guest speaker of the ultra-conservative Traditional Britain Group (TBG) a few years back. 

Rees-Mogg spent the evening sitting amiably next to TBG’s vice-president, Gregory Lauder Frost, who has also amiably shared platforms with prominent Holocaust deniers such as David Irving and Ernst Zundel. 

On other matters Lauder-Frost has stated that “we owe Africa nothing. It owes us … for lifting it out of barbarism.” 

He was once unwittingly taped by an undercover reporter, as he described Vanessa Feltz as a “Fat Jewish slag” and Doreen Lawrence as a “n****”.

The TBG’s website, which Rees-Mogg would surely have examined as minimal due diligence before accepting an invitation, recommends the works of fascist ideologues Oswald Mosley and Julius Evola. 

It also promotes books by “race scientist” Roger Pearson who defends “Aryan” racial superiority, and encourages members to read The Great Betrayal by Ian Smith of the old racist Rhodesian regime.

It wasn’t long ago that anti-semitism was more openly expressed by Conservatives and many Jews treated the party with deep suspicion. 

When Michael Howard — born Michael Hecht to Romanian Jewish immigrants — set off to build his political career, he had to travel to dozens of Tory associations before he found one willing to to tolerate a Jewish Tory candidate.

When the deeply anti-immigrant Margaret Thatcher promoted three very assimilated and patriotic British Jews to her Cabinet in the 1980s, she was sternly rebuked by Tory elders, not least by one time premier Harold Macmillan, who complained that her Cabinet had “more old Estonians than old Etonians.”

With the rise of Boris Johnson we have someone in No 10 more racist and right wing than Thatcher herself. Following his brief stint as foreign secretary, he will be perfectly at home with the disturbing alliances that the Tories have cemented over the last 10 years, which have barely raised more than a whisper of concern from the mainstream media.

These are the alliances with anti-semitic governments in Poland and Hungary, and with far-right nationalist parties in Latvia and Bulgaria, and more recently in Italy and Sweden.

To many people it is even more surprising that organisations that claim to lead the Jewish community and defend it from anti-semitism are so muted about these formal links.

In Johnson’s short period of  leading the governing party he has already suffered several defeats, but he has emboldened his further right-wing MPs. 

When Jeremy Corbyn responded to Johnson’s Brexit statement this week, he had to do so while the Conservative frontbencher Jake Berry was calling out “Britain First! Britain First!” — the words shouted by Jo Cox’s killer, and the motto that adorned Oswald Mosley’s weekly Blackshirt newspaper.

Johnson may think he is forging a brave new world but he is taking us backwards several decades to a time when Tory MPs openly gave support to racist politics, as in the period shortly after the second world war. 

At that time, a sense of alarm was spreading among longstanding residents of Hampstead about the growing number of Jewish refugees from nazism finding homes in the area. 

Local residents began an anti-alien petition which won enthusiastic support from local Tory councillors, and especially from the local Tory MP, Flight Lieutenant Charles Challen.

Johnson, you should tell your Home Secretary, we actually know what a real north London elite looks like.

This piece appeared on David Rosenberg’s blog rebellion602.wordpress.com.

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