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It’s sometimes said that, when discussing politics, the first person to make a comparison with Nazi Germany has lost the argument. But perhaps such comparisons are not always inappropriate, and can occasionally be illuminating.
Take a look at this poster. It is repellent and disturbing. But in our current circumstances it is worthy of contemplation. The wording reads: "60,000 Reichsmarks is what this person suffering from a hereditary disease costs the People's community during his lifetime. Comrade, that is your money too."
The poster was used to persuade the general public in Nazi Germany that the sick and disabled were an unaffordable burden. The money spent on them was being taken away from the poster’s target audience - the person who today would probably be described as ‘a hard-working taxpayer’, or perhaps a ‘striver’.
One may think that such propaganda could never be acceptable in this country, today. If seen would be deplored, and counter-productive. But what if, in this more sophisticated age, the same techniques are being used, but in a more subtle and insidious way?
We know that hate crimes against disabled people have increased dramatically, and many charities have linked government rhetoric to this rise, as people receiving disability benefits have consistently been portrayed as scroungers.
The Secretary of State has played a part in spreading misinformation on this issue, developing a reputation for a rather cavalier way with figures. His use of statistics on some disability benefits has been comprehensively demolished here by medical ethicist Ray Noble, of University College London.
It’s not just the disabled who are targets for negative propaganda. Look at this campaign about benefits run by the Conservative party in marginal constituencies. It contrasts a respectable, attractive, blonde-haired family with an unemployed single man. If the unemployed man had been black or Asian there would rightly have been cries of racism. But portraying the unemployed as a drain on society is somehow not seen for what it really is: an incitement to resent and scapegoat a minority of the population.
One may ask if there’s any evidence that this propaganda is having an effect. In a disturbing story in the Independent, Matthew Norman wrote about chants becoming popular with sports fans in the South, particularly London.
At a recent darts tournament, he wrote, 'Sung to the tune of La Donna e Mobile, and increasingly popular with the north London crowd as the tournament progressed….."We pay your benefits, we pay your benefits,"
'David Cameron is famously a fellow darts fan. If he tuned in, he will not have found this as alarming and depressing as I did. Far from it, he will have been thrilled by the taunting, because in so far as the PM has any strategy, encouraging us to regard benefit claimants as an innately inferior sub-species is it.’
Norman went on to credit this success to, "Iain Duncan Smith's Work and Pensions department planting stories about large families on benefits and other supposed wastrels in friendly tabloids on a daily basis."
Modern governments do not need to be as crass and obvious as the Nazis, they can sow the seeds of resentment and hostility towards minorities in a far more subtle way. It is still morally reprehensible.
In 1964 Malcolm X warned, ‘If you're not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.’
We need to be very careful indeed under the current government.
© Bernadette Meaden has written about religious, political and social issues for some years, and is strongly influenced by Christian Socialism, liberation theology and the Catholic Worker movement. She is an Ekklesia associate and regular contributor.Tweet