Flirting with extremism: the Von Papen lesson

Flirting with extremism: the Von Papen lesson

We have recently seen the Conservative party flirt with extremist views, in what seemed like a rather obvious attempt to win back supporters drawn to UKIP.

The campaign against illegal immigrants waged by the Home Office has been condemned as racist by many, with the dominant ‘Go Home’ message reminiscent of National Front graffiti from the Seventies.

On Twitter, the Home Office gleefully boasted of the numbers of arrests made in a police crackdown, with the hashtag #immigrationoffenders. It was pointed out that people had been arrested on suspicion, and one would have hoped that the Home Office knew the difference between a suspect and an offender.

Then it was revealed that Jacob Rees-Mogg had spoken at a dinner of the Traditional Britain Group, despite having been warned by an anti-fascist campaigner that their views were blatantly racist and even fascist.

To his credit M Rees-Mogg appeared genuinely apologetic after the event, but why wasn’t even a hint of such nasty extremism enough to deter him? Perhaps because the current President of Traditional Britain is Lord Sudeley, a former chairman of the Conservative Monday Club.

A couple of weeks ago, Eric Pickles has issued guidance to local Councils on dealing with Travellers’ sites, but the leader of the Gypsy Council Joseph Jones said: "This latest statement Mr Pickles has put out doesn't have anything new in it. It doesn't have any new powers or anything like that. It just seems to me like a bit of grandstanding."

One could call this ‘dog whistle’ politics, but it really is not even as subtle as that.

In light of these events, it was interesting to see Peter Nimmo, a Kirk parish minster in Inverness, tweeting, ‘Decent Conservatives faced with extremism should keep Franz von Papen in mind.’ (@PeterNimmo1)

Franz Von Papen was a right-wing politician who became Chancellor of Germany in June 1932. He promptly set about trying to appease the Nazis. When he was ousted by his political opponents, he engineered Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor, because, as the Encyclopaedia Britannica says "As vice chancellor, Papen, whose fellow non-Nazi nationalists received a majority of the ministerial posts, naively thought he could restrain the Nazis."

History tragically shows what a monumental mistake Von Papen made, attempting to bolster his own position by appeasing a hateful ideology. His story should indeed be food for thought for today’s Conservative party.

Of course it would be easy to dismiss groups like Traditional Britain as a dying breed, hankering for an idea of Britain which is consigned to the past, if it ever actually existed. But their website boasts: "Infused with a new generation of enthusiastic and passionate activists, the Traditional Britain Group offers a focal point to promote ideas, discussion, networking, education and traditionalist action. We seek to provide a home to the disillusioned patriot, and through traditional and modern media, we aim to bring together a broad alliance of those who desire a genuine, radical, conservative alternative."

After the Rees-Mogg affair, they said, ‘We are naturally disappointed that Mr Rees-Mogg has been frightened by these media smears and forced to disassociate himself from perfectly normal Conservatives who actually support him. In the past 20 years the Conservative Party have lost two thirds of their members by abandoning Toryism. We are not prepared to do that.’

Likewise the Conservative Monday Club, though suspended from the Party in 2001 for its extreme views on race is still in existence and has a Twitter account, @ToryConscience which on 8 August tweeted: "Lessons to be learnt from the Swiss on the regulation of the asylum system …" apparently in favour of Swiss measures on asylum seekers that have been likened to apartheid.

Both Traditional Britain and the Conservative Monday Club claim to be guardians of true Tory values. It may be that the rise of UKIP and the Conservatives’ response has given them hope that they can reclaim ‘their’ party, meaning that there are now both external and internal influences pulling Conservatism to the right.

All who believe in a modern, open, generous Britain would do well to monitor their influence on a party currently in government. And as Peter Nimmo says, bear Franz Von Papen in mind.

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© Bernadette Meaden has written about political, religious 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. You can follow her on Twitter: @BernaMeaden

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