Sunak, Trump, Meloni - Our Politicians Seem Confused!
A few think they were elected when they weren't. Some others think they're moderates when they're not. And boy do they have a problem with migrants.
Have you heard? Neo-Fascists are the new centre right. Oh where have all the moderates gone...??? We’re here, we’re here! shouts Sunak. (wink, wink). Rishi is fresh back from his weekend in Rome where he spoke at his new bestie's - Giorgia Meloni’s annual Brother’s of Italy Festival. And one has to ask is he desperate for attention and a really good carbonara or just a little delusional?
There he was partying away on the stage speaking in front of a big exuberant crowd in the gardens of Castel Sant'Angelo in Rome - right next to the law courts and the Pope’s secret escape which is kind of oxymoronic when you think about it. Poor man, its a crowd and reaction he’s rarely gotten in his own country. Being a backroom appointed PM the whole crowd of supporters thing must have been intoxicating, even getting it second hand. And he waxed elegiac about his dreams of deportation for all those small boat people. He would do it side by side with his new friend the lovely Giorgia Meloni.
Sunak gingerly announced that he and Meloni, the only centre right politicians in Europe, would deport those boat refugees to Rwanda, Albania, Tunisia, Turkey anywhere but the Bibby barge in Portland. And yes he called himself and Meloni out as Europe’s centre right. Did he not notice all the black shirts everyone was wearing?
Neo fascista means neo-fascist in English. It's not some Italian take on Keanu Reeves as Neo. And what was he doing speaking of Europe like he gave one whit about it?The boy wonder who dreamed of freeports as a child and had Braverman in his cabinet was obviously confused. Perhaps the golden haired Italiana had distracted him. He announced working with Meloni on new laws around migration to Europe conveniently sidestepping that Meloni is bound to follow the EU policies on immigration. It’s even written in the fine print of that nice little MOU they signed in April.
But rampant nativism, delusion and performance is par for the course these days in politics and ridiculous but loud rhetorical misstatements shouldn’t be so surprising. Yet, even I was surprised with the new positioning. The Brothers of Italy are Neo-fascists. They play to the resurrection of an authoritarian black shirted regime - Mussolini 2.0. There’s no sugar coating that. Or I thought there wasn’t. The festival previously welcomed such staunch centrists as Steve Bannon (hard right chaos agent and pardoned Trumpist) and Orban - who needs no introduction.
So on Saturday Sunak calls Meloni a centre right politician. But this isn’t just the rhetorical backhand of a slightly desperate British politician. It's all part of the theme. Like the appointment of the great British centrist, David Cameron, who gave us those pretty hard right policies of Austerity and brought Brexit into our lives. See Ma - I am a centrist… Really!
But then on Sunday after weeks of Trump stump speeches calling out immigrants for “poisoning the blood of our country” (a Hitler quote) there are several op-eds in the papers of record in the US explaining that Trump is a moderate on healthcare and social security, medicare and abortion???? Who knew? He just sounds like Hitler by accident. He didn’t mean it like Hitler did and after all, he’s never read Mein Kampf.
The fact that he might not have read any book seems slightly irrelevant at this point. And - there is a pesky fact that in an old interview from the 90’s his then ex-wife said he slept with a book of Hitler’s speeches by his bedside and some employees used to give him sig heil salutes. She thought maybe it was a family joke….
But now it seems Rishi and Trump are both gunning for roles as fantastical illusionists. And why not? They seem to scream loudest about immigration which in the last 100 years has been an effective tradition for lots of politicians. When you need to get citizens on your side the easiest way has always been the othering of the lowest guy on the totem pole. And who’s lower then boat people or refuges.
Immigration, Migration, legal and illegal, where are we all going to live. It's always been a foundational political issue. Whether you were a starving Irishman or Italian escaping to the US in the 19th century, a German settling into South America in the 20th century or a Jew finding refuge in Israel from everywhere else after WWII. The movement of people’s impacts our politics and our everyday life like no other. Well, other than perhaps the latest McDonald’s menu shake-up.
There is movement motivated by religion - Hindu and Islam in India and Pakistan, movement motivated by economics - those 19th century Europeans to US, the South America to North America in the late 20th century and now the 21st. And the political and economic and environmental refugees now flooding into Europe from Africa. Really the movement of peoples worldwide has been one of the great politically motivating issues of our time whether you’re in Europe, the States, or Asia. Ripe for demagoguery, it's often used as a cudgel and stepping stone for some of our most virulent politicians.
It can bring huge benefits, revitalising places with cheap labour and new communities like many midwestern towns in the states but at the same time discombobulating existing communities which might be struggling and uncomfortable with a building influx of foreign customs, language and traditions. Like Kevin Costner’s ranch in Yellowstone: You know - JimBob wants a rare T-bone but Trung makes him a Thai beef salad… Is that basil on my meat!!!
How the political consensus reacts to that can have truly impactful results to the rest of our politics. Johnson mocked the letterboxes, Trump screams about poisoned soil, Sunak claims it's all so disorderly. (Really he isn’t very good with this nativist stuff). Unfettered immigration in the US in the 19th century ended as rampant nativism, extreme nationalism and fear of foreign influence changed public sentiment after WWI.
America passed new immigration acts in 1921 and 1924 severely restricting what had been an open policy before and permanently changed America’s image as a refuge for the poor and oppressed. WWII changed the optics - the US was busy building a great economy, Britain was inviting in a diaspora from the Empire to fuel and energise their post war condition. The west was hungry to grow and happy to exploit the instant population. Today the celebrity seeking Nigel Farage is betting the Reform UK shop on ‘mass migration’ - and not the buffalo kind.
That welcome mat is well and truly gone now. The conservatives have increasingly moved right to protect encroachment from Reform UK. So Sunak will probably get to send a couple 100 refugees to Rwanda which won't save him head to head with Starmer. And Trump. Meloni? Well I wouldn’t be surprised if Biden doesn’t do a big bipartisan immigration deal this year. Much as Macron has passed a new harder line immigration bill in France. The true centre will hold. Lets hope they manage to remove the issue from the demagogues. Oh and Rish - take a look around - the black shirts aren't an Italian fashion statement. They are a neo fascist imprint. And Elon, the other big guest at Meloni’s shindig, didn’t make twitter into a giant black X by accident. Did he?
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