The Week in Review: A faint whiff of British fascism
There was an ugly nip in the air this week. It wasn't just the first chill wind of the autumn, that tiny bit of cold on a warm day which reminds you that everything is going to get dark and miserable again. It was the huffing and puffing of British fascism.
It's not proper fascism, obviously. Proper fascism needs spotless uniforms, orderly timetables and people who take things very seriously, none of which are traits commonly associated with the British. It's old school British fascism; retired generals complaining about the service at an Indian restaurant.
Or so we thought. The Home Office has been doing its damndest to turn itself into a school re-enactment of the fall of the Weimar Republic. It really is home for all the most humourless people in Britain.
It started with some decidedly tasteless tweets about immigration raids, many of which branded their subjects 'offenders'. It's a boring old tradition, the rule of law, and the Home Office appears to have had enough of it. Next they sent a van around carefully selected parts of London telling illegal immigrants to "go home".
The phrase has strong associations with the National Front slogan of the seventies. More informally, it rang a bell with people – particularly from the sub-continent – who came to Britain in those years. It is an ugly, barren thing which was often shouted at new immigrants. Politicians were quick to disown it.
This week it turned out that those schemes didn't work out too well.
Liberty sent out a counter-van (that's a word now… literally as of right now) accusing the Home Office of whipping up community tension. The Advertising Standards Authority agreed and started an investigation on Friday. That can be added to the Equality and Human Rights Commission inquiry into the UK Border Agency spot-checks at London Tube stations, which might break the law in numerous ways.
While the Home Office was behaving like Jim Davidson without the jokes, Eric Pickles was doing his bit. The government would make life hard for Gypsies, he promised. How? Well, not really at all. There's no new law, just some new guidance for local councils. Basically, he'd done nothing, but he'd done it very loudly on morning TV stations, so it gave the distinct impression of a man trying to capture some populist support. It's OK. There are no historical precedents for that working out badly.
Ukip MEP and professional stands-to-reason pub bore Godfrey Bloom made a spectacular fool of himself this week with a speech which referenced "bongo bongo land". It's been used before in mainstream politics, by Alan Clarke. Clarke was an efficient womaniser and an exceptional diarist, but not the man you want to cite when you're trying to demonstrate how modern your views on race relations are.
Was the phrase racist? It's not really clear. Would only an idiot use it? Certainly. Predictably, Right-wing Tory backbenchers like Phillip Davies and Peter Bone crawled out the woodwork to defend him.
The row was a bit of a conundrum for Farage. On the one hand, he'd pushed for an Italian MEP to be dropped from Ukip's European grouping for the same term just months earlier. Also, it is the sort of the thing that make Ukip look like, well, like "fruitcakes and closet racists". On the other hand, he's rather keen to keep that tell-it-like-it-is reputation.
Bloom was kept on but told not to say it again. He sort of apologised, then insisted he'd never apologised, then stormed out of an interview because he didn't want to talk about it anymore.
And finally, we had Jacob Rees-Mogg, who really should know better. The wry Somerset MP is well loved in Westminster. He knows his history, is adept at filibustering and sometimes lapses into Latin. It is proof, if any were needed, that politics values the same skills which guarantee you a traumatic and friendless childhood.
The Moggster took up an invitation from Traditional Britain, which sounds like a fuddy duddy gaggle of professional sentimentalists but is in fact apparently a talking shop for lunatic fascists who use words like "assimiliationism".
He managed to emerge relatively unscathed, using his best old-English-gentleman skills on Newsnight and taking full responsibility for the error. It helped that the boys down at Traditional Britain clearly took a dislike to him.
Taken apart, it was mostly a litany of screw ups. But together there was something quite ugly and tasteless in the air: foolish right-wingers absent-mindedly revealing their ignorance of the world, a desperate stretch for populist credentials without any sense of the damage it might do to local communities, and a lackadaisical attitude to potentially extremist organisations.
Overall, a week to be forgotten. Just as well everyone was on holiday.