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Europe stands no chance of tackling extreme populism while Boris Johnson stands by Steve Bannon

Bannon, with whom Johnson spent time before composing his concerto for burqa and niqab, is on a mission

Matthew Norman
Sunday 12 August 2018 17:39 BST
Steve Bannon: People in EU countries didn't sign up to have their national identity taken away

As the decibel levels rise on both sides of the Boris Johnson burqa divide, with claims of a cabinet rebellion in his support mingling with reports of a rise in racial assaults, two voices are oddly muted.

One belongs, predictably, to the provocateur himself. Ever adept at scarpering from the doorstep to watch the fun unfold from the bushes, Westminster’s current knock down ginger champion remains reticent after returning from his holiday in Italy.

As speechless as a letterbox, as stealthy as a bank robber, he appears quite content to delegate all the talking to his fan club attack dogs. Most (Andrew Bridgen, Andrea Jenkyns, etc) are among the usual suspects whenever it comes to rounding up a posse of Tory back bench eighth-wits. But the pack leader must be taken more seriously.

In The Sunday Times, Steve Bannon doubles down on his admiration for the man on whom he’s settled as the most promising mini-Trump currently on show.

“Boris doesn’t need to ape Trump,” he disingenuously insists, talking up the power of authenticity. “He needs to be himself.” Yes, this insightful commentary has you wondering, but which of Boris’ selves? The self whose authentic love of multiculturalism had him twice elected mayor of London? Or the authentic Edwardian who used the word “piccaninnies” in a much earlier Telegraph column, and shows some Trumpian talent as a virtuoso on the dog whistle?

Stood side by side with the erstwhile White House chief strategist, Breitbart overlord and co-founder of Cambridge Analytica, we can easily guess. Bannon, with whom Johnson spent time before composing his concerto for burqa and niqab, is on a mission. A believer in the purifying quality of flame (a time-honoured fascistic trope), he intends to spread the white supremacist wildfire he helped to spark in America right across the democratic world.

Deploying Johnson as his most useful British idiot in the quest for an inflammatory Brexit settlement is the least of it. He plans to spend six months on a European tour dedicated to inciting enough support for isolationist-nationalistic far-right parties in next May’s European elections to sow the seeds of the EU’s annihilation.

To this end, the list of immigrant-bashing European politicians he is hugging close includes (along with Marine Le Pen and Matteo Salvini of Italy’s La Lega) Hungary’s muscular prime minister. He lauds Viktor Orban as a proto-Trump ally in the crusade for “the survival of the Judeo-Christian west”.

The Johnson who was recently so zealous in rebuking Jeremy Corbyn over antisemitism must have missed this. But while Orban seldom shares platforms with Palestinian representatives, he has legislated to silence liberal organisations funded by George Soros, whom his gang demonise as a real-life Emmanuel Goldstein (chief object of the five-minute hate in Nineteen Eighty-Four) in the fashion of Bannon’s Breitbart.

As for Jews in general, without using the word, but complete with popular antisemitic stereotypes, Orban said this in March: “They do not fight directly, but by stealth. They are not honourable, but unprincipled … They do not believe in work, but speculate with money. They have no homeland, but feel that the whole world is theirs. They are not generous, but vengeful…”

Whenever next Johnson consents to a media chat, the interviewer might invite him to dissociate himself from the Bannon to whom Orban is a populist hero. If there’s time, the interviewer could rattle out just a few of the hundreds of thousands of hateful Islamophobic comments Bannon was pleased to allow on Breitbart message boards, and invite his thoughts on those.

At the very least, the interviewer should ask what he imagines he’s playing at by consorting with the kind of Tommy Robinson superfan whom his beloved Churchill would have stamped on, and then disgustedly scraped off the sole of his shoe.

While the former foreign secretary leaves the talking to Steve Bannon, the silence of his main leadership betting rival is almost as deafening.

Sajid Javid hasn’t been shy about questioning Corbyn’s fitness to lead his party. Now would seem a good moment to hear more from him in two guises – as the home secretary responsible for preventing racially motivated attacks, and as a Muslim himself.

He may reckon the smarter move is to sit it out, on the logic that only a fool interrupts an enemy in the midst of destroying himself. He may judge that, though Johnson has boosted his popularity with the unlovely Conservative base, he has made himself less likely to be among the final two selected by MPs for the members to choose between.

Even if so, as one hopes without much confidence, the dividing line between savvy and cowardice is thinner than usual in febrile times such as these.

If Javid fancies himself as the leader to begin rescuing his party from its endemic Islamophobia, he cannot go Awol now.

Looking weak and craven to his colleagues looks like a higher tariff gamble than inflaming the inherent racism of the Tory membership. If he is fretful about attacking Johnson head on, for the clinically calculated insensitivity if nothing else, Steve Bannon makes an indecently perfect proxy.

With this high priest of race-baiting preparing for that extended European tour, this moment of danger demands a bare minimum of courage from those who find him and his anarcho-nihilist, scorch-and-burn attitude to race relations utterly repulsive. It will be instructive to learn if Javid has it.

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