Normalising the extremes – should Nation.Cymru be reporting on Ein Gwlad?
Some years ago I wrote an article for Wales Home, a precursor to this site which deserves its own place in the history of the Welsh media – the small part of it, that is, that writes about Wales.
In that article, I disagreed with the policy of giving no platform – specifically and at that precise time, rather than in general – to the BNP.
Back then, in 2009, Nick Griffin had been invited onto Question Time, and I argued, like many people, that confronting the BNP head-on, and denuding it of its anti-establishment martyrdom and the traction of its victimhood, was the best way to kill it off both as a party and as an ideology.
The QT episode itself seemed to confirm that – Griffin was not just jeered and booed, but was exposed as a racist and a fascist peddling political, historical and economic counterfact.
I can’t decide whether I was wrong or whether things are so different now that what might have been logical once no longer pertains.
But either way, I’m certain that it’s no longer true. Giving airtime and platforms to extremists has in fact normalised them and more than normalised them: it has galvanised them.
I always supported no-platforming extremists, but I also believed that there were moments and contexts when – through intellectual confrontation, forcing them to answer for their views and putting them in positions where those views could be taken apart and exposed – a culture had a duty to take them on.
It was the job of politicians and of the media. I certainly remember why I wrote what I wrote: like all leftists with a historical materialist view of life, I believe that what happens in the world is explicable, and thus capable of being resolved, by means of that world: by means of ideas, events, people and policies that are part of that world.
To believe that home-grown British fascism like the BNP was somehow an inexplicable, occult phenomenon, I argued, let us off the hook of arguing with it using the tools of present reality, the language and the facts and the rationality of everyday life, and allowed us to project it as some kind of irrational phenomenon that comes from somewhere beyond politics and cannot be addressed through politics.
I don’t want to run through my arguments again because they aren’t new and they aren’t original, but rather I’d like to outline why I’ve changed my mind.
The short answer is: the last five years of UK politics and media, where the forces of racism, misogyny, xenophobia and nativism have been normalised both by the mainstream media and by the politicians who kowtow to them and in many cases are funded by them.
This is the era of the death of shame, the era of liars and racists in public places. I don’t remember a time when UK politics was more corrupt, morally decrepit, cynical and dishonest.
As an undergraduate, I met the poet John Silkin, who told us, back in the days of Thatcher, that we were in the ‘foothills of fascism’. If he was alive today he’d see we were a lot closer than that.
I would, however, like to use this platform to say a few things about how Nation Cymru’s coverage of Ein Gwlad does not conform to the ‘normalisation’ of extremism, and to defend the site and its editor against accusations of bias, or of poor journalism, and of being ‘uncritical’ of the new party.
I’d also point out that there have been accusations against this site before, notably in the Plaid Cymru leadership election, when people on Twitter and on Facebook made insinuations of misogyny about the site and its editor because it and he allegedly supported a candidate they didn’t.
So regardless of the intellectual merits of individual challenges and responses to him, I am talking here about a pattern of behaviour not all of which is balanced or fair.
I also think that some of that behaviour is implicitly engaged in attacking Nation Cymru for its attempts at pluralism, and making claims about its editorial values that will, in the end, undermine a project that substantially benefits the national discourse.
I don’t know Ifan Morgan Jones and we’ve never met. I don’t have a conflict of interest, except to say the Welsh media is so dire that a single person with a full-time job, working on Nation Cymru in his spare time, initially for nothing and lately with some few donations, can radically improve things just by putting out an article every few days, not to mention by trying to keep up with the news, the views and the rumours, and writing most of the content himself.
This is the baseline we’re starting from. Are there any other countries where one person with a computer doing things for free can single-handedly increase the amount of political reporting in that country by a substantial percentage?
As regards Ein Gwlad, the creation of a new nationalist party in Wales deserves to be reported, and we deserve to know not just what they stand for but what they think they stand for. This involves talking to them in order to find out who they are talking to.
I see the merits in arguing that the attention given to the party has been insufficiently rigorous. I get annoyed at times with most of the media I read and listen to, and sometimes I complain.
Nor do I think Nation Cymru is beyond criticism simply because it’s a one-person show – however much said editor invites and publishes contributions from others, including those who disagree with him.
The site has always made clear its readiness to publish other writers of other political persuasions, so it’s not as if a privileged soapbox is being jealously guarded.
To me, the interview with a prominent member and future candidate of Ein Gwlad a few days ago was useful – not least because the politician in question has twice polled decisively in the Llanelli Assembly seat where Plaid lost to Labour, and deprived Plaid Cymru of one of its most incisive and recognisable figures at a crucial time in devolution’s history.
Here in Arfon, our MP came within a hundred votes of losing his seat to Labour, a British nationalist party whose leader repeats myths about immigrants lowering wages and whose dedication to Brexit is as complete as that of Tories like Rees-Mogg.
If there’s a party, however small, coming to my constituency soon that threatens to shave just 100 votes off Plaid’s tally, then I’d like to know about them.
I’ll learn more from finding out from Ein Gwlad what they think they’re doing than I will from hearing a phalanx of my fellow socialists tell me what I already know, namely why I won’t vote for them and why I’ll oppose the politics they stand for.
Part of the problem with Ein Gwlad is, as Ifan Morgan Jones put it himself, that some of its members may be ‘beyond the pale’ (Ifan’s words) and some have views which place them squarely in mainstream politics.
There’s nothing, for instance, in the interview with the Llanelli politician, that suggests she herself is any sort of extremist; and when I read the party’s online manifesto it seems considerably less right-wing than today’s current government or opposition, the latter having just announced its readiness to work with the DUP to get Brexit through.
A great deal of the Ein Gwlad manifesto, insofar as the economy and state ownership is concerned, looks like the last UK Labour manifesto.
Some commentators claim that Ein Gwlad’s manifesto is a front for a group of people, a number of whom are clearly alt-right.
Well, I’d like to see them argue that, rather than just assert it on twitter and condemn Nation Cymru.
Some of Ein Gwlad’s adherents may be unreconstructed nativists and identitarians proposing 19th century solutions to 21st century problems, but then again – in a British context, i.e. in the context of today’s Conservative party and a fair chunk of the Labour party, in the context of Brexit, the UK media, and even the BBC – that’s mainstream politics.
There are elected members in the House Commons, on both sides of the Labour/Conservative divide, whose politics are more extreme, racist and xenophobic than anything Ein Gwlad has so far stated as policy or as public pronouncements.
And if they do, they’ll have a job keeping up with the sort of nativist, Billy-Britain delusions currently emanating from the conservative party, or the Bennite and early-Kinnockite anti-Europeanism that underpins Corbyn’s Labour.
The answer isn’t to tar all their supporters with an extremist brush, or to ignore them, or to decide what sites like this should discuss (and how they should discuss it), but to find out what’s going on and assess its implications.
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