By David Osland
When a speaker can mount the plinth at Trafalgar Square and command the adulation of a substantial crowd for oratory comparing NHS employees to the Nuremberg defendants, it’s clear that the new conspiracist right in Britain is growing fast.
The pocket demagogue in question at Saturday’s anti-lockdown rally, ironically, was herself a former health professional. Kate Shemirani, a struck-off nurse turned social media influencer, appears to have little problem with Botox, but all too many issues with Covid-19 vaccines.
Thanks to the wonders of nanotechnology, she insists, recipients render themselves susceptible to remote control by 5G transmission. Thankfully, there’s no need to get jabbed in the first place; the ‘plandemic’ is all a put-up job in the service of those twin fonts of globalism, Messrs Soros and Gates.
The inevitable initial response to such preposterous contentions, for those with a modicum of education, cynicism or both, is to laugh them off.
I recall my first reaction on hearing that former Green Party leader David Icke – another speaker at Saturday’s protest – was charging £70 a ticket to attend PowerPoint presentations, in which he revealed how a race of extraterrestrial shape-shifting lizards is secretly running the world.
The proposition being transparently nonsensical, the temptation was to mock. Here stood a preposterous out-and-out huckster, perpetrating a lucrative scam on the gullible. Surely he couldn’t believe such twaddle himself?
Only once I clocked that Icke was essentially recycling the Protocols of the Elders of Zion in Sci-Fi B-movie format, and that his tropes about ‘Rothschild Zionists’ were turning up on ostensibly leftwing Facebook groups, did that reaction turn to alarm.
Yet another speaker was Piers Corbyn. Like many people in London left circles, I have met the guy socially, on and off, over several decades.
He always came over as an affable old Trot, differing from others of the tribe chiefly by being worth a bob or two, after developing proprietary long-range weather forecasting formulae based on sunspot activity and charging agribusiness big bucks to see the outcome.
I liked him. So it has been bewildering to watch his reinvention as a climate change denialist, anti-vaxxer and anti-lockdown activist.
I last bumped into Piers during his no-hoper campaign to become mayor of London in May, as he was handing out leaflets outside Kingsland Shopping Centre two days before the vote.
“It’s going really well,” he informed me. “We could win. I’m serious.”
Sure, that’s the autopilot response deployed for generations by candidates of any and all stripes who know damn well they are heading for a hammering. Lost deposit? Moi? The thing is, the look in his eyes told me he meant it.
Shemirani, Icke and Piers Corbyn would once have carried no more weight than Stanley Green, a man who spent decades walking up and down Oxford Street carrying a billboard bearing the slogan ‘LESS LUST BY LESS PROTEIN’.
That is to say they would have been accorded a minor degree of fame, of the national treasure/English eccentric variety, but zero influence.
Yet, in the era of the internet, in the social conditions created by lockdown and Brexit, an inchoate paranoia has won a considerable following in this country.
It’s difficult to advance specific historical parallels for such a stupefying throwback to irrationalism. The ‘theories’ that constitute the new conspiracy theorism are scarcely worthy of reasoned debate, let alone refutation.
But to paraphrase Trotsky, sometimes there lives alongside of the twenty-first century the tenth and thirteenth.
Liberal analyses routinely draw comparisons with fascism, which to my mind fall wide. Behind this cursory hodge-podge of hogwash and drivel stands the will of no single strongman, no common ideological project, no discernible cohesion.
What we are witnessing is not the rise of a National Front or a British National Party, a Britain First or an English Defence League. It’s not even the growth of UKIP, or whatever Farage or Fox are calling their splinter groups these days.
Yet the anti-lockdown/anti-vaxx movement (I guess we must admit that it is now that) has got its act together, to the point where it can organise substantial national events as high-profile platforms for its coterie of kooky superstars.
And cohesion is an ingredient that can always be externally supplied. The field is open for any old unscrupulous billionaire with the money to corral the credulous behind his or her own reactionary political agenda, were one to emerge.
Look to the other side of the Atlantic, where one American in five subscribes to QAnon, the belief that a cabal of Satanist paedophile cannibals directs a clandestine global sex-trafficking ring.
If Trump does run for president once more in 2024, this demographic will constitute a big chunk of his base.
Meanwhile, many Tory MPs – whether motivated by general flakiness or simple cynicism, I wouldn’t like to say – are happy to flirt with lockdown libertarianism, while a television channel and a national newspaper amplify their dangerous stupidity.
There were just thousands in Trafalgar Square, but the following enjoyed by the new conspiracists and those on the mainstream right willing to play ball with them must already rank in the hundreds of thousands. The time to speak out is now.
David Osland is a member of Hackney North & Stoke Newington CLP and a long-time leftwing journalist and author. Follow him on Twitter at @David__Osland
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