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  • Writer's pictureHannah Duncan

Are we living at the start of a dictatorship?

Today’s politics is full of noise, distractions and bad smells. This blog was written partly for my own sanity. I need to see the truth. I’m sick of being lied to. Writing this article made me realise something obvious: Democracy is not the default. It is hard fought and easily lost.

So, here it is. After weeks of research. 14 deeply troubling actions our government has taken over the past three years. All of these are consistent with early dictatorships throughout history. I’ve mostly drawn comparisons with European dictators over the past 100 years, but there are commonalities with Middle Eastern and Asian regimes too.

1. Slashing the right to protest (June 2022)

The Policing Act came into force in 2022, likely as a backlash against Black Lives Matter. The Act dramatically reduced the right to protest in the UK. Protesters can now be arrested for causing delays, disruptions or hindrance to anyone’s day-to-day activities. In reality, any protest can be shut down. So, is this common in dictatorships? Uh. Yes. Massively. In 1932, Adolf Hitler used the excuse of the Reichstag fire to remove the public right to protest and hold public assemblies. Vladimir Putin tightened The Federal Law on Assemblies, Rallies, Demonstrations, Marches and Pickets 22 times since 2004. Since 2014, holding a demonstration in Russia without the permission of authorities is punishable by up to five years in prison. The Taliban imprisons protesters, particularly women. I could go on, but it’s already obvious. Dictators couldn’t rule absolutely if protests happened freely.

Newspaper cut out about Russian protests

2. Attempting to ban or weaken trade unions (July 2022)

In July 2022, the UK government attempted to repeal a part of the Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Business Regulations Act. This would mean that when workers strike, employers can undermine them by using agency workers instead.

Hilter, Mussolini and Franco all set about destroying or weakening trade unions too. All within the first years of coming into power. Mussolini tortured trade union leaders and burnt their offices to the ground. Franco abolished existing unions and created his own dubious version.

Newspaper cut out about why fascists hate trade unions

3. Removing human rights for scapegoated groups (March 2023)

The 2023 Illegal Migration Act removed fundamental human rights from groups of refugees, asylum seekers and immigrants coming to the UK. They no longer have freedom from slavery or protection against human trafficking. Migrants arriving by “small boats” have been systemically blamed by the government for many of the UK’s social inequality issues... which they cannot possibly have caused.

old photo of a Jewish shop being vandalized by the state

Dictators tend to blame a group of people for the entire nation’s problems and then punish them publicly. For example, Hitler scapegoated Jews, Roma Gypsies, Catholics and LGBTQIA+ groups. Between 1933-36, Jewish people living in Nazi Germany lost their human rights over 400 separate pieces of legislation. In 1935 the Nuremberg Race Laws were passed, which forced many Roma Gypsies into involuntary sterilization. They lost the right to a family. Existing families were divided by the State. After half a decade of losing their human rights, all the groups were rounded up and imprisoned in camps (you could call them barges…).

Newspaper cut out of Suella Braverman scapegoating small boats

Removing human rights has been listed by the UN as a red flag for genocide. Reports show that Sunak and Braverman plan to pull out of the European Convention of Human Rights too.

Newspaper cut out of UK government being compared to Nazi regime

4. Parliament starts debating access to abortion (November 2022)

Disturbingly, senior politician Jacob Rees-Mogg believes women and girls must be denied access to abortions. He believes this absolutely, even in cases where girls have been raped by family members. MP Danny Krugar feels the same way, advocating that pregnant women should not have a choice over their own bodies. The subject has come up increasingly in Parliament over the past year, with the majority of politicians refusing to recognise abortion as a right in November 2022.

Removing or denying women’s rights is a well-trodden path for dictators. For Western European regimes, it tends to happen about five years after coming into power. Hitler forbade Aryan women from getting abortions. In 1935, the SS created the Lebensborn Program, turning women into baby factories for Hitler’s “Master race”. Stalin too. In 1936, he overturned abortion laws and made it much harder for women to get a divorce. Five years after coming into power Franco made abortions a crime too.

Academic paper about Franco and abortion rights

There is no limit to how much a totalitarian regime will repress the rights of women. Since taking control in 2021, the Taliban has denied women and girls almost all their livelihoods, rights and identities. Removing the rights has led to an unprecedented surge in female suicide.

Newspaper cut-out about women's rights under Taliban

5. 138+ protestors behind bars (April 2022 - today)

Since April 2022, over 138 climate protesters have been imprisoned in the UK. Some with sentences of five years. Alarmingly, courthouses seem more aligned with the government message than the rule of law. In a “deeply concerning” move, Judge Silas Reid (illegally?) forbade climate protesters and juries from mentioning the climate at trial. 68-year-old Trudi Warner held up a sign outside the court reminding juries of their rights. “Jurors, you have an absolute right to acquit a defendant according to your conscience”, the placard said. Warner is now being tried for Contempt of Court, alongside twelve others.

Newspaper cut out about protester Trudi Warner

Newspaper cut out about Liberty's response to protests and juries in UK

Unfair trials are standard in dictatorships. Between 1936 and 1938, Stalin silenced his opponents with fake or “show trials". It's estimated that 750,000 political protestors were executed or sent to Gulag work camps during this time, known as The Great Purge or The Great Terror. Breaking the rule of law to align with politics is also common. In 1934 - one year after Hitler came to power - the old court system was ditched and a new one called "The People's Court" was created. People were prosecuted for being "anti-social parasites", and openly mocked.

Notably, sham trials are also a serious risk in Rwanda – where Suella Braverman wants to offload refugees - with at least seven journalists currently behind bars for critiquing the regime.

Academic research about Nazi People's Court

6. Weakening the freedom of the press (2020- today)

When Braverman went to Rwanda, she only invited right-wing newspapers to come with her to report it. This raises serious questions about impartiality. The Rwanda scheme is funded with taxpayer money and is a matter of public interest.

Last year, it also emerged that the Chairman of the BBC was appointed by former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, after arranging a private loan of £800,000. This is a clear conflict of interest and calls into question the impartiality of the tax-funded broadcaster. There are so many issues with impartiality and right-wing papers in the UK. A former Conservative MP owns the Evening Standard. Only right-wing papers seem to be on the Royal roster. Rupert Murdoch… There’s a lot.

Newspaper cut out about how the associated press cooperated with Nazi regime

In 1933, Hitler came into power and swiftly took control of the press too. He did not always do this overtly. Quietly, he made sure that the majority of the newspapers reported what he wanted. Today in the UK, there are disturbing similarities. Right-wing papers including The Telegraph, The Daily Mail, The Sun, The Times and The Daily Express all peddle government messages. Interestingly, Hilter also made agreements with the Associated Press, so that he was not criticized overseas either. Clearly, our politicians are not that clever. Instead, they try to undermine foreign reports.

7. PR, Propaganda and Fake News (2016 - today)

Luckily, our politicians are too incompetent to be successful propagandists. But probably the closest thing we had was Dominic Cummings who orchestrated the Leave campaign for Brexit. Promising £350 million a week to the NHS and plastering it on a London bus could have been taken straight from Goebbels’ handbook.

Newspaper cut-out of Brexit bus

However, there are some alarming signs of propaganda at play, like GB News (the UK’s answer to Fox News). It’s a program where Farage, Doris and Rees-Mogg purge their political ideologies, without any facts. What’s more, they get paid by us – the taxpayers – as they rake in second salaries on the TV. Another red flag is the reported £3.4 million of taxpayers’ money that Rishi Sunak spends on PR.

Newpaper cut out of Rishi Sunak spending 3.4 million on PR

The other side of the coin is to spread fake news about other political parties. In October 2023, Tory MPs stood on stage and declared that they’d prevented the Labour Party from imposing a “meat tax”, and requirement for households to have “seven bins”. These were brazen lies. Even when called out, the lying politicians refused to subside.

Newspaper cut-out about dishonesty epidemic

The process of repeating lies over and over, louder and louder is a propaganda tactic that serves dictators well. Fake news can rile up crowds. Marie Antoinette never said, "Let them eat cake", but she still lost her head. Jewish people living in 1930s Germany were never "enemies of the state", but they were still robbed and beaten in the streets. It's unlikely that Communists started the Reichstag Fire, but people believed the lies which Hilter used to justify his fascist regime. In fact, many historians believe that Hitler pioneered the entire "fake news" concept as a way to seize control.

Newspaper cut-out about propaganda techniques

Newspaper cut-out about fake news and Hitler

8. Attack on LGTQIA+ rights (October 2023)

“We shouldn't get bullied into believing that people can be any sex they want to be”, said Sunak at his Party conference in October 2023. “A man is a man, and a woman is a woman”. Sunak’s attack on trans people shocked the world. But it wasn’t the first time he made anti-trans comments. Sunak has a history. He’s mocked trans people in the House of Commons, chortling about “women with penises”. Since the comments in October, transgender crimes have risen by 11% in the UK.

Newspaper cut-out about how Rishi Sunak mocks trans rights

BBC report - trans hate crime rises 11%

Newspaper cut-outs about toxic language and hate

Key party members are aligned on destroying LGBTQIA+ lives. Steve Barclay has vowed to ban transwomen from hospital wards. Suella Braverman refuses to open the borders to asylum seekers fleeing persecution for being gay.

This government has even overstepped its legislative power to try to prevent trans people from changing genders. In December 2022, Westminster attempted to block Scotland (a devolved nation) from reforming its gender laws. The case is still being battled out in the courtroom today. Is it common for dictators to clamp down on LGBTQIA+ rights? Absolutely. Overwhelmingly. In 1934, Stalin criminalized homosexuality. Gay people were denied their liberty, arrested and forced to work in deadly labour camps. Although Hitler never made homosexuality explicitly illegal, he incited violence against these groups with his words and his policies. (Likewise, crimes against trans people have increased by 11% since Sunak’s comments). In 1933, more than 10,000 men were arrested for breaching an old German law around sexuality. In December 2022, Putin signed new laws removing LGBTQIA+ rights… I could go on. Every dictator seems to do this.

Newspaper cut-out about dictators and LGBTQIA+ rights

9. Cronyism (2020-today)

Hard to know where to begin. I’ll start with COVID. £7.9 billion of tax-payers’ money was spent on testing kits… and more than £6 million of it went to ministers’ mates, through “VIP Lanes”. This is cronyism. The contracts are not going to the best person for the job. But to rub salt into the wound, many of the products didn’t even work. Pub landlords and old schoolmates quickly set up make-shift businesses for shoddy products, and they got our money. Some ministers, like Baroness Mone, even took a multi-million-pound commission of our money. Cronyism and corruption run rampant through the party. And nobody has been punished for it.

Another red flag is how Sunak’s wife and her family have profited enormously from his new policies. The most sickening example is how Sunak cut a deal with BP to expand oil operations, just days after his father-in-law went into business with the oil tycoon. It’s clear corruption and cronyism. But it’s going unpunished.

Newspaper cut-out about Sunak family oil deal

Cronyism is a standard of fascist regimes, where dictators reward loyal followers with contracts (like Matt Hancock), money (Baroness Mone) or titles (Boris Johnson). In 2009, Putin privatized Russian public services like the energy, water, transport and research institutes. The industries were sold to a close circle of oligarchs. In Nazi Germany, businessman Anton Karl bribed politicians with $1.4 million (in today's money) in a single year to secure contracts. Cronyism is a classic part of dictatorship.

10. Unelected leaders (2021-today)

The UK’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was not elected by the people, neither was his predecessor Liz Truss. Although there were calls for a new election after Johnson’s downfall, the ruling party ignored them. Another petition has reached over 200,000 signatures so it must be debated in Parliament… But after batting away so many demands before… would this one make any difference?

Newspaper cut out about circus of unelected UK officials

Last year, the party imposed restrictions on the ID needed to vote, which hugely favours their electoral base. 14,000 people went to vote in July, but were denied access. Rees-Mogg later admitted that this was an attempt to divert democracy.

China and Russia are examples of dictatorship regimes that do not elect leaders democratically. Putin served as the Secretary of the Security Council of Russia before quietly taking over as President in 1999 with the support of his peers. This is probably the most comparable to the UK’s situation, as Rishi Sunak served as Chancellor of the Exchequer under Boris Johnson. However, most dictators (like Hitler) do seem to earn their seats at the beginning before they go on to dismantle democracy. The UK government is a mix of both systems, by winning an election fairly under Boris Johnson, but then imposing unelected leaders, despite calls for elections.

11. Control of the police (?)

Scotland Yard initially refused to investigate the unlawful parties held in Downing Street over the COVID lockdown, due to a “lack of evidence”. Even though there was video evidence of staff describing it as a “party”. Meanwhile, people holding parties in other parts of the UK were prosecuted and fined.

The Met u-turned however, when it came to the Sue Grey report. The police derailed her report and influenced Grey to remove sections relating to Johnson’s girlfriend’s ABBA party. The Met also refused to fine Downing Street before any elections. Perhaps the most damning is that Met police officers let guests in and out of the house, and on one occasion even entered the party when an alarm went off.

Newspaper cut-out about police control

When the police block justice for political leaders, it’s a clear sign of corruption which is common in dictatorships. In fact, without some degree of police control, totalitarian regimes wouldn’t be possible.

12. Centralising power (for a long time)

In December 2022, Westminster blocked a Scottish Bill. The Gender Recognition Reform Bill would have made it easier for Scots to change their gender. It’s the first time in history that the UK government has ever done this. The Conservative Party have consistently tried to undermine Scottish autonomy. Just a few months before blocking the law, then-Prime Minister Liz Truss advised people to “just ignore” First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

Academic research about Britain centralising power

Likewise in Wales. King Charles was allowed to declare that his son could be Prince of Wales – effectively giving the nation as a gift – without even asking the Welsh Parliament or First Minister. This comes against a backdrop of Sunak tightening his clamp on Welsh decision-making (which has a Labour government). He even announced, "No more powers for Wales" at a party conference in Newport.

BBC report Sunak says no more powers for Wales

Centralizing power is a common thread for totalitarian regimes. Many dictators will try to reclaim former colonies. Hitler invaded Austria first. Franco beat Catalunya into submission. Vladimir Putin is hell-bent on restoring the old Soviet Union at any cost. There is often a drive to rule other countries absolutely from one central point - essentially creating an empire.

13. Corruption (a long time)

Newspaper cut-out about oil corruption

Party donors paying to join meetings… Oil companies bribing our politicians as they vote on climate strategies… Politicians paying their spouses £25,000 salaries to “manage their offices”. There are so many ways that party members siphon off taxpayers or sell public policies to make money for themselves.

Newspaper cut-out about corruption

Corruption tends to go hand-in-hand with dictatorship regimes. Nazi leader Robert Ley used his position to buy up huge quantities of his own book, so that he could get the proceeds. He also took a well-paid job editing for a newspaper (like today's politicians have second incomes writing articles or hosting TV shows). Ley did a lot of things with taxpayer money, including buying an elaborate cruise ship, employing two blonde women to walk with him at all times and purchasing a large townhouse.

Zurich 1945 newspaper cut-out

Newspaper cutting from Zurich 1945: "Goebbels Amassed a Huge Fortune in 12 Years, He Lived in Splendour For Which the Nation Paid. Once a struggling journalist, Nazi Propaganda Minister, Dr Paul Joseph Goebbels, amassed a colossal private fortune from royalties, salaries and broadcasts. He lived in splendour and opulence, and the nation paid for all his extravagances".

Herman Goering spent 15 million Reich marks (more than $37 million in today's terms) renovating his hunting lodge. (Boris Johnson had party donors renovate his flat for £200,000). Goering also bought himself two private train carriages (Comparable to Sunak's private jet addiction?), six hunting lodges, a castle, a chalet, and a bakery to cater for his insatiable love of cream cakes. The corruption was so famous, that there were many jokes about it. Stand-up Comedian Wilhelm Finck was sent to a concentration camp in 1934 for joking about the "wide pockets" of Nazi officials.

14. It’s hard to get out (2020 - today)

Brexit didn’t just make it hard for new people to come in. It also made it hard for us to get out. That doesn’t affect the rich people. Obviously. And Sunak didn’t even bother to revoke his Green Card until he was called out for it publicly. But for ordinary people who want to live abroad or better their lives, it’s hard. Unless you have a European grandparent or can get a working visa… your options are limited.

Newspaper cut-out: Is there any escape

Many dictators close their borders, either overtly or in subtle ways. In North Korea, Kim Jong Un recently erected a 489km wall running alongside China to prevent escapees. Belarus’s dictator, Lukashenko is also looking into a law that will ban citizens from leaving. The Berlin Wall is another famous example.

However, I think that what’s happening in the UK is a lot more subtle – and comparable to the USA. I think senior Tories are trying to brainwash Brits into believing that life is better here than abroad so that it is psychologically as well as psychically harder to leave. Foreign languages are not prioritized, we’re encouraged to think of ourselves as separate or even superior to other states. There are mind games at work here. Gaslighting. The UK is not the best place to be right now, and the lies which are engulfing our media feel suspicious.

… What now?

"This guy is a clown. He's like a caricature of himself". That was how an American Journalist described Hitler in 1922. Although he had a few wacky ideas, nobody expected Hitler to go through with them. Less than a decade later, this “clown” was at the centre of a devasting world war and some of the most horrific genocides in history. As the expression goes, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”.

Newspaper cut-out about Hitler being a "clown"

Today's government started with a clown too. Boris Johnson. The buffoon. With gaffs, jokes and eccentrics (eccen-TRICKS), Johnson brought unprecedented levels of sleaze and corruption to Number 10. He seemed to have the police in one pocket. And the interests of his mates in the other. Johnson was the figurehead for Brexit. Tellingly, he didn’t leave office when his lies came to light. He had to be forced out brutally by his own followers. And even then he tried to come back. This clown does not believe in democracy.

Newspaper cut-out about Boris being a clown

Johnson’s circus is still ruling right now, and they are refusing to give up power. We have psychopath Suella Braverman who has a bloodlust like we’ve never seen before. A man who’s even richer than the king, Rishi Sunak, supposedly caring for all our interests. Sunak, the private school princess who never had a working-class friend and married a billionaire heiress. Rees-Mogg – a man who clearly needs therapy because he wears a top hat and still had a nanny at age 27. They’re not just weird, they are dangerous. They’re stripping away human rights, blocking democracy and telling lies.

Seriously, are we at the start of a dictatorship?

Dictatorship photoshopped image of Conservative Party

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Jan 05

'Democracy is not the default. It is hard fought and easily lost'. Very true (lots of historical examples) and something that is becoming increasingly clear to many. When not paying attention, the road to democracy can lead to populism and eventually end with dictatorship. This is ultimately why the likes of Trump, Johnson et al are potentially so dangerous. Thanks for writing and helping a bit with my sanity - always good to know I'm not the only one!

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