Right Wing Watch newsletter: week 4 February 2022

This week's newsletter looks at the right wing's reaction to the unfolding conflict in Ukraine.

My ongoing quest to find out what makes South Holland in the Lincolnshire Fens the safest Tory seat in the UK was rudely interrupted this week by geopolitics, as Russian President Putin decided to choose the extra large option when deciding what kind of military adventure to launch in Ukraine.

I hope to return to the Fens next week, but this week I thought it would be worth looking at how the British Right has responded to the Ukraine crisis. Unsurprisingly, many are convinced that Putin’s invasion of Ukraine validates all their previously held beliefs. 

“They know how many genders there are in Russia”

The Right has a bit of a problem when it comes to Vladimir Putin. They aren’t really allowed to like him, since he occupies a role in their minds similar to Dolph Lundgren playing the over-the-top Soviet bad guy in Rocky 4. But as with Dolph Lundgren, they find themselves strangely attracted to his powerful masculinity and ability to murder his opponents. It’s not hard to fathom the psychological appeal to the right wing of a conservative, authoritarian nationalist whose militarism is unchecked by things like elections and public opinion.

For some on the Right, the Ukraine crisis proves that we need to restart fracking, that the EU is bad, Greta Thunberg is bad, and Boris Johnson is Churchillian in his statesmanship (we’ve already forgotten he’s being investigated by the police for Partygate). Not only this, but Putin has been encouraged by the weakness of the snowflake liberals who control the entire West with their gender pronouns and diversity hires. 

These thoughts were echoed by Steve Bannon, who said on his podcast that “Putin ain’t woke, he’s anti-woke. They know how many genders there are in Russia”. Indeed in October 2021, Putin gave a speech attacking Western liberalism in which he said that trans rights were “a crime against humanity”. 

Trump, of course, also had nice things to say, praising Putin for his “smart move” in invading Ukraine.

Cultural conservatives in the West have long made common cause with autocrats like Putin in their desire to tear down Liberal values, and in the UK, Bannon’s friend Nigel Farage had similar things to say. Farage laid the blame for Putin’s invasion on NATO and the EU, thus validating his long standing opposition to these institutions. Farage has previously said Putin was the world leader he most admires, praising him in multiple speeches.

For Farage, Putin is just a bear defending his territory which has been violated by The West, while for others like TalkRadio’s Ian Collins, he’s been emboldened by the “weakness of wokeism”. Russia Today, the state backed news channel, were very happy to hear Farage support their position.

Many of the usual suspects found a way to crowbar their ‘war on woke’ into the discourse, asserting that Putin thinks the West are a bunch of sissies who are ‘distracted by woke sideshows’. This is particularly amusing as it’s largely commentators on the right who are obsessed with people doing normal things like ‘having pronouns’. 

GB News ‘comedian’ Andrew Doyle, who endlessly repeats the same anti-woke jokes using his character Titania McGrath trotted out the same joke again.

GB News presenter Mark Dolan seems to think that Greta Thunberg is so powerful she controls the entire energy policy of the West. 

This attitude is part of a general push on the right to use the energy crisis, which is being exacerbated by the Russian invasion, to call for the UK to roll back its aim to reach Net Zero carbon emissions by 2050. As I wrote earlier this week, these people want to restart fracking and explore for more oil in the North Sea. There’s good reasons to believe they’re overly optimistic about the energy reserves available in both those ideas, and of course none of these people are proposing increased investment in renewables.

Military men

The outbreak of a proper war seems to have also resulted in increased exposure for some of the Tories ex-military MPs like Tobias Ellwood, Tom Tugendhat and Ben Wallace.

The army lads were in bombastic, if not somewhat jingoistic form. Tom Tugendhat suggested expelling all Russian citizens from the UK. Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said Britain ‘kicked the backside’ of Tsar Nicholas I in Crimea, and ‘can always do it again’. 

The Crimean War (1853-56) was an attempt to prop up a collapsing Ottoman Empire, and resulted in an effective stalemate, with Britain and France capturing Sevastopol after an 11 month siege. The war is synonymous with military incompetence and pointless death, so I’m not massively encouraged by a defence minister threatening to repeat it.

Tobias Ellwood called for the UK and other NATO countries to increase their military spending to 3% of GDP. Considering that NATO already has a combined military force many times the size of Russia’s, this certainly seems like a great way to increase the profits of BAe Systems while providing absolutely nothing useful to the rest of the UK population. 

Incidentally, in his most recent register of interests, Ellwood declares donations from the governments of Qatar, Bahrain and UAE, all of which are major purchasers of British weapons. 

David Davis MP also came out as a cheerleader for a bigger war, encouraging the UK to militarily intervene in Ukraine to enforce a no fly zone, which would mean direct engagement with Russian forces.

War does tend to make people more inclined to say strange stuff, and while the sabre rattling seems pretty normal for Tory MPs, I can’t help but think that there’s something rather revealing about right wingers agreeing with Putin about trans rights, then trying to say that this proves them right about the weakness of ‘The West’.

I don’t suppose all this geopolitics will be over by next week, but it certainly has provided a useful distraction for the Conservatives from weeks of bad headlines. It also provides some of their MPs with a platform to look statesmanlike, so may provide a good indication of who could challenge Johnson for Tory leader. 

What would the good people of Spalding in Lincolnshire make of all this? Maybe I’ll find out next week.

John Lubbock leads on the Right-Watch project at Left Foot Forward

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