First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
Niemoller, who penned these words, wasn’t a socialist, wasn’t a unionist, wasn’t a Jew. He was, in fact, a German Lutheran pastor, a Christian and a patriot. Niemoller supported Hitler’s rise to power until he came to see evil in Hitler’s brand of patriotism and he began to speak out against it. He was incarcerated in Dachau Concentration Camp, from 1937 to 1945. So when he says “They came for me” he means it!
To most people there are few things are as morally indefensible as Nazi Germany under The Third Reich. Let it be remembered that this feverish Nazi patriotism ended in disaster every bit as much for Hitler’s precious and favoured Aryan youth as it did for so many countless others.
The Nazi solution to the housing problem was to pitch the destitute against each other, and, eventually, to encourage non-Jews to move into homes previously occupied by Jews. The army of unemployed Aryan youths became a proud, patriotic killing machine. The Nazi solution to the recession was to support war and to encourage hatred. Hitler’s table-thumping rhetorical style made it seem all the more convincing.
No one should be fooled into underestimating the real and present dangers of xenophobic tendencies. In the USA the White Aryan Resistance (WAR) is an organisation that grew out of the former Ku Klux Klan (KKK) It is now based in Indiana, incorporated as a business, and is run by former KKK Grand wizard Tom Metzger. Its website praises the white supremacist attitudes of Germany in the 1930s. Nazi-style fascism is alive and well in North America.
In the UK the response to the financial crash of 2008 was a battle cry from Cameron that we would be ‘all in it together’. As a result of the austerity programme, deemed necessary to repay the public debt, public services that the vast majority of UK citizens rely on in one way or another, suffered vicious cuts in public funding.
This slash and burn attitude continues under May’s Tory government, despite the fact that most international institutions, even the most conservative ones, see the British austerity as being too severe, harming the economy, depleting demand and curtailing growth at home and abroad, slowing the pace at which the majority of the population could expect to achieve a return to pre-crash living standards.
This is the case for all except the super-rich. This socio-economic group recovered very quickly after the crash. ‘Super-rich’ was not a category economists used to be very interested in. Economists tended to focus their analysis of social inequality on the relative prospects of the top and bottom tenth or twentieth percentiles. This has become an insufficient way of measuring social changes because the modern phenomena is for the top one percent, and even less than one percent, to see income and wealth drawing away from the mean at previously unknown rates, to previously unknown shares of national income and wealth, creating previously unknown levels of socio-economic division in society.
The ability of people, especially younger people just starting out in their careers, to afford to buy or rent a home has diminished markedly in recent years. Low mortgage rates make home loans very attractive, but incomes have not kept pace with housing costs. Banks have been asked to be more prudent in their lending practices while incomes are increasingly insecure, squeezing even the employed out of the housing market.
For many people affordable housing to buy simply does not exist. They are forced to live with their parents well into their thirties, to live in squalid, overcrowded conditions, to delay starting a family, to sofa surf, to squat or to rent.
Unable to find a decent home to live in many people look for someone to blame. This is a very dangerous phenomena, as history surely tells us. The hot topic of blaming immigrants for the decline in social services, declines in job security and pay is in large part what gave rise to the surprise Brexit vote on June 23rd.
The government did not do a very good job of explaining that it was its own failed austerity programme rather than immigration that was to blame for the slump in living standards. People were reluctant to see that immigrants worked hard, providing much needed skills, helped to staff much needed services, providing tax revenues, and boosting rather than draining the economy. The government failed to acknowledge that underinvestment in both the public and the private sector and a national skills shortage are the major bottlenecks holding back economic growth and productivity, not the number of migrant labourers. Our universities are subsidized by fees from foreign students. Our research budgets are under threat following the Brexit vote.
The unfortunate fact is, however, that for many it is migration rather than economic mismanagement that fuels their fears and inflames their anger. The government does nothing to change this thinking. The Immigration Act 2014 made it a legal requirement for landlords to check their tenants’ immigration status before offering a tenancy agreement. As if the more closely we check on who is living here the more likely we are to solve the housing crisis.
The crisis in housing, jobs and living standards will not be solved by hunting down the weak and the vulnerable. What will happen is that hatred will be stoked up across the nation. Since the Brexit vote an uptick in hate crime has occurred. According to Met Police Statistics hate crimes against Muslims in London went up 70% in one year. We have seen lives lost including the killing of an MP. This evidence of rising xenophobic tendencies in the UK should not be lightly dismissed. Even if you have no altruism in you Niemoller’s words should nonetheless ring true. None of us is insulated from the rising tide of hatred: if they come for them first, and we turn our backs, refuse to help, and fail to see the rising tide of xenophobia, they will come for us next.