Social media platforms such as TikTok have provided teenagers and young adults all over the world with a voice on political issues. Social media can be a useful outlet for political opinions, particularly if you are still too young to vote.
But, among young British users of social media, there is growing a popular “eat the rich” ideology which is slowly contributing to terms such as “right wing” and “far right” becoming interchangeable.
Reddit threads and TikTok feeds are booming with young people expressing their disapproval for the current Conservative government in the UK. In all fairness, it would be hard to expect anything different after the numerous mistakes this government has made over the COVID pandemic. These included locking down too late, introducing schemes such as “Eat Out to Help” which essentially subsidised wealthy and middle-class people to go out to the sorts of restaurants young people mostly can’t afford anyway, failing to source adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) for health workers and an utter failure to help or support students who found themselves unable to go to university for much of a year.
It is unsurprising that many young people, especially those who are part of Generation Z (born between 1997 and 2012), don’t feel their needs are understood or represented by the ruling party. In their anger, many have resorted to the term “far right” to express their disapproval.
One of the users I stumbled across on TikTok not long ago stated in a video: “I really hate this thing that we British people do, where we act like America is so much worse than us, when we literally have a far-right government.” The user was complaining about a pop star who had been critical of the US.
Unfortunately, lots of younger people in the UK seem to think like this, but I don’t think many of them have much of an idea of what it is to live under a truly far-right regime.
It is true that, in 2019, many members of Britain First (which is a far-right British political organisation) switched to the Conservative Party after Boris Johnson cancelled an inquiry into Islamophobia within the party. The following year, just before the pandemic began, Tory MP Daniel Kawczynski was invited to speak at a nationalist conference in Rome, Italy, alongside the actually far-right Prime Minister of Hungary, Viktor Orbán. But those incidents don’t make the UK government far right. It is right that they should generate concern but, frankly, calling the UK government far right can sound offensive to those who have had to live their lives in countries which actually are dominated by far-right politics. People like myself.
I am 25 and I was born and raised in Poland. I left the country for good back in 2016. The political landscape of that time, especially the attitudes towards migrants and ever-growing anti-LGBTQ sentiments (something which affects me directly on a daily basis) were among my reasons to do so. By comparison, the UK is downright liberal and it makes me uncomfortable to think someone might even consider the current UK government as far right.
This in no way signals my approval for all the Conservative party’s policies. But in a country where same-sex marriage has been legal since 2014, where women have rights to terminate a pregnancy up until the 23rd week and do not have to resort to life-threatening, back-street abortions, where anti-discrimination laws have been in place for years – the government is not “far right”. A month after Wales elected its first-ever gender-queer identifying mayor, Owen Hurcum, in May this year, Hungary passed a law banning all LGBTQ content from schools and children’s TV. This speaks volumes.
Hungary and Poland are places where we can see exactly what far-right politics can lead to. Orbán doesn’t waste time on discourse. From calling immigrants “poison” (something you might read in the Sun newspaper but are unlikely to hear from the lips of a British Prime Minister, even if Johnson has used demeaning terms in his role as a newspaper columnist) to banning gender studies from Hungarian universities, he has ramped up the problem of nationalist populism in Hungary.
It is hard to imagine a situation in which UK universities are banned from offering students certain courses and degrees. The UK’s Section 28 legislation did ban the “promotion” of homosexuality in schools but was repealed years ago – first in Scotland in 2000 and then across the rest of the country by 2003. And I can’t imagine a scenario in which the British government would criminalise lawyers and activists working to help asylum seekers, as Hungary did in 2018.
In Poland, at the end of last year and amid a global pandemic, record-breaking crowds gathered on the streets of Polish cities to campaign against the tightening up of the country’s abortion laws. It was reported that nearly 100,000 people gathered in Warsaw on October 30 2020 in response to the Polish Constitutional Court ruling in October that abortions, even those performed in cases of severe foetal abnormalities, were “unconstitutional”. That is what far right really looks like.
Boris Johnson might be the subject of mocking memes which circulate on social media but those created to poke fun at Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the 72-year-old Deputy Prime Minister of Poland and the leader of the ruling Law and Justice party, are much more emotionally charged. Kaczynski is the real anti-hero of Polish anti-abortion protests. In a statement posted on his party’s Facebook page, after protesters refused to “go home”, Kaczynski said that the protests were crafted to “destroy Poland and end the history of its nation”. The fact that Kaczynski appeared in the video instead of President Duda or Prime Minister Morawiecki, shows who really pulls the strings in Polish politics.
When the Polish prime minister’s chief of staff’s email was hacked earlier this month, the leaks revealed that Kaczynski had allegedly considered sending armed troops to confront the women protesting over abortion rights in October last year. While that did not come to fruition, the protests were far from peaceful. Polish police used tear gas against participants.
The mere fact that 90 percent of UK police officers do not carry guns, while 88 percent of Polish officers do is another good example of the difference in attitudes towards policing citizens in each country.
Kaczynski has described the idea of granting LGBTQ individuals more rights in Poland as being a fundamental threat to society. It’s a far cry from the Catholic Tory MP, Jacob Rees-Mogg, stating that he, personally, “completely opposes abortion”.
In a country where 33 million out of 38 million citizens declare themselves Catholic, it’s easy to use religion as a tool when it comes to furthering a political agenda. Polish ruling politicians can get away with calling homosexuals “not equal to normal people”, all in the name of faith, apparently.
Even when they don’t agree with issues such as gay marriage or adoption, British politicians tend to remain a good deal more respectful than this.
Archbishops in Poland have called LGBTQ communities “a rainbow plague” and “a great threat to our freedom” at the same time as thanking God for “a gift that is Jaroslaw Kaczynski”. I can’t imagine the Archbishop of Canterbury speaking in such terms.
So no, the UK establishment is not “far right”. Even in the wake of Brexit, the United Kingdom remains a diverse, liberal and – generally – welcoming place. Of course, we should observe incidents of interaction between far-right groups and the government carefully. However, we should also appreciate how far the country has come in terms of fighting for equality.
Often your everyday reality is someone else’s dream.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.