TO near-empty government benches, supported by murmurs from her parliamentary group, Mhairi Black MP gave one of the speeches of her life (among many) at Westminster last Thursday. It’s worth transcribing the end of it:

“Over the last 12 years I fear we are sleepwalking closer and closer to the f-word. And I know everyone is scared to say it for fear of sounding over the top or being accused of going too far, but I say this with all sincerity when I say the f-word I’m talking about is fascism. Fascism wrapped in red white and blue.

“Fascism does not come in with intentional evil plans, or the introduction of leather jackboots… it happens subtly. It happens when we see governments making decisions based on self preservation, based on cronyism, based on anything that will keep them in power.

“We see the concentration of power whilst avoiding any of the scrutiny or responsibility that comes with that power. It arrives under the guise of respectability and pride that will then be refused to anyone who is deemed different. It arrives through the othering of people, the normalisation of human cruelty.

“Now I don’t know how far down that road we are… time will tell. But [in] the things we do in the name of economic growth, the warning signs are there for everyone else to see—whether they admit it or not.”

A trenchant, eloquent accusation. Does it hold? The first part of Black’s speech served up a familiar (and correct) menu of Tories presiding over worsening inequality and poverty, foregoing windfall taxes, and distracting us from their economic negligence with culture wars.

Tories proclaim freedom of speech – but they ban material that’s critical of capitalism in schools, they severely limit freedom of assembly and protest, they want to get rid of the Human Rights Act. They flout international law, they send migrants to Rwanda when they warn it’s too dangerous for British citizens… “We are turning into a country”, Black concludes, “where words hold no value.”

We have some useful checklists to test whether conditions are ripe for fascism. The most comprehensive comes from Paul Mason’s authoritative book How To Stop Fascism.

Mason’s thumbnail definition of fascism is “the fear of freedom triggered by a glimpse of freedom”. The former means those who are still invested in an earlier, more hierarchical model of society. The latter meaning minorities, sexualities, ethnicities and classes expressing their freedoms freely. (Black articulates this in her speech when she wonders whether it’s her own human rights, one assumes as a lesbian, that are next in line for Tory prohibition).

Mason lists ten stages in the fascist process, some of which seem to inform Black’s case:

1. The Big Disruption

Something disrupts the “ordinary world” — an economic crash, a natural disaster, a war.

Well, that’s a good start…

2. The Big Threat

For German and Italian fascism, this was obviously “the Jew” and communism. Yet we seem to have a proliferation of Big Threats at the moment. Anti-vaxxers and anti-greens facing evil Bill Gates and his “Great Reset’. White nationalists going on killing sprees, driven by the idea that racial minorities are part of a “Great Replacement” of their majority. Patriarchs trying to reverse feminism’s victories over women’s control of their bodies. More than enough there.

3. An oppressed group rises

How dare they! #MeToo, #BlackLivesMatter, XR, Greta and Fridays For The Future, LGBTQI+… making noise and protest where none was expected, and which can’t be tolerated by those who fear such freedoms. Plenty of that around, and to come.

4. The Culture War

In the 20s and 30s, the Italian working class hated the lower middle class; German male manual workers resented female clerical workers. These tensions are echoed by the current polarisations between “woke” and the supposedly unwoke (often strategically fomented by the Tory Government, as Black notes). However, the miserable performance of GB News and Talk TV — media outlets designed to feast on such culture wars, but with rapidly declining viewers — is a hopeful sign.

5. A single fascist party

Are we here yet, at the National-Socialist moment? Black comes close to suggesting that the Conservatives are that party. The shenanigans of Farage and Tommy Robinson, and the vacillations of Boris Johnson, would suggest that a coherent electoral force like this is not yet forgeable. Though always worth the watching, as Mhairi warns.

6. Middle-class panic

Mason notes that this was a significant moment for the classic fascisms. His modern parallel is something like a concatenation of anti-mask, anti-vaxx and QAnon demonstrations, yet much more massive than currently. Is Macron’s victory despite the gilet jaunes, and the fizzling out of the Canadian truckers protest, both encouraging indicators?

7. The rule of law is eroded

This is the bulk of Black’s charge. “Words hold no value” when a bid to make human rights native to Brexit Britain reduces those human rights overall, for example. But as a measurement of the likeliness of fascism, Mason is pretty specific here: it’s when the bourgeoisie, including the police and army, turns a blind eye towards the violence of militia groups.

I don’t think we’re seeing that yet. One might argue, instead, that the spectacle of communities on these islands resisting deportations — and which don’t become a pitched war between Antifa and far-right factions, as in the US — is winning out.

8. Progressives are paralysed

Black knows she is pushing against those on both sides of the House, who believe she’s “going too far” in her accusations. Mason is worried about leftists and liberals’ responses to these indicators being “inactive and defensive”, their heads stuck in the sand. Certainly, Putin’s invasion — and let’s leave his qualification as a fascist for another time — has united progressives around Ukraine’s right to defend itself. It will be interesting to note whether this also sharpens their attention about fascist processes on these islands.

9. Right-wing populism fails

The Italian blueshirts and Germany’s DNVP were supposed to be a firewall against outright fascists in the 20s and 30s — but, as Mason puts it, “the firewall caught fire”. Black is acutely anxious about the sheer economic damage landed on people by the Tories, shaped by their own right-wing populism. She’s right: the hardship they inflict, combining with the intolerance they incite, may trigger support for something much worse.

10. The elite goes fascist

In Germany, this was industrialists and bankers handing over to a Hitler, so they could keep his like supposedly “under control” (and to clamp down on the left). Does the UK elite look like it might do that? For my sins, I am a daily reader of the Financial Times. Unless it’s some massive con job, I don’t see the modern capitalist ruling classes as susceptible to the mania of fascism. Or anything other than stolidly liberal in their sentiments.

MAPPING her words against Mason’s checklist doesn’t mean that I deny the power and passion of Black’s address. When I first saw the clip, my first reaction was: come up the road, Mhairi. You’re railing fruitlessly at the contemptuous, indifferent and downright absent, in quite the wrong parliamentary chamber.

But as we are embroiled in a struggle against Putin’s authoritarian-totalitarian regime, maybe we should keep this checklist in mind as our own hapless regime flails around, mixing malice and incompetence.

Fascism may not quite be ready to roll in Britain (though let’s see what Priti Patel’s punitions on protest generate). But vigilance should be eternal. And accidents can happen.