For a great many years, long before Brexit, some on the left in politics have merrily labelled those on the right (I am not talking about the far right) as “Nazis” or “fascists”. Indeed, go back a few decades and you will find examples of men who risked their lives in the fight against Nazi Germany being described as fascists because, for instance, they objected to industries being nationalised or thought tax rates should not be astronomically high.
More recently, this childish practice has spread to people of all or any political persuasion. So, for instance, those who do not admire Anna Soubry’s passionate adoration of liberally minded Brussels bureaucrats have taken to calling her a Nazi and the Speaker of the House of Commons, this very day, has assured us that Ms Soubry’s infantile critics are themselves fascists.
It goes without saying that these allegations of fascism are, not to put too fine a point on it, plain stupid. Respectable right of centre chaps are obviously not fascists. Ms Soubry. whatever one thinks of her opinions, is certainly not a Nazi. Those disagreeable thugs who screech that she is are almost definitely not themselves fascists: they are just tiresome infants who are determined to do all in their power to destroy perfectly sound arguments for demonstrating that Ms Soubry’s opinions are not well thought out (I am told her real political allegiance is to the Liberal Democrat Party, not to the National Socialist Party formerly led by Adolph Hitler).
After years of “Nazi” and “fascist” having been allegations generally only made against male democratic Conservatives, they are now made against pretty well everyone who has ever expressed a political opinion, whatever his or her sex. These terms of abuse are now, in other words, totally meaningless. You would have thought, therefore, that no one could any longer be all that put out at finding himself or herself described as being a Nazi or fascist. But that thought would be wrong. We moderate, mostly decent, Conservative men put up for decades with being labelled as Nazis and no one ever bothered to make a fuss about it, but all has now changed.
First, and I certainly agree, it is the general opinion of MPs that it is evil to hurl common abuse at women. It continues to be the duty of men, unless they be cads and bounders, to defend women against the sort of taunts thrown around by protesters on College Green when female politicians venture there in order to give us their opinions on the issues of the day. We must get that out of the way. No decent well-brought up man could possibly think it is ever appropriate for women politicians to be criticised in intemperate terms. Horsewhipping on the steps of the offender’s club is the solution. But I doubt criminal prosecution would really be appropriate.
This is where, I regret, I have to become controversial. Ms Soubry has said that it is the duty of the police to prosecute the tiresome protesters who called her a Nazi. I must be careful here. It is a great many years since I practised in the criminal courts. And I am aware that Ms Soubry, a barrister who specialises in criminal law, is much more up to date than I am. She is also, of course, a member of the House of Commons and will, as a result, have witnessed at first hand the passing of many barmy laws designed to consign lots of hitherto innocent people to prison. As Auberon Waugh so accurately put it, the British are punishment freaks, and their MPs are the most extreme punishment freaks of all. I certainly wouldn’t put it past them to have made a law requiring the courts to imprison anyone who ever called a slightly left-wing female politician a Nazi.
But, with all those caveats, I have to say that my researches suggest that it is not yet a criminal offence to call a politician (or anyone else) a Nazi or a fascist. So the question arises: should the law be changed so as to provide that anyone who calls Ms Soubry, or any other vaguely left-wing female politician, a Nazi must be sent to prison? I put it as narrowly as that because I recognise that Ms Soubry would not wish it to be a criminal offence to call a politician who advocates our departure from the EU a Nazi. That would lead to lots of her pals (“Lord” Adonis springs to mind) being banged up (and John Bercow would definitely be at risk). And, anyway, she would not wish the criminal law to be too widely drawn. It should deal with what we lawyers call “the mischief”, and not go beyond that. The mischief here is that a slightly left-wing female politician has been called a Nazi: that, she would say, must never happen again.
I do understand Ms Soubry’s concern. She has not had to put up with idiots calling her a Nazi for anywhere as long as I have had to cope with the same insult being thrown at me. It must have been a thoroughly beastly shock for her. And I can assure her that my horsewhip is ready should I ever come across any of her tormentors on the steps of his club. But, though I hate to disappoint her, I have to say that I honestly think that making it a criminal offence to call Ms Soubry a Nazi would be a step too far.