It has been obvious to most media from the beginning that Giuseppe Conte, no matter how many handshakes he makes with Trump or summit meetings he attends, is not the true boss of Italy: that designation belongs to arch-racist and Mussolini-quoting Interior Minister Matteo Salvini. The focus on the reason behind this – the leaders of Lega and 5 Star both wanted to be Premier and couldn’t agree on who deserved the title – misses an important and worrying shift in European politics: Increasingly, interior ministers are becoming the political figures with the most popularity, and often, the most power.
Take Germany. Angela Merkel, who has been Chancellor of Germany for thirteen years, is increasingly looking like a lame duck, whose mandate could be cut short at any time by Horst Seehofer, a virulently anti-Muslim and anti-refugee figure with a penchant for hostility towards left-wing street activists combined with tolerance for legitimate fascists in his police work.
Herbert Kickl of Austria, meanwhile, has performed a sinister bit of international diplomacy, linking Salvini and Seehofer into an ominously-titled “axis” on migration. Typically, it would be prime ministers or the EU itself that would make such big pronouncements over policies affecting the lives of millions of Europeans (let alone, of course, hundreds of thousands of refugees).
In Britain, Thatcherite Ayn Rand-lover Sajid Javid has been frequently touted as a potential future prime minister. Last month, he almost overturned decades worth of national human rights precedent by considering the extradition of ex-ISIS terrorists to the US where the death penalty might have been used. A June poll showed that 69 percent of Tory members considered him “competent” and ready to lead the country. And let’s not forget which ministry Theresa May herself comes from.
The political advantages to being an interior minister are in many cases obvious. While prime ministers are blamed on all sides for every single failed government policy – economic, military, foreign, domestic – Interior ministers have their fingers in only a single pot – combating “crime” and “illegality.”
In a time when neoliberal politicians and proto-fascists alike increasingly stoke popular anger over refugees to maintain support, the ability to hunt down “illegal,” pursue a “hostile environment” and open up “controlled centres” is catnip for any up-and-coming corporate suit, or outright sadist. Even before Salvini, Marco Minniti, the Interior Minister under the so-called “left wing” government of Democrat Matteo Renzi, was the most popular politician in power as he cracked down on NGOs like MSF and Sea Watch.
The growing stature of interior ministers is not just dangerous for refugees and foreigners. The position, based on concepts of “law and order” and police power, is necessarily the one most venomous towards activists and left-wing people of all stripes, from squatters to protestors to graffiti artists to “black bloc” antifascists, and even ordinary voters.
Under May and Amber Rudd, and continuing under Javid, the British government has ramped up the “Prevent” program, which extended reasonable concerns over potential terror attacks into a full-blown authoritarian wet dream, with anti-fracking activists, Kurdish leftists, ecologists, and more targeted by the state.
Semi-fascist proposals, such as the censorship of social media and jail terms for those who watch certain videos, were repeatedly considered by the Tory interior ministers, after the 2011 riots and the 2017 terror attacks, and will almost certainly be considered again as part of the so-called “Fusion Doctrine.”
The left’s response to the escalating power of the repression apparatus should be simple and firm – no compromise with the rhetoric and trappings of the legal system or the police. Calls by Jeremy Corbyn to increase the number of officers and France’s Jean-Luc Melenchon’s defence of the CRS in the face of the Benalla Affair are not just misguided but dangerous. Socialists, communists, and anarchists should work aggressively towards the dismantling of these ministries as a primary and essential goal. A left-wing government not dedicated towards these aims is little different from an alt-right administration.
Finally, as a cautionary tale, Europeans should look at the dreadful state of the political opposition in the United States, currently rallying around two ex-FBI heads as the supposed saviors of American democracy, to understand the political and philosophical cul-de-sac of any position that involves law and order.