Over the weekend I paid a visit to my native Suffolk and called in on some relatives while I was there. My great uncle, a man now going into his 90s, told me of his childhood growing up in pre-war Peckham, a part of the city now quite unrecognisable to him and those who had lived there at the time. Of everything he told me, perhaps the most startling were the scenes he described of Oswald Mosley's rallies in his neighbourhood and how he had witnessed the British Union of Fascist black shirts clashing in street fights with the equally violent and authoritarian Communist groups, with the police having the impossible task of trying to separate the two mobs.
Later that same day pictures began to appear online of the scenes taking place outside America's London embassy in Grosvenor square. A group of Islamic extremists were burning the American flag while their leader, Anjem Choudery, bellowed down the microphone in an attempt to heckle the families of the British 9/11 victims as they arrived to take part in the memorial ceremony. Meanwhile the police were attempting to hold back members of the EDL who had gathered in an attempt to battle with the equally aggressive Islamist group.
Britain in the 1930s was a country suffering in the grip of terrible economic hardships, while upheaval and rogue states proliferated in Europe and rioting and instability rocked parts of the Middle East and the Indian sub-continent. In a sense Britain then found itself in predicaments not so dissimilar to our own. Today several European economies once more face disaster while in Britain, amidst ongoing recession, first the Student riots and then the London riots shocked the country as the politicians of the established parties appeared increasingly unable to offer any kind of substantial leadership.
The council of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets is now headed by the Islamist backed Mayor Lutfur Rahman, and as a result the EDL recently attempted to stage a march through the area, all just a short distance from the parts of Whitechapel that the British Fascists had also once attempted to hold a procession through. And while at our universities moderates seem to be withdrawing from the debate on just about every domestic and foreign policy issue, overseas many parts of the world look particularly volatile, as we limit ourselves into a position that seems to allow us to do little more than stand back and watch as the anarchy unfolds. Like the appeasement of Nazi Germany popular with the chattering classes of the 1930s, the common wisdom is once again that military force can never be an option, despite the increasingly bold posturing of rogue regimes such as Iran.
Perhaps what is most disconcerting about all of this is the way in which our own politicians seem perpetually unalarmable. I've lost count of the number of meetings I've sat in on in the committee rooms of Westminster where I've heard members of Parliament talk dismissively and complacently while out on the streets the various political factions rush to ever further extremes. And it seems that into this vacuum of ideas and values that has appeared at the heart of our political discourse, extremist are proving all too pleased to step in.