As Martin Kettle says (Brexit Britain and Weimar Germany are perilously alike, 16 May), there exist in the UK at the moment far too many similarities with Weimar Germany for comfort. It is easy to see parallels in the falling out of love with parliament, the lack of cooperation between parties and the far right’s repeated message of national betrayal, and to link them with a possible surge in support for a rightwing autocracy.
It is worth mentioning, however, that Adolf Hitler’s rise initially was through democratic votes in general elections, with the Nazis becoming the biggest party in the Reichstag after the July 1932 election. It was after the November election of that year when they actually lost ground, when it was decided to offer Hitler the chancellorship, leading to the Enabling Act and the destruction of opposition parties.
Divisions on the left, with the inevitable lack of viable policies to challenge the promise of a strong Germany coming from Hitler, were an important factor in the rise of fascism, and must not be repeated here. The Labour leadership has a duty to provide a united opposition to the threat from the right; if Labour loses the support of its remain voters and their votes are shared around smaller parties, a significant and dangerous similarity could be created, with terrible consequences.
• Martin Kettle points to today’s echoes of 1920s and 1930s Germany. He is far from the only observer to make the point: in his final book, containing riveting biographical essays on individuals who stood up to Hitler, the late Paddy Ashdown wrote: “In reading this book you may be struck, as I was in writing it, by the similarities between what happened in the build-up to World War II and the age in which we now live. Then as now, nationalism and protectionism were on the rise and democracies were seen to have failed, people hungered for the government of strong men; those who suffered most from the pain of economic collapse felt alienated and turned towards simplistic solutions and strident voices … ‘fake news’ built around the convincing untruth carried more weight in the public discourse than rational arguments and provable facts.”
Paddy comments wryly: “Painting a lie on the side of a bus and driving it around the country would have seemed perfectly normal in those days.”
Teaching the uncomfortable facts of history is crucially important and we neglect it at our peril.