Any anti-racist and anti-fascist in the local area knows by now that Jonathan Gullis, MP for Stoke North, Kidsgrove and Talke, has spent his short time in office carving out a name for himself on the right wing of his Tory Party.
Since being elected in December 2019, he’s wasted no time in voicing his points of view, using social media in particular to broadcast himself and his ideas. It took just seven months to land in controversy over Twitter, causing him to delete his account and swiftly disappear, though he remains on Facebook where he regularly posts to his 6,000+ followers.
This is nothing remarkable in the twenty-first century. However, alongside the photo ops at litter picks and local businesses, Gullis is also using his platform to build a rhetoric of racism and disdain towards just about any group of people or issue which doesn’t sit well with his particular brand of Conservative Britain.
Taken as individual instances, much of what he says might be deemed as throwaway comments or as ‘banter’ by some. But to many, his actions are clearly designed to stir up division and hatred, and taken together alongside his track record in parliament, there is a blatant pandering towards right wing and far right ideals.
We therefore feel it necessary to call out this behaviour and make it clear that Gullis doesn’t represent all of his constituents or all people in the wider area. Below is just a small selection of examples of Gullis’s nasty message to the world. A short skim through his Facebook shows that there’s plenty more.
The majority of Gullis’ bravado comes from his Facebook account where he likes to post about how pretty much everything upsets him. Facebook is an ideal platform for this as it’s easy to create an echo chamber for his diatribes by blocking any comments that disagree or hold him to account. The result is that his Facebook is a mouthpiece for the tabloid press and he’s seemingly happy to facilitate the vitriolic comments that ensue.
Of course, he has the right to post whatever he wants within the rules of Facebook’s community standards. But when comments filled with hate and misinformation are allowed to go unchallenged, we should question what the intent of his posts are in the first place. We wonder, would Gullis let this small selection comments below be plastered on the walls of his MP office, as he does his Facebook page?
Black Lives Matter & racism
Probably Gullis’s favourite topic is the recent upsurge of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and the opening of discourse about systemic racism that this created.
During the first month after George Floyd’s murder, Gullis posted at least six times either denouncing the ‘Take the Knee’ anti-racist gesture or promoting his prized ‘War Memorials Bill’. This is a Bill which he thought up as a direct result of the few occasions where memorials or statues got damaged during the hundreds of BLM protests involving thousands of people across the country. The Bill introduces much harsher punishment for ‘desecration’ of war memorials, which Gullis believes should carry a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.
Since this initial reactionary response to BLM, we’ve not found any comments whatsoever by Gullis directly addressing the racism that the movement has highlighted. But that doesn’t mean that he’s ignored the topic. Instead, he’s taken every opportunity he can to decry the movement and discussions about racism. Here’s a few examples…
He eaglerly jumped on the far right bandwagon attempting to make out that the whole international BLM movement to be full of hardened Marxists
He’s ridiculed and reprimanded practical and progressive ideas to tackle racism, such as decolonising the curriculum and cultural institutions like museums and heritage sites. He also shared a post by ‘alt-right’ media platform Turning Point UK which claimed to ‘destroy’ critical race theory, as he objects to it being learnt about by students.
He repurposed quotes from a high profile spokesperson on anti-racism so as to present the opposite of their original meaning. And he said that suggestions of removing the word ‘Empire’ from Order of the British Empire awards was an attempt to ‘delete our history’. This is despite the suggestion coming directly from the Honours Panel, which consists of various civil society experts, including migrants from and descendants of Commonwealth countries.
He described as ‘out of touch’ the BBC’s attempts to act with sensitivity by omitting lyrics which make goading references to slaves from their major prime time broadcast of The Proms. He said that a BBC presenter’s suggestion that racism exists in rural areas was ridiculous nonsense. And he said that a mixed-race, award winning botanist’s opinion about structural racism in horticulture was ‘nonsense’.
He even refused to attend a simple unconscious bias course as part of his role as an MP – a decision that would probably land an employee in any normal workplace in a sticky HR situation. And something else that would lead most people into trouble with an employer is his persistent reference to Newchapel recreation ground as ‘Ch*nky Park’. This is a local colloquial name for the area, but local authorities never use this term, presumably because of its obvious racist connotations, particularly in recent times. This doesn’t stop Gullis, who seems to go out of his way to use the racist slur – in at least 38 separate Facebook posts – and no doubt revels in the opportunity to do so despite the area having a perfectly banal official name.
More recently he’s jumped straight into the ‘Take The Knee’ furore in football. He’s failed to condemn the fans that booed England players who’ve adopted the protest gesture before matches, and instead he’s facilitated the preposterous claim made by the far right that the players do it because they’re indoctrinated by Marxism. Obviously Gullis just can’t accept the idea of society’s role models feeling strongly enough about racism to act on it. This is ironic, given that he posted in April about a chat with Year 5 children on ending racism in football.
All this raises the question as to why is Gullis so vocal? It seems that not once has he spoken about the actual racism in his constituency or about the people with lived experience of it. Yet he’s desperate to let people know that a Californian educational panel had some suggestions about making maths classes more inclusive!
His approach towards tackling racism, and towards Black Lives Matter in particular, has textbook elements of right wing rhetoric. His responses are riddled with whataboutery, deflection, ridicule, misinformation, denouncements, and stigma. His approach at best ignores racism and at worst perpetuates it. His recent involvement as co-writer of the government’s Education Committee’s report – ‘The forgotten: how White working-class pupils have been let down…’ only serves to confirm this, as we’ve pointed out elsewhere. He is apparently ‘proud’ of this government’s efforts to divide children via ethnicity. No wonder, as it evidences that his own ideas are being taken up in Parliament.
Gullis is in full support of the hostile environment for migrants, refugees and asylum seekers and doesn’t hold back on his fawning for Priti Patel’s policy agenda. This is unsurprisingly one of Gullis’ favourite topics, with the rhetoric of ‘taking back control’ being prominent in his posts.
Whilst we have come to fully expect government policy that makes life for migrants of all kinds difficult, what is most alarming is the disingenuous narrative that people like Gullis spout whilst pretending to care about ‘genuine’ asylum seekers and refugees. This narrative was exacerbated recently when the media was giving attention to attempts by migrants to cross the Channel by boat. Gullis jumped on the opportunity to claim that these people were not ‘genuine’, and that ‘the rise of economic migrants coming across the Channel on small boats is a worrying phenomenon’. What he failed to do was provide any evidence about what the intention or status of these people was, and instead joined Priti Patel’s ‘furious’ call for the British navy to intervene.
For all his talk of ‘disgusting human trafficking gangs’, people who ‘tragically end up being ensnared in criminality’, and the ‘humanitarian aim of our asylum system’, there is much more talk of ‘using up the resources’, ‘taxpayers money’, returning people to ‘safe countries’, blaming ‘the French’, people who ‘asylum shop’ and ‘vexatious and merit less [sic] claims’ by migrants. Furthermore, he describes the Napier (former army) barracks facility which was used to house people claiming asylum as ‘free accommodation’ and complained about ‘lefty lawyers’ after the High Court ruled the facility was inadequate and unsafe, and that people there had been unlawfully detained.
And he has also joined calls for Stoke-on-Trent City Council to suspend and potentially withdraw its asylum seeker dispersal scheme, despite the council not yet reaching the number of asylum seeker residents it had agreed to house. Gullis says he is ‘proud’ of the UK’s record on housing asylum seekers and refugees and boasts about the national figures. Yet he doesn’t express the same pride when Stoke is involved, saying that having 35 asylum seekers per 10,000 residents ‘isn’t fair’. He also opposed emergency plans to house asylum seekers in a local hotel during the grip of the coronavirus pandemic, and described this as ‘STANDING UP FOR STOKE-ON-TRENT’. It seems Gullis only likes addressing humanitarian issues if they can be addressed outside of his own constituency.
So, Gullis is proud of proposed new legislation that ‘controls who comes in’ by way of immediately deporting anyone who enters the country ‘illegally’ and is deemed ‘inadmissable’ as an asylum claimant, even if they’re a refugee. On top of that, the maximum sentence for entering the UK illegally will be increased and there are other measures which can be read about in full via freemovement.org.
This is what a ‘fairer and firmer’ system looks like. The reality is that people who travel to avoid danger and persecution will find their experience is much more difficult and repressive. Gullis is keen to promote the myth that these people can join an orderly queue and wait for their claim to the processed. At the same time he is reinforcing the idea that the majority of migrants are in some way undeserving of residency in the UK and that the UK should wash its hands of them because of that. He would rather share articles about the issue by notoriously right wing website Guido Fawkes than look at migration with any seriousness. This is obviously a narrative that we’re used to, and it’s one that aims to focus attention on blaming ‘other’ people, rather than explaining why there are 26 million global refugees in the first place, and why parts of our infrastructure and public services are set up to fail. The sensationalism, finger pointing and faux concern that Gullis and his chums adopt is a racist get out clause for the hostile environment.
Gypsy, Roma and Traveler (GRT) communities
The living conditions of travelers and people of gypsy and Roma heritage are under threat. This is great news for Gullis, who’s raised objections with Priti Patel about temporary stopping by GRT communities ‘time and again’.
Gullis opposes traveling communities stopping without permission and believes the way to tackle this is by ‘TOUGHENING THE LAW’. This means dishing out jail time, vehicle (i.e. home) seizures and £2,500 fines. Gullis is so outraged by the existence of travelling communities that he can’t even stomach the idea of stopping sites that go through the legally sanctioned planning process. Rather than seemingly engage with some planning applicants for a permanent site in his constituency, his slogan is ‘NO TO TRAVELLER SITE’.
If Gullis doesn’t want ‘illegal encampments’ and also doesn’t want authorised sites, where does he expect the GRT community to live? His attitude on this issue begs the question as to whether he agrees with Lee Anderson MP – who he describes as ‘my mate’ on multiple occasions – when Anderson recently generalised travelers as criminals and made crass remarks about Gypsies as fortune tellers.
Efforts to stigmatise the GRT community, either through lazy stereotyping and racism or through increased cirminalisation, are a clear attempt to marginalise a group of people that make up 0.45% of this whole country’s population. Why can’t Gullis shout about getting adequate sites in place as ‘swiftly and effectively’ as he wants unauhtorised stoppers to be banished. We can only presume his position is more about pointing the figure at minorities than it is about breaking down the ‘confusion’ about ‘who these people actually are’, as Lee Anderson MP would put it…
A tweet by a non-binary gendered train passenger means that Gullis can no longer ‘enjoy a simple tannoy announcement’.
The passenger highlighted that greeting people as ‘ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls’ in public announcements doesn’t apply to people who don’t identify as male or female. The train operator apologised, which no doubt upset Gullis even more, who tried to imply that the complainant was calling for disciplinary action against the staff member who spoke on the tannoy.
We wonder why Gullis thinks it’s ‘a shame’ that a train operator acknowledged an oversight in gender inclusive language. Why does gender inclusive language stop him from enjoying things? Although Gullis is a self-proclaimed supporter of LGBTQ+ rights, causing such a fuss over what even he describes as a ‘simple’ matter can only serve to stir up hate and exacerbate LGBTQ+ hate. He has also recently gone a step further by calling for publicly funded organisations to drop the LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall’s ‘Diversity Champions’ scheme. Surely if he’s committed to inclusivity he would want to engage with organisations like Stonewall, rather than just make crude jokes about not being able to receive Father’s Day cards?
Jonathan Gullis was happy to put his name to an open letter released to The Telegraph announcing the formation of the ‘Common Sense Group’, which appears to be a small faction within the Tory Party. The aim of the group is, according to Gullis, to fight ‘left wing nonsense’ in Britain.
But what is more disturbing is the proclamation that the group is tasked with ensuring that ‘British values’ are not ‘coloured by cultural Marxist dogma.’
The use of the phrase ‘cultural Marxism’ is common parlance amongst conspiratorial and fascist circles. It was used by Norwegian far right terrorist Anders Breivik and was developed as a concept by the Nazi Party itself. In it’s simplest form, it is a phrase used to insinuate that there is a plot by influential Jewish people to subvert what the far right define as Western culture and traditional values. It is deeply anti-semitic and feeds into all manner of hateful beliefs and outlandish conspiracies. But Gullis is happy to use it, and indeed to also target a ‘clique of powerful, privileged liberals’ and ‘elitist bourgeois liberals’ within the same Telegraph letter.
This narrative is dangerous. It harks back to the propaganda of fascism in the inter-war years and will work to foster hatred of Jewish people and sympathy with ultra-nationalist ideals. The fact that Gullis puts his name to it only further shows that his narrative is one of pandering to the far right and the extremism that comes along with that.
Not satisfied with just picking on minority groups, Gullis has thrown his ranting towards trade unions, which collectively represent around 6.5 million people in the UK. His and has been focused on the unions which represent teachers, whose members he’s slandered as ‘hell bent on stopping kids learning’ for the apparent crime of showing concern about safety during COVID.
He also attempts to make out that recent National Education Union (NEU) decisions have been made by union ‘bosses’ who are ‘politically motivated’. He chooses to forget that union leaderships are elected by their membership and that subsequent decisions are mandated by those members. This was recently clear in an exceptional example where a NEU meeting was joined by 100,000+ teaching staff to discuss the very issues Gullis was so angry about!
Gullis also disagreed with the NASUWT teaching union and described it as ‘politicised’ when a decision was made to take a firm stance about decolonising the curriculum. He was ‘disappointed’ by this and said it as a ‘UNION FAIL’, despite it being tabled, debated and passed as a motion by union members in a democratic process at their annual conference. Perhaps his bitterness was enhanced by the fact that this was his own union he was talking about, which also happens to have an (elected) general secretary with Jamaican parents. To add insult to injury, he was ‘shocked and appalled’ when his former colleagues in the RE teachers’ professional body suggested that ‘white privilege’ could be a useful concept in teaching children about inclusion.
These attacks on trade unions may not seem that significant on the surface, but they in fact straight out of the far right play book. Unions are often some of the first institutions to be targeted, repressed and shut down in far right and authoritarian regimes – the reason being that they’re organisations with long standing traditions of fighting for justice and against issues like racism. Gullis is a former teacher and tries to paint a picture of unions as ‘out of touch’ with their members. If that were the case, perhaps there wouldn’t be 750,000 combined NEU and NASUWT members out of the total 945,000 full time equivalent teaching staff workforce in the UK.
Protest/freedom of assembly
Whilst Gullis makes his positions clear on issues like racism, migration, and GRT rights, he also makes his position clear on people’s rights to protest about these matters. He’s in full support of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which gives the police and courts strengthened powers to criminalise margianlised communities and more overarching powers on dealing with (and repressing) protest.
He’s played down the implications of the Bill on civil liberties and makes out like opposing the Bill means opposing punishments for child abusers. This is ludicrous. NorSCARF has already written about the Bill and the need to fight against it, and we’re certain that Gullis’ support for it is based on the opportunity to silence expressions of public concern and punish opposition to government policy. People that protest against systemic racism or climate disaster are not ‘extremist groups’, and protestors should not have to have demonstrations rubber stamped by the authorities in order to make their voices heard.
Gullis the politician – Man of the people or loud mouthed racist?
As we mentioned at the start, broadly speaking Gullis has the right to say whatever he wants. He exercises that right with relish and he has the cunning to say just enough but not so much as to land him in significant hot water. Usually the Facebook comments fill in the gaps.
He’s chosen a narrative and he’s using it to paint a colourful picture of what he’s about. It doesn’t matter what the topic is; from flag waving to train tannoys, portraits of the queen to cheese, he has an opinion, and anything that differs from that opinion is to be met with a mixture of rage, exasperation, and hysterics – with the capital letters to boot. He is the essence of bigotry.
But the problem is that the groups he targets and the issues he dwells on are the same groups and issues that the far right chooses. Whether it’s institutions with traditions of intellectualism and democratic organisation, like academia and trade unions, or groups that are historically marginalised and persecuted. He has nothing positive to say and goes out of his way to create a feeling of disdain towards them.
This is textbook far right propaganda and it’s seriously worrying. It is a classic attempt to divide and rule rather than look at the roots of a problem. All the positive work that North Staffs people have done over decades and longer to create a vibrant, representative, and fairer society seems to be under threat by no less than our elected member of parliament. We are certain that it is a calculated rhetoric in order to foster and tease out right wing sentiment within the electorate. And without a clear opposition to this narrative he will be successful.
We think Gullis’s behaviour is atrocious and we urge local people to join us in calling him out. His rhetoric sets a precedent of what it is ‘ok’ to do and say. Without a voice against this, it will be allowed to grow and be normalised, and further embolden the far right. We won’t stay quiet and we think local people who agree with us shouldn’t stay quiet either. There’s plenty more that Gullis has said which we haven’t picked out, and there’s plenty more he’ll continue to say. It’s up to us as local people to say we won’t stand for it.