Europe has seen gains for the radical right, yes, but not for the simplistic reasons we think

by Rob Marchant

“Earthquake”, screamed the headlines of even reputable news outlets on Monday. Witnessing them, it seems as if a large chunk of the Europe’s 400-odd million voters had got up one morning, and said to themselves in unison, “instead of supporting the mainstream parties I’ve voted for all my life, you know what, I now really like all the policies of the radical right. What the hell.”

Indeed, it makes scant sense, if you choose to look at it as part of the normal ebb and flow of left-right politics. Yes, we haven’t had quite enough of austerity yet, so let’s move a bit further to the right, shall we? I don’t think that harsh medicine is really tough enough. Said no-one at all.

No, to understand it all, we must dig a little deeper. There was a rather good cartoon doing the rounds yesterday which explained the phenomenon in Europe’s three largest states: Hollande and Cameron were shown being eaten whole by large dogs, called “Front National” and “UKIP”. Angela Merkel was shown with a little dog called “NPD” (the German far right), snapping ineffectually at her ankles.

The comparison is accurate: for different reasons, governments in France and Britain have been beset by effective attacks from their right flanks, while Germany has not. The picture is, in fact, much more mixed than the headlines might suggest.

Hollande has been, sadly for us on the left, a pretty much unmitigated disaster as president. Almost as soon as they elected him, the French public regretted it. He promised things he was patently unable to deliver, and now the electorate are punishing him by voting Front National.

Cameron is a moderate Tory who has navigated his way through the last four years on the slenderest of mandates. Neither particularly popular nor unpopular, he is also being attacked from the right, although for the rather different reason of British grumpiness over Europe, the whole thing egged on by the chancers on his own back benches.

These are relatively weak leaders and still relatively new to power. By contrast, Merkel is now Europe’s long-standing stateswoman, has often enjoyed approval ratings her two neighbours can only dream of and is widely respected (or even feared). Is it surprising she has no similar competition from the radical right? She is a heavyweight politician.

All this points up one thing: these results are not an “earthquake” at all. They are a protest against ineffectual leadership and politics-as-usual of all stripes. Indeed, there were a number of countries where the left won on Sunday.

Where does all this leave Labour? The point is, as Atul Hatwal wrote here last Friday, “Ukip only exist because Labour is not the vehicle for popular protest”. If Labour had been forming an effective enough opposition, significant swathes of the electorate would not be minded to protest-vote.

They are not only voting in protest, but for parties which have no chance of getting a seat in almost any area of the country next year. Yes, they must be pretty fed up of the main parties, although that will change in an election which they care about.

But, credit where it’s due: Ed Miliband, in his “taking on UKIP” speech yesterday in Thurrock, was quite right about one thing: the EU will not be the biggest issue at the next election. It never is. And neither will UKIP.

The issues will, predictably, be more traditional. The economy. Voters’ gut feel about a party leader as prime minister. And those areas are currently much more problematic for Labour than for the Tories.

We have just broken even with the Tories under the happy effect of a bunch of Ukippers stealing their votes. It would be nice to think that that is a permanent shift, so that our position relative to the Tories does not worsen further over the next twelve months as those voters return.

But it is not. It really is not.

Rob Marchant is an activist and former Labour Party manager who blogs at The Centre Left


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16 Responses to “Europe has seen gains for the radical right, yes, but not for the simplistic reasons we think”

  1. swatantra says:

    Whats happening in France is even more worrying than whats happenning in the UK. Working Class voters are siding with the Facist Marine le Pen, and its not just a protest vote. Could it happen here? well yes. A recent survey out today shows Racism is alive and kicking around particularly amongst older white working class manual workers. You could ask what the Trade Unions are going to do about it. And a lot of working class voters opted for Farage’s UKIP, which to them is ‘the acceptable face of the BNP’.

  2. Ex labour says:

    Rob, the problem with both you and Atul is that you write from a political analyst and metro-centric perspective. Yes “earthquake” maybe a slight overstatement, but it’s not far off, as Atul’s figures showed. However, you talk about digging deeper, but don’t really do it.

    The reason UKIP did so well is that they have touched a nerve within the public, or at least a significant proportion, outside of London. There are reasons for this:

    1. The uncontrolled immigration policy pursued by Labour has been disastrous for many communities across the country, which has led to discontent and I’ll feeling against all of our politicians.

    2. The public are sick and tired of platitudes and broken promises to do something about their concerns. The political elite and chattering classes have ignored the wishes of the majority. This applies to all parties.

    3. The public now recognise that in reality having signed up to the EU treaties there is little we can actual do about it and therefore the EU is a big issue, contrary to your analysis.

    As regards France and Hollande I agree that he is a disaster. But why has FN surged in France? I asked my French colleagues at work who are based in Paris and their response to me was that, and I quote “Paris is an African City now”. So what does that tell us? For me it says immigration is a massive issue both here and in France. I read Hollande’s statement and you can apply all three above to what he said.

    I do agree with some of your analysis though. If a significant minority had not defected to UKIP from the Tory ranks, it could have been very bad indeed for Labour. Just squeezing in front of the Tories in these circumstances is a dismal performance by any standards.

    It really does not bode well for Labour when Miliband’s poster boy is Hollande !

  3. Madasafish says:

    Hollande has been, sadly for us on the left, a pretty much unmitigated disaster as president. Almost as soon as they elected him, the French public regretted it. He promised things he was patently unable to deliver, and now the electorate are punishing him by voting Front National

    In 2015 – if Mr Miliband does become PM (I am taking personal protective steps in case) – he’ll do the same as Hollande.

    Does anyone seriously think Ed Miliband could run a Government when he clearly cannot even run a photo opportunity let alone an election campaign..? He could not run a drinking session in a brewery from the evidence so far…

  4. Tafia says:

    Maybe people in Germany don’t have the same concerns because the German system is different to ours and most people who have lived there like me (and one of my daughters still lives there commuting daily to ‘Luxi’) and many of my friends – both German and Brit also live there. Simple things such as no benefits for under 25s who live at home, benefit interviews only carried out in German and interpretors not allowed, barely even lip service paid to EU rules, a strictly controlled mortgage market (and I mean strictly – makes ours look like an uncontrolled free-for-all even now), an even more strictly controlled private rental sector with draconian punishments for landlords who breach the rules by so much as a millimetre, teenage children allocated elderly people near them and made to do their shopping etc in the winter or their parents are fined, no noise/BBQs/washing in your garden on a sunday etc etc etc.

    German society is tightly controlled, highly disciplined and no allowances are made for ‘auslanders’. Even a lot of Brits who live there find it suffocating, controlling, intrusive and passively racist in that if you don’t change to their way you get ignored and they aren’t interested in you. And that is probably why their voters don’t have a problem with the EU – they don’t perceive it as a threat because they ignore it for the large part..

  5. @swatantra: Yes, racism is alive and well. But it is also a product of dissatisfaction with (a) the economy (b) politics as usual. And we don’t need to just accept it, we need to confront it for the ignorance it is.

    @ExLabour: “Uncontrolled” immigration has only one major impact. It’s about strain on public services, and it is a matter of rate of arrival, not total numbers. We probably dealt with that badly under Brown. But there is no such thing as “taking our jobs” – what economists call “lump of labour fallacy”.

  6. Tafia says:

    But there is no such thing as “taking our jobs” – what economists call “lump of labour fallacy”.

    Really. Perhaps you would like to explain that to the ships crews where I live where they have been given letters telling them that if they don’t accept new contracts with longer hours for less pay, then they will all be laid-off and replaced by east european crews. (The letter was faithfully reproduced in the North Wales Daily Post). Negotiations are on-going but the position is grim. And the reason for it? Because their competitor did it so they now need to reduce their cost base in order to remain in business.

    Is that a fallacy? How about the same companies laying off and out-sourcing to the Baltic states – is that fallacy?

    How about all the young unemployed who can’t get into the job market because at the entry level it is saturated, Is that fallacy?

    We have more than enough unemployed to fill gaps in th job market that would be created of we banned unskilled and low skilled labour from moving here and restricted skilled labour to only being allowed in if they have a job to go to and that employer is guarenteeing a minimum of 12 months employment. Restricting all benefits – including housing benefit and tax credits to only those that have been here and in full time work for 2 years first would also discourage a lot of them as would some for of levy on companies employing non-UK residents when the unemployment rate is higher than a certain level, along with restricting zero hour contracts to only job agencies

  7. BenM says:

    @EXLabour

    “1. The uncontrolled immigration policy pursued by Labour has been disastrous for many communities across the country”

    Go on then… name such a community.

  8. Ex Labour says:

    @ Rob

    You make my point again for me. You refer back to economic theory and disregard the reality. I’m aware of what the economic theory is around the labour markets.

    However, if we take the reality of a friend of mine who lives on the east coast where there are a large number of eastern European migrants who have settled in his local area. He has been a self employed builder for about 30 years and had a strong base of local customers and has always had a backlog of work – until around 4 years ago. He now can only manage to get 1 or 2 days of work per week, usually doing minor building tasks. When he tenders for a job he is consistenly undercut by the recent immigrants who offer their services at well below UK trades rates. Sometimes this is 50% less or even lower.

    How does that “lump of labour fallacy” sound now ? Perhaps you would like to go and explain it to those who suffer the reality ?

    If you and Labour lefties like BenM on here don’t understand what is going on in the real world and what people are seeing and feeling, then you are more encased in the Westminster bubble than I thought. UKIP have seen it, they listen to, and understand, what those affected are saying, unlike the mainstream parties.

    Membership of the EU does have benefits, but clearly mismangement by Labour of immigration, even back to 2004 when whistleblower Steve Moxon “outed” the Labour government, has had a massive impact on the perception of the EU. Subsequent failure to impose any controls on accession states just compounded the issue and made a bad problem worse.

  9. Tafia says:

    BenM – The mill towns of Lancashire and west Yorkshire, the Boston area of Lincolnshire spring immediately to mind.

  10. BenM says:

    “explain that to the ships crews where I live where they have been given letters telling them that if they don’t accept new contracts with longer hours for less pay, then they will all be laid-off and replaced by east european crews”

    That’s illegal.

  11. Ex Labour says:

    @ Tafia

    Spot on fella. Read my comment about a friend who lives on the “east coast”. Guess where ?

  12. @Tafia: It looks like you are mixing up a few different things here: outsourced services to the Baltics have nothing to do with immigration, that is to do with free trade. I presume we are not going to put up trade barriers as well as immigration barriers?

    @Ex-Labour Am struggling to understand why a Polish builder’s living costs in Britain are less than a native Briton’s. How does a Polish builder manage to maintain such low prices, with the same living costs? Or could it merely be they are providing a better value-for-money service than native Britons?

  13. Tafia says:

    That’s illegal.

    No it isn’t actually. Ships crews are contracted on renewable rolling contracts of a given length – in this particular case 26 weeks. Do you not think the Labour MP involved in the negotiations from the sidelines (himself an ex-seafarer) would have kicked off by now if it was?

  14. Tafia says:

    Rob Marchant – outsourced services to the Baltics have nothing to do with immigration,

    I didn’t say they did. I pointed out the same firms involved in laying off shore staff and ships crews were also outsourcing other areas of their business to the Baltic (there’s actually a reason why and it’s the same reason technical graduates from the Baltic in things like engineering and IT are now appearing in UK firms on three year contracts for as little as 17K a year pricing our technical graduates out of the market)

  15. uglyfatbloke says:

    I’d suggest a lot of people vote UKIP simply because they have come to despise and distrust the proper parties. They don’t like being limited to ‘the freedom to do as you’re told’ and have n’t come to see that UKIP would be even worse. Why does the political class have such animosity for personal liberty? Why do they not want to treat us as adults? That’s not a rhetorical question; I genuinely want to know. What’s the benefit to them, never mind us?

  16. Ex Labour says:

    @ Rob

    They can do it by living 6 or 8 to a house sharing costs, which has a very small rent anyway as its not London. Probably being paid cash in hand for the work also. This is still probably far more than they could earn back in the eastern block.

    You really have got to get to grips with the reality of what is going on out there. Real life is not a political or economic theory. Why do you think there are thousands of illegals waiting in France trying to get here ?

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