Monday, 26 May 2014

Don't Let The Lights Be Dimmed

The last 24 hours has been filled with repeated fanfares and breathless TV newspeople proclaiming about the earthquake caused by the increase of the United Kingdom Independence Party's vote in the British stage of the European elections. A group of millionaires and friends of millionaires, funded by a multi-millionaire, have managed to win a 27.5% vote share (on a 34% turnout = 9.5% of eligible voters)  - up from 16.5% last time (on a 35% turnout - 5.8% of eligible voters) and have the biggest grouping of MEPs from the UK in the European Parliament.

But UKIP's historically lazy MEPs are not the real issue - the issue is the attitudes and culture they foster and amplify. And these are ones of manufactured anger and fear of difference; of lies about EU regulations which often are the sole protection for workers and consumers against the big predatory multinational corporations that UKIP loves; and of a willingness to berate and bully their opponents in the name of a twisted democracy.

During the campaign, UKIP candidates successfully had the police visit a Green blogger to have him delete an internet posting about UKIP policy, even although the police themselves admitted no crime had been committed. And then another issued a letter to voters calling for both his opposing candidates and anyone who voted for them to be hanged for treason. If they are like this in opposition, what sort of country will they run if they ever come to power?

And they are not alone. All across Europe in these elections, we have seen the rise of bitterly angry, right-wing eurosceptic parties, perverting the troubles of the poor into a crusade against equally poor migrants while shoring up the real problem - the tax-dodging, austerity-imposing rich. Although Greece has turned more to the leftwing Syriza coalition in response to the neoliberal European Central Bank's savage public spending cuts, the far right has grown there too. Neo-Nazi Golden Dawn has taken one in ten Hellenic votes and there is even talk of an army coup - according to Forbes Magazine the "only half joking" preference of some international financiers.

In France, the Front National under Marine Le Pen has taken first place with a quarter of the vote, wiping out the Greens and pushing the governing socialists into third place. In Denmark, the far right People's Party topped the poll while the extreme-right Jobbik, widely accused of racism and anti-Semitism, finished second in Hungary. In the Netherlands, the Dutch Freedom Party of Geert Wilders' - which plans an alliance with Le Pen - finished joint second in terms of seats. Similarly the far right has performed well in Finland.

All these parties, and similar ones in other EU states, have common themes of taking back their countries, which generally translates into a call to continue with free trade by big business but to do away with laws such as the working time regulations and common product safety standards. This is because these, apparently, destroy the culture of their respective countries. But they don't talk about consumer protection, they talk about bureaucracy; they don't refer to safety in the workplace, but rather decry job-destroying red tape. They use the fears of ordinary people to reinforce the power of the elite.

Perhaps most troubling of all, rightists from Flanders, Denmark and elsewhere happily endorse Vladimir Putin as a true democrat after their own hearts, echoing as he does their calls to "take (his) country back". And perhaps it is Putin's Russia - also praised by Farage - that provides us with the nationalist right's  ideal template for a "country taken back". Putin's nationalism uses the language of patriotic freedom to crush many of the values and freedoms we have achieved, however tenuously, here. Gender equality, gay rights, respect for cultural diversity, freedom of expression, any attempt to seek economic or social justice - these are all subordinated to and largely suffocated by the National Will, expressed by a Leader selected via a managed democracy on behalf of a super-rich elite. "Difference" is tolerated very narrowly: and those who find the courage to kick against the limits placed on them end up out of work, in jail or exile, or dead in a ditch.

As growing numbers of Europeans embrace the xenophobia and monoculturalism of the Far Right, and the Establishment parties flounder, hoist on their outsourced elitist petards, now more than ever is it vital for the Left to advance the true alternative. That has to be one that focuses on a renewed drive towards egalitarianism, traversing national and cultural barriers to challenge the unbridled capitalist economic system and the thousand multinational corporations to whom our planet is so in thrall. It is possible - and if the elections show one thing, it is that, with their low turnouts, even the allegedly surging far right are still supported by minorities of national populations. We must not cede a narrative that allows the corporate media and the Tory rightwing to use UKIP's 9.5% share of the electorate to dictate yet further assaults on the rights and welfare of ordinary people.

As twice before, Europe sits on the fault-line: we can eradicate the gross inequality of wealth and power at the centre of our economic orthodoxy; we can put co-operation rather than competition at the heart of our Continent and yet become a beacon to the world. But equally, if our Demoi, our voters, commentators and political class, continue to indulge the grinning masks of Farage and his internationally franchised ilk, if we turn our world into one of closed borders and closed minds, we may once again sleepwalk into a nightmare from which, this time, there will be no coming back.

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