Tuesday, June 09, 2009
Left Out: How the Far Right stole the working-class
This article of mine appears in today's First Post.
With global capitalism in crisis and Europe in the midst of its worst economic depression for 70 years, one might think that it would be the parties of the Left who would have reaped the electoral dividend in last week's European elections. But with one or two exceptions, they fared badly across the continent.
Candidates of the centre-Left who enthusiastically embraced globalisation, free markets and privatisation were annihilated - the British Labour Party polled its lowest share of the vote for a century and the German Social Democrats slumped to their worst ever showing. While parties espousing more traditional socialist policies did better, even they did not make as much progress as they ought to have done, given the severity of the economic crisis.
What went wrong?
It's clear that a large percentage of working-class protest votes across Europe have gone to populist parties of the 'far-Right', who combine traditional left-wing anti-capitalist and anti-globalist economic policies, with unequivocal opposition to mass immigration and an uncompromising stance on law and order.
In Britain, the BNP gained votes not from the Conservatives, whose share of the vote was virtually unchanged from five years ago, but from Labour. In the Labour stronghold of Barnsley, for instance, the BNP won as much as 16 per cent.
In Hungary, Jobbik 'The Movement for a Better Hungary', which is denounced as 'neo-fascist' by its opponents, became the country's third largest party. It had attacked finance-driven globalisation and the 'unpatriotic' pro-globalist elite, in a way which clearly resonated with ordinary people. In Austria, far-right parties polled an unprecedented 17.7 per cent of the vote.
If the European Left is to claw back working-class votes from the far-Right, it not only needs to oppose the neo-liberal model of globalisation, but to jettison its politically correct approach to issues like immigration and law and order and adopt policies which are popular with its core constituency - the working class.
Since the 1960s, as European Left parties have gradually become more middle class, they have gradually lost their link with their indigenous working-class voters. Just how out of touch the British middle classes are with working-class opinion can be seen by their utter bewilderment at the rise of the BNP.
For years, working-class concerns about immigration levels have been denounced as 'racist'. Working-class displays of patriotism - such as flying national flags -areregarded with deep suspicion.
"The ersatz English pride expressed by the entirely bogus St George's Day celebrations is deeply creepy. I hate it," wrote leftist commentator Martin Bright in the Spectator. "Wandering through London this week and bumping into people wrapped in red and white flags or dressed as knights has made me feel deeply embarrassed to be English." For middle-class leftists, large scale immigration means cheap Polish plumbers and some great new ethnic restaurants. How on earth, they wonder, could anyone be opposed to it, let alone vote for a party which promises an end to immigration?
The middle-class takeover of the Left has also meant a lack of focus on the basic problems which most concern ordinary people. Instead it's middle class issues and preoccupations - civil liberties, identity politics and human rights, which come to the fore.
Post-1968, the European Left, dominated by the middle-classes, has preferred to put cultural leftism before economic leftism and now it has paid a huge penalty.
This year's Euro elections make it clear that the Left will never make significant electoral headway unless it rethinks its stance on immigration and other important issues. It needs to oppose the free movement of both capital and labour - not on racist grounds, but because neither are in the interests of ordinary working people.
It has to acknowledge the innate social conservatism of most working-class voters and drop its aggressively liberal approach to social issues which anger so many. And it needs to become more openly patriotic - and not be ashamed of occasionally wrapping itself in the national flag, even if it does make smart media commentators like Martin Bright feel "deeply embarrassed".
In the last few weeks in Britain we have been bombarded with articles from the liberal elite and Church leaders lecturing the plebs on the dangers of voting for the BNP. In spite of that - or possibly partly because it - the BNP now has two seats in the European Parliament.
Patronising ordinary people is not going to stop the rise of the far Right: unashamedly populist left-wing parties, putting forward policies that the working class actually support, might.