The Rise of the Right
The rise of the Extreme Right is the most shocking aspect to the recent European Parliamentary election results. The National Front topping the poll in France is a stark warning that neo-fascism is like a virus; the support for Golden Dawn in Greece is a reminder that raw fascism is alive and well in some parts of Europe. While a whopping majority of the new European Parliament is made up of the political Centre (Left and Right), there is a spectre in the parliament; fascism in tooth and claw, is an ideology and movement that most of us thought should have died with Hitler in the bunker. Instead, fear has been exploited by siren voices; can we look to history for a response?
Politicians from the Hard Left to the Conservative Right have a good record in opposing fascism head-on. The BNP vote collapsed in England when Tories, Labour and Liberal Democrats united in their contempt and opposition to these opponents of the democratic system. When people stand up to be counted, they can defeat dark forces; a renewed purpose and commitment by democrats in the European Parliament can lead to a further exposure of light to the dark. This is something we should all be able to agree on. There is no excuse in a democracy for voting for a fascist or neo-fascist parties but there are reasons. It is up to all democrats to re-double their efforts to tackle the causes of, in the old-Marxist terminology, ‘alienation’. Have no truck with their spokespeople or politicians but do seek to root out the root causes of the ugliest part of the body politic.
Nick Clegg, if he were religiously inclined, would be thinking that he can not please his maker. He has taken his party back into government for the first time in decades. He was the media darling of the 2010 General Election. How cruel a sport is politics though. Now, he has both Left and Right against him; he had pretty much lost the Left of the Liberal Democrats once he and the Orange Bookers signed up for austerity. The Red Tops, Telegraph and Spectator are no fans either – he, just like his party, has suffered a third party squeeze. The 2015 Election is likely to be disastrous for the Liberal Democrats – he could go down as the man who oversaw the building up and destruction of the Liberals in the space of five years.
Is there a way back? It may well be all too late for Clegg now – it is really difficult, if not impossible, to change a voter’s mind; once their mind is made up, that’s it. Nick Clegg gambled and lost by taking on Nigel Farage in the LBC debates. His best hope now is that there will be pockets of resistance for his party throughout the land come 2015. It is a slim hope.
Is there validity in an election that in some countries attracts less than 30% of the electorate to actually go out and vote? What does Europe need – more or less integration? Are we EU passport holders ‘good’ Europeans or do most people within the Union consider themselves French, Spanish, Italian first? What does it even mean to be ‘European’? The following are a few general observations.
Sometimes it is easier to define things by what they are not. The EU, unlike America or Canada, allows for 20 days minimum statutory annual leave. Our North Atlantic neighbours can only dream of such ‘leisure’. Our concept of the work-life balance is largely different to that of the US and Canada.
Human Rights; no member of the European Union is allowed to have the Death Penalty. This is a huge difference in how the EU views human rights and how much of the rest of the World sees the concept.
Social Security is another example of where it is probably better to be a ‘European’ than from elsewhere. There is still, even during the ravages of austerity, a social contract and commitment that most States will try to provide a decent safety net for their citizens.
Of course there are problems and issues for the EU as a whole, principally how to create and preserve jobs and living standards. But like the Romans in Monty Python, we might ask ‘what has Europe ever done for us?’ and been pleasantly surprised.
There are huge issues around EU membership and national autonomy in the age of austerity; it is up to the electorate to decide how to address these questions.