London-based anti-fascist activist KEVIN OVENDEN reports on two aspects of the rise of the far Right in Europe. First, he analyses the high vote for the UK Independence Party (UKIP) in the Eastleigh by-election, where they beat the Tories into third place. Following this, a short piece on how the mainstream Right is feeding the success of Golden Dawn and other far Right forces in Greece.
The UKIP vote in the Eastleigh by-election — second with 27.8 percent — portends a dash to the Right in mainstream politics.
UKIP’s central slogan was “Stop open-door immigration” — lumping together the movement of EU nationals with asylum seekers and others through a deliberate sleight of hand into a single racist or xenophobic scapegoat.
Studies show that the “core” UKIP voter holds social attitudes closer to the BNP than the Tory party on a range of issues connected to race, immigration and multiculturalism (excepting the question of whether a “race war” is likely in Britain in the “next few years”, where the core UKIP voter is closer to their Tory counterpart in not thinking so, as opposed to the BNP).
The wider “strategic” UKIP voter — who lends support at elections for tactical reasons or as a protest — holds essentially the attitudes of the historic right-wing Tory core.
That was before the Rotherham and Eastleigh by-elections where UKIP came second in both, with 22 and 28 percent.
Both the core vote and the protest element appear to be consolidating. And the party is radicalising its message. The politics of race are central — with immigration rather than Brussels as the organising principle of the populist right-wing message. Opposition to equal marriage for gays and lesbians (an issue unconnected with Europe) was a further radicalisation as well as a pitch to disaffected Tories.
The result is going to be a lurch to the Right by the Tories on race as they press on with the austerity that propels the underlying protest vote that UKIP is tapping. The result will be a further radicalisation, and the crescendo in the right-wing press about Bulgarian and Romanian migrants has already started 10 months before the cap on their movement within the EU is lifted.
And Labour is going to adapt further to the anti-immigration frenzy (their canvassers in Eastleigh identified it as the number one national issue raised). Labour opposition leader Ed Miliband is to make the third of his interventions on immigration — admitting “mistakes” during their years in government — next week with a political broadcast.
His first speech, at the Labour Party conference, could have been a lot worse. He said we need “to make immigration work for everybody” (in other words it was not necessarily a bad thing) and that the way to deal with attempts to undercut pay and conditions was through enforcement of the national minimum wage and tough action on gang-masters (people who recruit and often abuse casual labour).
But since then Labour’s interventions have got a lot worse and have slid more towards the “Blue Labour” wing who believe that being seen to be soft on immigration is the reason why New Labour lost 5 million votes in the Blair/Brown years — nothing to do with the imposition of neoliberal policies and methods of doing politics, or the wars, etc.
The need for a principled pole putting anti-racist arguments in ways that can effectively target the radical Right and connect with wide layers suffering from the austerity drive is glaring.
How do fascists and racist, nationalist populists have an effect on the politics of Europe even though they are not in power? Why are they such a threat demanding a specific response, when it is the centre-right or/and centre-left that is imposing austerity? This shocking development in Greece shows why.
Some 85 MPs of prime minister Samaras’ conservative New Democracy party have tabled an overtly racist bill, to be voted on next week. It says that only citizens of Greece who have Greek blood (i.e. a parent who is “ethnically Greek”) can serve in the army. Leave aside, for a moment, serving in the army: the bill would put into law a distinction between those who acquire Greek citizenship through passing citizenship tests (and other routes such as residency), and “true Greeks” by virtue of their “race”. Once established the apartheid notion of second-class citizenship can then migrate to police access to services, education and so on.
Samaras’ governing coalition includes the centre-left parties, Dimar and Pasok, which back the austerity memorandums that are crucifying Greek people. Those two say they will oppose the bill (as, of course, do the left wing Syriza opposition party and the Communist Party).
But it will be supported by the MPs of the fascist Golden Dawn, and the racist-nationalist Independent Greeks. The combined vote of those two (which are not in the government and say they are against austerity) and New Democracy is enough for the bill to pass.
The Samaras government and its predecessors have already been quite prepared to enact racist measures to scapegoat immigrants. But this rehabilitation of 19th century “blood nationalism” and all that it connoted in Europe in the first half of the century that followed crosses an ideological threshold.
It reveals also a dynamic that in different permutations is being played out elsewhere.
An unpopular centre-right is relying in parliament on the pro-austerity social democrats to drive through the assault on living standards. But politically, to shore up popular support, it is leaning towards and on the hard racist, fascist or far Right, which have been able to grow out of conditions of economic distress and from official anti-immigrant scapegoating and Islamophobia.
In this way both the austerity and the racism are intensified — in deeds and not only rhetoric. And the fascist or xenophobic Right is doubly legitimised: as a recipient of despairing bitterness and as the driving force that gets steps taken towards their promise of kicking out the immigrants and “purifying” the nation.
For those in Britain, the Unite Against Fascism conference in London this Saturday is an important opportunity to join guests from Greece and Europe to discuss how we break this vicious and dangerous circle.