By Adrian Davies.
As predicted on this site at the end of March, the Front National has achieved truly stunning success in the French vote for the European Parliament. It has polled over 25% of the popular vote, some 4% to 5% more than the fractious establishment conservative UMP party, and is now the largest party in France in terms of electoral support. It will take 24 or 25 of the seats in the European parliament, up from only three at the last election (in 2009).
Both the FN and the UMP massively out-polled the ruling Socialist party, which managed a score of only 11%. The panic stricken, inept, calamitous Socialist President of France, François Hollande, who makes Ed Milliband seem a winner, now proposes to address the nation, presumably to beg the French people to stop voting outside the system box, so allowing the FN to make the weather even more than it is doing already, if that is possible.
The BBC, has published a remarkably objective and fair analysis of the FN’s triumph, which is well worth reading: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/blogs-eu-27577964
This magnificent result is a tribute to Marine Le Pen’s inspired leadership of her party. While some hardline elements in French nationalist circles have criticised her for trimming, it is surely better to make some compromises and take 25% and more of the vote than boast about how ideologically pure you are, and poll derisory votes.
It is moreover important to bear in mind that the FN’s supposed trimming only goes so far. The FN explicitly rejects neo-liberalism, the rule of alien financial interests and dogmatic market fundamentalism, as well as supranational government and mass immigration. It also rejects the whole neo-conservative project for world domination by armed force. Marine Le Pen is on excellent personal terms with Russian President Vladimir Putin. If the day comes when she leads France, her country will not be participating in any more wars to bring a misshapen simulacrum of democracy at the point of a gun to countries that do not conform to the neo-conservative world view.
The FN believes in a bigger, less tightly bound and yes, more diverse (in a positive sense!) Europe, extending from Portugal to the Urals, rid both of the fratricidal wars inspired by petty, malign nationalism that devastated the continent twice in the twentieth century (and had already done plenty of damage in the nineteenth century) but unconstrained also by a centralising proto-government of Europe that, by riding rough shod over national sensibilities, is more likely to inflame the worst kind of nationalism than to unite Europe, so far as such an unity is attainable. Such an ideal is surely worth striving for.
The FN’s future prospects are very promising. While elections to the French National Assembly (equivalent to our House of Commons) are conducted on an electoral system that has up to now proved less favourable to the FN than the d’Hondt system (well explained here http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-27187434) which is used in elections to the European Parliament in France and in Great Britain (Northern Ireland uses the single transferable vote instead), the ruling Socialists are caught in a dilemma of seeking a new mandate now and facing a large influx of FN deputies into the National Assembly or clinging on to power in defiance of the popular will, and perhaps facing an even worse defeat when they are forced to face the French people a little way down the line.
Could the FN actually take power in France? That is now a real and exciting possibility, but will not happen quite yet. Its realisation would probably require a major economic crisis in the Eurozone that would finally discredit the existing political class so completely that an electoral majority can be found for radical change.
The European single currency, essentially part of a political project for supranational government with no underlying economic logic, has proved a strait-jacket for many countries, particularly in southern Europe. The FN is the only important party in France to call for the abandonment of the Euro and the return of France’s national currency, the Franc, so allowing France to become more competitive compared to Europe’s economic locomotive, Germany, by letting the currency take the strain. The alternative is endless wage cutting and hated austerity measures.
Were the Euro to collapse amidst widespread economic dislocation exceeding even the aftermath of the 2008 crisis, the FN would probably sweep to power. Such an outcome is quite likely, though not written in the stars.
In the meanwhile, since success breeds success, it is reasonable to expect further progress even without an existential crisis in the Eurozone, though something more than even the present wave of discontent will be necessary to transform strong nationwide support for the FN into an overall majority of the French people.
Turning now from France to home, the United Kingdom Independence Party has been the big winner in Great Britain (Northern Ireland following its own path in Europe). It has handsomely topped the poll, taking votes from the Conservative Party, the Liberal Democrats, the Labour Party, and (last but not least) the British National Party, which suffered complete electoral collapse and the loss of its two seats in the European parliament.
There is another good and objective report from the BBC here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-27571451
The BNP’s vote plummeted from 943,598 votes or 6.3% in 2009 to 179,694 or 1.14 % in 2014, while UKIP’s vote soared from an already high 2,498,226 or 16.5% and second place nationally in 2009 to 4,352,051 or 27.49 % and first place nationally in 2014. The BNP lost its deposit in every region of England, Wales and Scotland, suffering abject humiliation of an unprecedented order. Even the Lib Dems had a better night.
Establishment commentators have been quick to pretend that UKIP’s appropriation of the BNP vote shows a considered rejection of the politics of identity.
An especially striking example is this gem from the supposedly conservative Spectator’s columnist Fraser Nelson (I have corrected some at any rate of Mr Nelson’s spelling mistakes: perhaps he was “tired and emotional” when he wrote it, as the old Fleet Street saw has it!):
“Amidst all the fuss tonight, we may miss a wonderful moment: the destruction of the BNP. The last Euro elections were the high point for British neo-fascism, with the BNP winning almost a million votes – far more support than the National Front or Oswald Mosley mob ever managed. For five years the BNP have been parliamentarians with seats -and, ergo, the right to appear on Question Time. They did well not because voters shared its racist agenda, but because voting BNP seemed to be the best way of throwing a stone on the Westminster greenhouse. No longer. Ukip has given a non-racist, anti-establishment alternative. For this and other reasons the BNP is in meltdown tonight, the odious Nick Griffin has accepted that he has lost his European Parliament seat and the party is being buried because it has tried to hawk racism in the most tolerant country on earth.”
Well, er, no, the reasons why the BNP has been buried and the odious Nick Griffin has lost his seat are twofold.
First, UKIP now “hawks racism” (or, put another way, voices the concerns of ordinary men and women outside the loathsome metropolitan politico-mediatic class of which Mr Nelson is so egregious a representative at seeing their country transformed into part of the third world) in a prettier package than the BNP (moral: never, ever underestimate the importance of branding and presentation in politics).
Even more fundamentally, BNP chairman for life “Nick Nick” Griffin, a moral, financial, intellectual and political bankrupt, has long practised the political equivalent of slash and burn agriculture.
He has completely failed to understand that successful challenger parties must sink deep local roots and undermine the edifice of two party system politics by picking away at its foundations in local government, a lesson that Eddy Butler strove in vain to teach him.
Instead Griffin grandstanded on national television with disastrous results in his utterly abject Question Time performance, which will surely be remembered as the beginning of the end, while marginalising, undermining and in the last resort purging competent people in his own party rather than building a winning team.
Now he has paid the price of such huge failures of leadership, vision, and moral character. The many good patriots whom he has so grievously and so often wronged over the long years of his undeserved predominance in nationalist politics will shed no tears at his utter undoing. The verdict on his party is wilful suicide.
How the UKIP phenomenon will play out is not at present foreseeable. It might evolve into a broadly based populist party of the right, articulating the legitimate fears and concerns of the British people, or it might cosy up closer to the system parties, seeking an arrangement with the Tories, now that their coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, have lost ten of their eleven European seats and are on their way out of government within the year.
Anyone who witnessed, as I did, the comical ravings of Conservative Members of the European Parliament including the supposedly “right wing” Daniel Hannam (personally close to UKIP leader Nigel Farrage) against the Front National will know where that choice would take UKIP. Only time will tell which path UKIP takes.
Moreover, UKIP has been a major beneficiary of the d’Hondt system for elections to the European parliament, which allows roughly proportional representation, whereas next year’s general election will of course be under the “first past the post” system that is unfavourable to parties such as UKIP with a high but quite evenly distributed level of support. The “first past the post” system favours parties whose support is concentrated in key constituencies so that next year the Liberal Democrats might well win many more seats with c. 8% of the vote than UKIP with twice that share.
Finally, turn out in the European and local elections has been low. It will more or less double at the general election next year, with unpredictable results. We are in the territory of known unknowns and unknown unknowns.
Against this background, after congratulating our French friends and comrades, who are such a shining example to us of what can be done with a fine leader and a sensible party, we need to reflect carefully on what can be achieved in Great Britain under current circumstances.
There are plainly limits to what a small party can achieve at the ballot box when faced with UKIP candidates enjoying the afterglow of their remarkable success in Europe. It might be thought more productive to concentrate our limited resources upon influencing the future direction of UKIP through online and hard copy publications that seek to educate UKIP members about the deeper ideological questions which their leaders will not address.
On the other hand, it is by no means certain that four party politics (or five, don’t forget the so-called Greens, who are more red than green, but are emerging as the pseudo-radical alternative to the system parties) will actually come to pass, for the reasons that I have explained above.
For the moment it seems to me (and I am offering only a personal view, and do not purport to speak for anyone but myself) advisable to pursue a two track strategy of limited electoral interventions (especially if we have reason to believe that UKIP will not be contesting a poll, as they did not in Elswick) while also engaging in a metapolitical struggle intended to reach out to and educate the tens of thousands who will now join UKIP, as well as some part of the millions who vote for it.
A full, open and honest debate without preconceptions is now needed.