By Adrian Davies.
While the panic-stricken Greek state sends hooded, black uniformed paramilitary police to arrest the elected representatives of the Greek people in the birthplace of democracy, better news has come through from Austria, where the Freedom Party (FPO) has just polled 21.4% of the national vote in Sunday’s elections.
Postwar politics in Austria have been dominated by two parties, the conservative People’s Party (OVP) and the centre-left Social Democrats (SPO), but the days when they could poll 93% of the vote between them are long gone now. Austria now has truly multi-party politics, and the Freedom Party is forging ahead.
The remarkable scale of what the Freedom Party has just achieved can be tested by comparing their vote with the big two of Austrian politics, who respectively polled 27.1% in the case of the Social Democrats and 23.8% in the case of the People’s Party. The Greens polled a very respectable 11.5%, while the Eurosceptic Team Stronach polled 5.8% and the neo-liberal New Austrian party polled 4.8%, getting over the 4% hurdle needed to take seats in the Austrian legislature.
It must also be borne in mind that 3.6% of the electorate voted for a splinter group from the Freedom Party, the Alliance for the future of Austria (BZO), founded by the Freedom Party’s charismatic but highly erratic former chairman, Jorg Haider, so that one in four Austrians voted for an openly nationalist party.
The BZO’s share of the vote is in free fall as its electors return to the Freedom Party. It polled 10.7% of the vote in 2008, but this time it failed to secure any representation in parliament, falling below the 4% cut off point, which effectively leaves the Freedom Party as undisputed winner in the struggle for the soul of Austrian nationalist politics.
What is more, many supporters of the People’s Party hold not dissimilar views to those of the Freedom Party, so it is not surprising that the leader of the People’s Party, Michael Spindelegger, is testing the water for a PP/FP coalition, much to the dismay of Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann, who wishes to continue with the grand coalition between his Social Democrats and the People’s Party that ran the Austrian government before Sunday’s poll.
Heinz-Christian Strache, the very able leader of the Freedom Party, faces difficult choices. It will be tempting to go into coalition, and show that nationalists can hold office and help to rule the country competently, but there is much to be said for leaving the system parties to govern together, rather than being junior partners to the People’s Party, a mistake that Jorg Haider made when he joined a coalition led by the PP.
Being outside the system and its politics of messy compromise and fractious coalition can have its advantages. Going in can lead to big problems, as Nick Clegg has found in England, and other junior partners in coalitions have found elsewhere in Europe.
The Irish Greens, for example, were wiped out at the last Irish elections, after some years as junior partners in a coalition led by the “faintly constitutional” Fianna Fail party. The OVP is a more salubrious party than Fianna Fail, but the principle of not going in as junior coalition partner has generally held good across Europe. Herr Strache, be warned!
What lessons can we in the United Kingdom learn from the welcome news that has just reached us from Austria?
One lesson is that it is certainly possible for well run, well led parties of the populist and nationalist right to score great successes in electoral politics. We are not bound to give up the electoral arena to UKIP and perforce confine ourselves to seeking to influence the process indirectly through think tanks, web sites, journals etc., though all these things are of themselves both necessary and desirable. The party is not (necessarily) over.
On the other hand, it is necessary to be professional, voter friendly and credible, without betraying core principles. We must present as winners, in order to win.
Lastly, we need to cast our dead wood adrift once and for all. It is to the lifelong shame (could he but feel such a sentiment!) of the wretched creature who has run British nationalism into the ground for the second time in his miserable life of divisiveness, failure and bankruptcy that, while successes of this kind are being recorded by our European counterparts, we may expect next year to see UKIP take first place in a national poll, and no British nationalist to be returned to elected office at any level above parish council. The wise will leave the one-eyed captain to go down with the leaky ship that he has sailed straight onto the rocks, and get on board a life boat!