Leading article

Europe's extremists aren't really on the right

It's time to call the authoritarian statists of the Front National and its peers what they are

31 May 2014

9:00 AM

31 May 2014

9:00 AM

This week, the European parliament took a strong lurch to the left. That is not quite the story that you may have read elsewhere — with most headlines stating that Europe has taken a lurch to the right — but it is the inevitable conclusion if you analyse the results from Sunday’s election from the perspective of what most people in Britain understand to be the left-right divide.

Take any political issue in Britain, from schools to public spending, and the left-wing position is generally taken to mean one of greater state intervention, greater command of the economy by government. The right-wing position is taken to mean one of smaller government, freer markets, less regulation. Why then, does a party like France’s Front National — which advocates protectionism and welfarism, and which opposes globalisation — end up being called ‘far right’?

If the Front National is far right, then the centre-right must be all about partial protectionism, a tendency to see welfare as a public good and to be a little suspicious of globalisation. Yet that all sounds more like an Ed Miliband manifesto. True, back in the 1970s Jean-Marie Le Pen once adorned his racist views with economically liberal ideas. But that is a long time ago. This week’s election marks the completion of a remarkable transition across Europe since the fall of the Berlin Wall: from Sweden to Greece, the nasty parties have, in important ways, become more far-left than far-right. The parties which triumphed this week are those which offer a perfectly logical combination of xenophobia, nationalism and state authoritarianism.

Perfectly logical, but profoundly wrong. While many of the representatives of global capitalism — bankers, tax-avoiding international corporations and so on — have turned out to have feet of clay, the greatest damage to economies has come from governments which tried to borrow their way out of a debt crisis, then tried to rig markets so as to re-inflate financial bubbles which kept their coffers full. The winners from quantitative easing and unnaturally low interest rates have mostly been the well-off, while a disproportionate number of the losers have been on low incomes. It is a recipe for greater in-equality.


It is not surprising, then, that the European elections saw a ‘peasants’ revolt’ against a political-economic machine accused of flattening the poor. But it doesn’t follow that we would be better off replacing one form of big government with another. Far better that we shrink government altogether and let the economy create more jobs than the government has shed — which is what has happened in Britain in recent years. This is not, however, a route which continental Europe seems likely to make in the near future.

Of 751 seats in the European parliament, only 46 — those held by parties belonging to the European Conservatives and Reformists Group — define themselves in terms of economic liberalism. They suffered a loss of 11 seats. In contrast, the United Left parties — often called the far left — gained ten seats to 45 and the Europe of Freedom and Democracy — often called the far right — put on 11 seats to 40. There was no victory of right over left, only of Eurosceptic parties over pro-European parties, of interventionists over free marketeers. If you were to rationalise the party groupings in Strasbourg you would bring ‘far left’ and ‘far right’ together under a new umbrella grouping of xenophobic statism.

The further Europe heads in this direction, the greater will grow the economic gap between Europe and the US. While America has its protectionist lobbies, and a racist, xeno-phobic fringe, there is a growing philosophical gulf between big-government Europe and small-government US. It is reflected in a growing economic gap between a sclerotic Europe and a rebounding America. With sclerosis comes political extremism. A generation ago, you had to look to America for the likes of the Ku Klux Klan, while Europe seemed a model of moderate social democracy. But it is not America which is producing groups such as Jobbik and Golden Dawn.

An overlooked aspect of the election is that Britain rejected this agenda. The British National Party was buried, losing its European parliament seats and 80 per cent of its voters. Its racism was never widely shared; it prospered as a protest party. Now the explicitly anti-racist Ukip has given a voice of protest far truer to British instincts: chiefly, the desire to be left alone by meddling bureaucrats. Nigel Farage has killed Britain’s only neo-fascist party and deserves warm congratulations. Britain’s voice of protest says it welcomes immigrants of any creed and colour.

The tragedy of the EU is that it stands for so many of the right things. At its best, it negotiates free trade deals and tramples down barriers to mobility of labour. But this process has been corrupted by special interest groups which tweak trade rules to their advantage. It speaks volumes about the European parliament that we have just had an election in which policy hardly featured at all.

We had plenty of insults flying in all directions. But we learned hardly anything about the issues on which the representatives will be voting. If the policies of the ‘far left’ and ‘far right’ parties which won were subjected to proper examination, we would be able to see how similar they really are. And how little British politics has in common with either.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

You might disagree with half of it, but you’ll enjoy reading all of it. Try your first 10 weeks for just $10


Show comments
  • stephengreen

    Ahistorical nonsense, based on a complete Americanisation of the debate. As everyone knows the terms derived from the pre-revolutionary situation in France. Defenders of tradition, including the laws of France and of monarchy on the right and of those of more radical mindset who wished to fundamentally change this situation on the left.

    What the article attempts to do is substitute liberalism for rightism. Liberalism and now libertarianism was (is) on this measure on the radical, left wing side of the scale.

    If you want to draw a new measure of freedom unfreedom, then that’s a discussion to be had, including around the nature of freedom, which the right has always (i.e. traditionally) placed in the context of ethnicity, history, culture and belonging and not as an ahistorical, theoretical individual entity as defined by liberalism.

    The aristocracy and the thinkers of the traditional right have always sought measures to ameliorate the lot of the poor. It was the radicals, the liberals, arrivistes, buoyed by new found wealth, who objected, usually for self-interested reasons.

    • In a historical context, your descriptions of “left” and “right” hold true; Murray Rothbard acknowledged this when he postioned libertarianism to the far left of both the Ancien Regime and socialism. However, the writer speaks of the divide as conceived in the recent history of modernism, within which the terms generally find use in the ways expressed by the article.

      • stephengreen

        “Recent history of modernism” is a slightly roundabout way of saying, that this is the modern assumption. Yet where this modern assumption persists, it is false. For, it’s not uniformly understood as such, even as a vague political shorthand. It’s a largely media led concoction, usually made to distance unwelcome political currents from more orthodox ones – for instance an article some time ago from Hannan on the BNP.

        Any traditionalist or conservative, any socialist or liberal are duty bound to know their own movement’s broad intellectual history and its relation to their contemporary utterances. This is especially so, when making a political argument in a public forum. In not doing so, they seek to make a claim on a past tradition, which they clearly have no ownership of, rather than going through the harder task of creating their own cultural political signposts that are more readily understood.

    • Terry Field

      Yes, it is the Grammar School products who are the ruthless elitists who particularly enjoy grinding the face of the poor and manipulating them; meritocracy is an absolute ticket to wealth without a moral requirement to support the weak.
      The most ruthless form of social distinction.
      We are in the grip of it. And to make it worse, the monsters effect to be socialists, nationalise everything in sight, gain a constituency of the poor to vote for them, and to swallow their poisonous half-truths for many decades. But UKIP is a chink of light.
      The veil of lies is at last starting to be peeled back.

      • stephengreen

        There’s something to what you say although it’s more than just grammar school children, it’s a cultural malaise at a certain level of the elite, especially on the liberal left of all parties, that permeates that stratum’s soul. Many of them though are also of a longer wealth duration and privately educated, look at the present cabinet and shadow cabinet for example. While I tend not to value Oborne too much, I think his book the Triumph of the Political Class has some insights in this area.

    • Meir Cohen

      Stephen you really should reduce your intake of after-supper Cocaine. I know the pretentious numpties of the Traditional Britain Group love to partake of that, but it really does impair the grey matter you know (as can be attested by the absolute nonsense you have just written). Remember this is 2014 not 1814, you were born about 200 years too late, Good day ol Chap!

      • stephengreen

        Just noticed this Mr Cohen, and your vacuous, badly informed ad homs do not surprise. Your knowledge in this matter is likely indicative of your knowledge in a lot of things, based on silly caricatures and defective thinking. Next you’ll be informing me they like to take their childhood teddy bears with them.

  • Tom Chance

    Not only does ‘Britain’s voice of protest welcome immigrants of any creed and colour’, it actively encourages them to come and work in Britain, rather than discriminating against skilled workers from India in favour of unskilled cheap labour from Eastern Europe.

    That, too, deserves warm congratulations.

  • Eerie – it’s almost as if whoever wrote this peered into my thoughtspace!

    This pretty much gels with my view of the EU electoral aftermath
    (though I’m not sure I’d call UKIP “anti-racist”, even if I think
    arguments to the contrary are somewhat exaggerated).

    As for “tax-avoiding”, well…: http://mrda.wordpress.com/2012/07/01/carr-contra-the-cuntservatives/

  • Sean L

    The defining feature of conservatism or the ‘right’ is national allegiance – that’s why it’s the title of the first chapter of Roger Scruton’s The Meaning of Conservatism. Whereas the defining feature of global capitalism and the left is their hostility to this idea which transcends matters of economic policy. To invert this order, relegating the question of allegiance, as you aim to do here, to devalue the national idea, puts you emphatically on the left, in my opinion.

  • Sean L

    The defining feature of conservatism or the ‘right’ is national allegiance – that’s why it’s the title of the first chapter of Roger Scruton’s The Meaning of Conservatism. Whereas the defining feature of global capitalism and the left is their hostility to this idea which transcends matters of economic policy. To invert this order, relegating the question of allegiance, as you aim to do here, to devalue the national idea, puts you emphatically on the left, in my opinion.

  • jesseventura2

    And what do you think an EU wide referendum asking citizens do they want muslim immigrants would return?

  • Terence Hale

    Hi,
    “Europe’s extremists aren’t really on the right”. As you know its about immigration. The French Front National, the Dutch Mr. Wilders are certainly not fascist, the Austrian FPÖ are. The expression “Far-Right” is being a People’s Party representing to actual views of a Pub or “stammtisch” which can change like the wind distinguishing them from main-stream parties. The European vote was not political it was a vote of dissatisfaction with the management of the European Union. That Fr. Merkel will enhance such management of the EU in neglect of the EU vote is purely economical interest of Germany.

  • cromwell

    Left or right is a simplistic interpretation of whats happening. Concern about mass immigration especially of people from cultures and religions that are incompatible with European culture as it has evolved for a thousand years transcend traditional
    left wing right wing politics.

Close