The political earthquake rumbles on in Europe with the latest election victory of Britain’s far-right and fervently eurosceptic UK Independence Party.
But it would be a mistake to paint the rise of Britain’s UKIP as just a rightwing nationalistic fashion. What the rise of the party portends is a widespread disaffection among the European citizenry towards the increasingly autocratic European Union. The EU is no longer seen as a progressive project promoting social development, but rather as a juggernaut to railroad through the elite interests of finance capital.
This popular alienation is unleashing a rebellion against Brussels and all establishment political parties across Europe that are associated with rigid slavishness to elite capitalist interests. The UKIP may not articulate its rising popularity in those terms, but nevertheless this deeper disaffection is what lies behind its phenomenal growth in recent popularity.
The UKIP, led by the raffish Nigel Farage, is now calling for an in-out referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union as early as July 2015. Cameron’s Conservative Party is losing voters and legislators, who are defecting in droves to the ascendant UKIP.
The UKIP gained its first seat to the Westminster parliament after winning a landslide vote in the by-election for the constituency of Clacton, in southeast England, last Thursday. That by-election came about because the Conservative MP Douglas Carswell had earlier this year defected to UKIP. However, he was re-elected for his new party with 60 per cent of the vote. The Conservative’s newly appointed rival candidate was trounced into second place with 24.6 per cent.
The Mail on Sunday poll giving UKIP 25 per cent of the national vote would see the party winning 128 MPs in the next general election, scheduled to be held in May 2015. That would force the Conservatives to seek a coalition government with the UKIP in order to keep Labour from power. Potentially, that would make Farage the Deputy Prime Minister, displacing the current deputy Nick Clegg, whose Liberal Democrats have been wiped out by the rise of UKIP.
‘Clacton prize delivers momentum to UKIP’ declared a headline in the Financial Times, while the Guardian forecast: ‘Clacton result opens new chapter in British politics’.
The UKIP came to European prominence earlier this year when it made stunning gains in the EU parliamentary elections against the British governing coalition of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.
Along with France’s far-right National Front and the anti-immigration Danish People’s Party, the UKIP triumphed with nearly 28 per cent of the respective vote in Britain, giving the party first place and doubling its electorate since the previous EU poll in 2009.
It was these results in May that prompted the French Prime Minister Manuel Valls of the incumbent Socialist government to issue a clarion call about the «earthquake» hitting European politics.
There is no denying that the UKIP, like its European counterparts, represents a brand of extreme rightwing politics. Farage’s party is accused of being racist and xenophobic because of its staunch anti-immigration views. Farage has said that he feels uncomfortable while travelling on public transport from hearing so many foreign languages. He also says that Britain should introduce mandatory screening for HIV and other diseases to keep out «low quality» European immigrants.
The EU establishment, as the French PM Valls hinted, would like to portray the UKIP and similar parties as an odious development of chauvinism and incipient fascism. Valls said of his own country’s National Front, led by Marine Le Pen, that the «enemy was at the gates».
Casting Farage, Le Pen and their ilk as a spectre of dangerous rightwing extremism is a convenient way for the established parties and the EU bureaucracy to denigrate these critics and to scare the electorate into spurning them, while bolstering the said established parties.
But concurring with such a characterisation would be a fatal error based on a misunderstanding of why these once fringe parties now appear to be on an unstoppable roll.
The real phenomenon is not so much an objective popular shift towards embracing extreme rightwing politics in Europe, but rather it is more accurately accounted for as being based on a deep disaffection among EU citizens towards incumbent national political parties and the Brussels supranational bureaucracy. That is something Brussels would prefer to deny because of the earth-shattering truths it leads to.
In the May EU-wide parliamentary elections, it should be noted that the actual results were more nuanced than a straightforward narrative of «the rise of the right». Leftwing and socialist parties also made gains in Portugal, Spain, Greece and Italy. While some hard-right parties, such as the Freedom Party in Netherlands, received disappointing electoral losses.
In these results, there is as much public support for the leftwing cause of challenging economic austerity policies as there is for the perceived rightwing issue of immigration.
Britain’s Conservative Party has flirted with euroscepticism, but only in a superficial and ultimately disingenuous way. This is owing partly to its own nationalist tendency and its pro-capitalist disdain for governmental regulations. Also David Cameron’s party has been trying to stem the flow of voters to the trenchantly more eurosceptic UKIP by talking up grievances with Brussels. And the more Cameron’s party does that, the more it fuels the anti-Brussels sentiments among the electorate.
But ultimately, Cameron’s Conservative Party is firmly on the side of the financial oligarchy that resides in London and other European capitals. In the final analysis, the motivating animus among the British electorate, as with Europe more generally, is the perceived lack of political choice offered by the established parties. Whether Conservative, Liberal Democrat or Labour, the parties in Britain do not offer any alternative to the dictate of economic austerity. This is a paralysis that afflicts all parties across Europe and the Brussels oligarchy of the European Central Bank (ECB) with its slavish pro-Washington consensus.
The EU has evolved into a monstrous racket that serves Wall Street and the Western financial oligarchy of the IMF and ECB, while unemployment and poverty continues to hit record levels. The relentless enlargement of the EU seems more aimed at creating cheap labour armies to satisfy the needs of corporations and financial markets rather than promote social development. This is why anti-immigration has become a hot-button issue in many member states. Not so much because people are expressing an innate xenophobia, but because they feel rightly aggrieved by the Leviathan EU plutocracy that facilitates capitalist profit at the expense of ordinary communities.
It is significant that on the same weekend that the UKIP was enjoying its parliamentary victory in Britain, there were public protests mounted right across Europe against the free-trade pact that Brussels is currently negotiating with Washington. There were over 1,100 separate protests in some 22 EU countries that took place on Saturday, with major demonstrations in Germany, France, Britain, Italy, Spain, Netherlands, Poland, the Czech Republic and Scandinavia.
That pact, known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), is due for completion by next year. Also known as the Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA), the pact is galvanising widespread popular opposition. Citizen groups have denounced the proposed partnership as «a corporate power grab» that will serve the profiteering by European and American companies to the detriment of public standards and services. One provision in the new deal, for example, is that American investors will be empowered to sue European governments if the latter were to alter social policies that reduce profitability. To many critics, that is a fundamental assault on democracy, which is being negotiated in secret by the Brussels bureaucracy.
The rise of UKIP and other rightwing parties across Europe is not so much a reflection of popularity in chauvinistic, racist politics. It is instead a harbinger of growing popular revolt against an entire EU establishment whose priorities and policies have become unbearably anti-democratic. Casting the rise of the right as merely a nasty threat to Europe is only a delusional distraction from how deeply in trouble the European Union has descended. We are talking about a fundamental crisis in democracy, not merely a scion of reactionary rightwing politics.
The undemocratic European establishment is digging its own grave.