The Hard Right Is Leading Europe Into Darker Times

As with the Dutch and British governments, France now has a major party that rejects much of the recent political, economic and multicultural late 20th century settlement.

Dennis MacShane
Denis MacShane
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Dennis MacShane
Denis MacShane

After 1945, it was the Communist Party of France that denounced internationalism and the European Union, and was openly protectionist and often racist. Now Marine Le Pen has shown that the politics of anti-modernity cloaked in nationalist populism continue to resonate.

Some perspective is needed. Her father, the more overtly anti-Semitic Jean Marie Le Pen, got close to his daughter's percentage of the vote ten years ago. In the intervening decade three developments have kept the far right alive. Firstly, the wealth gap has widened so that the white working class, without qualifications or well-paid jobs, feels more and more bitter, and more ignored by elite politicians. Second, the European Union has lost its hold as a necessary project for France. Third, the volume and visibility of immigrants from Muslim and black Africa has increased sharply.

For the elites of France of both right and left, Europe is seen as a good thing, and cheap immigrant labor provides the cleaners, nannies and unseen workers that hold down prices.

Marine Le Pen has sought to detoxify her party by rejecting the more vulgar anti-Semitism of her papa. But that is on a par with the right elsewhere in Europe, where Holocaust denial has been replaced by Holocaust devaluation - the argument that what Hitler did was bad, but no worse than Stalin's crimes, and that Auschwitz, like the Armenian massacres, was just another of Europe's many genocides.

It was no accident that the fanatically anti-European Daily Mail in London said the French should vote for Madame Le Pen. She wants France to quit the Euro and return to a French franc with its devaluations and erratic yo-yoing on currency markets. She wants protection for French goods. Her advisors said she was being too economic and insufficiently anti-Islam. She made a campaign video saying that ritually slaughtered meat products were responsible for killing babies. The senior French political journalist Claude Askolovitch noted that this allegation was a throw-back to the Middle Age accusation that Jews poisoned wells to kill Christians.

So much as she claims to have laid to rest the anti-Jewish obsession of her father, some of the old Adam is there. She will now aim to win a block of seats in the National Assembly election and become the "official opposition".

The desire to just say, "No" - to foreigners, to any external source of authority, to social solidarity - now dominates Western politics from the Tea Party in America to the Swiss People's Party, with its referendum on minarets, as if religious architecture was the most central 21st century political issue.

Like Gert Wilders, who has just brought down the conservative-liberal Dutch government, or Britain's anti-EU UKIP party, which has overtaken the coalition Liberal Democrats in the polls, France now has a major party that rejects much of the recent political, economic and multicultural late 20th century settlement. She and her sister parties in Europe will not win power but they will change European politics in the direction of darker themes and times.

Denis MacShane MP is a former Europe minister under Tony Blair. He writes widely on European politics and is author of "Globalising Hatred: the new Anti-Semitism" which he is now updating.



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