Eyes Wide Shut

“The Far Right is on the march again in Europe” declared the Independent following the victory of the right wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP) in the recent general election on October 24. Swiss voters have swarmed in alarming numbers behind the banners of extreme anti-immigration and fierce xenophobia.”

The Independent argued that both the success of millionaire industrialist Christoph Blocher coupled to the recent victory of Jorg Haider in Austria “cannot be dismissed as a flash in the pan protest. Nor can it be explained as a cry from the unemployed and the dispossessed - as it has been in France and Italy”.

True. Yet explained away, is precisely what is happening. Where the situation in countries like Germany and France was laid at the door of exactly the type of social circum stances outlined, recent developments ought not to be taken ‘too seriously’, we are told for just the opposite reasons.

For Independent columnist David Arranovitch, Jorg Haider is “wrongly described as a neo-fascist” specifically because “his success was not founded on economic crises, mass unemployment or rampant inflation”. “Austria” he adds for good measure “has very few workless citizens”. Jonathan Steele writing in the Guardian agrees: “there is no clear connection between Far-Right voting and unemployment. Austria, Norway, and Switzerland have lower rates of unemployment than their neighbours. It is more a protest against the undermining of traditional patterns of rural life” (!). And in his opinion, therefore “respectable”.

“You have to be careful,” warns Linda Grant “not to place the template of Germany in the 1930’s on to the present, and finding places where there is an overlap, proclaim the return of the Third Reich: Blocher the orator, tick; appeals to fears of the people, tick; seems to be anti Jewish, tick”, When the ‘template’ method: mass unemployment, nope; rampant inflation, nope; vast rallies, nope; private armies, nope; comes up with conclusions she personally finds comforting there is no objection.

For as she sees it the “Right in Switzerland has grown out of a peculiarly Swiss sensibility which is unlike any other in Europe:’ (A sensibility which is deemed ‘unlike any other in Europe’ would seem to be the ideal basis for extreme nationalism you would have thought, but no.)

‘Don’t panic’ is the collective exhortation from the liberal press. Everything including Far Right parties in regional and now national governments can all be explained - if we just stay calm. Blocher is, in any case, according to a journalist on the Swiss left-wing magazine Schatfhauser, ‘no fascist’; “he’s not…’ wait for it “..Jorg Haider”. Exactly what the Left in Austria say of Haider. A ‘former’ fascist is how Fini is described in Italy. And when the Republicaner Party made a breakthrough in Germany, liberal commentators were quick to stress that it’s leader, former SS officer Franz Schoebeaur was “certainly no Le Pen”. Throughout the 1990’s in every country where a Far Right figurehead has emerged, the media, usually those considered best placed, on the left of centre, sanctified them as ‘distasteful, but harmless democrats’ with indecent haste. To say otherwise could on the one hand prompt a collapse in morale, and on the other the need to do something about it. So ‘fascists” ‘I see no fascists!’ is a most popular retrain these days. Recognising each other is no problem for those on the Far Right of course. Haider for one is reported as greeting the news from his ‘Alpine neighbour’ enthusiastically. Conversely, Jonathan Steele is at pains to emphasise that “every country is specific” and crucially: “what has been happening...presents no pattern”.

A coincidence then, the radical protest vote, in every major country in Europe being soaked up by the Far Right’: Hungary, Denmark, Sweden, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Austria, Switzerland ...are, we are told, conditioned by a sensibility and a set of circumstances peculiar to themselves. “Amazing” as Gary Younge, commented, “what we can get used to”.

As an ‘island race’, Britain too prides itself on it’s uniqueness. One of the reasons to protect it. One of the main reasons to stay out of the EU for instance. A rationale for the need to curb immigration of naturally...Hold on!... It couldn’t happen here, could it? Certainly not. Hardly a fascist in sight. (Not unlike the rest of Europe in the eyes of the liberal media in that respect of course.) No cause for alarm, but there is just the faintest similarity, just the faintest hint of, dare I say it, a ‘pattern’ emerging. Indeed many of the required ingredients are in place already.

A conservative party being wrenched steadily to the right. But not yet right enough. A fact proved by the ability of the tiny United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) to capture three seats and almost 7% of the vote in the Euro election. An angry right-wing protest movement, the Countryside Alliance (very few believe it is entirely about foxes), taking to the streets in impressive numbers and ‘looking for allies’. Finally a BNP freshly ‘de-Mosleylsed’ talking of the need for a ‘realignment on the Right’. While not interrelating for the moment the component parts are certainly not total strangers either. More than a few of the activists now highly influential in the Tories cut their teeth in the Federation of Conservative Students, a body which proved too right-wing even for the likes of Norman Tebbitt who closed it down. Thereafter fraternisation with the BNP, though not consummated, was considered. That old restlessness has not abated. Aware that the average age of the party is 67, today’s conservative youth are desperately keen on a radical public makeover. Attempts to re-brand themselves CFUK: Conservative Future: United Kingdom is a symptom of a recklessness evident in the mainstream party as well. Not only do the young Tories not have a problem with sharing platforms with the Italian fascists of the Alleanza Nazionale as members of the European Young Conservatives, but when the shadow international development officer Gary Streeter was asked if we welcomed the success of Haider’s Freedom party, “That’s a matter for the Austrian people” came the terse reply. Meanwhile BNP involvement with, and support for, the Countryside Alliance is hardly a secret.

However developments within the UKIP are far more fruity. Up until 1997 the UKIP had a clause stressing that racists were not allowed to join. No longer. Probably not appropriate when it’s new leader, commodity broker Nigel Farage, is prone, according to Francis Wheen, to routinely employ descriptive terms “such as nigger or nig-nog in the pub after meetings” (Guardian 13.10.1999). Wheen also reports that accomplice and fellow MEP Michael Holmes in his Euro election leaflet this year paid tribute to “citizens’ patriotic protest groups” such as Save Our Sterling - which is run by the BNP. Nor does Farage deny direct talks have taken place between himself and Mark Deavin, a close friend of new BNP leader Nick Griffin. So there are a number of possible scenarios. One was outlined by Deavin in 1997. With Blair elected Deavin predicted: “the BNP will become the official opposition in the inner cities. The UKIP will be the opposition in the shires, the middle class opposition”. That is scenario one. On the other hand “That party is a serious opposition to us in middle England”, he went on to acknowledge “but, if we had the resources we could tear it to pieces”. Might be no need, as the UKIP since it’s triumph, has been busy tearing itself to pieces. Scenario two, sees the UKIP collapse and the BNP mop up, not simply some useful recruits, but more importantly the voter base thus abandoned. Fanciful? Only if you believe in ‘the peculiarly British sensibility unlike any other in Europe’. Otherwise the scene is being set for a comprehensive drive to push the political centre even further to the Right.

One who fervently believes in both Britain’s uniqueness and the opportunity unfolding, and who has been central to its design is former street operative Tony Lecomber. A veteran of over twenty years, he knows that the Far Right have never had a better opportunity to become a serious player in the political mainstream. However there is a nagging doubt that despite all the BNP’s twists and manoeuvres ‘they’, haven’t gone away you know. What if for all his efforts, if “our opponents - particularly the more violent kind” have not after all, despite his own genuinely held expectation and repeated promises “been left behind with nothing to do”. Rather than enjoy, like the Far Right in Europe, a “free run”, what if the only people tracking his party are precisely the ones who forced a change of course previously? What if the militants rather than being permanently outflanked are just as eagerly looking forward to what they consider merely to be a new phase of the struggle’ What of BNP plans for the inner cities if the ground is actually contested? What if having out-violenced the BNP the same people now expect to out-radicalise them? Suppose in this process of re-inventing themselves, instead “of a full blown split” they eventually, through having found a ‘better way’, trigger a renaissance across the Left as a whole? For Lecomber, understandably the stuff of nightmares, particularly as the Euro nationalist strategy is after all Plan B!

Significantly rather than attempt to analyse the situation objectively, he instead seeks, comfort in drawing attention to obstacles already surmounted. Moreover the propaganda nature of the delivery suggests Lecomber is all too aware he is not the only one losing sleep over it. Much of the article sub-titled ‘Red Distress’ locks on to the possibility of a most “welcome” and “fully-blown split” in the militant camp. A distinct likelihood he suggests due to the “dilemma” between those “who want to continue to try and turn up at public, nationalist [exclusively NF] activities to attack them, and those who wish to follow the BNP into the mainstream”. He quotes a RA editorial from twelve months ago as proof of tension. With obviously mixed emotions he then admits that rather than the NF activities splitting AFA, the AFA reputation alone has irrevocably “split” the NF! Sinister elements from North London AFA had increasingly been seen in the vicinity of NF activities; on the look out for an “easy target” which led an increasingly jittery NF leader to conclude it was “only a matter of time before the diminutive Front came badly unstuck” (‘A week’, as they say...) With the central plank removed, supporting arguments to demonstrate “the reds pulling in two directions” appear even more implausible and disingenuous. In drawing attention to the admittedly unprecedented reproduction of an article by himself in its “entirety” in RA last year, which would have had, he concludes, the effect of “opening their own members eyes to their own futility, and wilt have sapped their morale and sense of purpose” he merely reveals his own concern. It was successfully employed to the opposite effect Given the article in question addressed the prospects of the IWCA entering the political mainstream questioning the ‘realism’ of Red Action itself doing the same only two years on (as an alternative presumably) is plain silly. Similarly asking “what would they [RA] offer if they did turn their hands to politics? That it’s wonderful to be ethnically cleansed? That it’s progressive to make women wear veils?” smacks of (and I don’t want to overplay my own hand here) of a certain foreboding. A sense of someone, who precisely because he can identify the political Shangri-La almost within his grasp is constantly looking over his shoulder. For Francis Wheen on the other hand it is the promised realign­ment of the Right “that certainly needs watching”. In welcome contrast to his fellow liberals he believes it to be “dangerously complacent to ignore our home grown fascists... for while Griffin might not have the popular appeal of Jorg Haider, after years of hibernation something is stirring in their malodorous lair”. No doubt in 1986 somebody equally well meaning suggested ‘keeping an eye on young Haider’. Not that it did any good. Nor with the millions swarming behind the banners of the Far Right across Europe is ‘watch and pray’ any substitute for a strategy. Divine intervention is all very well, but if he is on our side, he has, remember, let us down rather badly, once already this century.