Adrian Hamilton: The rise of Europe's far right cannot be explained by recession alone

World View: Le Pen's success in France is based on the language of the outsider

Share

The far right is on the rise, in Europe as in the US. We don't need Marine Le Pen's surprise vote of 18 per cent in the first round of the French presidentials to tell us that. What it does tell us, however, and what has been so little understood so far, is the extent to which the far right has become part of the mainstream of politics, changing itself from the neo-fascist beliefs it espoused in the past to something much more moderated in its language as in its policies.

This is more than just a matter of presentation. Marine Le Pen has not just dropped some of the more outrageous positions of her father on Nazism and Jews. His daughter has worked hard to produce a less divisive and more nationalistic approach. She wants to stop immigration, of course, but her most aggressive stance is against Europe, finance and all the other "foreign" factors bringing the country down.

The same could be said of the far-right parties in the Netherlands, Central Europe and even in the Latin countries.

It's easy to put this down to the impact of the recession on working-class politics. And, of course, the impact of growing joblessness and the expenditure cuts has been severe on those worst hit by them. As the victims have now widened to include pensioners and savers caught out by low interest rates, as well as the young leaving school unable to find a job, there has been no shortage of voters flowing to the extremes of both right and left.

But the steady growth of the far right has been going on for much longer than that and can't just be put down to economic deprivation. Resentment against immigration remains a central factor but it goes further to cover a far more general, and less class-based, sense that a way of life is being imperilled by globalisation. Dr Matt Goodwin, of Nottingham University, has called it a "cultural nationalism" that takes in the veil and EU rules on cheese as much as it does racial hatred.

Traditional parties have found it very difficult to combat this trend – far more difficult indeed than beating back overtly racist extremism, not least because the language of the right is the populist language of the outsider which plays directly to the growing sense of disenchantment with traditional politics and parties.

President Sarkozy might try to tack to the right in order to gain Le Pen voters. He already is. But talking even tougher on immigration doesn't meet the anti-European, anti-finance rhetoric of Le Pen, not when you have made a claim of leading Europe through a close alliance with Germany (although, in some of his recent remarks, he has distanced himself from his partnership with Chancellor Merkel). If the far right has a hate figure, it is as much Sarkozy as the socialist leader, François Hollande. There's no guarantee that the votes will flood over to the incumbent President in the next round just because he's on the right.

It's too soon to write Sarkozy off. He may yet pull through because of Hollande's lack of charisma, and because of fears of a market reaction to the election of a left-wing president committed to revising the fiscal compact signed by the eurozone leaders earlier this year.

Even if there is a change in government, as most commentators in France seem to expect, the politics and even fiscal policy probably won't alter that much. The names will change but not the system.

But then that will only work to the hard right's advantage. Le Pen's great selling point, as with her fellow nationalists across Europe, is that the old politics is failing the country. The worst thing about the vote she scored last weekend was that the traditional parties seem so unable to provide an answer to it.

Hypocrisy at The Hague

Looking at that hard, ruthless face, it is difficult not to join the general cheer being raised at the conviction of Charles Taylor, the former Liberian president, for aiding and abetting war crimes in neighbouring Sierra Leone. Hard not to think, too, that this, the first conviction by an international court of an ex-head of state, will have the effect of striking fear in the hearts of other leaders guilty of war crimes.

That's the intention , at any rate. But it's not yet how the rest of the world necessarily sees it. Taylor's trial still has the smack of white man's justice to it – and not a little hypocrisy.

Taylor has been condemned for stoking up a rebellion in another country with appalling consequences for its civilian population. But what else was the West doing when it armed the Taliban to fight the Russians in Afghanistan, and how else would you describe the calls to send arms to the insurgents in Syria, however noble their cause?

Taylor's defence was right on one point. He wouldn't be there if his machinations had suited our purposes.

a.hamilton@independent.co.uk

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Photographer / Floorplanner / Domestic Energy Assessor

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Photographer/ Floor planner /...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Surrey - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Guildford/Craw...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious and motivated Sale...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Whitehall Editor: The spurious Tory endorsement that misfired

Oliver Wright
 

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband hasn’t ‘suddenly’ become a robust leader. He always was

Steve Richards
Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence