It's all very predictable that some politicians would conclude from Le Pen's success that we "have to address the real concerns of voters about crime and asylum seekers". I suppose if they'd been in Germany in the 1930s, they'd have said "we utterly deplore the Nazis, which is why we're only going to deport a few Jews. And we might invade Denmark and Luxembourg, but that's all."
French politicians have tried to see off Le Pen with this tactic for quite a while. One Home Secretary, Charles Pasqua, referred to "smelly immigrants", and Chirac, upping the stakes, complained about their "noise and smell". The smelling theme is a strange approach from a country whose national symbols include garlic, camembert and burning sheep, but even in its own terms, this tactic clearly hasn't worked. You can't stop racists from voting for racists by promising to be just as racist yourself. As Le Pen said, "people will always choose an original over a copy".
Another response to the election result has been alarming complacency. One French commentator claimed Le Pen's vote came only from old people. No doubt there is a layer of old people saying "I tell you what, when Hitler was here you didn't get any joyriding. Them tanks came through nice and slowly in a neat formation, not like the youngsters today with their handbrake turns. Mind you, we did have death camps but you'll never get everything you want." According to polls though, Le Pen's vote was even across every age group.
Worse still was the French intellectual on Sunday night saying it's not that much of a victory for Le Pen since it only happened because of the peculiar voting system. I hope she never finds out, but fascism doesn't work like that. When you're being carted away in the back of a truck, it won't do any good saying "Excuse me, driver, there's been a terrible mistake. You see, lots of abstentions would have gone to Jospin if they'd known your lot would come second". Nonetheless, it does make you realise there must have been some people in Germany in 1933 who heard the election result and said: "Oh sod it, I'd have voted but I thought it wasn't until Wednesday."
Some may consider it an exaggeration to compare the National Front with the Nazis. But this is to misread history. Hitler didn't campaign on the slogan: "What Germany needs is concentration camps and an invasion of Russia."
There is an argument that the far right could never grow here, because extremism "isn't the British way". I suppose the rallies wouldn't suit us – afterwards we'd all slump in a chair sighing "someone put the kettle on, after all that goose-stepping my feet are killing me". But in the 1970s the National Front won 5.7 per cent of the vote across London. So presumably they could do that because that's a British figure, but never get to 5.8 per cent because for that you need to be French.
It could happen here, because Le Pen wins support when mainstream politicians are incapable of connecting to most people, and that certainly applies to Britain. It isn't just what they say; everything about them seems so alien to anyone normal. The trouble is they're so soullessly, passionlessly, obsequiously pompous, but they seem to think that to reconnect with the people is a matter of style, like wearing short-sleeve shirts or riding a skateboard on regional news. They might as well get up in the Commons and say: "Would the Prime Minister agree this government has big-upped the NHS large-style and the party opposite may diss us but they're, like, sooo going to lose the next election".
And masses of people do have "real concerns" that can result in hostility to foreigners. Especially when this process is fanned by the sort of local newspaper article I saw that claimed "asylum-seekers are now offering sex for a potato". I wondered whether this involved a pimp, who collects the fee then hands the woman a chip. And then says "but I've got expenses, baby".
The concerns derive from real conditions. In an estate near me, I've had an identical conversation with perhaps fifty people in a row. They complain about the appalling conditions, the decline in transport, the shortage of housing and how they trusted New Labour but feel let down. Then they say: "But the bloody asylum-seekers get anything they want", and out pour the stories. "They get seven grand off the council for a new kitchen," is a common one. Eventually I expect to hear: "They come straight off the Eurostar and get given a diamond. It's true – 27 carats, worth 85 million quid, my brother told me and he works for the council. Yet my daughter went to the dentist and was told she couldn't have an appointment before Thursday."
Addressing the "real concerns" means accepting they're right to be angry about the way they're treated, and the way in which politicians are divorced from their lives, but being unequivocal in stating that when they blame asylum-seekers they're talking a load of cobblers.Reuse content