The rise of Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen shows Ukip has failed in Britain

There are no second acts (and very few first acts) for vulgar racists in British politics

Matthew Norman
Tuesday 08 December 2015 18:27 GMT
The leader of France’s far-right Front National party, Marine Le Pen, has suspended several members over violent, anti-Semitic or Islamophobic comments posted on social media sites
The leader of France’s far-right Front National party, Marine Le Pen, has suspended several members over violent, anti-Semitic or Islamophobic comments posted on social media sites (AFP/Getty)

In France, the Front National surfs a wave of anti-Islam paranoia to dominate regional elections, and the prospect of Marine Le Pen being anointed Madame President in 2017 becomes that unnerving bit less remote. In the United States, Donald Trump ramps the Islamophobia up to 11 – and while there is no prospect of him and TTOHH (That Thing On His Head) becoming co-president, their candidacy for the Republican nomination remains viable. In the short term, in fact, their poll ratings will probably tick up.

Here in daft, dozy old Britain, meanwhile, pincered between countries succumbing to xenophobic surges, something rather wonderful has passed almost unnoticed. Last Thursday, in Oldham, Ukip died.

Subsequent events across both the Channel and the Atlantic suggest we examined that by-election result from the wrong angle. Was the Labour Party’s unexpectedly thumping win due to an unusually popular, talented local candidate, everyone wondered, or did it vindicate the choice of Jeremy Corbyn as leader?

The only answer to that conundrum, it seems to me today, is this. Who cares? Who, in the alarming scheme of things a few dozen kilometres to the south and a few thousand miles to the west, gives a tinker’s toss what a lone by-election tells us about Labour? What matters, surely, is what it tells us about us.

And what Ukip’s failure to make hay when you might have expected the sun of anti-Muslim sentiment to shine upon it tells us something good. It is also something that may strike you, in unsettling times, as complacently fate-tempting. So I find myself touching wood times almost beyond counting as I type that, for whatever reasons, the people of this country – not all of them, obviously, but by a far more crushing majority than elsewhere – are immune to the demagoguery of those who seek power by stoking the fear of otherness.

Here, there could be no Donald Trump as a potential candidate for the highest office. The Donald who questioned Barack Obama’s birthplace would have been finished before the Prez released his birth certificate. There are no second acts (and very few first acts) for vulgar racists in British politics. Here, Trump would have been tossed into the trash can of history long before his reference to “rapist Mexicans”. There, despite the efforts of as great a satirist as Jon Stewart, he has lingered to dump the recent avalanche of laughable filth – Monday’s call for America to bar all Muslims from the country is the latest and most toxic emission, though no doubt not the last. So enduring is the half-life of poisonous racism in America, where the segregationist George Wallace carried five states in 1968, that Trump will remain in the picture for a few months yet.

Here, no Le Pen could have pretensions to national leadership. In France, after steering her Front National to first place in those regional elections, Marine seems likely to emulate her estranged father by reaching the 2017 presidential run-off. If so, and if her opponent is the unloved incumbent François Hollande, many sound judges rate her a live chance to move into the Élysée Palace.

Marine Le Pen is an infinitely less abrasive, more nuanced performer than her cuddly sire, it’s true, and tends to avoid directly cultivating anti-Muslim sentiment. But however delicate her subliminal messaging, it would not work here. Here, a year ago, Ukip claimed (and many gullible pundits agreed) that it stood on the verge of a general election breakthrough. Despite taking a decent share of the popular vote, it lost one of its two MPs and Nigel Farage bombed in Thanet. Last Thursday, with the memory of the horrors in Mali and Paris so fresh, it failed to challenge a mildly chaotic Labour Party. So if not now for Ukip, when? For Farage and his eccentric gang, it’s over.

Before we go on, a quick point in the hope of forestalling the pungent messaging that is often left by commenters on an article such as this online. Farage, unlike Trump, is not an out-and-out racist thug – and Ukip (though some of its members plainly are) is not a repellently extremist entity. We have had plenty of those before, and all have vanished. In the Thirties, Oswald Mosley went up fizz like a rocket (to borrow Enoch Powell’s prediction about his Rivers of Blood speech), and fizzled out soon enough. Our own National Front had its 1970s heyday, when its electoral high point was third place in a trio of by-elections. The BNP was widely mistaken for a serious menace earlier this century, and it took one Question Time appearance of mesmerising stupidity from Nick Griffin to disabuse us of that. The English Defence League has to content itself with the occasional local news TV report about its fetching anti-Islam demos.

Exactly why the far right has never had much traction in Britain – as it has in almost every mainland European nation, including Holland and the Scandinavian countries, to whom we on the woolly-minded liberal left generally look for inspiration, is a mystery. Perhaps the sense of security from invasion that comes from being an island explains it. Who knows, it may have something to do with the exquisitely well-honed sense of irony. Mosley, as satirised by PG Wodehouse’s Roderick Spode and his Black Shorts, was always an essentially ridiculous figure, however nasty his followers and however brutal the Cable Street riots.

But whatever the reasons – without presuming to downplay the pernicious force that racism has been and remains; without masking for a moment the disgust at the lack of humanity shown to desperate Muslim refugees by this government and its useful idiots in the press – being British felt unusually good this morning, as I read about the events in France and the US. If that comes across as jingoistic cobblers, so be it. With neo-fascist clowns to the west of us, and xenophobic jokers to the south, stuck in the middle with you isn’t such a bad place to be.

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