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Health check reveals electoral politics is sick

Parliamentary election results across the Channel indicate that Francois Hollande’s Socialist Party will gain a majority in France’s National Assembly. But in case anyone gets too excited about a revival of the European “left”, a quick health check of electoral politics is needed.

Only 57% of French voters took the trouble to cast their votes. Former President Nicholas Sarkozy’s conservative UMP party lost support due to its austerity policies. Marine Le Pen’s neo-fascist National Front party took third place in the polls. It increased its proportion from 4% in 2007 to a total of 14% today.

In the former mining town of Henin-Beaumont in the Pas de Calais, the National Front leader has taken the lead over Left-Front coalition leader Jean-Luc Melanchon. Le Pen used scurillous dirty tricks, distributing flyers depicting Melenchon in Nazi garb or featuring messages in Arabic script.

The National Front’s electoral success may still not win it a seat in the French Assembly, but it is a clear sign of discontent in an area haunted by the ghosts of the mining industry. The fact that the Front won 42% of the vote in one of France’s most populous areas on the basis of openly anti-Muslim, anti-Europe and racist demagogy is sobering. 

Meanwhile, British politicians are busy making their own bids to stir up nationalism. Ed Miliband used the jubilee flag-waving atmosphere to make crude attacks on Scottish independence with ludicrous statements that a vote to leave the UK would mean that Scots were no longer British!

New opinion polls indicate that Labour is outflanking both the Coalition parties. No doubt, this is fuelled by fears about the ConDems’ vicious austerity policies as well as the Conservative’s bad showing at the Leveson inquiry. But Miliband’s party is also playing along with backward sentiments on race and so-called welfare benefit “cheats”.

Home secretary Teresa May is close on his heels with her own anti-immigration attacks and is attempting to wave the nationalist flag even harder than Miliband. May has repeatedly demanded that the Human Rights Act be scrapped. She has now issued a warning to judges that she intends to override their powers. She wants Parliament to set out guidelines for courts that would render parts of the European Convention on Human Rights null and void.

She said on BBC1 that the right to family life (enshrined in the Convention) was “not an absolute right. So in the interests of the economy or of controlling migration or of public order... the state has a right to qualify this right to a family life”.

(Of course, the ConDems are not going to allow even their nationalism to over-ride their class-monetary “principles”. May’s willingness to break up families and deny people’s right to bring their spouses into Britain is tempered by financial considerations. While you cannot bring your wife or husband into Britain from outside the European Union if you are poor, if you earn £18,600 or more a year, there won’t be any problem.)

But in her crude attempts to ride roughshod over the “legal niceties”, her assaults on human rights are simply another way of whipping up crude nationalism. Sadly for those who hoped that the legislation would undermine endemic racism in Britain’s institutions, years of New Labour government simply made matters worse.

But for anyone who believes that Labour offers an alternative, May is merely following in the footsteps of New Labour’s Home Secretary David Blunkett. As human rights expert Dr Parnesh Sharma has noted “the Human Rights Act never really had much of a chance with Labour disowning it almost as soon as it became law.”

Samuel Johnson’s nostrum that patriotism is the last resort of a scoundrel has never been more true than today. It is the desperate resort of political elites in a discredited system that is losing legitimacy for increasing numbers of people.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary
11 June 2012

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