After the Wall Street Crash in 1929, economies across the world collapsed, and a disturbing pattern emerged across the political scenes of Europe, which eventually culminated in the ascension of the National Socialist Party in Germany, headed, of course, by Adolf Hitler. I am talking about the Rise of the Right, a movement which afflicted the majority of Europe in response to the Great Depression. Nazism is the most obvious and the most extreme version of the right succeeding to power after the economic crisis, but it is not the only evidence that we have which tells us that economic hardship leads to fascist parties making greater gains amongst the electorate. In Europe in the years after the New York Stock Exchange collapsed, Austria, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Hungary, The Netherlands, Norway, Romania, Sweden and Switzerland all like Germany saw the proportion of votes going to far-right political parties rise, and therefore more right-wing candidates being elected. This phenomenon is something which observers have seen occurring once more in the face of the 2008 financial crisis – since this recession began, they’ve noted, a disturbingly similar inclination towards the political right can once again be observed in Europe, with more anti-immigration, anti-EU, nationalistic parties emerging as far apart as France and Finland. This predilection can be seen in the xenophobic outlash of the media and, consequently, the public towards immigrants – particularly those who arrive from countries whose economy is weaker than others.
In the UK, we have Nigel Farage, the leader of the UK Independence Party whose main policy is the removal of the UK from the European Union in order to protect Britain from what he perceives as the negative impact of an ‘open-door’ immigration policy. Farage has been known to blame everything from the housing crisis to traffic on the M4 on immigration, and argues for a ‘points-based’ system as used in Australia to allow only ‘skilled’ immigrant labour to enter into the country. Perhaps this is not an unreasonable stance – the UK is, after all, a fairly small island with limited resources – but Farage’s highly emotive method of attempting to sway voters to his side has removed almost any chance of rational, objective discussion of the issues he claims he wants to discuss the most – the European Union and immigration.
The rise of UKIP has seen the central ground of UK politics, as far as immigration is concerned, dragged kicking and screaming to the right – the Conservatives have promised an in/out referendum on EU membership if they form the next government, and funding for search and rescue operations for immigrants crossing the Mediterranean has been slashed by the coalition – a move that was, in fact, suggested by Nick Griffin of the BNP forty years ago, and was condemned as blatant, heartless racism. UKIP, in the last election to the European Parliament, beat every other party in terms of how many seats it won, with 164 candidates elected and sent to Europe, presumably to disrupt reasonable debate with their party’s xenophobic rhetoric – or perhaps not to attend at all, and simply claim their salary for loafing about, “taking down the EU from the inside” by their utter lack of contribution. Successfully reinforcing the age-old stereotype that immigrants are a drain on British society, that they never contribute to the welfare system they’re happy to take advantage of, and that they are only here to ‘steal’ our jobs, UKIP have hoodwinked a lamentably large proportion of the population into supporting them. It does not help things that their main opposition on the EU question is the Liberal Democrat party, who, due to their new perception as power-grabbing liars (Clegg’s backtrack on tuition fees will make a difference to how people vote this year, that seems certain), are not favourites of the public at the moment. Regardless of studies showing that the UK loses far more money through the rich avoiding paying tax, UKIP have pinned the blame on everyone’s favourite scapegoat, immigrants.
Unfortunately, they are not alone in Europe. In France, the Front National has been a steadily-growing influence on the political scene, and in Hungary, Bulgaria and Greece, things are even worse, with Jobbik, Ataka and the neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn making waves. As with most far-right parties springing up on the continent, these parties have all at various times been accused of racism, intolerance and anti-Semitism, not to mention violence.
All in all, this adds up to a fairly troubling picture – if the EU really has as much of an influence on UK policy as some politicians claim, the presence of these various far-right bodies (some of which masquerade as centre-right to seem more palatable) does not fill me with confidence. Though the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament (S&D, for short) is presently the second biggest alliance within the EU, the more conservative branches are a discomforting presence. And while it seems doubtful that we are on the brink of a Third World War in Europe, I don’t think it would do us any harm to be a little wary of the direction our politics are leaning; after all, these things are always more insidious than people think – before Hitler showed his true colours, there was no shortage of people who thought he was on the right track.
– Lana Wrigley, A2 Politics.