With its general election just a week away, fears are mounting that the hard-right Vox party could form part of Spain's national government. The win would embolden far-right parties that have been thriving across Europe. The UK cannot afford to be complacent about the rise of the protectionist far-right that's taking shape all around us.
Across Europe, support for the far-right is on the rise. This growing shift is driven, partly, by disillusionment with conventional parties, immigration, the economy, and the war in Ukraine. Parties that were once considered outcasts on the fringes are not only gaining respectability, but also power. Occupying positions in coalition governments, these hard-right parties are shaping the policies of the mainstream right.
While ultra-right parties have not gained a formal foothold in Westminster, nativism, anti-migrant rhetoric and nationalistic sloganeering driven by ministers and Tory MPs before and after the EU referendum, share the same ideological package which unites Europe’s far-right parties. With the small boats ‘crisis’ continuing to be a heated issue, Tory ministers today are looking to the likes of Victor Orbán’s national-conservative party in Hungary and Italy’s Giorgia Meloni, for inspiration. As such, we cannot afford to be complacent about the rise of the illiberal, belligerent, anti-immigrant, protectionist far-right that’s taking shape all around us.
Just look at the countries that have long been considered bastions of liberalism and equality, showing little immunity to hard-right political populists. And the damage the ultra-right is doing when in power is painfully evident.
In 2022, the Sweden Democrats, with their members’ neo-Nazi roots and fierce anti-immigrant, law and order position, won second place in the national election. In the wake of the vote, racism has reportedly flourished in the country once known as a liberal haven.
The same year in Italy, Giorgia Meloni took office. The self-described ‘Christian mother’ may have toned down some of the fascist rhetoric of her national-conservative Brothers of Italy party, but she is a radical ultraconservative who opposes gay adoption, associates refugees with ‘crime and prostitution,’ and rallies against ‘globalists.’ Her government remains a dangerous threat to core European values.
Our own prime minister met with Meloni at COP27 in Egypt last year. Reporting on the meeting, the Guardian suggested that with the small boats ‘crisis’ dominating the headlines in Britain, Rishi Sunak hoped to mimic Meloni’s success in turning irregular migration into a valuable dividing line with the left. For the Italian leader, the meeting was likely to have been part of her ‘normalisation’ project, that is wanting her far-right party to be seen as part of the conservative mainstream. On a visit to Downing Street in April, the Italian leader praised the work undertaken by her British counterpart to fight people traffickers and clandestine immigration networks.
Meanwhile in Finland, which is considered one of the most inclusive, liberal countries in the world, a similar far-right movement has gained a footing. The Finns Party secured second place in April’s election, which saw the former prime minister Sanna Marin and her centre-left party ousted from government. The Finns, which now form part of a four-party coalition with the centre-right National Coalition Party, seek massive cuts to public spending and immigration. In a chaotic start to the new government, protests took place outside Finland’s parliament against the new right-wing administration’s austerity and immigration-cutting programme.
In Austria, the far-right FPO has been leading the polls for months, polling at about 30 percent of the vote ahead of the 2024 elections. As political strategists prepare for the election campaign, the centre-right ÖVP has repeatedly entered state-level coalitions with the far-right.
Putting the brakes on Europe’s newly legitimised ultra-right was Germany. But even there, the radical anti-immigrant Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) won its first victory in the local elections last month. AfD was founded in 2013 to oppose the eurozone and German support for bailouts of indebted euro-using countries. When waves of asylum seekers entered the EU in 2015, the party peddled a xenophobic backlash against former Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open-door immigrant policy. Rallying against increased irregular migration and green energy policies, the AfD has generated a groundswell of support, as shown in the local elections. AfD’s leaders say the win will give the party a much-needed boost in its efforts to expand its influence across Germany. But it has also led to an outpour of despair and recrimination from civil groups and other parties ahead of next year’s state elections.
Greece tells a similar story, where the leftish Syriza government has been swept away. In the country’s general election in June, three hard-right, nativist parties won parliamentary seats. This included the recently formed Spartans, which is backed by the former spokesman of the now defunct neo-Nazi Golden Dawn, who is in jail. Spartans’ leader, Vassillis Tsingas, said it would inject a “new style and ethos” into Greek political life.
The Netherlands hit the headlines last week, following the collapse of the coalition government. Mark Rutte, the longest-serving prime minister in Dutch history, who had led his Conservative party since 2006, resigned after his four-party coalition government reached an irreconcilable gulf over how to tackle immigration.
“The Netherlands is bursting at the seams,” amid “asylum chaos,” wrote the Times in response to Rutte’s resignation.
The shock collapse of the government means that the country will face fresh elections later this year.
With its general election just a week away, liberal politicians in Europe fear that Spain’s hard-right, anti-feminist, anti-migration Vox party could form part of the national government. If so, it would be the nation’s first right-wing governing party since the Franco era.
Polls suggest, Pedro Sanchez, the liberal prime minister of Spain’s Socialist Workers’ Party, will be ousted, and the conservative People’s Party (PP) is on course to win the greatest number of seats on July 23. Though without a majority, PP may well need to forge a coalition with Vox. Spain’s general election was brought forward several months after Sanchez’s socialist-led coalition government suffered a trouncing in the May regional and municipal elections, which saw Vox emerge significantly strengthened, having doubled its regional and local vote.
Vox’s rise comes despite the fact that Spain’s economy has grown faster than most of its EU partners. The government has also overseen a string of social reforms.
Sanchez has said that there is ‘no difference’ between the PP, who regard themselves as ‘conservative’, and the far-right Vox group. He warned they would together ‘dismantle the social progress’ made since he took office in 2018, such as reversing minimum wage hikes.
Yet for Spain’s right-wing opposition, Sanchez and his coalition government is a ‘dictatorial regime… of extremism and populism,’ as the right-wing newspaper La Razon defined it.
In France, the collapse of the Socialist Party has opened the road for Marine Le Pen to enter government. Like Italy’s Meloni, Le Pen shows a canny ability to moderate her public stance, especially opposition to the EU, as a means of winning mainstream votes. However, this should not be mistaken as a softening of the far-right.
Following the fatal shooting of Nahel Merzouk, a 17-year-old boy of Algerian descent by police in a Paris suburb, unrest spread across France. Merzouk’s death reignited longstanding complaints of police violence and racism in France. But the riots have also emboldened the far-right, with politicians using the civil unrest to demand the EU toughens its migration policy. Le Pen, who has long rallied against what she sees as France’s drift into permissiveness and lawlessness, accused the government of turning the country into a “hell” that she had foreseen.
In Britain, the pro-Brexit Express peddled a similar narrative, shouting: ‘Hated Macron Paris riot humiliation sees ‘door open’ for Le Pen – exclusive poll.’
The Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki used the conflict as an attempt to justify the country’s rejection of the EU’s proposed migration pact, which would introduce mandatory admission quotas for asylum seekers and require EU members who refuse to receive them to pay into a fund to accommodate them elsewhere. Most EU countries had endorsed the move last month, but Poland and Hungary blocked it.
Tweeting a video of apocalyptic scenes from France juxtaposed with bucolic images filmed in Poland, Morawiecki said:
“These are the consequences of the policies of uncontrolled migration which we are being forced to adopt.”
So, what about Britain? So far, the UK has seemed to have bucked the trend of the ultra-right gaining a footing in government, but it could be argued that the once centre-right Conservative Party has undergone a decade of tracking further to the right. The success of Nigel Farage’s UKIP in linking anti-immigration politics and Europhobia seemed to embolden the Tory right, forcing Cameron to commit to a referendum on UK EU membership. And of course, the toxic politics of UKIP won.
Today, we are governed by a deeply divided Tory party, comprising of an unstable mishmash of social conservatives, economic liberals, Big Government populists, and English ethno-nationalists.
At loggerheads on immigration policy and with 400 people having crossed the Channel in small boats in one day in April despite the government’s efforts to crackdown on illegal migration, the right of the party congregated at a ‘National Conservatism’ conference in London in May. The high-profile Tory ministers were accompanied by a host of voices from right-wing media outlets. The first ‘NatCon’ conference took place in 2020 in Rome. Its line-up has included Hungary’s far-right prime minister Victor Orbán, Italy’s former populist leader Matteo Salvini, and Poland’s Law and Justice MEP Ryszard Legutko, who has described homophobia as a “totally fictitious problem.”
In London, discussion was centred on the principles of the movement, namely “a world of independent nations” based on evangelical Christian beliefs, with values of “a moratorium on immigration” and “the traditional family, built around a lifelong bond between a man and a woman.”
Home Secretary Suella Braverman hit the headlines for a highly partisan speech that was seen as an all-too-obvious attempt to make a bid for the Tory leadership should Rishi Sunak lose the forthcoming general election. In it, Braverman criticised the ‘drive towards multiculturalism’ and insisted migrants ‘must adopt our values.’ The speech was interrupted by protesters who condemned the Home Secretary’s immigration policies.
But an even more reported speech was that of Tory backbencher Miriam Cates. The MP part-channelled Victor Orbán and Italy’s Giorgia Meloni in describing low birthrates as an existential crisis for the west. Both far-right European leaders have been explicit in wanting more domestic-born children opposed to immigrants. The speech led to commentators warn that ‘Orbán-style birthrate populism has arrived in the UK.’
And Cates isn’t the only Tory minister to be seemingly looking at Orbán’s Fidesz party for inspiration. In June, Conservative MP Sir Edward Leigh tweeted a picture of him and his colleagues Ian Liddell-Grainger and Christopher Chope standing beside Hungary’s far-right prime minister, Viktor Orbán, at a gathering in Budapest. The tweet celebrated the trio “learning about his country’s effective ways of combating illegal migration.”
The government’s anti-migration rhetoric in Britain is said to be increasingly ‘feeding’ the far-right. Analysis by the anti-fascist group Hope not Hate shows there is a growing symbiotic relationship between senior Tories speaking negatively about refugees and the extreme right-wing. The study shows that policy announcements and government statements on immigration are effectively “incubating” the far-right on the social media app Telegram, where many right-wing extremists are congregating.
Findings like this one, spectacles like the NatCon UK conference, impromptu meetings between Tory ministers and radical leaders in Europe, and Sunak’s illegal immigration bill which is extolled in right-wing circles, highlights troubling similarities and connections between Britain and Europe’s far-right governing parties.
But of course with polls pointing to a landslide Labour win in the next election, Britain could be one of the few countries in Europe to take a leftwards step. In order to turn the tide, progressives everywhere – take note Keir Starmer – need to unite to build a European-wide resistance against the new far-right.
Right-Wing Media Watch – The Sun could face the ‘mother of all libel actions’
July 10 marked the 12-year anniversary of the final issue of Murdoch’s News of the World. The hugely controversial phone hacking scandal brought down what was the UK’s biggest-selling Sunday newspaper. In more controversy involving Murdoch’s media empire, on July 7, 2023, the tycoon’s flagship tabloid the Sun, printed a story that has put a huge question mark over the newspaper’s reporting, ethical standards, and future.
Days after the Sun ran the ‘exclusive’ about an unnamed BBC presenter allegedly paying a 17-year-old for explicit images, it emerged that Huw Edwards, the man at the heart of the scandal, is in hospital dealing with ‘serious mental health issues.’ The police meanwhile, concluded there was no evidence to support the allegation of serious criminal wrongdoing.
The Sun, which normally defends its stories to the hilt, is now backtracking on its original story, claiming it never intended to allege criminality. The newspaper is blaming other media outlets for misinterpreting its reporting which they claim led to the police getting involved.
Since the much-loved BBC journalist’s name was confirmed as the presenter in question, support has been flooding in for Edwards. The Sun, on the other hand, is facing growing criticism over its reporting.
Former BBC News correspondent Jon Sopel tweeted that the Sun could potentially ‘face the mother of all libel actions,” by making the ‘most serious allegations about a BBC presenter.’ Edwards used his Twitter account to like the tweet.
Kelvin MacKenzie, who edited the tabloid from 1981 to 1994, said the newspaper made a ‘terrible error’ in not publishing the presenter’s name or providing evidence of its claims. MacKenzie said the paper looked ‘weak’ over failing to detail claims behind its explosive allegations.
Fellow former Sun editor, David Yelland, said the newspaper had ‘inflicted terror’ on Edwards and now faced ‘crisis.’
The fact that the story dominated the headlines and bulletins of virtually every news outlet all week and thereby masking more ‘important’ stories, has also been a bone of contention. News that Boris Johnson had failed to hand over his mobile phone containing Covid WhatsApp messages to meet the inquiry’s deadline, barely featured in the news feeds.
Alastair Campbell was among those who have sent support to a ‘superb broadcaster.’ The former Downing Street press secretary recounted how he and Edwards had often spoken about depression and mental health. On his Twitter feed, Campbell repeatedly pointed out that a more pressing story is that former Prime Minister Boris Johnson has still not handed over his WhatsApp messages from before May 2021 – despite being ordered by the high court to do so. He advised the BBC to, “stop playing the game your enemies want you to. Relegate the Huw E story so low down the bulletins it disappears.”
Speculation about the motives behind The Sun’s publishing of the story has also circulated.
Accusing it of left-wing bias, right-wing criticism constantly ebbs and flows at the BBC. Who can forget the Gary Lineker controversy earlier this yet, which prompted yet another bout of BBC bashing over impartiality?
Rupert Murdoch himself reportedly told Boris Johnson to “get rid of the BBC” during a visit to the then PM’s country estate.
But instead of getting rid of the BBC, the destructive attack on Huw Edwards’ could have serious repercussions for Murdoch’s leading UK tabloid. That said, doubt has been cast over whether Huw Edwards would be able to successfully sue the Sun. Godwin Busuttil, the lawyer who helped Cliff Richard recover damages from the BBC for breach of privacy, believes Edwards would not have a strong claim.
“The big obstacle for any such complaint is going to be number one, [the argument that] we didn’t identify him and no reasonable person could have known who it was and [number two], you’ve identified yourself, or through your wife,” said the barrister.
The newspaper is however facing serous questions. As the Independent’s Associate Editor Sean O-Grady writes: “There are so many question marks about The Sun’s journalism that it risks ending up making them look far worse than the presenter at the centre of the explicit images allegations.”
Let’s hope O-Grady is right.
Woke-bashing of the week – Right in meltdown over Miss America’s transgender winner
As the word ‘woke’ gets stretched and contorted to apply to virtually any issue that the right has beef with, ‘woke competitions’ are currently a favourite bogeyman.
The long-standing beauty pageant contest ‘Miss America,’ which dates to 1919, is now apparently ‘woke.’ Why? Because a student made Miss America history by becoming the contest’s first ever transgender contestant to win a local pageant. The right-wing traditionalists have been up in arms accusing the competition of being ‘woke’ for ‘allowing opportunities to be stolen away from female contestants.’
Since its inception, the annual Miss America Organisation has transformed from a sexist and superficial beauty pageant to a contest focused on awarding scholarships to individuals to advocate for integral social issues. Miss Wisconsin, for example, won the Miss America 2023 title and earned a $100,000 scholarship and year-long national tour to raise awareness about nuclear power and other zero-carbon energy sources.
Perhaps it is because of the contest’s transition into campaigning for real social reform that the right has such an issue?
Instead of embracing the news that 19-year-old Brian Nguyen became the first transgender woman to win the Miss Greater Derry title, the anti-wokesters have been in uproar.
Naturally, the Daily Mail jumped on the story, spinning it into something we should be insulted by.
The article cites Miss Great Britain 1998 winner Leilani Dowding, who said she was ‘disappointed’ to see Brian win the crown over the other contestants.
‘Seeing the news that Brían Nguyen won the pageant made me think how I would feel if I was beaten by a large biological male after spending months training and preparing for the contest.’
A ‘large biological male.’ It sounds like she’s describing some kind of dinosaur, not a human!
The report continues how the former Miss Great Britain winner accused the pageant of being ‘desperate to appear woke and inclusive’ to appeal to younger generations.
GB News’ host Mark Dolan reacted with similar jeering hostility, tweeting:
‘Yes folks, we’ve reached peak woke – where an in-tact biological man […] calls himself a woman and beats a group of actual young girls in a female beauty contest.’
This is not the first-time beauty pageants in the US have been in the firing line of the right over rules regarding transgender contestants. In November 2022, the US Court of Appeal allowed rival pageant Miss United States of America LLC to bar transgender women from competing. In 2019, trans activist Anita Green sued Miss USA for banning her from competing in the pageant as she is not a ‘natural-born female.’ Green claimed the barring violated Oregon state law. However, the federal court upheld the original ruling.
Instinctively, the Mail jumped on the ‘natural-born females only’ ruling too.
The relishing of such stories in the UK media sadly offers yet more proof of how Britain is keen to import tactics from the hard right in the US, where a dangerous anti-gay and trans rhetoric is not only rife, but is translating into legislation.
As for Miss America, if it was down to the traditionalists, the competition would still be a misogynistic spectacle where attractive young women don micro bikinis and are judged solely on their appearance. A bit like a watered-down version of the Sun’s long-running ‘page 3’ topless models feature, which, incidentally, was only axed in 2013.
Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is author of Right-Wing Watch
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