Euro-elections of 2014… Where I live, as in most places, the Green Party moved up to replace the LibDems in fourth place. Whatever the result where you are, this election, became, yet again, dominated by the decline in evidence-based policy & poor turn-out. The two are linked. Across Europe 43% of the electorate voted, in Britain 36% bothered. I will contend here that people don’t vote because policies no longer make any sense. They aren’t meant to, they don’t serve the electorate. Voters are not hearing about political parties with policies they can believe in. Instead they are being served up dangerous fantasies.
British politics increasingly follows the American model. Some have argued rightly that this follows political economist Thomas Ferguson’s “investment theory” of politics. This argues that policies tend to reflect the wishes of the powerful blocs that invest to control the state. The electorate are not one of those power blocs. Hence policy is formulated to suit those other investors. The bigger the party, the bigger the investment. The policies that matter are not designed to appeal to the electorate. The result is that over 60% see nothing to vote for. The result is that smaller fringe parties peddling fantasies can become overly important. Not because they offer popular policies but because they offer scapegoats popularised by the media. Other smaller political parties, who do offer popular policies, are frozen out by the mainstream media precisely because they operate outside the system. Hence, what the electorate are hearing is becoming more and more irrelevant & fantastic. A lot of people are falling for the latter. Those who see the former don’t vote anyway. This is leading us down a very dangerous path. It’s escapism. But we have been here before.
Shortly before the election the OECD – the Organisation of Economic Cooperation & Development (the rich Nations club) – released a report that received approximately zero publicity. It stated that immigration of the labour force into and out of nations was either harmless, or a good thing. Indeed the year-to-date statistics for 2014 found that economic migrants from southern Europe had flooded OUT of Britain, not in.There are far more Brits abroad in Europe that Europeans making a home in the UK. (Repatriate that lot and it would create a big headache!) Academic report after academic report repeatedly find that the UK economy benefits from an immigrant workforce and from being in Europe. Cross-border worker migration is the lifeblood of any modern economy.
Something about this doesn’t stack up. Britain is in Europe not as an act of politics but due to geography. We can no more discriminate against a worker from Romania than we can one from Essex. How on earth did we ever manage to frame this argument any other way?
The xenophobe-right had an awful election by any accounts, it was “gaffe-heavy & policy-free”. One potential councillor was pictured semi-naked showing off his Nazi tattoos. Their leader screwed up big time on radio by saying that he would prefer Germans to Romanians living next door. When challenged why he said “you know”. Wink, wink. We laughed at them and assumed their lack of any credibility was visible to all. It was not. I argue here that this is not how this works. This is not unique.
There is a area of public debate that is similarly blighted by a complete lack of evidence-based policy making: climate change. A stubborn hardcore 30% of the population appear to exclude facts from their decision-making process. For example polls always suggest 70% of us are happy living next to wind turbines and 70% fear the impacts of man made climate change on their lives. What do the other 30% believe? There is a strange nexus of irrational thought and voting for the xenophobe fringe. Euro-sceptics are normally climate-sceptics. Facts don’t matter. They “feel” the truth. They do not like change. The far-right fringe is the fringe of denial. And we let this happen. We let them frame the discussion. This is as much our failure as it is their victory. We normalised them.
The parties of the far right are much the same as the mainstream but they have injected the political map with exciting dragons to be slain. Their success entirely depends upon how well they can convince the electorate that those dragons are real. This time around they were successful. On old sailing charts sea serpents represented uncharted waters – the unknown. We are naturally afraid of the unfamiliar. In our ignorance we told tales of vanishing ships eaten by sea serpents. The dragons were effective warnings. These unfortunate early sea farers foundered on unchartered rocks, not dragons. The unknown killed them. Time has moved on, the rocks have been charted. There weren’t any real dragons to be afraid of. We no longer feared what we couldn’t understand. Enlightenment & rational scientific reason would shine a light into the deepest corners and reveal only problems to be solved, not monsters to be feared. But this enlightenment project is way of course. Anti-science is back with vengeance.
We now live in a world where a third of the electorate are happy to believe in those dragons. Somehow we are meant to be polite, non-elitist and not point out other’s ignorance. For this new hardcore 30% the Enlightenment was simply some scientific plot to rob them of prejudice. Knowledge robbed them of old certainties. This was scary. They just ‘knew’ that black men were inferior & women could never be the equal of a man. Scientific reason showed this was nonsense so science became the enemy. For most (ie, women and slaves) this meant liberation. Their freedom became a prison for the 30% who cannot accept reality. Today they still cling to these outdated, and quite dangerous notions. It is now comforting for this 30% to believe that we can turn back the clock to the old securities of the 1950s and simply wish away the problems of the modern world. This increasing intolerance grows with old age. It spreads like ignorance and poisons what it touches. It makes itself acceptable.
Election campaigns are media battles fought with pretty faces and sound-bites. My wife asked around her adult education class: how many had heard of the Green Party? None. She asked a close personal friend. Same result. Media exposure is now all that is required to spread myths. I do not wish to promote any specific political solution over any other, but it has struck me that Green Party policy is aligned strongly with so much that pollsters tell us is popular with the electorate. Just compare their policy on the NHS to policies of the establishment-friendly far-right. Likewise the policies of the far-right are generally those that are unpopular with the electorate – how many of us wish to give the ultra-rich more tax breaks? Anyone? So why are we voting for things we don’t want yet ignore the parties that might better suit public opinion?
The media can shoulder much of the responsibility for this. Daily headlines scream at us that around every rock there be dragons of the most heinous reality. The world is full of cherry-picked examples that prove absolutely nothing – but these myths remain effective. These stories are just anecdotes – amusing school-gate tittle-tattle. They are not the basis of sound policy making. But this continual barrage of propaganda influences the electorate. The mainstream parties have made the stone-cold error of making it public that it has influenced them too. They no longer offer leadership or enlightenment. But that is their job. They cannot become part of the lynch-mob.
Consider, for a second, if this was not a campaign again “benefits scroungers”, Romanians and dragons… then it would be against other hate targets: Jews, Blacks and elves. There is always someone to blame. It doesn’t matter who you cut and paste in: it is always ludicrous, absurd and dangerous. History is full of the lessons from those who peddle you dragons. There will always be another demagogue around the corner to intrance a gullible population with his ‘one-of-us’ blokeyness, his glass of ‘common-man’ beer, his anecdotes about political correctness & how his party stands for “common sense”. Common sense? This is another word for ‘prejudice’. His real message: don’t let facts get in the way.
Fascists are not anti-establishment parties. Their appeal comes from blaming other people for all our ills. It matters not that the facts don’t fit the bill. Facts can be tortured to preach whatever sermon you wish to hear. Austerity programs are not enforced by the poor. You are not out of work due to immigrants. We are where we are because of the awful risks taken by an unaccountable sector. That sector do not wish to be reformed and, since they have all the money, they will pay for a counter-factual “truth” that deflects criticism onto others. It is easy for the pro-establishment-far-right to get you to blame immigrants. Poor Romanians don’t pay for their election campaigns. Billionaires do. They pay for the message they want you to hear, not what you need to hear. Hence George Orwell famously wrote:
“Fascism is coming; probably a slimy Anglicised form of Fascism, with cultured policemen instead of Nazi gorillas and the lion and the unicorn instead of the swastika.”
In the run up to the elections those opposed to the xenophobe-right campaigned with this message: they are fascists; racists; nasty, don’t vote for them. It was wide of the target. The campaign against the xenophobe fringe failed because it was over-whelmed by the media blitz. This is the media who also misrepresent Climate Change. [Despite an overwhelming scientific agreement about the dangers of global warming and mankind’s role in creating this danger the media still represent this erroneously as if there are two sides to some fictional “argument”.] So it was also true with their portrayal of the xenophobe fringe: numerous embarrassing stories [like far-right MEPs voting FOR the ivory trade and AGAINST workplace equality for women] became non-stories. The racists gaffes went unreported. When they were reported they simply increased the publicity for the far-right. For these xenophobes there was no such things as bad publicity. The numerous Twitter campaigns appeared to backfire as they only managed to get the name of one of the xenophobe parties trending.
The anti-fascists brigade simply assumed that if they simply shouted “their racists” very loudly that this would work. It was as effective as campaigning on climate change with images of Polar Bears and screaming about sea-level rise. It simply isn’t reaching that hardcore of 30%. Facts don’t sway them. To quote Douglas Adams you are simply ‘firing a rocket at right-angles to reality’. We are no longer in an era of reality-based Politics. What connects with this 30% is whatever appeals to their culture, their gut-feel. If it feels right they will vote for it. What feels right for them is what their culture tells them is normal.
The presence of the far-right fringe in political life has become normalised. A few years ago the National Front & the British National Party were swivel-eyed loons that nobody took seriously. They were a joke. They still are. It just took a bit of a rebranding and lots and lots of money for them to be re-invented as the ‘acceptable’ fringe far-right of today. Their message is the same, the policies are equally ludicrous. They nudged up their electoral share and suddenly the two major political parties – the Conservatives and Labour – also took the loons seriously. The mainstream media took their cue from the mainstream parties. It took no earthquake, no revolution, no great truth for this to happen. It just took an adequate injection of austerity, fear and money. Now the lunatic fringe is “normal” in party politics.
How could we have been this stupid? Thankfully 70% are not stupid. The far-right have a term for them too: they are “cosmopolitan” and “educated”. The far-right’s lifeblood is ignorance. Remember, the xenophobes didn’t win. Nearly 16 million people voted across Europe, of which nearly 11 million were FOR pro-EU parties (1.2 million voted for Green parties).
If you want to solve a problem like this fringe you have to send them back where they came from: political obscurity and social non-acceptability. Stop talking about them. Voting for them should be as socially unacceptable as masturbating in public. Our local newspaper managed to print a story about one of these swivel-eyed loons who was too dumb even to find his party on the ballot paper. [He voted for the wrong one. Not that it made much difference, they are all the same.] He felt it was so ‘normal’ that he happily complained and got his name and photo in the newspaper. In any other time or place the journalist would have quietly taken Mr Tin-foil Hat to one side and suggested that he really didn’t need THAT sort of publicity. Such is the extent that this lunacy is now the “norm” we are all meant to accept it as such; and be dreadfully polite in respect of this new “political correctness”.
I will not. Political correctness is to protect society’s most vulnerable people. Not the wilfully ignorant. This isn’t elitism, it is real common-sense. There is a land far, far away where policy-making is based solely upon prejudice. That is where it should stay.
Next time I am voting to send the far-right fringe to obscurity. If not, the “cultured policemen” will be burning books & shutting down your blog. And it has already started.