Wearing Ukip’s clothes, the Tories will blame migrants for their continued austerity, writes SABBY DHALU
DONALD TRUMP, Marine Le Pen and Theresa May come from different political traditions, but reflect the same political trend in imperialist countries of using racism to accompany policies that unleash attacks on the living standards of the working class, while blaming refugees, Muslims, immigrants and whomever the current target happens to be.
Le Pen failed to defeat Emmanuel Macron in the second round of the French presidential election. Macron won decisively with 66.1 per cent of the vote.
In reality there was never a danger that Le Pen could win but a number of warning signs apparent in the results.
Le Pen’s numerical vote was at a record high with almost 11 million votes, double what her father Jean Marie received in 2002 when he ran against Jacques Chirac in the second round. This is a base for racism to develop unless there is a huge movement against it.
Le Pen’s vote in Calais and Aisne — the only two departments where Le Pen’s vote was higher than Macron’s — shows the effect of austerity and racism.
Aisne is France’s equivalent of the US “rust belt,” and has the country’s third-highest unemployment rate at 13.7 per cent.
In Calais unemployment is over 12 per cent. The Nord-Pas de Calais region has suffered from industrial decline and the closure of mines.
And, of course, Calais was home to the makeshift “Jungle” refugee camp. Refugees served as a convenient racist scapegoat for and distraction from the government’s austerity agenda that is hitting living standards hard in France, as is happening across most of western Europe.
The National Front (FN) staged numerous demonstrations against the refugees, precisely with the aim of whipping up racism and drumming up support.
Over 25 per cent of voters abstained in the second round. Contrary to myths peddled in the mainstream media prior to the second round, it was not Jean-Luc Melenchon left-wing supporters in the main that voted for Le Pen. A mere 12 per cent of Melenchon voters voted for Le Pen in the second round, compared to 51 per cent that voted for Macron.
In comparison a staggering 31 per cent of mainstream right-winger Francois Fillon’s voters voted Le Pen and 42 per cent voted for Macron. This reflects the political overlap between France’s Republicans and FN.
It was not the FN that imposed austerity and eroded the living standards of the many. It was not the FN that banned religious symbols in schools and education institutions or banned the niqab in public spaces. And the majority of mayors that banned the “burkini” were not FN.
The responsibility for most of this lay with the Republicans — and its previous incarnation the UMP. Francois Hollande and the Socialist Party conceded to this agenda, as it has for decades, and thus served to normalise the politics of the FN.
While Macron is neither a Socialist nor Republicans, in reality as an investment banker and ideological right-winger, he is a continuation of the status quo that will implement austerity. Hence the high number of abstentions of Melenchon voters.
An alternative is needed and is currently reflected in support for Melenchon and France Unbowed, with an anti-austerity agenda. This must also be accompanied by leadership on opposing racism that includes a movement on the ground against racism and the far right. There were signs of this developing during the elections with tens of thousands marching against Le Pen.
The situation in France also holds important lessons in Britain. Although support for Ukip and fascist organisations such as the British National Party and the English Defence League has reduced massively, the problem in Britain is the Tories stealing their racist clothes.
In the local elections earlier this month Ukip suffered a total meltdown, losing every council seat it gained in 2013, with voters deserting en masse to the Tories. As Alex Salmond put it, the Tories have “eliminated Ukip by becoming Ukip.”
May’s positioning of the Tories to the right is not just a short-term strategy to be dropped after the election on June 8, this is the recomposition of the Tories’ base in preparation for the new post-Brexit political scene.
At the same time as promising a tough negotiating stance and maintaining the fiction that she can get major concessions from the EU, she is preparing the Tories for the politics of a “hard Brexit” Britain. Some of those features of are already emerging. Since the referendum result the devaluation of the pound has led to rising inflation.
Consumer spending has fallen to a 14-year low, while personal debt remains at record highs.
GDP growth slowed to just 0.3 per cent in the first quarter of 2017. All those on fixed incomes, from pensioners to public-sector workers to those on benefits, are continuing to see their incomes fall in real terms.
This is just the beginning. May’s solution to this is simple: to drive through a real game-changing political reorganisation in Britain to rollback the welfare state and destroy the 70-year consensus in British politics in favour of “welfarism” and state provision of health, education and social care.
Racism, Islamophobia and a backward reactionary agenda will accompany this drive in order to scapegoat, distract and divide the working class. So building an anti-racist movement is crucial.
People are mobilising against racism in large numbers. This year’s annual Stand up to Racism national demonstration marking UN Anti-Racism Day was the biggest yet, with 30,000 people attending. We must keep up the momentum.
Sabby Dhalu is Unite Against Fascism joint secretary and Stand Up to Racism co-convenor.