VINCE CABLE’S comments on Brexit at the Liberal Democrats’ spring conference show just how out of touch with reality the pro-EU establishment is.
His claim that too many older people who voted Leave were driven by nostalgia for a world where “passports were blue and faces were white” parallels the statement in January by outgoing German ambassador Peter Ammon that Euroscepticism was fed by the image of Britain standing alone against Germany in World War II.
Such comments are contemptuous of the millions of people in working-class areas who voted for Brexit. Many would never have had blue passports, if passports at all, while few would be old enough to remember the second world war. And skin colour was relatively unimportant, as many jurisdictions with large South Asian populations also delivered Leave votes.
Cable’s further claim that the votes of older people had “crushed the hopes and aspirations of young people for years to come” is pure chutzpah, considering the actions of the Con-Dem government of which he was a part to 2015 – policies also followed in the EU, and continuing under the current Tory regime.
What Cable, Hammond and their ilk ignore is that it is the impoverishment and disempowerment of working-class people by EU-promoted policies which have driven Euroscepticism, reflected by the rise of right-wing populist parties in France, Austria, Hungary, Poland, Italy and Germany itself. It was this sense of disempowerment which brought the Leave result in Britain, despite some claims to the contrary.
When social-democratic parties fail – as they have done in many EU countries – and when genuinely left-wing policies are blocked, then working people may easily become prey to simplistic solutions, such as blaming refugees and migrants, although this was not the key feature in Britain.
Of course populist parties of the right may tone down their racism and xenophobia and tart up their image in order to secure a broader electoral base. That seems to be the case with the French National Front, whose leader Marine Le Pen wants to change the party’s name to National Rally.
But such parties remain anti-working class, and still need their core racist and xenophobic support. So it is perhaps unsurprising, if still shocking, that Donald Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon told the French National Front’s conference in Lille at the weekend to wear accusations of racism and xenophobia “as a badge of honour.”
Bannon, a former investment banker, is the founder of Breitbart News, a far-right US website which he described as “the platform for the alt-right,” an amorphous grouping of white supremacists, neonazis, neofascist and other far-right groups and trends, which was one of the driving forces behind Trump’s presidential election campaign.
Trump sacked Bannon in the wake of the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville last August, when a white supremacist drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing one person and injuring 19. Trump’s statement condemning “hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides,” which was widely criticised, was reported to have come from Bannon.
Back in charge at Breitbart, Bannon at first sought to distance himself from the white supremacists and neonazis, but his Lille statement indicates that he is still courting that constituency. And his remarks risk inflaming race hatred in Europe, with organisations like the English Defence League likely to feel emboldened.
That makes support all the more vital for the March Against Racism in London this coming Saturday – UN Anti-Racism Day. But ultimately, challenging racism means challenging the policies and institutions which allow it to grow – austerity, privatisation and marginalisation of people from real decision-making.
Labour’s left turn under Jeremy Corbyn has checked the rise of the far right – but the danger remains as long as big business profits are put before people.
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