Tag Archives: LGBTQ Rights

Resurgence of the Populist, Anti-Immigrant Right

While the rise of ultra-right, neo-nazi groups in Europe has been documented in the last ten years (though perhaps not as closely as they warranted) by media outlets like The Guardian or Geo-Currents the rise in support for populist, not-quite-as-ultra-right parties is even more pervasive and less documented.

Conservative parties with neo-libertarian economics and anti-immigration, moralistic rhetoric have gained significant support in various countries throughout the region. I’m going to be including Australia in this discussion because for a country on the far side of the world it is and always has been politically linked to Europe.

The UK, Australia, the Netherlands, France, Ireland and Norway have all elected centre right or simply right-wing parties to head their governments in the last five years.

France elected Sarkozy as president with his party the Union for Popular Movement in 2007. A party so populist they put it in the name. The centre right gained 46.36% of the vote. Immigration and cultural assimilation were issues that rose in the early days of the government. The France National Front, has gained more support than they have had in years with young article leaders like Maréchal-Le Pen, granddaughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen who founded FN in the 1980s, attempting to rebrand the fiercely anti-immigrant party who have been accused in the past of desecrating Jewish cemeteries, denying the Nazi occupation of France was all that brutal and still use rhetoric about ‘protecting the French way of life’.

2010 and 2011 saw the UK and Ireland replace their governments with similar alternatives. The UK replaced their Labour party, who had been in power since 1997, with a Conservative/Liberal-Democrat coalition with the conservatives taking 36.1% of the national vote. Ireland replaced the three term reign of Fianna Fáil, centre party, with a coalition of Fine Gael (centre-right) and the Irish Labour party (centre). Fine Gael took 36% of the national vote.

What links these two elections, besides the coalitions, were that there were other factors influencing the radical shift in leadership. The European economic downturn, accusations of unethical practises by elected officials and in the case of the UK the Iraq war. However they unseated long running governments who had remained popular despite concerns such as this so they remain relevant to the regional trend.

The British Conservative government under the leadership of David Cameron have implemented anti-immigration laws that make it possible to deport people who are not citizens but who have little or no connection to any other country and whose family life is in the UK. These new regulations also make it harder for immigrants to access key services such as the National Health Service. 

London April 2012 Reuters/Suzanne Plunkett
London April 2012 Reuters/Suzanne Plunkett

The Netherlands has had a particularly noticeable shift to the right in recent years. The People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) gained 26.58% of the vote in 2012. Their website lays out the party policies which include being anti-veiling, anti-immigration, pro-financial deregulation and use the phrase “economic migrants” in their policy on asylum seekers. It also states that “without security there is no freedom”.

Then came the victory of the National Coalition over Labor in Australia. Cathal covered this story for us and how, despite the fact that Labor had been in power for six very successful years and that the Coalition leader Tony Abbott is not particularly popular in his own right, the right-wing, anti-immigration party took the election last week.

Only days ago in Norway, the Conservative Party won a landslide victory over the Labour Party who had been in power for the last two decades. The Norwegian Labour Party (DNA) have been consistently popular and led Norway through the European economic situation unscathed. Not only that but it was the Labour Party’s youth organisation that were the target of the terrorist attack by Anders Breivik, who killed 77 people most of them youths in 2011. Breivik was a member of the Progress Party who are now going into coalition with the Conservatives to form the new parliament. The coalition is taking time to finalise because other conservative parties do not want to be seen to be associated with a party with ties to a mass murderer. However despite this the Conservatives and Progress Party do not actually need any other coalition partners if they simply form a minority government.

I do have to take a moment now, to step back from the statistics and initialisms to applaud the grace with which Vegard Groslie Wennesland, a 29 year old survivor of Breivik’s attack, handled the possible election of the Progress Party in government. While he did say that their anti-immigration rhetoric concerned him he also said that Breivik has not and will not win.

Vegard Grøslie Wennesland – Oslo/Arbeiderpartiet

“Someone tried to kill me and my comrades for what we believe in and that kind of stirs a feeling that it’s important work you’re doing. You can make a difference through politics – I’m more sure of that now than ever”.  — Wennesland

One of Breivik’s, and if we’re honest, the Progress Party’s big concerns is that immigration means a higher Muslim population which some right-wing politicians believe somehow threatens Europe.

It seems relevant to point out that when I was researching this article, I began to type “Europe growing increasingly conservative” into Google to see who else was writing about this (not that many people all in all) one of the first Google autofill suggestions was “Europe growing Muslim population”.

google autofill 1

Given how the Google algorithm works, that’s a concerning note all by itself.

As though that was not concerning enough however, if you follow that Google search you do not find census data at the top but rather articles shouting that we are a generation away from Sharia law due to these “demographics” demonstrating that these reporters (in the loosest sense of the word) don’t know what either of the words “Sharia” or “demographic” mean.

The Telegraph, in the article ‘Muslim Europe: the demographic time bomb transforming our continent’ which I refuse to link to in this article to preserve a sense of journalist ethics, state that: “Britain and the rest of the European Union are ignoring a demographic time bomb”.

The, what I hesitant to call an article, then goes on to reveal that “Mohamed, Adam, Rayan, Ayoub, Mehdi, Amine and Hamza” were the top seven baby names for boys in the city of Brussels without applying any context for why anyone who isn’t trying to think of baby names for their child or hasn’t recently hit their head off a wall would even care about this very specific example of one city in one country. And even if you chose for some reason to care Adam is obviously not a Muslim name and neither is Rayan specifically because it has etymological origins from ancient Celts, Old English, Hindi, Persian and Hebrew as well as Arabic not to mention the fact that many Arabs of religions other than Islam still have Arabic names. The fact that I even had to write this paragraph convinced my never to read the Telegraph ever again.

But trivial scaremongering nonsense about baby names aside, Islamophobia is now an election issue and when I say that I mean that there are people in Europe who were successfully elected into office who believe expelling all Muslims from Europe would be a good idea. Holland’s Geert Wilder actually said “I don’t hate Muslims, I hate Islam” in an interview with the Guardian and remained in office.

The Telegraph article and statement by leaders of some of the parties I have name here have cited the rise of ultra-right, neo-nazi groups as a reason to vote populist right wing, in order to deal with the problems with ‘create’ situations that lead to violent right-wing extremist. The rise of right-wing fundamentalists has in fact aided the populist right.

I hate to be alarmist but I am alarmed.

All election data is from the European Election Database.


The Australian Election: An Outsider’s Perspective

Australia has just voted in their 44th Parliament and as widely expected, Tony Abbott, leader of the National Coalition won in a landslide victory over the incumbent Labor party.

AP Photo/Rob Griffith

But the pressing question for me and for many looking in on this from outside Australia is: why? Australia has enjoyed what most countries would consider a satisfactory six years under Labor, and most of that with current Prime Minister Kevin Rudd at the helm. It has escaped relatively unscathed from the global financial crisis, not once falling into recession. Despite a rising cost of living, Australians are better off in real terms than they were when Labor came to power in 2007.

But in terms of policies, the two parties were very divergent. Rudd was proposing a carbon emissions tax. Abbott’s replacement scheme, a system of incentives for firms to voluntarily reduce their carbon emissions, has been proven by an independent study to be nowhere near effective enough to meet Australia’s targets under the Kyoto Protocol. In fact, Abbott is something of an environmental disaster waiting to happen. His transport policy relies on building more roads at the expense of improving public transport. His policies can be explained by his scepticism towards global warming, scepticism about as well founded as his assertion that carbon dioxide cannot be measured since it is (according to this great scientific mind) “weightless”. However the carbon tax had been hugely unpopular with the public.

Australia’s options are similarly divergent in social policy terms. Rudd’s support for marriage equality, although only recently expressed, is backed up by his passage of legislation granting equal financial rights to gay couples in civil partnerships. Abbott, meanwhile, not only opposes gay marriage but has also stated that he feels “threatened” by homosexuality. So strong is his support for “traditional” marriage that he has proposed making divorce illegal without specific grounds.

He is fiercely anti-immigrant, and unfortunately the general public’s opposition to the admittance of the “boat people” has made his hard line on asylum seekers popular. This has led to a general policy lurch in this direction by all parties, including Labor (despite Rudd’s earlier endorsement of a “big Australia”).

Added to all this is the simple fact that he is an outrageous misogynist, and if you haven’t already seen the video of Gillard eviscerating him for having the gall to accuse another MP of sexism then I would advise you to get on it right away. By contrast, Rudd nominated the first ever female Governor-General and filled his current cabinet with a record number of women. Abbott, while minister for health, tried to veto access to the abortion drug RU-486. Rudd supported the successful motion that removed this decision from the health minister’s portfolio.

All this, of course, may be working to Abbott’s and the coalition’s advantage. Australia’s reputation – or perhaps stereotype – as a laid-back and liberal country (women achieved federal voting rights in 1902) doesn’t at all hold true today. Australia has a long conservative political history. Australian aboriginal people did not receive full citizenship or voting rights until the late 1960s. The Australian government was still allowing church groups to effectively steal aboriginal children until 1972. It was in fact Rudd who delivered the first apology for these abuses when he was Prime Minister in 2008.

Abbott’s economic policy depends on cutting tax and cutting spending. The tax cuts focus on businesses (he plans to cut corporation tax by 1.5%), and the spending cuts will be around $40 billion over the next four years. The full cost of the coalition economic plans were revealed 48 hours before the election. This cut in government spending is significant and, while it probably won’t force Australia into a recession (as Rudd claims), it won’t balance the budget any sooner than Rudd’s economic plan; both predict a budget surplus in 2016/17. Labor’s economic success thus far has already been noted.

Why, then, do Australians think their best choice lies in the right-wing, environmental suspect, economically dodgy Tony Abbott? The media may be in a large part to blame; all but one of the major Australian newspapers have come out in support of the coalition, with only The Age endorsing Labor (the only major international news outlet to express a preference, The Economist, also supports Rudd). The continual infighting between Gillard and Rudd no doubt also served to drain confidence in the ruling party.

But to me the most likely cause lies in the compulsory voting system which is an integral part of Australian democracy. Those citizens who don’t care are forced to vote, and the ones who are forced generally don’t follow their country’s politics as closely as those who vote voluntarily. Yet these apathetic voters are the swing voters, the ones who may decide victory for either side. But then this still speaks to continuing conservative leanings, even latent ones, among the Australian populace.

So though outsiders might feel confused by the election of a man who has never been particular nationally popular and has always been polarizing this fits international trends following the financial crisis. This could have easily been any other country.

— submitted by Cathal O’Leary