A confused picture

Published : Jan 03, 2003 00:00 IST

Preachers of Hate: The Rise of the Far Right by Angus Roxburgh; Gibson Square Books; 18.99.

THE problem with writing contemporary history is that events kill your prognoses all too quickly. The ink is barely dry before one's futures are cruelly falsified. In Holland, Pim Fortuyn's political legacy is crumbling and in Austria Jorg Haider's Freedom Party is devastated by the result of the November 2002 general election that seems to have driven it back into the margins of politics. Yet those who claim that the Far Right is in terminal decline rejoice too quickly and too easily. It is more a question of two steps back, two steps forward.

The same month saw the British National Party (BNP) achieving a breakthrough in Blackburn where they won a seat from the Liberals with 32 per cent of the votes in a town whose multiculturalism has been secure for a quarter of a century since Kingsley Read's National Party in the mid-1970s briefly had two councillors there.

Equally in Switzerland, a referendum sponsored by the Far Right Swiss People's Party part of the governing coalition that would have enacted the most draconian immigration legislation in Europe only failed by 2,000 votes out of two million.

Preachers of Hate suffers like the rest. As a political peregrination around Europe's nastier parties and politicians, it offers the better face of journalism, but not much more. It has a litter of errors. For example, Roxburgh claims that the Belgium Vlaams Blok, the German Republikaner and the French Front National currently form a group in the European Parliament.

They did, but not since 1994. More important, the book lacks clarity as to what defines the Far Right and embraces everybody and everything from Denmark's shame-faced Liberal Party and its squirming Immigration Minister Bertel Haarder, who supped with the devil in the form of the Danish People's Party and swapped xenophobic immigration legislation for power, to the Alleanza Nazionale in Italy where 32 per cent of the delegates at a party conference in 1990 believed that armed struggle was an acceptable way of securing political change. Between these party bookends are sandwiched Slobodan Milosevic, Jean-Marie Le Pen, Silvio Berlusconi and Germany's race-hate music industry. Roxburgh confuses cause and effect. The re-emergent Far Right is setting a political agenda whose incorporation by traditional parties Left and Right are desensitising both the electorate and themselves, allowing the Far Right off the streets into town halls, Parliaments, coalitions and Cabinets. In their more populist clothes they are, or have been, in power in Austria, Italy and Switzerland, and they are currently propping up the Danish government.

WHAT is to be done? Angus Roxburgh dithers, whistling `Dixie' to the best liberal harmonies. He buys the myth that the European Union's embargo of Austria was an over-reaction that merely strengthened Haider, and therefore he counsels international quietism. Certainly the Austrians resented the intervention, but at the same time the opinion polls show the first stuttering of support for the Freedom Party. It may have been unwanted, but it was not unnecessary. Nazis in lounge suit do not go away that easily. They may believe that the Diaries of Anne Frank are a fraud, but they do not spread that view abroad. Across Europe, and beyond, it is not possible merely to wait for the electoral wheel to turn again when people are in revolt against traditional politics and politicians and are either abandoning the process altogether or supporting `none of the above' as they cast their votes for monkeys or hospitals, fascists or `fruitcakes'.

Roxburgh believes that the BNP is hopelessly compromised by its history. Yet Nick Griffin's forecast after the 1997 general election that the BNP would replace the Tories as the party of Opposition to Labour in Britain's inner cities does not look so implausible now considering the recent results in Blackburn, Burnley, Oldham and Stoke. If Labour parties continue to confuse inactivity with policy, then Bruno Gollnisch Le Pen's likely successor as leader of the Front National if it does not remain a family affair will be celebrating new allies when in June 2004 Nick Griffin becomes the first BNP Member of the European Parliament for North West England.

Glyn Ford is a member of the European Parliament from England.

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