Notes From the Margins…

Will Hutton on the European Far-Right

  • May 15, 2011
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I’ve hardly ever bought the Observer since it supported the Iraq war,  but I made the mistake of reading it today and I wasn’t inclined to start buying it again.

First there was a soft three-page profile of Pamela Geller, a bigoted anti-Muslim harridan who surely doesn’t deserve any more attention than she has already received – let alone in a supposed bastion of British liberalism.

Then there was a piece by Will Hutton on the  failure of the left to counter the European right.  Hutton is correct to point out that the planned re-introduction of border controls represents another political victory for the xenophobic and exclusionary anti-immigrant agenda of the likes of Marine Le Pen and Pia Kjaersgaard.

It is also true that neither the parliamentary and extra-parliamentary left have managed to articulate a coherent and effective alternative to the far-right’s ‘national identity’ politics, its reactionary anti-Europeanism and its simplistic pseudo-explanations that blame immigrants for Europe’s economic ills.

Hutton’s solution is for the left to embrace a ‘good capitalism that will drive growth, employment and living standards by a redoubled commitment to innovation and investment’ in order to convince Europeans that globalisation is not dangerous or threatening.

But  the European social-democratic left has largely acquiesced in the face of the ‘bad capitalism’  of the last two decades that Hutton would  like to see replaced, and has at times actively supported a neoliberal economic agenda that has effectively left large sections of the European working-class without a political voice and open to the reconstructed far-right and their newer populist variants.

Hutton then goes on to argue that

The left must also accept that immigration offends basic attitudes to fairness. Once any host population starts to believe that new immigrants can get benefits without paying anything into the collective pot they feel cheated. Immigrants need to be offered ways of earning their citizenship to ease their path on arrival. Get the economics and fairness right and much of the so-called threat to identity will fall away.

Here Hutton appears to uncritically accept one of the great myths propagated by the far-right, the idea that immigrants are gaining unfair advantages over the ‘host population’.  Anyone reading this might be forgiven for thinking that Europe’s immigrants are all living on the dole, wallowing in their unearned benefits.

Don’t ‘immigrants’ work – often doing jobs that Europeans until recently have not wanted to do?   Don’t they pay taxes?

Hutton appears oblivious to the fact that the association between immigration and ‘unfairness’  is at best a fantasy  and at worst a politically-convenient lie,  propagated by rightwing politicians and the tabloid press as a distraction from the gross unfairness that are inherent in the current global economic model.

Perhaps if the parliamentary ‘left’ showed a little more courage in opposing and exposing such injustice, it might be able to give a voice to some of those –  both Europeans and ‘immigrants’ – who have been victims of it.

In doing so we might begin the construction of a new kind of politics that goes beyond the xenophobia and reactionary nationalism of the right, and also rejects the ‘muscular liberalism’ that too often panders to the worst assumptions of the far-right in the name of trying to defeat it.


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About Me

I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist.  My latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018).  The Infernal Machine is where I write on politics, history, cinema and other things that interest me.

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