The rise of the ‘Radical Right’ is a fascinating phenomenon. Often, people like me have spent so much time being terrified, shocked and appalled by it, and not enough time trying to understand it. For the sake of research, I have spent much of this evening listening to speeches by Donald Trump, Nigel Farage and Geert Wilders.
Approached in a detached and dispassionate way, they make for quite interesting listening. You have to filter out a lot of nonsense, of course, but underneath it all there’s a fairly consistent message, in the form of a classic ‘bait and switch’.
This clip is a typical sample. They start with real problems: a lack of jobs and opportunites, economic depression, pressure on wages and public services, fear of crime, the sense that political and economic elites have it all stitched up for their own benefit, while ordinary people get a raw deal. They talk about these issues with a frankness and bluntness, in a folksy downhome way, that the left just cannot emulate. They tap into very real and painful grievances.
That’s the bait. And they bait well. It’s great big shiny bait that looks attractive when you live precariously on a falling wage in a run down town, where the library and the swimming pool have closed, and where you cannot get a doctor’s appointment and the school is overcrowded and under staffed.
But then comes the switch: rather than blame the neo-liberal economic policies and chronic under investment in education, infrastructure and services which have caused this mess, they kick downwards and outwards: the blame the immigrants and foreigners. They try to turn this real grievance into an unrighteous anger, and anger than can only destroy, rather than channeling it into a call for solidarity and inclusive justice. They seek not to heal, but to harm back. Not to address underlying causes, but only to scapegoat.
This is of course the classic function of the far-right in an oligarchy – to distract the people’s anger away from the real economic causes of their distress and to turn it on others.
The soft-left liberals must bear some responsibility, however, for allowing this situation to develop. It is the wholehearted acceptance of Thatcherite Reaganomics by the West’s liberal elite that is, in fact, causing the hardship and the revolt of ordinary people. People will turn to virtually ANY anti-establishment force to show their anger. I hope that liberals everywhere will begin to realise quickly that their acceptance of the ever increasing growth of corporate power, and the ever-increasing gap between the richest and the poorest, is the real cause of the rise of Trump – and of Brexit sentiment.
But there’s hope in all of this. There is scope, now as never before in the last century, for a popular movement of the left that seeks to address the real economic causes: a new New Deal coalition. It just needs to be articulated in terms that people can understand. Not in Guardian reader terms, but in Sun reader terms. We take take that which is a harmful counterfeit (neo-fascism) and replace it with the real article (social democracy), and people will flock to it.