You won’t find AfD marching down here
Recently we received an invitation from something calling itself “The European Liberal Forum” to a round-table sandwich lunch event to launch the Ralf Dahrendorf Roundtable Study, entitled “The Unstoppable Far Right? Populism and the Aftermath of the European Elections”.
We suspected that this was a veiled reference to UKIP – and we were right! Deputy Whip Ray Finch, along with Margot Parker’s new assistant Erna, had the neat idea of getting a posse of UKIP folk, members and staffers, to listen in (and help eat the sandwiches).
We were all very eager, of course, to chip in, and it was first challenging, then boring, to try to keep quiet in the face of so much nonsense (and for me, to keep the troops on the leash and to prevent any premature skirmishing).
But at the end of the first (rather long) presentation, I broke the advice which I had previously given to colleagues, and out-shouted the chairman to make a point. I demanded the “Right to Reply”, as UKIP had been criticised by name, and I brooked no opposition. Fortunately I have a loud voice, which always helps in politics.
The speaker had insisted that UKIP, and AfD in Germany and NF in France, were all ‘far-right populists”. Now I can see their point (perhaps) with NF, but AfD? A group of serious-minded German jurists and academics? You won’t see these guys in jackboots or black-shirts, or marching down Unter-den-Linden singing the Horst Wessel Song.
The truth was that they didn’t really know what they meant by “populist”. A Green think-tanker let the cat out of the bag when she pointed to the etymology and admitted that “democracy” and “populism” meant almost exactly the same. Wild applause from the UKIP posse.
But the speaker gave the game away be saying “We observe that populist parties are always euro-sceptic”. What he meant was, “We choose to use the word ‘populist’ to describe euro-sceptics, because we think it’s a pejorative and negative term. And we’re entitled to use pejorative language about euro-sceptics, because all sensible and decent people know perfectly well that they’re a dangerous, damaging and dishonest bunch”.
They are simply not prepared to contemplate that genuine, honest people might believe that the European Union is damaging our prosperity and undermining democracy. Yet it is, and more and more people recognise the fact.
The speaker announced the major conclusion of their research: that insurgent euro-sceptic parties do better when mainstream media present the established parties as more pro-EU, and vice versa. As they said in Fawlty Towers. “Specialist subject: the bleedin’ obvious”! Europhiles faced a Catch22: If the mainstream parties go positive on the EU, sceptic parties will prosper. But if not, and mainstream parties get more sceptic, that also damages the EU cause.
But he had a plan: get the media to explain to the people that membership of the EU is not about Europe’s interests, but about their own national interest. In my response I not only pointed out that UKIP was not far-right, nor to the right of the Tory Party (as had been implied). But I concluded that his strategy would fail in the UK, for the simple reason that no one would believe it.
That’s the Brussels bubble for you. Totally out of sight of reality and real people.