by Gunnar Eigener

Content warning: mentions xenophobia.

As the UK government stutters to find ways to deal with the looming end date for Brexit negotiations, the news is awash with alternatives, the prospect of ‘no deal’, leadership challenges and campaigns for a second referendum. While the fight goes on, one problem is becoming increasingly apparent, not just in the UK, but globally; where is the opposition to the creeping right-wing politics that is slowly casting its shadow over the world?

Over the last few days, Sweden completed a general election with the main parties left neck-and-neck, short of a majority and in probable need of a coalition. The far-right party, the Swedish Democrats, polled 17.6%, gaining 63 seats and potentially becoming part of any future coalition. This would lead to right-wing politics being in strong, although not leading, positions across Europe. Austria’s Freedom Party, Hungary’s Jobbik, the Danish People’s Party and the Swiss People’s Party have all made significant gains in the past few years. Alternative for Germany (AfD) has almost made big inroads. The worrying pattern is that many of these parties, while often unlikely to become the sole party in government, can play kingmaker and if a centre-right party that is neck-and-neck in an election then a coalition with another right-wing party might seem appealing.

Should politicians have not expected this? They should have.

So how has it reached this point? In the UK, one of the reasons that Brexit did so well was the complete lack of proactive opposition by the Labour Party leadership, in particular, Jeremy Corbyn. Elsewhere, complacency and arrogance by centre and left wing parties lacked the appetite to face the growing problem of nationalist populist politics until it was too late. Even then there was a reluctance to consider that an increasingly agitated population, struggling with austerity in the wake of the financial crisis, would turn to the right. Should politicians have not expected this? They should have. Largely seen as complicit in the financial crisis due to the cosy relationships between governments and the banking sector, politicians have somehow managed to dodge public accountability,  yet in the private sphere trust in governments is probably near its lowest many years.

With the ten-year anniversary of the financial crisis upon us, it is worth bearing in mind the opportunity that was missed to tackle the greedy capitalist behemoth that lead to austerity, andt in turn ignited feelings that many people still have  now; that someone was to blame for what happened and something needed to be done to change the system. Someone was to blame, but through careful manipulation, immigrants have become the scapegoats. Foreigners have become targets of blame for the woeful situation that many European countries have found themselves in as a result of austerity. The bankers remain unaffected while everyday people feel the crippling effects of the financial crisis, more so in Eastern Europe and parts of the Middle East than in the West, leading to migration issues. The system remains unchanged except for a few cosmetic alterations to please the media and to gloss over the institutional problems that continue to this day. After years of wages falling, they are finally starting to rise again although significantly out of step with living costs.  

The financial crisis was an opportunity for the left to attack the financial system and to create change within. Any options given to the public would, in all likelihood, have been accepted considering the attitude towards the banking system and its corporations. Instead, the left failed to come up a brave new plan or any solid attempt to redress the obvious financial imbalance between the rich and the poor. As a result, right-wing parties and their trickle-down economics were allowed to continue much as they had before.

Few parties as a whole offer much of an opposition. Issues of anti-Semitism have beset the UK’s Labour Party for the past year. While certainly no smoke without fire, the opportunity has been utilised to discredit the Party. Further problems look likely, as rumours of a split within the Party have rendered them incapable of mounting any decent challenge to a Conservative government that should really be easy pickings.

All too often those on the left who preach peace and calm, dignity and decency aren’t the ones suffering.

The distribution of harm by right-wing governments tends to be socially constructed. We are often responsible for our own downfall. The signs are there, previous experience and history tell us what the likely outcome will be and yet we still fall short of bringing any kind of challenge or alternative. The left is cowed by attacks from the right who are not shy of throwing the first punch, of being dirty and underhand, who remain fixed on their target and will do anything to achieve it. The left prefers to remain virtuous, clean and present a decent front. But these things don’t mean anything if people are dying, living in abject poverty, uncertain of how to feed their children, unable to work and worried that their religion or colour of their skin might bring them harm. All too often those on the left who preach peace and calm, dignity and decency aren’t the ones suffering. The left is engulfed in politics just as much as the right; the right just don’t give a damn.

So perhaps the left needs to stop worrying about people’s feelings, needs to stop thinking about how they appear in the light of day; perhaps what is needed is to solve the problems, come what may. Maybe the left needs to stop waiting for a flawless leader to come and show them what to do. Perhaps the left should formulate a plan and stick to it. The left needs to show how their progressive ideas will truly make a difference, and that ultimately lies in changing the education system to include the teaching of radical progressive ideas that can make a difference. Authority should be used to guide and help, not push through personal agendas. The left is running out of opportunities. Maybe it doesn’t even deserve another chance, but unless the left accepts its responsibilities and comes out of its self-pitying state, we won’t see change in the world.

Featured image credit: Danny PiG, Flickr.

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