17/04/2021

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Europe’s political cross-dressers

A good Tony Abbott story is that early during his time as an MP, he did a study trip to Washington. Clearly the embassy official responsible for arranging his programme was American. He tailored it on the basis of his understanding that Abbott was a Liberal and staunch anti-Republican. Abbott spent his week in Washington meeting communists.

Political labels can obscure as much as they reveal. When trying to guess what political parties stand for based on what they call themselves, nowhere is as confusing as Europe. Here’s a test: which politician recently spoke of a ‘vision’ of having ‘zero asylum-seekers’, based on worries over ‘social cohesion’? Marine Le Pen? Nigel Farage? Maybe Hungary’s Viktor Orbán?

No; it was Denmark’s youthful, female Social Democrat Prime Minister, Mette Frederiksen, whose minority government is supported by other Green-Left parties. Frederiksen has impeccable Leftist credentials. After teenage activism on rain forests, whales and apartheid, she moved, via trade union youth issues and academic work on Africa, to spending  the last 20 years as a Social Democrat politician.

Yet, contrary to the rule book, on matters of asylum and immigration, Frederiksen is well to the right of John Howard or Tony Abbott. Hers is the only Western government sending (non-criminal) Syrian refugees home. She also champions sending asylum-seekers in Europe to Australian-style offshore processing centres. Frederiksen’s even more radical when it comes to jettisoning multicultural pieties – she is introducing laws to limit ‘non-Westerners’ to 30 per cent of the population in any given area; she voted for Denmark’s banning of face-coverings, including the burqa and niqab; and she wants Muslim schools closed.

Frederiksen’s policies are clearly based on her view that it’s the lower classes which pay the price for mass immigration. Denmark’s experience with Islam looms large. The country has 320,000 Muslims, about 5.5 per cent of the population, ten times as many as in 1980. Concerns over integration, disproportionate criminality and terrorism have driven the success of the right-wing, anti-Islam Danish People’s Party, on whose support minority conservative governments have been dependent for much of the past two decades. Frederiksen clearly thinks the way to stay in power is to steal their policies.

Denmark’s rightward shift has echoes in neighbouring Sweden, where another minority Social Democrat government, under Prime Minister Stefan Löfven, is having second thoughts about its previous enthusiasm for open borders and multiculturalism. His government in 2015 accepted 160,000 asylum-seekers, proportionately more than any other country in Europe. Immigration dominated the 2018 elections, where Sweden’s newer counterpart to the Danish People’s Party, the Democrats, surged to 17 per cent of the vote. With rape statistics and gang-related crime growing rapidly, opinion polls show Swedes want the brakes put on immigration. Clearly not unrelatedly, the Löfven government has joined the east-central European Visegrad countries in rejecting EU pressure to share around asylum-seekers who reach its shores. But you’ll struggle to find much English-language media reporting on all of this. While the commentariat highlights every outrage to left-metropolitan opinion of Le Pen, Salvini or Orbán, its attitude to Scandinavia’s newly politically incorrect Social Democrats is to ignore them.

While parts of Europe’s Left move rightwards, former bastions of conservatism have passed them, moving in the opposite direction. Germany’s Christian Democrats, the party of Konrad Adenauer and Helmut Kohl, long firmly anchored in competent government and Western solidarity, have drifted leftwards under Angela Merkel. Distinguished German journalist Boris Kálnoky describes her as to the left of her Social Democrat predecessor, Gerhard Schroeder. Helmut Kohl’s funeral in 2017 was illustrative. Kohl admired Hungary’s Viktor Orbán as a fellow Christian Democrat and agreed with his opposition to Merkel’s invitation to the third world to relocate to Europe in 2015. He made it clear in his will that he wanted Orbán, not Merkel, to speak at his funeral. Merkel ignored Kohl’s wishes and spoke instead of Orbán.

Merkel unilaterally decided to close down Germany’s nuclear power stations and instead has been prepared to make the country reliant on Russian gas. Also, she used Germany’s presidency of the EU late last year to push through agreement on an EU-China investment agreement, a strategic victory for Xi’s regime given strong international misgivings about human rights and its responsibility for the Covid pandemic. Anger with Merkel’s incompetence over Germany’s glacial vaccination rollout has translated into signs, astonishingly, that voters may have more confidence in the Greens to govern competently than in the Christian Democrats.

The other prize for political party misnomers goes of course to the UK’s Conservatives. A recent article in The Spectator described the Tories as to the left of Germany’s Greens. Indeed, to meet its 2050 zero carbon commitment, the government is to start pressuring 600,000 households annually to spend an average £18,000 to replace gas heating with heat pumps – which are less effective – plus additional thousands on improving energy efficiency. This will be as the poor benighted Brits contemplate non-electric new vehicles being banned from sale from 2030. The Tories can expect fun trying to sell these policies in the 2024 election, especially among voters in working class bits of northern England who thought in 2019 they were voting for conservatives.

By contrast there’s been what should have been a good news story for the government. Its Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, set up to assess alleged racial discrimination, found no evidence of ‘structural racism’ and concluded that family circumstances and other non-racial factors were the key determinants in varying life outcomes for minorities. And Britain compared well on eradicating discrimination compared with other white-majority countries. Even though nine of the ten members of the commission were non-white, the Left reacted by hurling abuse at them, with one Cambridge academic comparing the chairman, Tony Sewell, of Jamaican ancestry, to Goebbels. Yet, in a dismal echo of Johnson’s equivocation when mobs were tearing down statues last year, neither he nor any of his ministers came out to defend Sewell or his fellow commissioners.

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