So, it turns out that an orchestrated witch-hunt isn’t a terribly effective way of stopping Nigel Farage. Perhaps, next time, we could try addressing the legitimate concerns of ordinary UKIP voters. I know it sounds crazy, but it might just work.
Meanwhile, in Germany, a eurosceptic party called the Alternative für Deutschland (I’ll leave the translation to you) has won seven seats in the European Parliament. By contemporary German standards this is dramatic stuff, but what sort of party is the AfD?
Here’s one take, an article by Barbara Supp for Spiegel Online, which focuses on the AfD’s leader, Bernd Lucke:
“If you want to understand his party’s politics, it helps to look at his campaign posters, with slogans like ‘Have Courage to Be Germany,’ ‘For a Solid Currency Instead of Euro Debt Insanity,’ ‘Draghi Gambles, You Pay,’ ‘Clear Rules Are Needed for Immigration,’ or ‘Immigration Yes, But not Into Our Social System.’ One shows Kim Jong Un and poses the question: ‘What do the fat Korean kid and the EU have in common? Their understanding of democracy.’”
Not exactly Mein Kampf, is it?
But there I go, mentioning the war. In my defence I should point out that the author of the above article started it (the mentions, that is) with a reference to Germany’s dark past:
“[Lucke] said [the AfD] had successfully ‘protested against the degeneration of democracy.’
“Degeneracy, a word straight from the National Socialist vocabulary – as in ‘degenerate art.’”
It’s also a word straight from any standard dictionary:
“Lucke likes to say there is a language police in Germany – like a thought police that forbids the use of certain open, honest words. But by using terms like ‘thought police’ he also seems to give himself carte blanche to trash talk people as being narrow-minded. It’s a slippery slope.”
Perhaps the real slippery slope is the unequal standards applied to parties like UKIP and the AfD on the one hand, and their leftwing and liberal opponents on the other. While the latter are encouraged to dish out crude accusations of racism and extremism, any attempt by the former to respond with the slightest intemperance is taken as further proof of just how extreme they are.
To be sure, the sort of back-and-forth we’ve seen in Britain between and UKIP and its enemies is far from edifying, but the unpleasantness can be found on both sides. The inability of the political and media establishment to recognise this, is the surest sign of what I’ve described as UKIP Derangement Disorder – a panicky, and sometimes bullying, attitude that has helped to drive support towards UKIP.
In an era where ‘anti-system’ parties of various kinds are challenging the political establishment, we need a much more objective means of distinguishing between them. Now that they’re represented in European Parliament, which organises itself into multinational groupings, there’s no better way of judging the protest parties then by the company they keep.
Leaving aside the parties of the hard left, there are four categories of non-federalist political parties. The most moderate is the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group to which the British Conservatives belong. Next there’s the Europe of Freedom and Democracy (EFD) group to which UKIP belongs. Then there’s a new group called the European Alliance for Freedom (EAF) that Marine Le Pen is trying to form. Finally, out on the furthest fringes, are nakedly extremist parties like Greece’s Golden Dawn, Hungary’s Jobbik and the German’s National Democratic Party (if the British National Party hadn’t lost all their MEPs then they too would be in this category).
Now, the vital ingredient in this alphabet soup is what the four groupings think of one another. The EAF doesn’t want anything to do with the overt extremists of the Golden Dawn variety. Meanwhile, the EFD doesn’t want anything to do with the covert extremism it believes still lurks within the EAF – which is why Nigel Farage has rejected Marine Le Pen’s offer of an alliance. That leaves the ECR as the group that wants to reform rather than scrap the European Union, but which has individual members open to cooperation with elements of the EFD.
As for Germany’s AfD, Bernd Lucke is quite clear that he not only rejects the most extreme category, but also the EAF and the EFD. In fact, he’d like to join the ECR. Whether the ECR will let him is still unclear. There’s speculation that Angela Merkel is putting David Cameron under pressure to keep the AfD out.
It is, of course, right for the members of the ECR to exercise necessary caution. However, judging by the Spiegel article – which isn’t exactly sympathetic – the main thing that the AfD is guilty of is offering voters an alternative.