fbpx

Strategies for left organising against the radical right

Rory Hamilton

I am very conscious that we have highlighted the issue of the far right in Europe before, and for many in Scotland this might feel like some remote issue which is no longer of relevance to us. However, I believe it absolutely crucial that we observe the recent European elections to take some important learnings for our own politics, media, and discourse, not least because we are in the midst of a General Election ourselves, where the Conservative Party has mainstreamed far right ideas, and we’ve had years of Nigel Farage’s putrid brand of politics platformed by mainstream media outlets. So what I will lay out here, to give some semblance of relevance, is 1) a brief overview of the European election results, 2) a ‘debunk’ of some popular misconceptions in the reading of these results, and 3) a short discussion of what Scottish/UK parties, activists and media can learn from this.

  1. European Elections 2024

First, I should note that not all countries have finished counting votes, however we have a good enough projection to know what the European Parliament will look like. Broadly, the Parliament is made up of blocs of like-minded parties which also means that there are a lot of intra- and inter-group dynamics to account for, too much for this overview to detail, however this adds to the complications of a straightforward reading of the results (as we’ll see below).

There were gains and losses across the board, with the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) remaining the largest bloc with a steady 7 seat gain, along with right-wing (ranging from Cameroonian centre-right politics to the far-right of Giorgia Meloni’s FdI) European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) also increasing their share by 11 seats. Additionally there were gains for independents and unaligned political parties, often those who have not been represented in the EP before. The biggest losses of the night were for the Greens/European Free Alliance (-21) and the liberal Renew Europe (-29). The Social Democratic bloc also lost around 19 seats, and the most overtly populist radical right group, Identity and Democracy also lost 15 seats, although some of these losses may be redistributed under the NI/Others group.

Some other key, raw statistics we should consider before delving into the headlines is turnout. The EP elections are generally considered second order elections, i.e. many people don’t see how the EP has a role to play in their lives, unlike a national or municipal parliament for example, and therefore turnouts are often lower. This was certainly a common trend in the UK while it was still a member of the EU. Given this, total turnout across the 27 states was 51%. Only 4 countries out of 27 saw turnouts higher than 60%, two of whom (Luxembourg and Malta, have populations of less than 1,000,000), and the others (Belgium and Germany) being fairly europhile in political outlook. The countries with the lowest turnout were Croatia (21%), Lithuania (28%), Bulgaria, Latvia, and Slovakia (34% each). For context, UK turnout at the 2019 EP elections was 37% versus a 67% turnout at the 2019 General Election; in Scotland this was 40% at the EP election and 63.5% at the 2021 Scottish Parliament election.

  1. Debunking the headlines

Now, the main highlights you might have read are highlighting concerns (again) around the gains made by the far-right (an unacceptably vague term in the first place). Most notably, the fact that the Prime Minister of Belgium has resigned, after his liberal party performed poorly, and the President of France, Emmanuel Macron, has called a snap parliamentary election (not a presidential election) in response to the gains made by Marine Le Pen’s far right Rassemblement Nationale (RN). Furthermore, many (on the right) are reading this as a rejection of climate/environmentalist politics given the corresponding decline of the Greens.

So what does this actually mean? How much of this should we be worried about?

Firstly, the increase in seats for the far right, is largely impacted by the gains made in a few bigger countries such as France (RN), Italy (FdI), and Germany (AfD). We must remember that the EU does not solely comprise of these larger countries, despite the significant influence they have. In fact, if we look North, there were key gains for the Green-Left in Denmark, Sweden, Finland, and also in concentrated urban areas, such as Antwerp in Belgium. In Denmark, their share of the vote increased from 8% in 2019 to 10%, this was done by mobilising an alternative origin story of the decline in public services, identifying a wealthy few as the culprit. They also engaged in an energetic grassroots strategy that reached deep into communities to build trust. In Finland, the Green Party is far more centrist than the Greens in other EU countries, and while their vote share declined from 16% in 2019 to 11%, the eco-socialist Left Alliance, led by Li Andersson increased their vote share from 7% to 17% – the highest ever. Meanwhile, in Sweden, despite the headlines made in 2022 by the gains made by the populist radical right Swedish Democrats, their vote declined, and the Left/Green parties increased their vote from 11% to 14%.

What’s also important about this is that we should look at the share of the vote by the far right in relation to turnout. While the main media reports will highlight that the RN received 32% of the vote in France, on a 52% turnout, this becomes a mere 16.6% of the population who backed Le Pen. And while Le Pen’s party may still have received the largest vote in France, this still means that 84% of registered voters in France rejected her ideology either through abstention or casting their vote for someone else. It would be a critical mistake to begin announcing that the ideas of the far right are the most popular in France. Furthermore, when we look at the geographical distribution/concentration of voters in France, we can see that the major urban centres in France favour centre and left politics. As a rural boy myself, I should also observe that this doesn’t discount the importance of rural voters, but this has important implications for organising capacity. The scattered patterns of support for the far right means that their ability to mobilise is limited, in contrast to the closeness of the urban politics of the cities, where left groups can coordinate, canvass, build support and even construct alternate politics beyond arenas of the state. Some of this disorganisational capacity in the right (not just far right) appears to be reflected in the leadership as well, as we have seen in the last 72 hours, as the Left has very quickly organised itself into a bloc for the parliamentary elections, whilst Les Republicains (the party of Sarkozy and Chirac), RN and also Eric Zemmour’s Reconquete appear to be in chaos over coalition strategies. And with the first polling indicating that the Left alliance is a mere three points behind the RN, this perhaps shows there is an opportunity for the left to make inroads.

The consideration of turnout is important, as a comparison of vote share to turnout shows that no group of far right parties in any country gained more share of registered voters than the 19% received by RN and Reconquete in France. This splintered dynamic among far right parties is also important to bear in mind. For example, in Italy, whilst Italian PM Giorgia Meloni’s neo-nazi FdI increased their vote share, this would only be significant if they increased their vote share, whilst other prominent far right parties also maintained the same levels of support as they did in 2019. Whereas, in reality, at around 35% between Matteo Salvini’s Lega and the FdI, their combined vote actually dropped from around 40% in 2019. What this tells us is that voters are likely reorganising within and between far right parties, rather than the far right parties (in Italy certainly) are attracting more voters from elsewhere. Indeed, Italy, joins the Nordic countries in bucking the trend for a falling Green vote – significant when combined with an increased social democratic / Left vote.

However, I should caveat this analysis. I am by no means suggesting that this is a victory for liberal democracy, nor am I suggesting that the far right were resoundingly defeated at the EP elections, especially given the way immigration in particular has been so centred in policy discourse, and the capitulation of the centre-right to far right demands on responses to immigration. But this leads my to my final section…

  1. What can […] learn from Europe?

Centrists

The key question we have to be asking, is why are voters voting for the far right. Beyond my discussion of any ‘gains’, there is clearly still a significant minority of voters choosing the Nigel Farage/Reform-type politics represented in many of these parties. What are they presenting? Empty, vague rhetoric which could probably quite easily be taken up by any party (see Giorgia Meloni’s tactics), but means that liberal and centre-right politicians and parties get drawn into immigration discourses where the populist strategy of these radical right parties comes into play.

What this means is that parties and politicians like Nigel Farage and Reform are capitalising on the grievances of people who are being ‘left behind’. And while, they might insist that it is immigrants and environmentalists who are to blame, either because jobs are being stolen, towns are becoming overcrowded or ordinary people are being made to pay extra taxes to reach Net Zero, it is fundamentally neoliberal, austerity economics which is driving people into poverty. What Farage, Le Pen and co are doing is constructing an ‘other’, an outsider, upon whom the ills are easily blamed. And while this evidently has a racial aspect to it – quite a core part of the message actually, “they’re not like us so its their fault” – they need an other because they themselves are beneficiaries of the status quo, of the neoliberal economic orthodoxy. Farage and Le Pen in particular paint themselves as political outsiders who rail against the establishment, they are ‘of the people’ (while immigrants are not). However Farage was a city banker before he entered politics nearly 30 years ago; he has been a serial campaigner in that time, and frequented the airwaves and TV screens with almost consistent regularity – he is part of the establishment, not against it; he benefits from trickle down economics because wealth is hoarded at the top. Similarly, Le Pen comes from a political family, her father Jean-Marie Le Pen having founded the RN in its earlier guise, and similarly having been part of the mainstream political discourse for over 20 years. 

What is clear is that adopting far right rhetoric and policies does not work, it only mainstreams their ideas further, so rather than bolstering your own electoral base (and persecuting minority groups to do so) it emboldens the agenda of properly dangerous actors. As Keir Starmer unveiled his uninspiring manifesto yesterday, it becomes apparent that ‘fiscal rules’ is no ‘change’ as he’s proposing – it is a continuation of the economic agenda which has driven people to disaffection, and enabled a far right narrative of the ‘left behind’ to develop. I fear four or five years of Starmer’s austerity-lite will only reinforce Reform’s position.

Eco-socialists

So this leads us to consider what should we do on the green-left? First, is a reiteration of the above argument, but with a targeted message. The Scottish Greens in particular should heed warning from the EP results. Where the Greens did worst in Europe was in Germany, with their share of the vote declining from 20% to around 12%. The German Greens have been part of Olaf Scholz’s traffic light coalition, and occupied some key positions in government, in particular Finance and Foreign Ministries. Instead of pursuing a redistributive agenda, however, over a number of years, the German Greens have been stepping closer to a version of Green capitalism which may have enabled them to enter government, but the consequences of pursuing a status quo-agenda, rather than a radical programme such as a Green New Deal, are becoming clear. Similar parallels might be found in Scotland, particularly given the Greens’ handshaking with the private sector over PFI for Trees, ScotWind, and the DRS. I hope that they use their time in opposition to come round to a more radical position (in practicality, as well as in rhetoric).

The final key take away is that voters are crying out for an alternative positive vision, and they respond to grassroots organising around the key issues that affect them. As demonstrated in Denmark, the establishment and sustaining of long-term community relations was effective in mobilising a vote for the Left and the Greens; there is even evidence of this grassroots-based success in the UK and Scotland, under Corbyn in 2017, and the YES campaign (RIC in particular) in the 2014 independence referendum. We seem to have forgotten how to organise, or perhaps more moderate political leaders in the SNP and Labour have viewed this as a threat and sought to suppress. But their suppression has been effective – the Left options at this general election are scattered and uncoordinated (from within the Labour Party to the number of independents such as Jeremy Corbyn, Faiza Shaheen, Leanne Mohammed, Andrew Feinstein). Where is the coordinated strategy we might cry? There must be more to be done to a) get disaffected voters to turn out and b) get these campaigns into working class communities, those most likely affected by deindustrialisation and probably least likely to vote, but with the most to gain from voting for a strong Left bloc. This is evident in Germany, where the divisions between East and West remain clear, as a deindustrialised former East Germany lacks investment, opportunities whilst also boasts the highest vote shares for both the far right AfD and far left Die Linke. The same polarisation will be replicated in places like Grangemouth if we dont build a narrative to overthrow this crumbling permacrisis induced by neoliberal economics.


All data described in this article has been analysed and worked from raw sources at: https://results.elections.europa.eu/

See also: https://www.theguardian.com/world/ng-interactive/2024/jun/09/european-elections-results-2024-europe-eu-parliament

Highly recommend reading this piece from a former lecturer of mine: https://aurelmondon.medium.com/eu-elections-results-in-france-earthquake-or-all-too-predictable-3736dfeae4a1

5 thoughts on “Strategies for left organising against the radical right”

  1. Thios is ok as far as it goes (and too long!) but the fonal takeaway falls back on the same tired Momentum-style use of “radical” attached to Green Deal – where is any mention, for instance, of just transition or investment in skills or where the jobs in renewabl;e energy are going to come from and who wll get them (retrained oil and gas workers) and why there are not enough in Scotland…

  2. Ordinary voters don’t care whether parties are labelled hard-left, hard-right, or anything else in between – they care about whether parties are trying to address their concerns. Too often, working people, who live in working class estates, want the police to arrest and the courts jail those responsible for crime in their communities – and middle class activists, living in their lower-crime neighbourhoods, are the ones who are arguing for community based punishments instead of time in prison. If the main parties don’t address the issues that concern ordinary voters, newer parties willing to do so will begin to grow. Don’t blame the voters for this…

  3. florian albert

    ‘why are voters voting for the far right ?’
    In a word, immigration. Hove you not noticed this happening in elections in Sweden, Finland, France, Germany, Spain, Austria, Holland and Italy ? This creates problems for the left. Mostly, the left supports immigration. There are good aspects to this but, also, less attractive reasons. First, virtue signalling; it lets middle class people feel good about themselves. Second, it keeps the prices in the service sector low.
    The left across Europe ignores the fact that, in its enthusiasm for immigration it is embracing neo-liberalism. The voters certainly notice this.
    The right’s success across Europe has been won at the ballot box. In Scotland, the left has given up on elections and
    trying to persuade voters. The Scottish left has failed to learn the lesson from being ignored by Nicola Sturgeon. In a democratic country, only those who succeed at the ballot box have political power.

  4. Robert Parker

    We can’t ignore the fascist elephant in the room… the, so far, small extreme organisations like Patriotic Alternative, Highland Division & Homeland Party.
    They are as big a threat as Fa rage’s Respect (plc) party..
    They are active in Scotland from Elgin to Erskine and wherever they appear (I believe Captain Toast was arrested for his posters in Bathgate). People need to be warned about them and encouraged to confront them wherever they appear.

  5. The Scottish Greens are remakable in how homogenously pale-skinned they are. They need to dump Slater and Harvie, preferably before Biffa sues the government for £200 million for Slater’s really badly thought-out corporate capitalist deposit return fiasco. That’s more than the ferries fiasco, but with a sum-total of fuck-all to show for it.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Shopping Cart
Scroll to Top