May 9, 2000
Right Wing parties across the European Union have suddenly discovered a new strength. A year ago they were feeling their feet at the European elections, then they were seemingly knocked for six by Left Wing governments with a more ruthless streak. A possible victory in the election to be mayor of London was blown off course for the Conservatives with a politically motivated police investigation of their candidate, the popular novelist Jeffrey Archer. The German government used the Kohl funding scandal to financially cripple their main opposition, the Christian Democrats, by withdrawing state aid (who said that state aid for political parties will help democracy?). The Italian government again tried to delve into the murky business dealings of their main opponent the media tycoon, Berlusconi. The Right when it wasn't weakened by internal wars (as in France) had been crippled by the astute actions of Europe's centre-left governments. Or so it seemed.
The right has taken a bad knock and is back up again. The British Conservatives once again out polled the Labour Party by about 7%, whereas the opinion polls showed them 20% behind. The German Christian Democrats suddenly seem to be rapidly climbing in the opinion polls once they had properly ditched Kohl. In Austria the Social Democrats are out of power for the first time in a generation. The Italian right won a set of local elections in such a resounding way that they forced the resignation of the Prime Minister.
The reasons for the resurgence of the right are fairly complex, in Italy and Germany there is a resentment about the austerity measures brought about by the Maastricht treaty. In Britain there is a fierce debate about the effectiveness of the police and a feeling that taxes are being ratcheted up. In Austria there was a general feeling that the Social Democrats had been in for too long and had become too corrupt. But there was one issue that was common throughout the whole of Europe, a resentment towards immigrants.
Immigration presents a problem to European politicians. Europe needs immigrants. With the average European growing older there will need to be a large influx of working age refugees. The pensions crisis is a looming problem in most EU countries, with the exception of the UK, Ireland and Holland. The governments in most of these countries have realised far too late that the pay as you go system is like a pyramid scheme, lucrative for those at the start of the queue but ultimately unsustainable. Many measures have been tried, such as lowering the payouts to poverty levels and putting high profile but ungenerous tax breaks on pension payments. But the root problem remains, many people expect to retire and have been led to believe that they will have a decent retirement, and free health care. They are a growing number which means not only that they will be more expensive to look after but that they will have an increasing number of votes. There is only one way in which they can be cared for, and that is by allowing in more immigrants to produce more money.
The problem with immigration is not that it is not needed but that it is being done in the wrong way. The present system of virtually ignoring economic migrants and welcoming asylum seekers is actually increasing the burden on the welfare state rather than decreasing it as intended. Asylum seekers are rarely allowed to work, and so become welfare addicts at an early stage. The "backlash" against immigrants is rarely an actual backlash, and more a wish to preserve the welfare state, as witnessed by the strongest reactions to immigration coming from those countries with the strongest welfare states France and Austria. The inability of the liberal political elite to grasp the nature of the problem means that they overestimate it's severity. Calls for a high handed refusal to listen to the people, from establishment organs such as the Economist and the London Independent, are frequently heard. Because of the refusal to listen they don't quite know what is being said.
Many non-interventionists confuse intervention and immigration. They are not the same issue. Some non-interventionists are anti-immigration, such as Pat Buchanan, but for different reasons. Buchanan sees intervention as weakening American military power and needlessly making enemies while immigration (and free trade) worsens the economic position of working class Americans. Other arguments against immigration, whether on population growth, cultural dilution or even crime have nothing to do with the case against intervention. It would be a massive mistake for anti-interventionists to tie their boat with those wishing to restrict immigration. It is perfectly consistent to believe in both causes (as with protectionism) but it is also perfectly consistent to be a non-interventionist and a believer in free trade and economic immigration (as I am). But the biggest problem is not that it will turn off some potential supporters on that score it will attract as many if not more but that it leaves us with a tactical liability.
Ask yourself, if having to choose between subsidised immigration and global intervention, which would your average liberal elitist prefer? Which would he (or sometimes she) think makes the world a better place, or pays higher lobbying fees? The answer is obvious. The fact is that if a serious isolationist movement drawing in non-intervention, immigration restriction and protection, got off the ground and caught the imagination of an electorally significant number of voters, what would the authorities do? They would throw away the peripheral immigrant and keep the foreign policy. There really is no short cut to educating the voters as to the cost, both economic and moral, of our disastrous urge to intervene everywhere.
There is one bright spot, and that is the willingness of the right to regard less as being out of bounds. The consensus that has kept not just the subjects of immigration and trade, but also foreign policy, away from the children has been breaking. The fact is that democracy is the peace party's best ally. If we have an opposition that is interested in winning votes and prepared to oppose then we have won a large part of the battle. For our belief, that countries should only go to war when it affects the national interest is both popular and it is opposed to the present consensus. All it needs is for democracy to work.
I am not saying that we should only work with the ideologically pure, that is the fastest route to political impotence. All I am saying is that we should not pretend to be what we are not. If a noninterventionist who is against immigration stands for election then if we support him it should be because of his non-interventionism, and we should make clear that this is the case. It will do the cause no good in the long term if I pretend that I believe in things that the paleo-conservatives believe in, so as to get them on my side. I will not pretend that I think that free trade destroys prosperity when I believe the opposite. Similarly I will not pretend that I am pro-choice so as to get New Left believers or Libertarians on board. The case for nonintervention has to stand on its merits. If we are subsumed into a larger movement it can be bought off with a sop on immigration or tariffs and the important issue, our governments' disastrous habit of picking stupid fights, will be overlooked. The public can be won over, indeed in America they have been, and the political elites can be forced to follow. To do that we must stay focussed, and honest.
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