Rik Worth 11th April 2019
The 2014 European Parliament election was a bit of a shocker. Ukip did frightening well, winning 24 seats and 27% of the UK vote.
This was somewhat embarrassing for the two major parties, with the Conservatives losing seats heavily, as their more eurosceptic voter-base moved to Ukip, and Labour becoming the first opposition party to fail to win a European Parliamentary (EP) Election in 30 years.
We were embarrassed as voters too, demonstrating that we pay so little attention to Europe — voter turnout was 35.6%, well below the European average — that we allowed a party led by a man who had never been elected to represent our nation on the continent, and arguably lay the foundations for the infinite cluster-fuck that is Brexit.
And while we’ve all been in the infuriating, confusing and endless political purgatory that’s centred on our relationship with Europe, we haven’t been paying attention to how we are represented in Europe. Because why would we? It’s not like anything makes sense anymore?
MOVING TO EUROPE
Once in the EP, Ukip joined the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD) parliamentary group, a eurosceptic group made up of politicians across Europe working together to prove Europe can’t work together. The fact that they haven’t succeeded proves them right? Or wrong? Again, it doesn’t make any sense.
At home, Ukip faced its own problems with regular accusations of racism, and Nigel Farage’s continued inability to win a local election. Farage maintained all along that it was unfair to call Ukip a racist party, when they are just a group with “legitimate concerns about immigration” that just enjoy massively racist dog-whistle posters.
Ukip eventually fractured after Farage’s departure, with some leaving to join him in his new Brexit Party formed in January this year, some remaining in Ukip with new leader Gerard Batten, and a couple here and there becoming independents for some indiscretion or another.
Farage’s totally-not-racist Brexit Party (two of the original founders, Catherine Blaiklock and Michael McGough, had to resign within two months after being caught making Islamophobic, antisemitic and homophobic remarks) has nine MEPs and is still nestled under the EFDD, along with three Ukip MEPs and five former-Ukip MEPs.
Some remaining members of Ukip left after Gerard Batten’s appointment to leader in April 2018, worried about his shift to the far-right. That’s right, members of Ukip found Ukip to be too racist to be a part of.
James Carver MEP left to become an independent under the EFDD, citing party policies on the burqa (spoiler: they are not into them) making it too difficult for him to represent his Muslim constituency. William Dartmouth MEP did the same, saying Ukip was being used as a vehicle associated with for “homophobic and anti-Islamic” beliefs.
Bill Etheridge MEP moved over to the Brexit Party because of Ukip’s increasingly nationalist views — whether or not homophobia bothered him is not on the record — and Patrick O’Flynn went off to the Social Democratic Party after Batten hired former English Defence League boss Tommy Robinson as an advisor.
MOVING TO THE FAR RIGHT
In February this year, with those fair-weather fascists out of the way, Ukip leader Batten re-shifted what remained of Britain’s winning, elected representation in Europe from the EFDD to the Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF).
It’s probably just a coincide ENF could also stand for European National Front, although it’s not, given one of its founding members was French National Rally (RN) nee Front president Marie Le Pen. Le Penn is known for her radical immigration policies — stopping it altogether — her racist, revisionist, antisemitic father and her anti-Islamic attitude.
But it’s not a coincidence that MEPs told us the ENF is informally known as the “Europe for Nazis and Fascists” group in Brussels.
The ENF was founded by a number of far-right politicians in Europe, including Geert Wilders of the Party of Freedom (he also hates Islam, and called for the Quran to be outlawed like Mein Kampf), Matteo Salvini of Italy’s Northern League (he wants to ban same-sex marriage to return to the traditional family values of legalising brothels, wants easier access to guns and isn’t crazy about vaccines), and then-Ukip member Janice Atkinson (eventually kicked outed from the party for fiddling her expenses). They’re like the Beatles of shitty politicians.
I don’t think you could call Ukip racist but it’s Islamophobic
Atkinson has since become an independent but still gets to hang out with her Ukip buddies Gerard Batten, Stuart Agnew and Jane Collins in the ENF. Meanwhile, Batten has proven to be more openly Islamophobic than his predecessors (he called Islam a “death cult”) and is happily shifting further right, or just gives less of a shit than Farage did about being so far right.
Former Ukip chairman David Cambell Bannerman told the Overtake: “Ukip have shifted from being anti-EU to being an Islamophobic party. I mean, you’ve got the PVV (Party for Freedom) in Holland, which is Geert Wilders, and you’re getting more towards the National Front in France and that sort of thing, which is more is more anti-Islamic.
“I don’t think you could call Ukip racist, but it’s Islamophobic.”
It might seem a few bad apples dropped from the Ukip tree aren’t something to worry about, but remember the phrase is, “A few bad apples spoil the bunch.” And despite the apparent virtue of those leaving Ukip as a result of its shift into the far-right, they are still either pretty right-wing or not acting against the right.
The Overtake spoke to Sarah Chander, a senior advocacy officer for European Network Against Racism (ENAR), a pan-European advocacy group that monitors racism in the EU and actively builds networks to promote progressive race-related legislation.
Some Tories — you wouldn’t describe them as progressive — they are doing better than some French socialists on race
She described the influence on the EP British MEPs have. “We don’t realise it but the UK is a lot more progressive in terms of equality. [British MEPS] are more used to people of colour being a part of Britain, and they are much more aware of the mechanism needed for racial equality; much more aware of the need for racial diversity.”
Broadly speaking, as a group, British MEPs tend to be further to the left than their continental counterparts.
“For example, some Tories, you wouldn’t describe them as progressive — I wouldn’t describe them as progressive — but in the European Parliament, they are doing better than some French socialists on race.”
Non-Ukip or non-former Ukip MEPs have a diluting effect on the far right in Europe. But, this is only helpful if there is active push-back from these MEPs.
Take the resolution on the 26 March regarding the fundamental rights of people of African descent in Europe. Essentially, this resolution was put together to ensure black people across Europe aren’t discriminated against. The resolution passed with 535 votes in favour, 80 against and 44 abstaining. The bulk of the voting against was made up of the ENF (including Batten and his Ukip), while Farage and his cronies abstained.
I’m still a Ukip MEP and my policies have not changed
What we have is a faction voting against actions dealing with discrimination and another tactically abstaining. “There are very few people who want to take such an extreme stance on that,” says Chander, “unless you really have some problem with the concept of race or migrants.”
Jane Collins, Ukip MEP for Yorkshire and the Humber, who didn’t vote at all in this resolution, told the Overtake she was happy to join with the ENF.
“It was an opportunity to sit in a group where I wasn’t just a number and money for the furtherment of Nigel Farage’s political career,” she said. “I’m still a Ukip MEP, and my policies have not changed.”
So there can be some debate as to whether the Ukip that was elected in 2014 has gone further right; whether it was always far-right — given that, according to Collins, policies haven’t changed — or Farage used the far-right to gain steam, then moved closer to centre.
Here is the rub. Regardless of whether or not Ukip have moved or were always far-right, the centre-ground is being taken by the right, and without British MEPs who are staunchly against regressive policies (rather than just abstaining), things look to get worse.
ENF founders Le Pen and Wilders have both co-opted LGBT+ issues and used them to push an anti-Islamophobic agenda and appear more progressive. At the same time, their co-founder Salvini has been actively promoting a return to “traditional family values”, so their concern about discrimination against the gay community might not be all it seems.
Last week Salvini announced that after the upcoming election, he would be forming a new parliamentary group — the European Alliance of Peoples and Nations (EAPN). This new group will consist of members of the EFN and groups closer to the centre, such as the EFDD and the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR). While these groups are still conservative and on the right, their blending with the ENF legitimises the latter’s attitudes and policies, something Chander called “the proliferation of the right”.
“The more the far-right infiltrates the centre, the more impact they have on the narrative, on legislation,” said Chander. Salvini’s new group could potentially be the third-largest voting block in the EP, and because it takes from a large set of parties, its far-right members are legitimised by its centrist one.
MEPs have to take on the far right and pick apart what they are saying
Chander doesn’t necessarily think there is a lack of interest in European Parliament amongst Brits, but rather we need stronger, progressive MEPs who will challenge racism and extremism openly. They have to be “unapologetically anti-racist”, she says.
“MEPs have to take on the far right, challenge what they’re saying, pick apart what they are saying and offer a better alternative.”
If we leave the EU, our legacy will be one of legitimising the rise of the far right in Europe, then abandoning it. But can we do anything if we stay? Even if it’s only until 31 October this year, we have to vote. We have to have a say, not abstain, sit back and watch hate rise up in Europe — even if it’s a Europe we aren’t a part of.
Also part of our MEPs investigation:
Rik Worth 11th April 2019