Sunday, June 16, 2024

UK
Why the conspiracy of silence from our political parties when it comes to corporate greed?


14 June, 2024 

Political parties stigmatise people for claiming welfare support but pay no attention of the spiralling cost of corporate welfare which is enriching shareholders and company executives

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Election manifestos of all political parties are out as the battle for votes intensifies.

Just like the Conservatives, Labour is planning to squeeze the sick, disabled and poor by cutting benefits though it is dressed-up in vague words. There is no plan to reverse the two-child benefit cap and lift children out of poverty. There is a commitment to “reviewing Universal Credit”, plan “to support more disabled people and those with health conditions into work” and allusions to new “Work Capability Assessments”. Labour has shunned new taxes on the rich or corporations and committed to reduced borrowing, the self-imposed fiscal rules will inevitably squeeze welfare spending. The Resolution Foundation estimates that Labour will need to impose spending cuts of £18bn on unprotected departments such as transport, justice and the Home Office. The real value of welfare payments won’t be maintained.

Of course, any political party can (re)examine public spending and consider welfare reforms but the consequence for individuals and households are not spelled out. All major parties are united in silence on the size of the corporate welfare programme, its effect on the public purse, taxes, household budgets, inflation and more. There is no plan to review subsidies, grants and handouts or protect households from profiteering by companies exploiting their dominant market position.

Big business funds political parties, hands consultancy jobs to legislators and its interests are deeply embedded into the political system. Ever since the 1980s, under the influence of business-funded think-tanks the state has been reconstructed. Instead of directly investing in new industries, such as information technology, biotechnology and aerospace, it has become a guarantor of corporate profits. Numerous publicly-owned entities, such as water, rail, mail, oil, gas and care homes, have been privatised at knock-down prices and eventually sold to foreign investors. This has been accompanied by outsourcing of public services, the private finance initiative (PFI) and corporate bailouts.

Banks are a classic example. At the height of the 2007-08 financial crash, the state suddenly found £1,162bn of cash and guarantees (£133bn cash + £1,029bn of guarantees) to bail out ailing banks. To assist capital markets and speculators it also conjured up £895bn of quantitative easing. In 2022, compensation of £120m was handed to investors in London Capital and Finance. Finance industry profits remain privatised and the cap on bankers’ bonus, which was designed to curb reckless risk-taking, has been scrapped. The economy is yet to fully recover from the bailouts.

Between 2015 and 2023 renewable energy sector received £60bn in public subsidies. Fossil fuel companies for the same period received £80bn. In return, the people don’t own anything. Companies keep the resulting assets and income streams.

In 2022-23, the energy price spike threatened to increase fuel poverty and bad debts of energy companies. The government could have acted to reduce profit margins of energy companies, but didn’t. It instead handed over £78bn to energy companies. British Gas increased its profits ten-fold. BP and shell more than doubled their profits. Under public pressure £39.9bn was recouped through windfall taxes on energy producers. The state is still committed to footing some £24bn of the cost of decommissioning oil and gas rigs through a variety of tax reliefs. Drax burns wood from forests to produce electricity and is contracted to receive subsidy of £10.4bn for the period 2012-2027. Oil giant Equinor could receive subsidies of £3.75bn.

The state routinely hands out hard cash to businesses which were privatised. Avanti West Coast managers famously referred to this as “free money” and “too good to be true”. In the last decade, privatised train companies have received subsidy of over £75.2bn. Labour’s manifesto promises to bring rail companies into public ownership. However that commitment only applies to passenger operating companies and excludes lucrative freight and rolling stock companies.

The government has given £500m to Jaguar and Land Rover for production of batteries for electric vehicles. £500m has been handed to Tata Steel and another £500m to Jingye Steel. The government has provided £5bn subsidy to telecom companies to persuade them to provide internet services to rural areas.

Bailouts, cash, grants and subsidies are not the only avenues of corporate welfare. There are 1,180 tax reliefs, but just 365 have official costings. Many are given to corporations to achieve some economic or social objectives but there is little monitoring. The Chancellor stated that Research and Development (R&D) tax reliefs had been subject to “abuse and fraud. In 2020-21, R&D losses due to error and fraud were £1.13bn. A former head of HMRC urged the government to scrap the “entrepreneurs’ relief”, costing £2bn a year, because it provided “no incentive for real entrepreneurship”.

In 2014, the government created the video games tax relief for games with “culturally British accreditation”. Companies adopted creative strategies to claim the relief. Games such as “Batman”, “Goat Simulator”, “Grand Theft Auto” and “Sonic the Hedgehog” could hardly be described as “culturally British” but received tax relief. James Bond films receive massive subsidies from the UK taxpayers, but the company behind it routinely declares losses and pays little or no corporation tax.

The National Audit Office noted that “there are too many examples where these reliefs either do not achieve their economic objectives or are subject to significant error and fraud, costing the Exchequer billions of pounds. … We have seen examples of tax reliefs where the costs have increased quickly … the government cannot know the cause if it has not carried out adequate compliance work to ensure only legitimate claimants received the reliefs”.

Corporate welfare programmes allow corporations to ride roughshod over workers and customers. Some 4.1m UK workers are in precarious jobs as the use of zero hour contracts and fire and rehire has proliferated. Real average wage is lower than in 2008. People use foodbanks, charity and social security benefits to make ends meet. 38% of the people on Universal Credit are in employment. Their wages are being subsidised by the public purse whilst corporate profit margins have soared.

Water companies have long been permitted to abuse customers. The pricing formula used by water regulator OFWAT guarantees real returns to companies each year. It takes no account of the quality of water or sewage dumping. Too many internet and mobile phone companies are increasing customer bills by the rate of inflation + 3.9% each year even though there is no real increase in their operating costs. It is a similar story at Royal Mail, which was privatised in 2013. At the time of privatisation, first-class postage stamp cost 60p and second-class 50p. Some 11 years later, the first-class postage has rocketed to £1.35 and second-class to 85p, an increase of 70%-125%. The frequency of mail delivery has declined. Royal Mail only meets 74.5% of its targets but that hasn’t persuaded regulators to curb price rises. The companies are effectively raising capital from consumers, whilst companies and shareholders own the resulting assets and receive returns.

The public purse is gouged by drug companies selling medicines to the NHS at inflated prices. For example, a pharmaceutical company charged the NHS £80 for a single pack of tablets that had previously cost less than £1. Another inflated the price of hydrocortisone tablets by more than 10,000% compared with the original branded version.

Companies are allowed to manufacture and sell deadly products certain to inflict disability and premature death. For example, tobacco, alcohol, ultra-processed foods and fossil fuels kill 2.7m people a year in Europe. Neither shareholders nor companies bear the social cost, which falls on society. The public purse funds social irresponsibility and effectively transfers wealth from people to companies.

The Public Accounts Committee reported that the government lost up to £28.5bn to fraud and error in procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE) due to lax checks and controls. A Treasury Minister resigned live in the Lords and accused the government of “arrogance, indolence and ignorance” in its attitude to tackling fraud. He added that banks handing out Covid loans “have been assisted by the Treasury, who appear to have no knowledge or little interest in the consequences of fraud to our economy or our society …Schoolboy errors were made: for example, allowing over 1,000 companies to receive bounce-back loans that were not even trading when Covid struck.”

Political parties stigmatise people for claiming welfare support but pay no attention of the spiralling cost of corporate welfare which is enriching shareholders and company executives. Public services are being cut to fund corporate welfare. Successive governments have failed to publish the full cost of corporate subsidies, grants and tax reliefs and there is considerable fraud. There is little monitoring to check that the handouts deliver the assumed economic objectives. As long as political parties are funded by corporations, there is little chance of critical scrutiny of corporate welfare programmes.

Prem Sikka is an Emeritus Professor of Accounting at the University of Essex and the University of Sheffield, a Labour member of the House of Lords, and Contributing Editor at Left Foot Forward.
UK
EXCLUSIVE: Vote share of two main parties hits historic low three weeks from polling day
14 June, 2024 
General Election
Left Foot Forward 

Compass calls on Labour to reform the voting system 'no longer fit for purpose'



The combined vote share for the two main parties has hit a historic low for this point in the election race, analysis from Compass has revealed.

The progressive, cross-party campaign group compared vote share data from three weeks before polling day in each election since 1951, and found that the vote share for Labour and the Conservatives three weeks before polling day has dropped to a historic low.

Compass said the findings reveal a “deep discontent” from voters at the binary choice and argued that the voting system is no longer fit for purpose. It has called on Labour, should the party win the election, to introduce a voting system that better represents the changing, multi-party face of democracy in the UK.

Opinion polls from the four days leading up to and including June 13th 2024 put the combined share of Labour and Conservative votes at 60.8%. It’s a significant 10% lower compared to the previous lowest figure in 2005, which had the average vote share for the two main parties three weeks ahead of polling day at 71%.

It continues a trend in the long-term decline in vote share for the two main parties. In 1955 Labour and the Conservatives held nearly 97% of the vote. While the analysis shows that this has steadily gone down ever since.

Compass has argued for an end to the First Past the Post (FPTP) system which means the main battle in elections will always be between the two major parties, and means parties can win seats with as little as 35% of the vote.

A Compass spokesperson said: “The never-ending doom loop of First Past the Post locks voters into an abusive cycle where they are constantly forced to pick between two parties they clearly don’t have any enthusiasm for. But fewer and fewer are now doing so.”

The group is campaigning to elect progressive candidates who are committed to reforming the electoral system by introducing proportional representation, which Compass said was “the key to unlocking democracy.”

This general election Compass has secured more than 30 endorsements of PR-supporting candidates with its Win As One campaign.


Hannah Davenport is news reporter at Left Foot Forward

Politicians urged to save UK grassroots music venues and libraries, by urgently investing in the arts

Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead 
15 June, 2024 
Left Foot Forward

'There comes a point where there’s no fat left to trim.'



Ahead of the general election, politicians from all parties are being urged to take action to help save the UK’s music and library sectors from a deepening crisis.

Small music venues are being decimated in Britain. In 2023, 125 venues abandoned live music, and more than half shut entirely due to financial pressure. Soaring utility bills and an average 37.5 percent hike in rent have put the surviving 835 venues at risk. During the same period, remaining venues typically secured profits of just 0.5 percent.

These alarming figures were gathered by the Music Venues Trust (MVT), a charity which represents Grassroots Music Venues (GMVs) across the UK. Its latest annual report found that the grassroots scene remains “significantly underfunded compared to other areas of culture”, despite contributing over £500m to the economy and employing almost 30,000 people.

Separate figures from the Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) show that the UK has lost five nightclubs “every week” in 2024 so far.

Ahead of the forthcoming general election, the MVT has launched a ‘Manifesto for Grassroots Music,’ setting out steps that need to be taken to stop the closure of more GMVs, which are currently running at one per week.

The report calls for the abolition of VAT on GMV tickets and a review of the business rates paid by venues in the sector. It is also asking for a £1 grassroots investment contribution from every arena and stadium ticket sold to support grassroots music, venues, artists and promoters. The £1 levy from every arena and stadium ticket sold for events over a 5,000 capacity was suggested by the recent Culture, Media & Sport Select Committee recommendations as a potential solution to the UK’s dwindling number of small-scale music venues.

The move would mimic the French system where there is a centralised pot of about €200m (£172m) that venues, artists, and promoters can apply for, which is funded by a levy on the gross value of tickets sold at big venues.

Urging politicians to act now, Sophie Brownlee, External Affairs Manager at Music Venue Trust, said:

“The Manifesto is being delivered to every prospective MP in the country with the request that they come out in support of it as part of their campaign to be elected.

“Music communities across the country will also be asking the candidates where they stand on the future of live music in our towns and cities. The time to act is now.”

The Greater Manchester mayor, Andy Burnham has spoken out in support of the proposed plan, including the £1 levy and the VAT cut.

“Music Venue Trust has been instrumental in supporting UK grassroots venues. I’ve seen many of my favourite bands in some of these spaces, and they play a key role in the night-time economy and music scene of Greater Manchester and the wider UK.

“I fully support the recommendations published by the Culture, Media & Sport Select Committee including the introduction of a levy and a targeted VAT cut to halt the rising tide of closures. However, it’s clear that urgent action is needed to support venues and the talented artists playing them,” he added.

Alongside music venues, the fate of Britain’s libraries has also been raised as we approach the general election. Since the Conservatives came to power in 2010, council budgets have been increasingly stretched, with successive central governments cutting grant funding. Since the onset of austerity, council spending on libraries, culture, heritage and tourism, has reduced by almost £500m, as the latest review from County Councils Network (CCN) found. Facing increased financial pressure, local authorities have regularly seen libraries as an easy place to make savings. In the last 14 years, spending on libraries has fallen by almost half (47.9%) since 2010.

“For the last 10 years libraries have had to do more with less,” says James Gray, marketing and advocacy manager for the charity Libraries Connected. “There comes a point where there’s no fat left to trim.”

The challenges UK libraries face was highlighted at the Manchester City of Literature’s Festival of Libraries 2024. The annual event celebrates Greater Manchester’s 133 libraries. The five-day programme of arts, culture, information and technology is supported by Arts Council England and includes a series of talks with high-profile advocates of libraries and literacy.

Actor Christopher Eccleston was among the speakers. Addressing an audience at Stockport Central Library on June 13, Eccleston shared his passion for libraries and books and highlighted some of the challenges libraries face, including funding cuts. He noted how Britian needs to proper arts funding system in place like the French and he hoped that there will be more change of getting arts on the agenda with the new government.

“As an actor, words are the tools of my trade. When I was growing up in Salford the local library provided a vibrant lifeline to the wider world. Libraries feed people’s interests and passions and provide access leading to connections being forged,” said Eccleston.

Caroline Kelly, the festival’s Creative Director, said the objective of the festival is to let people know that libraries are free and for the people. She told Left Foot Forward:

“These vital community spaces offer so much more than just books. They provide free internet and anything from music gigs, poetry nights, drama classes, yoga sessions, murder mystery, history, business advice and access to the arts. Libraries are such an essential service that should not be cut or underfunded, especially in these times.

“Maxine Peake and Chris Eccleston, who both spoke at the festival, said they would not be where they are now with their local library whilst growing up.”

Actors Imelda Staunton and Olivia Colman have also called for urgent political support for the arts in light of research by Equity suggesting funding in the UK has dropped by 16 percent since 2017.

“I want to see all parties promising much more on the arts. They are not just a ‘nice to have’, they are essential to the thriving, confident country we all want to live in,” said Staunton.

Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward
Almost 70,000 sign Stop Arming Israel campaign, as ministers come under increased pressure to act
Yesterday
Left Foot Forward

‘We’re supporting this important case because of the UK’s refusal to abide by its international legal obligations and suspend arms transfers to Israel.’

Newly released government figures show that between the Hamas attack on October 7 and May 31, the UK issued more than 100 arms export licences to Israel.


The figures, which were disclosed by the business department in response to heightened parliamentary scrutiny, found that out of the 108 licenses issued, 37 were classified as military and 63 as non-military, which may include telecommunications equipment intended for use by the Israel Defence Forces (IDF).


The data shows that during the period, no arms export licence application was rejected or revoked. In December, April, and May, three separate decisions were made by ministers to reject calls to suspend arms to Israel. Ministers claim that such decisions are consistent or in line with legal advice.

But multiple campaign groups and international bodies claim that Israel’s use of military equipment in Gaza, which has killed more than 36,700 Palestinians since October 7, risks breaching international humanitarian law. Two leading human rights organisations, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have announced their intention to join a judicial review claim regarding arms sales. This claim has been initiated by the Global Legal Action Network and Al-Haq, a Palestinian human rights group.

Sacha Deshmukh, Amnesty International UK’s chief executive, said: “We’re supporting this important case because of the UK’s refusal to abide by its international legal obligations and suspend arms transfers to Israel.

“There’s a mountain of evidence showing that Israeli forces are committing war crime after war crime in Gaza, going back well before last October.”

Yasmine Ahmed, the director of UK Human Rights Watch, said that the right way to approach Israel’s commitment to “comply with IHL [international humanitarian law) is not by reference to Israel’s subjective interpretation of its compliance with IHL, but by an objective interpretation of what IHL actually requires.”

Oxfam has accused the UK government of being complicit in the catastrophe in Gaza by continuing to sell arms to Israel. The charity has written an open letter to the Trade Secretary and Foreign Secretary, urging the government to stop arming Israel.

“Together we are urging you to immediately halt arms licences and exports to the Government of Israel. This is just one crucial step towards helping to secure a permanent and immediate ceasefire for all Palestinians and Israelis,” the letter states.

The open letter, calling for an end to arms sales, and for an immediate, permanent ceasefire, has been signed by almost 70,000 people.

On June 3, activists dropped a banner from Westminster Bridge calling on the Labour leader Keir Starmer to commit to ending arms sales to Israel, if he becomes prime minister.

Palestine Solidarity Campaign Director, Ben Jamal, called on Starmer “to make clear if he takes international law seriously. If he does, then the course of action is clear – a Labour government would end arms sales to Israel.”

“No ethical or principled government would continue to supply arms to a genocidal state,” said Jamal.


Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward
SPANISH STATE

After the European elections: reassembling an ecosocialist project

STATEMENT BY ANTICAPITALISTAS

TUESDAY 11 JUNE 2024, BY ANTICAPITALISTAS

The results of the European elections are a snapshot of the balance of forces and the current situation: the extreme right is advancing on a European scale, the parties of the extreme centre continue to retreat, but maintain their relative positions, the left remains in last place. After the rise and capitulation of the forces of the anti-neoliberal left that emerged after the 2008 anti-crisis mobilizations, the pendulum has swung and a situation of reaction is emerging.



These European elections have been marked by the rise of militarism and the EU’s support for genocide in Palestine. Undoubtedly, there have been strong mobilizations in support of the resistance of the Palestinian people. These are encouraging, but what predominates politically is the re-articulation of a strong neo-colonial consciousness.

The extreme right is growing on the basis of the policies of closed borders, racism that divide the working class from above, unifying the identity-based reaction in Europe. Between the war in the East and the fear of what comes from the South, Europe is retreating into a second-class imperialist policy and the constant degradation of living conditions and partial freedoms within the states. This preventive counter-revolution is the product of the failure of the left forces, which set the dynamic in the previous cycle. Let us not forget this: if we forget it, we will believe that this situation is inevitable. It is a difficult situation, but it is a product of politics: it is not magic.

The Spanish state is no stranger to this dynamic, albeit with a number of particularities. On the one hand, the restoration of the two-party system “with crutches” on the right and left is confirmed: the hegemony of the PSOE on the left, the consolidation of the PP on the right. Vox remains, but it has competition on its right, the platform “Se acabó la fiesta” of Alvise, a small neo-fascist gremlin, capable of combining hatred of migrants and misogyny, with the cult of figures like little Nicolás.

The left, subordinate to the PSOE but not part of it, lost hundreds of thousands of votes: Sumar won three seats and Podemos won two, albeit with percentages that a few years ago would have been considered, by those who celebrate them today, as synonymous with marginality.

Having briefly outlined the map, we at Anticapitalistas would like to raise some questions for debate:

 The rise of the extreme right is resisted by fighting the material, cultural and political factors that make it possible for these ideas to spread, not by adapting to them. But ideas are not fought with ideas alone: they are fought with social force. In these elections, the abstention rate was 50%, which partly indicates the disaffection of an important sector of the population with the political system. It is not a question of measuring everything in electoral terms: it is the absence of the most exploited and oppressed sectors from the political scene, including people of migrant origin, that determines this situation. Without “depassivising” the political situation and generating organizations that serve as fertile soil to seed a new situation, the far right will continue to use the systemic interstices to advance.

 The extreme right does not propose a change of political model, a break with the liberal regime, but rather the radicalization of its most harmful features for the popular classes. In this sense, the extreme right-extreme centre binomial feeds this dynamic in which the middle classes and their moral panics impose a political dynamic based on the downward defence of their relative positions in the world system in crisis. However monstrous and eccentric its ideological forms may be, this is at the heart of all reactionary politics.

 Social democracy, in the Spanish state, but also in other countries where it governs such as Germany, has encouraged, like most others, the war and border regime in which we are immersed. Without a real redistributive policy or major reforms to offer, its formal defence of liberties proves impotent or complicit in the face of fundamental democratic and social setbacks. In the Spanish state we know this well, first with the PSOE-Unidas Podemos government, now with Sumar: they have not been able to repeal the gag law, the racist policy continues, the legal and defensive frameworks of the working class have not been strengthened, public money is transferred to big business, relations with the genocidal state of Israel have not been broken.

 The big absentee in the public debate in these elections, at the programmatic level, has been the question of the destructive exhaustion of the capitalist system expressed through the ecological crisis. Green reformism seems exhausted, both in its alleged aesthetic freshness and at the ideological level, since its main task is to mediate between civil society and business in the field of capital accumulation. The left that denounces the most harmful effects of capitalism does so with the superficiality of those who refuse to explain the root causes of the enormous crisis underway. The construction of an ecosocialist political force is an imperative necessity in order to have an in-depth programme that denounces war, colonialism and the degradation of liberal “democracies” and, at the same time, allows us to provide ourselves with an alternative to the whole system, even if it is a minority today.

 The so-called Spanish left has disappointed many people with its results. From our point of view, electoral results are important, but they are not the central issue. The point is that they no longer represent any focus for radical change and transformation, they are groups whose methods, programmes and interests are alien to any proposal for profound change. Without a militant proposal aimed at building struggles and structures of popular organisation, they limit themselves to being propagandists for their electoral apparatuses, with the sole aim of governing with the PSOE. Without a programmatic horizon aiming at the ultimate goal of systemic change, their reformism is impotent and sterile. Without the honesty to engage in self-criticism, the effects of its policies are the spread of cynicism, sectarianism and weariness. And it burns many honest people who see them as a lesser evil and live trapped in the despair and impotence of politics without a horizon.

 Our priority is to continue and deepen the work of militant recomposition, implementation and promotion of struggles, reassembling our political project from an ecosocialist perspective, always open to collaboration with other sectors or sensibilities with which we share perspectives and objectives. Of course, from our point of view, elections are an important moment of political struggle and it is a real problem that there are no electoral options linked to forces that aspire to be revolutionary, internationalist, ecosocialist, feminist and anti-capitalist. We will not give up on tackling this task if the conditions are right. That said, in the short and medium term, we take on a series of tasks for the next phase, linked to further strengthening our organisation and popular movements.

 In the short term, it is necessary to continue to keep alive the pro-Palestinian mobilization, which has been on the streets for months with demonstrations, encampments, actions, etc. Because an electoralist and opportunist left, which only uses tragedies for election campaigns but does not commit itself in a militant way, building and sustaining broad movements, can get a few MPs, but will never be able to contribute decisively to the liberation of the working class and the oppressed. Palestine must remain our priority.

 Continue to work to build a big movement against war and capitalist austerity, putting militarization, colonialism and border closures at the centre of public debate. We seek to bind ourselves to the task of rebuilding grassroots movements, breaking with electoral parasitism and the logic of delegation, seeking the broadest unity in the field of trade union, neighbourhood and territorial struggle, from political independence, but without sectarianism of any kind, maintaining the balance between the firmness of principles and openness towards our class and its real expressions, seeking partial victories but fighting with the horizon of the ecosocialist revolution always present.

 Our aim is to build an ecosocialist and confederalist force capable of tackling the electoral question, and we believe that territorial experiences must be strengthened in this sense. No more big speeches about “winning”, we refuse to do it through personalist models or grandiloquent speeches without ambition, which only feed our own interests. We are in a moment of fight back and we must be able to nurture programmatic clarity and firmness. Projects that can be minority projects (although now, despite their self-promotion, the whole of the left to the left of the PSOE is also a minority), that are not subject to electoralist logic, totally independent of the official left, but open to people who want to fight a on all terrains against the ideology and programme of capital and that address the whole of the working classes. They should be a focus of resistance to a system guilty of genocide, misery and fear, whose only way out is to maintain itself on ecological disaster, authoritarianism and war.

Despite the current impasse, the global eco-social crisis will continue; to group together and fight, to discuss strategically, not to give in. That is why our analysis ends with Gramsci’s well-known, but no less necessary, phrase: “Organize yourselves because we’ll need all your strength.”

11 June 2024

Translated by International Viewpoint from Anticapitalistas.

P.S.

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The EU Elections: The March of the Right

The EU elections over June 6 to June 9 have presented a chaotically merry picture, certainly for those on the right of politics.  Not that the right in question is reliably homogeneous in any sense, nor hoping for a single theme of triumph.  A closer look at the gains made by the conservative side of politics, along with its saltier reactionary wings, suggests difficulty and disagreement.

In any case, papers such as The Economist were hopelessly pessimistic about the post-Eden fall, which may suggest that democracy, in all its unpredictable nastiness, is working.  The lingering nature of the Ukraine War, the obstinate, enduring presences of such nationalists as Marine Le Pen in France and Viktor Orbán in Hungary, all pointing to “a period of political rudderlessness”.  In truth, the rudders are being replaced.

In France, Le Pen has managed to point the gun of discontent at the centre of bureaucratic control and (hideous word) governance.  The two prominent targets: President Emmanuel Macron and Paris.  She has been aided by the fact that Macron has been inclined to pack key positions in government with loyal, reliable Parisians.  Last February, François Bayrou, an early Macron enthusiast and Justice Minister, found it hard to accept that 11 of the 15 important ministers in the government were from the Paris area.  This revealed a “growing lack of understanding between those in power and the French people at the grassroots level”.

On June 9, Le Pen proved she had every reason to gloat, with the gains made by her party sufficiently terrifying French President Emmanuel Macron to dissolve parliament and call an election.  Parties of the far-right came first in Austria, tied for top billing in the Netherlands and came in as runners-up in Germany (where Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democrats were savaged) and Romania.

The party of Italian Prime Minister, Georgia Meloni, also did well, winning 28.9% of the country’s vote in the elections.  Predicted to get 24 seats in the European Parliament, the Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy) have done a shedding act on neo-fascism in favour of a smoother image, while still insisting that Europe’s identity had to be defended “from every cultural subjugation that sees Europe renounce its history to adopt that of others.”  Such messaging has come with slick shallowness on social media, including such posts as those featuring “L’Italia cambia l’Europa” (“Italy changes Europe”), or the voter instruction to “scrivi Giorgia” (“write Giorgia”) on their ballot.

Meloni’s march was so significant as to compel EU Commission chief, Ursula von der Leyen, to become a salivating groupie for the right – of sorts.  Her sharp policies on migration have drawn the approval of Meloni.  Speaking at April’s Maastricht Debate, organised by POLITICO and Studio Europa Maastricht, von der Leyen openly expressed her interest in linking arms with Meloni’s European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR).

The Italian PM has found herself to be an object of much political interest, indispensable to the chess pieces of Europe’s political manoeuvrings.  Italy’s reactionary flame has become, for instance, a matter of much interest to Le Pen. To the Italian newspaper, Corriere della Sera, Le Pen emphasised her insistence that a hard-right bloc of parties in the European Parliament could be formed, overcoming the current division between her Identity and Democracy (ID) group and that of Meloni’s ECR.

That said, any union of faux liberal types such as von der Leyen with those of the hard right of Europe is unlikely to be a fragrant one.  Von der Leyen has taken heavy shots at Le Pen’s Rassemblement National (National Rally), excoriating its pro-Russian position along with those of Germany’s AfD and Poland’s Konfederacja.  “They are Putin’s puppets and proxies and they are trampling on our values.”  The promise to Meloni: if you want my dour, camouflaged conservatism, forget the other reactionaries.

What was telling was that the young, having voted in 2019 for parties of the left such as the Greens, had had a change of heart.  In May an Ipsos poll revealed that 34% of French voters under the age of 30 were keen to vote for the 28-year old leader of the National Rally in the European Parliamentary elections.  In Germany, the 22% of Germans between 14-29 were keen to plump for Alternative for Germany (AfD), just under double from what was registered in 2023.

For Albena Azmanova of the University of Kent, this presents a curious predicament for those on the progressive side of politics (is there such a thing anymore?).  Dissatisfaction that would normally be mined by progressives for political advantage is being left over to the opposite wing of politics.  “The left is failing to harness that discontent, although its trademark issues – poverty and unemployment – are now more salient for voters than the far right’s flagship of ‘immigration’.”

An unanticipated phenomenon has manifested: younger voters in France, Portugal, Belgium, Germany and Finland folding at the ballot box for parties of the right and far right. The pendulum has well and truly swung.  Europe’s right, bulked by the young, is on the march.FacebookTwitter

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.comRead other articles by Binoy.


EUROPE


Who sows far right policies ... reaps the far right


WEDNESDAY 12 JUNE 2024, BY MIGUEL URBÁN CRESPO


This Sunday the European elections concluded, electing the deputies who will make up its tenth legislature. It never hurts to remember that these elections are used as the perfect makeup to renew the governance framework of the EU (Parliament and European Commission). The call for the elections attempted to avoid the image of a hierarchically structured bureaucratic apparatus with little democratic control that responds to a balance of state powers based on the hegemony of the Berlin-Paris axis. This process will conclude, some months later, with Parliament’s ratification of the president of the European Commission and the council of commissioners previously negotiated by the member states.

Perhaps the most notable headline of this electoral call is the growth of the extreme right, a growth that consolidates a right-wing of the EU that has been brewing for some time. The current dispersion of the extreme right, into three groups in the European Parliament, blurs the image of its electoral result, but it cannot be ignored that it has been the second most voted force in Europe with just over 20% of the votes ahead of the social democrats. In this way, the extreme right has managed to become the first force in Italy, France, Hungary, Belgium, Austria and Poland, and the second force in Germany and the Netherlands, while the European Socialist Party has only managed to win in Sweden, Romania, Malta and in Portugal it tied with the right.

Le Pen’s party, National Rally (RN), has managed not only to win again in France for the third consecutive time in a European election, with twice as many votes as the governing party but also to be the party with the most deputies in the European Parliament, a good example of the strength of the European extreme right. This result has generated a real earthquake in France, where Macron has been forced to call emergency legislative elections.

In fact, the extreme right has not stopped growing in Europe since the beginning of the century, from barely getting enough deputies to form a group in the European Chamber to being the second most voted force in these elections. In a decade they have doubled their support and are emerging as a force that will be able to determine parliamentary majorities in the next legislature. The Eurocratic bureaucracy in Brussels considers this possibility very seriously and, to this end, has begun an entire campaign to differentiate between a good extreme right and a bad extreme right; that is, between that extreme right that unequivocally assumes neoliberal economic policy, remilitarisation and geostrategic subordination to the European elites and NATO, and that other that still questions them, although increasingly timidly.

In the electoral campaign itself, Ursula von der Leyen, the European Peoples Party incumbent President of the European Commission, has opened the door wide open to an agreement with a part of the extreme right represented by Meloni, the "good extreme right ". In this sense, the president of the European People’s Party (EPP), the German Manfred Weber, was already in favour of reaching agreements with the extreme right after a meeting with the Italian president Georgia Meloni last year. These approaches contribute to normalising the extreme right as an acceptable partner, legitimising not only its political space, but also its hate policies and speeches that are increasingly gaining a greater audience among the European electorate. This is a good example of the leading role that is predicted for the extreme right in this coming legislature, in which they will play a key role in obtaining parliamentary majorities.

In this sense, it seems that Le Pen does not want to be left out of this facelifting surgery again, she is aware that she has to finish concluding her particular process of de-demonisation, not only to represent something in the next European Parliament, but also above all to have a chance in the French presidential elections next year. In this way, the French far-right has knocked on Meloni’s door to try to join forces and become the second political force in the European chamber. In the next three weeks, a period in which the political groups in the European Parliament have to be formed, we will decipher the mystery of who Meloni has opted for. For the siren songs of the Popular group or for leading a large group of the extreme right: Jorge Buxadé (Vox) himself reminded Alberto Núñez Feijóo during the campaign: "Don’t get excited because Giorgia Meloni is one of ours." It seems that interesting and complex weeks are predicted within the framework of the right and the extreme right to see how the political groups are finally configured in the European chamber.

Perhaps another of the headlines that these elections leave us with is the trend of erosion of the European two-party system, as since 2019, for the first time in the history of the European Parliament, the Popular Party (PPE) and the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) failed to gain an absolute majority. In these elections, five years later, the socialists are no longer the second most voted force, being relegated by the extreme right to a historic third place. They increasingly need to expand the so-called grand coalition that until now has governed Europe, with new forces.

In fact, as already seen in the last legislature, the liberals of Renew Europe and on some occasions the Greens, have been fundamental in establishing majorities in parliament and approving major measures of this legislature (Green Pact, European remilitarisation, Migration Pact and Asylum, etc.) It has been precisely these two groups, both Renew Europe and the Greens, that have suffered the strongest electoral erosion in these elections, losing 20 and 18 seats respectively. If in 2019 they grew, to a certain extent, as renewing and modernising forces of an outdated bipartisan governance, not having met expectations led them to pay a high electoral cost. Despite this, they appear to be two fundamental forces to ensure the majorities of the grand coalition.

Perhaps the clearest example of the erosion of the Renew Europe political formula is embodied by Emanuel Macron in France, where his party has not even achieved 15% of the voting total. Macron represents a type of empty political figure, the standard bearer of an exit from the power bloc to its own crisis of representation and corruption of the big parties, and which was sold as a formula that condensed the extreme center into a single party. A political model coming from the world of business management and perceived, precisely, as a manager of the diffuse "civil society" but guarantor of neoliberal (dis)order. In short: a kind of outsider to maintain the status quo.

In fact, Macron joins a global trend of emergence of authoritarian neoliberal populist leaders who from the business/financial world have stopped trusting professional politicians to lead their interests themselves as an elite from the front line of politics. These elections have not only marked the decline of Macronism as the prince of neoliberal Europeanism that came to replace the grand coalition, but have also opened an uncertain scenario for the electoral advance of the legislative elections (June) and for the French presidential elections. In this sense, those who tried to present themselves as the representatives of Hispanic Macronism, Ciudadanos (Citizens), have definitely ended up dying in these elections, going from eight MEPs to none.

It seems that we may have a new group in the European Parliament around the Italians of Movimento 5 Stelle ( M5S or Five Star Movement) and the Germans of the Sahra Wagenknecht Alliance. This represents a poorly defined political space built on parties that have in common their difficult fit into any of the other groups constituted in parliament, whether due to political differences or vetoes from other forces, as has historically been the case with M5S. A group similar to that of Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD) in the 2014/2019 legislature. Although it remains to be seen whether they can find allies to comply with the parliamentary rule of a minimum of 25 deputies from at least seven different EU countries.

More than one hundred elected deputies do not have a clear group in the European Parliament, a good example of the weight that the anti-political protest vote, outside the groups established in the European Parliament, has had in these elections. A good example of this phenomenon is Fidias Panayiotou, a 24-year-old Cypriot tiktoker, who has become the second force, winning two seats in the European Parliament with more than 20% of the votes, and Alvise Pérez, the candidate of Se Acabó La Fiesta (The Party is Over), one of the surprises of election day in Spain, which has obtained three MEPs with 800,000 votes.

This is a protest vote mobilised to "recover the democracy kidnapped" by the corrupt political oligarchy, traditionally called "partyocracy", by the extreme right and with the consequent defense of a kind of anti-politics. The electoral success behind a banner that aspires to rescue a democracy kidnapped by the elites cannot be understood without assessing the democratic deficit of the societies in which it arises. In this sense, it is no coincidence that it is expressed especially in the European elections; of the systemic transformation of a globalised society; and the delegitimisation of politics and of the politics that have occurred within it due to the devaluation of ideologies. Within the framework inside and outside the system, the outside continues to recruit more and more political weight in the European Parliament.

The left may continue to occupy the last place in the European Parliament while waiting for the creation of a new group, but, unlike in 2019, it has managed to mitigate its fall and may even grow slightly in number, when the vote is confirmed in the coming weeks with the distribution of new deputies not registered in any group. Especially relevant have been the results in Finland as a second force; Italy, where the left regains representation; and that of France Insoumise (FI), which provides the largest group of deputies for the left.

These elections have once again shown the growing loss of legitimacy by the EU among social sectors throughout Europe; abstention is once again winning in almost all countries. It is increasingly difficult for the EU to be associated with those supposed "European values" such as democracy, progress, well-being or human rights. An organic crisis in the full Gramscian sense of the term, the result and deepening of the crisis of the post-Maastricht model of European capitalism that has meant a true neoliberal straitjacket, with a lethal combination of austerity, free trade, predatory debt and precarious and poorly paid work, the DNA of current financialised capitalism.

This crisis of legitimacy and institutionality not only sees community decisions trying to avoid national parliaments at all costs, but also means that any referendum or consultation of citizens that directly or indirectly concerns European issues is viewed with suspicion and fear. Every day more people wake up from the European dream and find themselves adrift between a neoliberal and militaristic Europeanism championed by the EU elites and an exclusionary nationalism on the rise at the state level. An organic crisis of the EU project that generates voids conducive to mutations, readjustments, recompositions, and above all the monsters that we have seen in these elections.

Elections that confirm: Europe’s turn to the right, where the extreme right no longer appears as Euro-sceptic but as Euro-reformist, reserving a seat in EU governance; the bankruptcy of the old majorities of the grand coalition; the end of Macronism and its attempt at a great extreme European centre; the increase in outsider options for anti-system and anti-policy protest; and the growth of abstention and European disenchantment with the EU machinery. All this in a context in which the drums of war do not stop resounding in the chancelleries, bringing us dangerously close to the scene of a new confrontation of global war, against the backdrop of the climate emergency and the dismantling of multilateral governance and international law that has governed the world since the Second World War.

A dangerous cocktail that augurs new conflicts, a recomposition of actors, an expansion of the battlefield and, above all, an acceleration of new and old trends. Although one lesson stands out above the rest in these European elections: when you sow far-right policies - the Migration Pact has been one of many examples - you reap... the far-right.

10 June 2024

Translated by David Fagan for International Viewpoint from Publico.es.

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