Many, like myself, have recently become fixated on the threat posed by the populist far right and on the question of how best to stop a movement that seeks to build its electoral success on manufactured fears and anxieties, offering only hatred and intolerance as solutions. I've been following events unfold in France and Holland, hoping that the politics of fear and division that is being pushed by Le Pen and Geert Wilders shows signs of being rejected. I came across an open letter by a candidate in the Dutch election with the words 'behave normally, or go away', words that I automatically assumed would've been offered by far right leader Geert Wilders, yet they were not. They were the words of the current Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Party, Mark Rutte.
How naïve I was in thinking that stopping the far right at the ballot box was the sole objective and once achieved, would mark a major defeat for the politics of hatred and division. Focusing on stopping far right politicians like Wilders in their bid for electoral success, I had taken my eye off a race in which liberal and mainstream politicians were engaged in, a race to the bottom. In a desperate bid to lure voters away from the far right, they have sought to compete in who can sound toughest on immigrants and minorities. Rather than argue for tolerance, inclusiveness and reject the hatred of their opponents, politicians like Rutte and Sarkozy have thought it best to replicate the narrative of those who threaten the weakest and most vulnerable. Rather than talk about the issues such as the economy and offering solutions to the actual causes of the financial crises, they have come to believe that success lies in chasing after the perceived national mood, even if it has been influenced by the far right. In Britain the government and Labour MPs have sought to sound tough on immigration, seeking to appeal to UKIP voters.
If the far right has indeed come to influence and dictate how mainstream parties respond to the challenges and problems facing the world today, causing them to adapt and offer more restrictive policies, then this amounts to a defeat in itself, irrespective of who wins at the ballot box. It makes me question what use fighting the Islamophobic rhetoric of Geert Wilders will be, if the alternative is a liberal candidate who also comes to view Muslim populations as a threat to the values of European countries.
The answer does not simply lie in stopping the far right, it also means that we must not allow mainstream parties to be influenced in such a way that they come to represent the very politics that we have been fighting so hard to reject. It means mobilising and highlighting to politicians that there are millions who do not believe that the causes for stagnant wages and falling living standards are immigrants or that those who by virtue of being different somehow pose a threat to our values and way of life. We cannot afford to become so fixated on the far right, that we fail to hold to account mainstream parties that are abandoning the very values that we have fought so hard for.
We must make clear that our votes and support should not be taken for granted, that we are unwilling to act as mere bystanders in a race to the bottom. For a failure to do so means that the far right has won, irrespective of whether they win on election day.