Should Britain be alarmed about extremists taking over Tories?

26th Oct 2018

Alarm bells have long been ringing across Europe about a worrying resurgence of the far right.

Despite last year’s re-election of Angela Merkel as Chancellor of Germany and the defeat or at least containment of extremist elements in votes in Austria and the Netherlands, the far right is enjoying levels of popularity thought to be unthinkable in the past.

If there were any doubts, this year’s election results in Italy confirmed the resurgence of right-wing population.

Across the continent, traditional party systems have been fragmenting and conventional establishments disappearing, leading to the rise of authoritarian parties in European Union countries like Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary.

In the United Kingdom itself, the Brexit vote created and opened up bitter divisions. A notable factor is the unpalatable truth that the scale of ring-wing extremism has been largely ignored, including within the ruling Conservative Party.

Last month’s decision by Conservative Members of the European Parliament to side with some of the most far-right and populist groups in the European Union failed to prevent a procedural motion to censure Hungary’s lurch towards authoritarianism. But it underlined a growing worry about the extent of extremism on our own doorstep.

The Conservatives were the only governing Conservative party in western Europe to try to block disciplinary, putting themselves in the obnoxious company of Poland’s Law and Justice Party, Italy’s League, and France’s recently rebranded National Front. And aligned with groups like the Sweden Democrats, Freedom Party of Austria, and the UK Independence Party (UKIP).

Prime Minister, Theresa May, tried to distance herself from the party’s Member of the European Parliament supporting Viktor Orban, who has presided over a climate of rising Islamophobia and anti-Semitism in Hungary.

Attempts to justify the distasteful decision was left to Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, on the Andrew Marr Show. He repeatedly refused to be critical, saying instead he believed “in generosity of spirit towards our European Union partners.”

The best he could muster was seemingly that it was “not for me to rank a league table of European Union leaders and to say that one is my favourite or that one I have less time for because I believe in cooperative diplomacy.”

There have been warnings, including from former minister Anna Soubry, that the UK ruling party risked being hijacked by extremists led by more and more hard-line Brexit campaigners urged to become grassroots Conservative Party members.

Within its ranks, there have always been fluctuating voters as well as several politicians who have flirted if not joined UKIP. Within the party is also the anti-European Union European Research Group, chaired by Jacob Rees-Mogg, with an unspecified membership but could include up to 100 or more Conservative Member of Parliament.

In the background is Boris Johnson, who is believed to be biding his time in preparation to mount another leadership campaign following his resignation as Foreign Secretary.

Despite his own mixed-race ancestry, the former London Mayor has frequently provoked controversy over his xenophobic views, including describing black people in the Daily Telegraph as “piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles”. Most recently he did not even feel it necessary to apologise for insulting Muslim women.

Despite evidence of Islamophobia in its ranks, the Conservatives have refused to carry out an independent investigation to root out the scourge of Islamophobia. It is as if the country’s once-traditional ruling party has lost its soul and is in an identity crisis, unsure what it is supposed to represent. It is as if it has lost its principles, ignoring the concerns of the public without having any paternalistic instincts of its founders.

Even for the sake of being expedient, the support for Orban cannot be excused in any way. In doing so, it is acting as an apologist for his Government’s excesses and with it is being complicit. It is certainly not very healthy for the well-being of any democracy. Whatever difficulties Theresa May is having over Brexit, it is no answer to appease far-right elements both within her party and elsewhere.

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