September 25, 2017

Graeme Archer reacts to last night’s German election results. Read the reactions of other UnHerd writers as they came in on our live blog.

I hold no candle for the AFD, whose leadership clearly comprises many people I’d cross the road to avoid. I’d have voted for Mrs Merkel, with neither regret nor hesitation, were I German. But there’s no doubt that uncontrolled Islamic immigration is an issue which drives increasing millions of votes in democratic Western countries.

The reasons for this are obvious to anyone who lives outside of a BBC studio. Neither The Economist worldview (keep the factory wage bills low) nor the Labour Party’s objective (keep our majorities high) are sufficiently compelling, for many voters, to overlook the changes such anti-populist policies have wrought upon their towns.

Here are some strategies that are routinely deployed to stymie such voting, which appear no longer to work.

Demonisation. Tell people who vote for populism that they are Nazis. The Times this morning called the AFD result a “surge of [the] far right”, while Clive Lewis had a practice run of the same argument at the Labour conference, saying “managed migration always comes down to racism.”

Narrative blurring. Use CCTV recording of horrible behaviour — a hooligan shouting abuse at someone wearing a headscarf, for example — to manufacture an elision between such, indeed, hateful behaviour, and the opinion of those you catch saying “On balance, I’d rather Bethnal Green Road didn’t resemble a Margaret Atwood novel.” In many ways, as ‘Thought for the Day’ will sorrowfully intone, such opinions provide the foundations upon which more violent behaviour can flourish. Voicing regret at changes in your neighbourhood is akin to spitting in the face of a bus passenger for wearing a headscarf. We are all guilty, in other words.

Statistical contextualisation. Contextualise acts of extremist-inspired terrorism statistically — why, you’re more likely to be run over by a bus, than to have one detonate in flames as you board it! It therefore doesn’t follow, but will be asserted anyway, that to be concerned at the origins of modern terrorism is not only racist, it’s anti-empirical; irrational: should you be allowed to vote, at all?

The denigration of rational capability via pseudo-contextualisation — and its ultimate aim: disenfranchisement — is at the root of some Remain characterisations of Leave voters: “The most Brexit parts of the country have the lowest amounts of immigration!” they trill, as though such an observation carries inferential weight; what are you, some sort of suburban Victor Orban?

While these approaches are losing efficacy, it’s unlikely that the Left will refrain from deploying them; indeed — see Clive Lewis for details — the Left’s response to the increase in votes for hardline populists is to double-down on the demonisation, narrative blurring and contextualisation tactics.

It is their failure to confront an ideology which disdains our values that spikes up support for populists. It is the demonisation of such voters which turns them ‘hardline’. Votes for chancers like the AFD are a symptom, not the cause, of societal disquiet — and of the failure of moderate Conservatism to tackle it.
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This ought to give the moderate centre-right an opportunity: David Cameron, arch-liberal, didn’t shy away from confronting extremism in his speeches and his policy intentions, no matter how loudly the Guardian screeched “racist” at him for daring to encourage English speaking in migrant communities (for example.)

He knew, as I think we all do really, that ignoring the problem of ideological extremism (however dressed up it is as “religion”) won’t make life better in the long run for anyone — devout Muslim and liberal humanist alike. We didn’t refrain from attacking communism as wicked and extreme through fear of upsetting the feelings of individual communists.

Well, Mr Cameron has gone, the defining lament of my early middle-age. Only a fool would expect philosophical grandeur from modern governments, but is it too much to expect them to note the difference between cause and effect? It is their failure to confront an ideology which disdains our values that spikes up support for populists. It is the demonisation of such voters which turns them ‘hardline’. Votes for chancers like the AFD are a symptom, not the cause, of societal disquiet — and of the failure of moderate Conservatism to tackle it.

But from Mrs May: nothing, other than noises about ending discrimination that come straight from the New Labour rulebook. No Tory wins by playing that game.

Talking of Tory wins: we’re about 5,000 votes from the Corbyn revolution. Tory majority in Barnet: 353. Chloe Smith in Norwich: 507. Amber Rudd in Hastings: 346. And so on. You add them up, then look at the religious passion and messianic fervour at Labour’s conference in Brighton. Mrs May was lucky in her election result: après elle, le déluge.

When the Corbyn revolution takes hold, and the time of the angels is upon the Earth — when Clive Lewis and Diane Abbott are in charge of what can be said about immigration — we’ll look back on the current campus witch-hunting hysteria with fondness, as the epitome of cold, rational enquiry.

Because once the Corbynite angels are in power, unbelievers, of course, will be cast as demons (“managed migration always comes down to racism.”) What will happen to the hardline populist support then? In the time of the angels, how do you imagine demons will choose to cast their votes?

You can read more UnHerd reaction to German’s surprise result on our blog.