Geert Wilders’s success in the Dutch general election has stumped the British commentariat. Most newspapers went with “Victory for far-Right party”. The broadcasters replayed their “What does this tell us about the rise of the far-Right?” tape. “No more than it tells us about the far-Left” should have been the answer.
Some readers will recall the late Pim Fortuyn, a man who might not have been assassinated in 2002 had he not been demonised in the media. I have written here before about the near-uselessness of “Left” and “Right” in diagnosing our politics. We might argue exactly when these terms passed their sell-by date. But the place where they first went off was Holland.
Ask your typical sub-editor what he means when he puts “far-Right” in the headline. He’s thinking swastikas, right? Big Nazi flags. An esoteric set of accompanying bigotries that vary in focus, if never in tone.
What you don’t envisage when you channel that far-Right idea is a philo-Semite with a Jewish grandmother who is opposed to the mistreatment of women and sexual minorities by a male-led ideology bent on global domination. Yet that’s Wilders.
Likewise, you couldn’t have found a less “far-Right” figure than Fortuyn: a baby-boomer gay college professor who opposed the subjugation of half our species. He didn’t fit the “far-Right” bill. But that didn’t matter. He was against mass immigration and wanted the country he loved to remain recognisably itself — tolerance included. So despite the non-fitting “far-Right” label, it was the one that stuck with certain people. So one man was persuaded that killing Fortuyn would be stopping the next Hitler. Because that was what the press had told him.
Perhaps some journalists felt they had an excuse to misunderstand Fortuyn. After all, he was the first of the new breed of ardent political liberals. But if they had any excuse then, they certainly have none now.
Wilders attacks Islam and the further immigration of large numbers of Muslims into Holland because he fears where it will lead Holland. And it isn’t (though the headline writers again fail to notice this) as though he is doing this because he is one of those strange BNP types who thinks that politics is essentially about sticking with people who happen to share the same skin-pigmentation as you. Nor is he doing it for any perceptibly nationalistic reasons. He is doing it, as he has always explained, because he believes that the post-Enlightenment culture of The Netherlands is preferable to the pre-Enlightenment culture of Islam.
Show me another far-Right leader who has built their platform on women’s and gay rights and the defence of religious freedom. In fact, show me one who is positive about the role of the Jewish people in world history. Nope, it doesn’t fit. None of it does. But “far-Right” will be used by people too lazy to realise they are navigating the world with a defunct lexicon and a broken compass.
From the British point of view, what is most fascinating about this and associated events across Europe is that they show us to be so desperately lagging. While the Cameron-Clegg team continues to enforce a rigidly and hilariously PC attitude, their opposite numbers on the continent are finally starting to stand up for themselves against the racism and supremacism of the third-worlder cultists.
Take just one example. In France, President Nicolas Sarkozy’s effort to fulfil his promise to ban the burqa is under way. Next door, the Belgian Parliament voted nearly unanimously to ban the full-face covering. In Holland, the now third-largest party advocates a ban. And in Northern Italy, a woman has been fined by police for wearing the garment.
So a number of our closest European allies are actively seeking a ban. Yet in Britain, can anyone imagine David Cameron announcing such a thing? Impossible. Even if he didn’t go as far as calling for a ban, could he or Nick Clegg have the will to say that there are things which Britain will tolerate and things that it will not? No, he would be decried by the Westminster political and journalistic consensus and informed that such statements were impossibly illiberal and would only “inflame” matters. As Bronwen Maddox impeccably expressed it in her analysis for The Times: the Wilders electoral breakthrough will simply “add even more bitterness to the Dutch debate on immigration”. Silly Dutch people for not accepting the situation their politicians thought best for them. Silly them for causing the bitterness.
At the heart of coalition Britain is a failure of imagination. The press assists and magnifies this. We may not be looking to the continent for economic advice, but we could do worse than look to them for inspiration on matters that will survive even the deficit. We may even wonder whether it is Britain, rather than Wilders, that’s beginning to look like the odd man out.