I voted SDP. They gave me something to believe in

Nigel Farage
Nigel Farage

You’ll have noticed that the more Nigel Farage speaks for England, the more French he looks. At his post-election press conference, the eyes bulged and the shoulders shrugged at agitators who shouted “RACIST!” in a bid to drown him out.

To them, he is another European nationalist. Had they shut up and listened, they might have felt vindicated. Asked what he thinks of Marine Le Pen’s performance in France, Nigel said: “I disagree with [her] fundamentally on economics … but I understand the sentiments that are expressed about La France, their culture, their identity”. The National Rally goes further than he’d ever go on deportations, but he’d “much rather they won than the extreme Left”.

This came as a surprise. I thought it was the consensus that British populists distinguish themselves from the Vichyites across the Channel – “we left the EU to escape nutters like that” etc – and in 2014, Farage certainly described Le Pen’s movement as tainted by “anti-Semitism and general prejudice”.

But his tone has softened; her Euroscepticism clearly helps. And with Geert Wilders rising in the Netherlands and Giorgia Meloni in charge in Italy, the Left spies Farage joining an axis against liberal democracy. He wants to take us back to the 1930s!

The counter-argument is that the European Right could only become competitive by imitating Nigel’s rather modern, race-blind patriotism. The Front National transformed into the National Rally; Marine broke with her anti-Semitic father; her golden boy, Jordan Bardella, is of Italian heritage. Le Pen even went to the high court to try to stop the state describing her party as “far-Right”.

As for Reform, racists are certainly drawn to the party, but they are unwelcome and expelled. One of the defining images of the election was Reform candidate Irene Yoong-Henery, who migrated from Malaysia, telling Channel 4 News that we “can’t have every Tom, Dick or Harry” moving to Britain. And the party’s final rally was headlined by an entrepreneur called Zia Yusuf, who I suspect Farage is grooming as an heir.

If this is nationalism, it is a new brand of multi-ethnic nationalism: the New Labour of the Old Right. Indeed, one of Reform’s arguments is that tolerance, pluralism and harmony, which people imagine to be intrinsic British traits, are endangered by mass migration. Why? Because Labour and Tory governments have welcomed large numbers of people from cultures that don’t share said values, and by arriving and living as a cohort, they’ve never had to buy into them.

The party thinks its support was galvanised by the Gaza protests, that the images of vast numbers marching for what Reformers see as an Islamist cause woke voters up to the fraying of the social fabric. Exactly the same happened in France.

You might recall that Lee Anderson split with the Tories over the question of Islamic extremism in politics. Anderson won his seat on Thursday, as did two pro-Gaza independents. At Reform’s press conference, Farage suggested that if anyone has a racism problem it is in fact Labour – anti-Semitism – while Reform is resolutely pro-Israel. So is the National Rally. Against the weight of history, some French Jews now vote for Le Pen as an unexpected bulwark against Muslim anti-Semitism: Le Pen won 27 per cent of the first round vote in a heavily Jewish Parisian suburb, the local socialist mayor observing that “identity” now plays a greater role in voting preference than “social status”.

Many modern nationalists, far from being anti-constitutional, let alone reactionaries hankering for throne and altar, see themselves as rescuing the liberal order from the mistakes made by liberals. Reformers frequently pose as defenders of second-wave feminism, gay rights, free speech, working-class wages and conditions, and secularism.

“Sectarian politics is here,” said Farage with a Gallic sigh: “We’ve never seen it in our lifetimes.” By implication, his nostalgia is not for a time when racism was permissible and rife – i.e. the 1930s – but when people did not see everything through the prism of race. The Reform clock does not go back very far. Perhaps one or two decades.


The SDP

I did not vote for Reform, but for the Social Democratic Party, which is the Menshevik to their Bolshevik, the soft vs hard option. My reasons are complex. In short, I agree with Francis Fukuyama that history ended in 1989 in the sense that the battle of Left vs Right was over – but politics would continue, for it is an expression of identity and values.
In the absence of socialism, people will need to believe in something, so nationalism and religion would return to life.

It’s now clear that they have and that liberalism, which sees us as just individuals buying stuff, will struggle to compete. Given a choice between the national and the religious, I lean towards the religious – and while Reform is defined by British exceptionalism, the SDP, so small it could comfortably fit in a telephone box, is motivated more by the Christian socialist tradition of national solidarity.

Whatever: my seat remains Tory, and will do till the end of time, and the only thing that will change is the resident at Chevening House. Out goes the old foreign secretary, James Cleverly, in comes David Lammy. I shall be popping round to borrow milk – which, if Labour wrecks the economy – may be less a pleasantry, more a necessity.

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