With it having the potential for massive political upheaval in this election year across Europe, in the wake of Brexit, Trump and in Australia, One Nation, Frank Furedi recently took the political, social and cultural temperature of Italy, France and The Netherlands. Suffice to say the mood is dark and brooding.
This is an extract from his column….
“…During the course of talking to people in the region of Pas-de-Calais, I am struck by the number of times I am told “that this is a France I do not recognise” and “I wish that there was a party I could believe in”. Their words convey a message within which bitterness and frustration coexist with excitement and hope.
In parts of Europe, particularly in France and Hungary, the language of bitterness and frustration often overwhelms the language of hope.
In The Netherlands and Italy, I felt energised by the optimism and excitement that’s in the air. In Italy many are also looking for a party they can believe in, and many feel upbeat about the prospect for a genuine political renaissance. Even in staid old Britain, more and more people tell me that “now is the time for a new party”.
What people mean when they say “this is a France that I do not recognise” is that their values are no longer affirmed and that their way of life has become precarious. Some blame their predicament on immigrants, others on faceless technocrats who have no empathy for their way of life, while others point the finger at the economic disruption caused by globalisation and what they call neoliberalism.
What underpins all of these different sentiments is a palpable mood of cultural uncertainty. In places like France, The Netherlands and Belgium, many people signal the concern that they no longer feel at home.
It was the unstated question of “what does it mean to be British” that led down the road to Brexit and the rejection of the cosmopolitan and transnational values of the EU.
In the hesitant silent culture war sweeping Europe, the pivotal issue around which all the different concerns are focused is the aspiration of regaining a measure of control over community life. People attach an extraordinary importance to the value of belonging. And Europe’s political classes have not only failed to recognise this aspiration but also sought to devalue its importance.
Their constant refrain of “we live in a globalised world” served to devalue the meaning of home, community and nation. That is why national sovereignty has re-emerged as a key question of the 21st century.
It is not xenophobia or the fear of immigrants but the absence of borders that intensifies the mood of cultural uncertainty. “Control over our borders used to be called democracy,” a supporter of borders tells me in Amsterdam. For many supporters of Brexit, the exercise of sovereignty represents the precondition for assuming control over the conduct of public life.
When I talk to supporters of the old political class, they see a world that is totally different to that of the people they call populists. In their eyes, the reason why populists voted for Brexit is because they are racists or because they are too uneducated to understand the finer points of economic realities. They are convinced that all the setbacks they have suffered are because populist demagogues have exploited the issue of immigration. They only see hate and are unaware of the politics of hope that motivate many of their opponents.
They are totally indifferent to voters’ aspirations for sovereignty, and in between holding forth on the importance of the EU they infer that the sense of nationhood is a curse.
But they too must sense the rising demand for new politics.
Apparently Cory Bernardi believes that Europeans do not have a monopoly over launching a new movement and that there might be space for a new conservative party in Australia. Watch this space…”