Commentators continue to misunderstand and misinterpret the EU election results, totting up the far-Right votes in France, UK, Denmark and elsewhere as mounting an almighty challenge to the ‘European project’. They miss the point. The far-Right managed to achieve their breakthroughs, not because their supporters were voting against Europe as such (despite its admitted failures in bureaucratic governance, democratic deficit, remote accountability, agricultural policy, etc.), but because they utterly rejected what now Europe under the dead hand of Merkel and her neo-classical economic model is seen to stand for and be wholly identified with, namely unrelenting austerity. Otherwise how does one explain that in Greece the radical Left party, Syriza led by Alexis Tsipras, topped the poll 4 points clear of the prime minister’s party (almost exactly the same as in the UK), yet Syriza is not advocating withdrawal from the EU and is utterly opposed to the far-Right? From opposite poles both the radical Left and far-Right were calling for the abandonment of the EU deadweight which has plunged large parts of Europe into near-destitution and spawned the eurozone crisis which is far from over.
The UK media have displayed the same wilful refusal to read the runes in the British results as well. The very poor UKIP results in London have been explained away on the grounds that voters there are much more ‘media savvy, metropolitan in outlook, and better educated’. Rubbish, that has nothing to do with it. The reason UKIP under-performed there is because London has become the power-house of the British economy, is much richer, and to a large degree has been much less affected by the austerity gripping the rest of the country. To that extent London voters were largely immune to the UKIP appeal. The only reason that the political establishment and the commentariat don’t get this is because they’re entirely hooked on the austerity’cuts agenda and scrabble around for alternative explanations for what is staring them in the face.
All this does not bode well for the response to these elections either in the UK or elsewhere in the EU. The voters are screaming out for a major change of direction on economic policy, an about-turn on any further austerity, and a desperate plea for growth and jobs. Yet the political class still don’t seem to get it. The response in the EU is the inward-turning one of who is going to be the next President of the EU Commission, and in the UK learned (or un-learned) speculation on whether the UKIP surge with survive to the general election. Nothing about the real issue – austerity – despite all red lights flashing. The Labour party now has an unparalleled opportunity to make this their flagship issue which, more than any other matter, will decide the next election.