Orbán, Le Pen…the voters send a chilling message to the embattled center of Europe | will huton

JToday’s Brexit Tories will hate the comparison, but there are awkward parallels between their national agenda and the newly elected and avowed Hungarian apostle of democratic illiberalism, Viktor Orbán, the ultra-nationalist and anti-immigrant Frenchwoman Marine Le Pen and the Obscure Law and Justice of Poland. to party. All claim boastful nationalism and contempt for international law, all aim to create a climate hostile to immigrants, all believe that the electoral system should be manipulated to their advantage, all distrust pluralist media, all want to limit dissent and expand power. sketchy police, all are inclined towards traditional conceptions of sexuality and family and, to varying degrees, all are climate change deniers.

All are in the habit of concealing and even lying; criticism is fake news. The Johnson government‘s police, nationality, borders and election bills stem from those same right-wing, anti-Enlightenment and illiberal roots, as does its attack on public service broadcasting and, of course, the great beast of all, Brexit. Paradoxically, the Brexit tory is very European – if not Europe at its worst.

However, for the dominant center and the liberal left, the threat is that the voters, far from caring about this retreat from openness and democracy towards a nationalist and antidemocratic closure, will willingly associate themselves with it, even vote for it. . Orbán emphatically won two-thirds of the vote in Hungary last Sunday as war raged in Ukraine, even though he was aided and abetted by a rigged media and voting system. Likewise, French voters, after briefly siding with President Emmanuel Macron as warlord, are now leaning towards Le Pen, who is expected to lead him closely in the first round of today’s presidential election. In the last round of voting on April 24, pollsters say the result is too close to announce – even though Macron is still seen as just ahead.

What is happening? One of these factors is the impact of globalization on the economic and social structures of advanced economies, illustrated by the famous “elephant curve” describing how globalization has influenced the global distribution of income over the decades. The middle curve represents the relative improvement in incomes in many middle-income countries, especially their middle class, who have been aided as their countries have caught up with their wealthier neighbors. The long drooping tail of the elephant is the permanent disadvantage facing the world’s poor, the downward slope of the trunk is what has happened to the incomes of the mass of workers in the industrialized countries, while the last triumphant upward curve of the U-shaped trunk describes the increasingly flourishing incomes of the elites, the undisputed beneficiaries of globalization. When ordinary French voters, on the wrong side of this global phenomenon, accuse Macron of being the president of the rich, that is what they mean.

But the political ramifications are not traditionally played out, as French elections show. Voters may want to express their anger at injustice, but rather than look to a fragmented left for reform and the affirmation of social solidarities, they are tempted by explanations that blame the incursions of outsiders into their national space. and many believe that illiberal policies, quasi-racist patriotism offer the best answer. Le Pen is a brilliant representative. France knows its centuries-old hostility towards immigrants and especially Muslims, but criss-crossing France during its presidential campaign, it stressed how its “patriotic” economic policies favoring small businesses and local producers will mean independence from -vis foreigners, more jobs and lower prices. She backed away from talking about France’s exit from the EU – the self-defeating nature of Brexit is obvious even to her – which helped her woo mainstream voters, helped by the presence of an anti-immigrant candidate even more extravagant, Éric Zemmour, on his right adding to his apparent new reasonableness.

But it remains toxic. She is an “organicist”, seeing French society as “a living being threatened by foreign bodies”, as written by Ivanne Trippenbach and Franck Johannès in The world Last week. His project is to regenerate organic French society by favoring pure French nationals. It will involve a constitutional coup – rewriting the constitution with its roots in the 1789 revolution, suspending much EU legislation and withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights. “Politics,” she says, “takes precedence over law.” Moreover, his economic program is unrealizable. His election would divide France, halt its economic resurgence, unleash racist demons and rip through the EU.

The French left, like that of Britain, had to perform a difficult act of overlapping. He had to keep his lines open on the bewildered center with its worries about crime and immigration, while challenging the worst inclinations of capitalism, as well as asserting its commitment to strong social support and above all asserting its belief in the best of Enlightenment values. He failed catastrophically, partly because of his own endemic divisions and partly because Macron took a better step towards the center. But Macron is discovering, as Tony Blair did in Britain, that you cannot govern like a centrist. Sustainable governing coalitions are center and center-left or center and center-right, otherwise there is no organized governing political philosophy or sufficient electoral ballast. Macron is in trouble because he has dropped the left too much. He has fifteen days to recover this land and build a lasting coalition.

Yet Ukraine’s incredible stance against Vladimir Putin’s criminal war – and President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s eloquent calls for the best of what Europe and the West must stand for – is a game-changer. He hasn’t just relegitimized the EU and brought it together – he’s a strong plea to all Western voters to know where illiberalism, ultra-nationalism and repression are leading.

Blaming foreigners, appealing to a mystical conception of your country and trying to turn you and your party into undisputed masters of the state lead to what is happening in Ukraine. The center and the centre-left – in Britain, France, indeed all over Europe – must push this point of view, along with workable albeit aggressive programs that make capitalism work for the common good. It is time to reaffirm the best of ourselves and it is up to Macron over the next fortnight to find the words, the energy, his moderate centre-left roots and the momentum to do so. It is a common European fight. Epic times.

Will Hutton is an Observer columnist