Patrick Mercer: Europe's blanket is no protection against far-right

I SUPPOSE it had to happen. When my twenty-something son deserted the North to live and work in London, he thought rationally, behaved reasonably and (by my lights) had an open mind '“ and so he seemed to remain for a couple of years.

Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel are both having to contend with rising extremism by the far-right in France and Germany respectively.
Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel are both having to contend with rising extremism by the far-right in France and Germany respectively.

But he’s just been on holiday with us and I regret to announce that there are signs of incipient infection. A pint of ale is no longer good enough: it’s now craft beer and he can no longer complete a sentence without uttering ‘cool’ or ‘amazing’. He’s also grown a beard. In short, he’s caught Zone One-ism – that horrid, London disease which attacks the brain and is one, nasty rash away from a full blown dose of Corbotulism.

Unwisely, we fell to discussing Brexit. I was bemoaning Theresa May’s indecisiveness and the resignation of the excellent David Davis whilst commending a hard and rapid departure. This was met with an exasperated: “But Dad, can’t you see how, like, Alt-Right you are?”. Now, nothing I said hadn’t been said a thousand times by moderate Leavers of all political stripes: there was nothing ‘Alt’ about it and yet my son managed to imply that I was one pace away from a goose-step!

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And this, of course, is a cudgel that the Zone Oner’s wield – Leaving is the creed of the neolithic-neo-fascist, whilst Remaining promises enlightenment and liberalism, a symphony of true Europeanism. But a quick check of where extremism is actually flourishing in Europe today gives an interesting result – it’s in the countries which shriek about ‘progressive’ ideas most loudly that the far-right prospers.

For instance, Germany’s past seems to have made her ultra keen to demonstrate her liberal credentials. Until very recently Mutti Merkel’s country looked like the very embodiment of progressive politics as more than a million migrants were welcomed. They blurred borders and identities, a trophy of harmonious pan-nationalism.

But that was a chimera. After endless difficulties and under pressure from the true Alt-Right in the shape of the AfD (Alternative for Germany), the now politically spent Angela Merkel has had to slam the brakes on and introduce stringent border controls.

This U-turn (more than any of her many others) will eventually cost Merkel her premiership and it was brought about by a party which Sigmar Gabriel, the Vice Chancellor, called Nazis. Yet it is now only the fear of the AfD which keeps Mutti in power: the other parties know that if she falls, these so-called Nazis will make sweeping gains at another election.

And what of France? Remainers would suggest that the election of Emmanuel Macron pointed towards a deepening of sympathy with the European project which only Britain was rejecting. Bear in mind, though, that in the last round of last year’s presidential election, almost 35 per cent voted for Marine Le Pen despite (or maybe because of) her using the same nakedly racist arguments that her father championed.

Now that the rosy blush of success at the polls has faded and M Macron’s economic policies are becoming more and more unpopular with voters, it has to asked where those same voters will turn should Manu fail. The answer lies in extremism, I suspect, either Le Pen’s proven brand or another from the far-left, both of which – remember - reject the EU.

Meanwhile, the same ugly, extreme thinking advances in other European countries. Slovakia, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Finland, Denmark and Sweden all have such parties which are either increasingly influential or on the brink of entering government. Let’s be clear, Poland and Hungary are already led by the far-right whilst Austria and Italy with their fascist pasts, harbour similar parties which hold the balance of power in their ruling coalitions.

Ironically, it is one of the Remainers’ favourite arguments that the answer to the far-right is to wrap the safety blanket of Europeanism more tightly around themselves, to plunge deeper into Shengen bliss. But that blanket’s been worn threadbare by the imminent failure of this experiment - an experiment, I suggest, which is wholly responsible for the far-right’s renaissance.

Yet, if Britain is the only member of the EU to have the courage to ditch the old-fashioned, dictatorial dogma of that failed state, we must surely be ripe for the arrival of true extremism. But, if all we’ve got to offer is Tommy Robinson, I’m not too worried. The irony deepens, though, when you consider that the only extremist who really is ripe to arrive is a man who connives at terrorism and whose party is riven by racism.

I thought about pleading Brexit’s case with my son, to suggest that there was nothing ‘Alt’ about my right-of-centre thinking and that if he wanted to see true illiberality in action then he should vote for Jeremy Corbyn.

I thought about it, but while I was doing so, my scion drifted off to the fridge to get some more coconut milk.

Patrick Mercer OBE is the former Conservative MP for Newark. He writes a monthly column for The Yorkshire Post.