United by Galloway and Le Pen

By Daniel Finkelstein, May 3, 2012

On the night David Cameron entered 10 Downing Street, I wrote about the deal he had done with the Liberal Democrats. It seemed to be a significant moment in the development of the centre-right, postponing the day when Labour could annex the entire Lib Dem support.

That now looks correct in retrospect. Correct, but incomplete. The deal prevented a relationship between Labour and the backers of the Lib Dems, but it hastened the reunion of the left. Half the Lib Dem vote promptly went to Labour, almost certainly never to return. And the Lib Dems stopped being the protest party.

When George Galloway won his stunning victory in the Bradford West by-election, he was doing something that the Lib Dems used to do. He was winning the votes of those disillusioned with the main parties, but still political enough to wish to register their dismay. He won't be the last such candidate. The mild Lib Dems will be replaced by far more raucous protest politicians. And this is going to happen at a time when protest is rising. And will continue to rise.

The French election provided the best indication of this. Huge votes for the far right and the far left ensured that the main candidates scored less than 50 per cent between them. President Sarkozy has responded to that by wooing the nationalist vote and it hasn't been pretty.

All over the world, but particularly in Europe, we will see the rise of nationalist parties, opposing immigration and ethnic diversity, and promoting isolationist foreign policy. Mainstream parties will feel the pull and move toward these protesters. The target of most of these parties is, and will continue to be, the Muslim community. Indeed some will argue that, because they oppose Muslim religious practices, they are the defenders of true liberalism.

The rise of politicised young Muslims scares us

Some Jews might be tempted to agree. The rise of politicised young Muslims fixated with Israel scares us. In a certain light, to some Jews the "freedom" parties might seem allies.

This is a gross misunderstanding. These are not liberal political parties and they won't stop with the Muslims. It is hugely important that the Jewish community understands this, and realises that, on many issues, the peaceful, settled Muslim community can be our allies.

In the same JC that warned French Jews against supporting the Front National, came news of the battle against schechitah. The push now is to force all meat slaughtered for kosher or halal purposes to be labelled as such. It is a classic manoeuvre. Who can object to labelling? Only funny foreigners with our odd customs, surely. So those who advocate labelling pose as the true liberals.

The consequence, however, might well be to collapse the sale of kosher meat, making its production uneconomic. It would, in other words, be a disaster for many British Jews. But also, of course, for British Muslims.

The mainstream parties are very reassuring about this issue. Yet so was Sarkozy when Le Pen claimed all meat consumed in the Greater Paris region was killed using Halal methods. Sarko scoffed at this, pointing out that the true figure was about 2.5 per cent. It was not an issue, he argued.

It wasn't long before he shifted his position. He needs Le Pen's votes and he decided (perhaps polling had told him?) that transparency was a winning policy. What had not been an issue, became an issue.

It was a strong indication of what may be a very unhappy turn in European politics. It is going to be a bumpy ride. We will need all the allies we can get.

Daniel Finkelstein is executive editor of 'The Times'

Last updated: 6:32pm, May 3 2012