Western European politics is suddenly sprouting some very odd couples. Last weekend, Rishi Sunak flew to Rome and posed for pally photos with Italy’s far-right leader, Giorgia Meloni. This week, France’s “radical centrist” Emmanuel Macron has been cheered to the rafters by the far-right figurehead Marine Le Pen. For both men, this has been a long, strange trip further and further to the right. Mr Sunak and Mr Macron came to politics after elite educations and stints in global finance. Years later, they still appear more at home with Silicon Valley billionaires than ordinary voters. Hardline nativists they are not. So what do these freshly pressed spreadsheet readers see in their unlikely new supporters?

In a word: convenience. Lagging in the polls, they are rummaging deep inside the grubby sack of anti-immigrant politics and pulling out rhetoric and policies that the far right claim as rightfully theirs. The one-time arch-globalist Mr Macron now stands behind a bill that will allocate housing and benefits not on the grounds of need, but on degree of Frenchness. No wonder that Ms Le Pen hailed it as an “ideological victory” – or that one minister quit in protest and others had to be implored to stay.

For Mr Sunak, the anti-immigrant posturing has proved more personally humiliating. When the son of east African migrants became prime minister, it was hailed as a triumph of multicultural values. Yet last weekend, he warned that new arrivals to Europe threatened to “overwhelm” the continent. Such language may comfort the most reactionary racist, but they will never warm to Mr Sunak because they can’t see past the colour of his skin. It is also a gauge of the moral depths in which British Conservatism now wallows. In 1968, when Enoch Powell made his “rivers of blood” speech, he was promptly sacked as a minister and never again held a senior political post. Nowadays, worse is said by leading Tories who hope it might help them become party leader.

The only people for whom the new nativism is an unalloyed boon are of course the nativists themselves. In the UK, Nigel Farage has just spent weeks on primetime television posing as a celebrity in the jungle. In Italy, Ms Meloni hangs out with Elon Musk, while Ms Le Pen is using her newfound prominence to shed her party’s old associations with antisemitism and to pose instead as a protector of Jews. This is a wholesale reconfiguration of European politics, where the centre-right are posing as radicals and the nativist right are donning the garb of centrists.

If Mr Sunak and Mr Macron were still serious about governing, rather than mere politicking, they would make some obvious points. First, both Britain and France ran huge empires from which they extracted fortunes. As the old saying goes, the people of those countries are over here because their one-time masters were over there. Second, ageing western European societies need foreigners to come and work, and to pay taxes to subsidise hospitals and schools. If Britain makes entry unnecessarily hard for skilled nurses from Manila or physicists from Kolkata, they will go elsewhere. Third, it is in the nature of humans to travel, to fall in love, to dream. They always have, and they always will. Migrants are not just economic units; they are people who can add to a society and a culture. Arguing otherwise is to play into the politics of prejudice.

QOSHE - The Guardian view on the politics of migration: when centrists dabble in extremism - Emma Brockes
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The Guardian view on the politics of migration: when centrists dabble in extremism

30 29
21.12.2023

Western European politics is suddenly sprouting some very odd couples. Last weekend, Rishi Sunak flew to Rome and posed for pally photos with Italy’s far-right leader, Giorgia Meloni. This week, France’s “radical centrist” Emmanuel Macron has been cheered to the rafters by the far-right figurehead Marine Le Pen. For both men, this has been a long, strange trip further and further to the right. Mr Sunak and Mr Macron came to politics after elite educations and stints in global finance. Years later, they still appear more at home with Silicon Valley billionaires than ordinary voters. Hardline nativists they are not. So what do these freshly pressed spreadsheet readers see in their unlikely new supporters?

In a word: convenience. Lagging in the polls, they are rummaging deep inside the grubby sack of anti-immigrant politics........

© The Guardian


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