Bad Week for UKIP, Worse Week for AfD
It must be hard being the leader of a European right wing party. Every day is a constant struggle. When you aren’t fending off the fake news of the liberal media elite or the criticisms of out of touch rival politicians, you have to contend with fifth columns within your own party, who daily try to undermine your attempts to reach the electorate with your pessimistic message of fear and hate. If you’re lucky, you will win seats in regional administration or even a national parliament, but even after all that, is it even worth it? The weight of existential crises alone would be enough to crush lesser people.
The weight of the world appears to be on the shoulders of at least two right wing European leaders this week as they attempt to jump start their parties following scandals both internal and external. Paul Nuttall of UKIP in Britain has certainly had a week to forget. All he wanted to do was become the MP for Stoke-on-Trent. Not the biggest of dreams, but one he has desired ever since he was a small xenophobic child. All he ever wanted was to ensure Brexit was fully implemented in the city, that was all. A Brexit that might see the UK flooded with cheap Chinese porcelain that would destroy Stokes century old pottery industry, but Nuttall is big enough to sacrifice 6,000 peoples jobs for his own political gains.
Yet, the media wouldn’t let him alone. First it was because he lied about living in Stoke and then it was because he lied about knowing “close friends” who died during the Hillsbourgh disaster. These falsehoods came in the wake of his previous lies about having a PHD and that he had been a professional footballer. It’s as if lying about your connection to tragic disasters or about where you live or about your qualifications or about your employment history should disqualify you from public office. It’s not like he would lie if he became an MP.
For Nuttall, there is some comfort emanating from Germany. At least he isn’t Frauke Petry, leader of the AfD (Alternative für Deutschland). First she had to face a backlash following one of her members, party leader for Thuringia, Björn Höcke. Last month he declared that the Holocaust memorial in Berlin was a “national shame” and that it was time to forget the heinous acts committed in the concentration camps. The fact he did it in a beer hall was an additionally problematic optic.
Despite Petry criticising Höcke’s speech and initiating proceedings to expel him from the party, the process has become complicated by the fact that Höcke has the support of the regional arbitration panel in Thuringia which might clear him of all charges. The process may even lead to a federal arbitration panel, which is still no guarantee of success. Despite claims to be a modern party, with no connection to fascist groups, it turns out that within her right wing party, there are people willing to support extreme right wing views. Sad.
While attempting to cleanse the public image of her party, Petry was faced by a whole new furore over the right wing love affair with a particular moustachioed dictator. It turned out that in Nürnberg, the local AfD candidate and regional chair, Elena Roon, had sent Adolf Hitler memes via a Whatsapp group. One stated "Missed since 1945", and another "Adolf please get in touch! Germany needs you! The German people!". A final hilarious image of an exasperated Hitler declared "Islamists... I forgot them!". Luckily for Petry, before anything got out of hand, Roon went on the record to say:
"I distance myself from right-wing extremism and anti-Semitism,"
"Anybody who wishes to draw the conclusion that I condone what it says in the images is twisting the truth round completely."
This has of course settled the issue, as everyone knows sharing images of Hitler and requesting his return like yesterdays dodgy kebab is a totally normal thing to do and in no way could represent support for the views of the Nazis. Still, an investigation has been launched, just in case it turns out that Roon accidentally supported Hitler’s views or that a bigger girl told her to do it or that she accidentally searched, downloaded, cropped and uploaded the images to the social media platform while her phone was in her pocket. Come on! It could happen to any of us.
As if this wasn’t enough, the emergence of Martin Schulz as leader of the SPD and the backlash over Höcke has seen her party drop 2.5% in the polls, sitting currently at 12.5%. Although this is more than enough to see her party take up seats in the Bundestag, more scandals could see the slide continue.
Of all her problems, Schulz might actually turn out to be the biggest. Polls suggest he is more popular than current Chancellor Angela Merkel and he has set out his stall as anti-Trump, anti-isolationist and firmly anti-AfD. Unlike in the UK where the Tories have had to violently swing to the right to secure against the threat of UKIP, to the point that their former leader Nigel Farage has praised Prime Minster Theresa May for saying what he has for decades, Angela Merkel has so far simply kept getting on with her particular brand of pragmatic conservatism, unwilling to adopt the rhetoric of hate and fear in order to win over voters. Schulz and the SPD is essentially acting as a bulwark against right wing popularism. With Merkel facing a battle on two fronts, Schulz will surely relish the idea of facing off against the AfD and taking pot shots at Merkel’s CDU should they appear to be moving further right. Merkel could easily lose votes should she follow the opportunistic tactics of the British Conservative party.
From the vantage point of Stoke-on-Trent, Paul Nuttall might be forgiven for thinking his troubles pale in comparison to those of his opposite number in Germany, of course he would be wrong. Lying, xenophobia and blind denial still have currency in the European right-wing, but I suspect the backlash is coming. I might not bet my house on it, but I might bet Nuttall’s.
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