A depression has settled on the Liddle household ever since Norbert Hofer narrowly failed in his bid to become the president of Austria. I like a man who keeps a Glock pistol in his jacket pocket, and there is something noble in the cut of his jib. Norbert was thwarted by the voters of Red Vienna and the usual fraudulent postal ballots, most of which will have come from immigrants, as happens time and again in this country. So he lost. Instead the Austrians are saddled with a lunatic, Alexander Van der Bellen, a hand-wringing Green halfwit representing what George Orwell was habituated to call the ‘pansy left’.
Interestingly, both of the two leading candidates for the job of president seem to loathe Austria and wish for it to be abolished. Van der Bellen’s party once distributed posters bearing the witty and profound statement: ‘If you like Austria you must be shit.’ He is an opponent of the nation state per se and would be delighted to see the Austrians ruled from Brussels. But then there’s Norbert, who hankers after the sort of Greater Germany which once commended itself to the fiery but controversial late Austrian politician Adolf Hitler. Norbert has no objection to Austria being ruled from Berlin and even wore one of those little blue cornflowers which Austrian Nazis used to wear. I am not sure what it says about the psychological state of a country’s population when the vast majority vote for two candidates who long for the country to not exist. Fair enough if it were Luxembourg, or Somalia, but Austria is full of likeable, sensible people and has done fairly well for itself since Stalin, rather surprisingly, gave it up.
The press and the BBC were of course aghast when it seemed that Norbert had it in the bag. They even forgot about Trump for a moment (ironically at the very moment he swung ahead of the hapless, frozen-faced Clinton in the opinion polls). Was this, the commentators intoned darkly, a case of the Austrians reverting to type? There were pictures of the aforementioned Hitler — every political debate these days needs a quick squirt of Adolf, no matter what the subject. When the fraudulent postal votes were counted and Norbert was deemed the loser, the Guardian began its commentary with the word ‘Phew!’ But then worried that Norbert’s Freedom party, which is ahead in the polls, might well win the chancellory two years from now.
Worry no more, you writhing pinkoes. If the Freedom party does indeed win then it will be subjected to the same sort of fascist interference from Strasbourg and Brussels which is now being inflicted on the poor Poles, who dared to elect a government which was mildly socially conservative and (ironically, you might argue) not hugely impressed by the influx of immigrants. The ruling Polish Law and Justice Party has effectively been ruled illegal by the European Commission; it is quite possible that Poland will have its EU voting rights curtailed and its money cut. The EU had been half-minded to launch similar proceedings against Viktor Orban’s somewhat right-of-centre government in Hungary, but didn’t quite dare to do so. But then this is what happens when the population of a sovereign state feels it has had enough of the corporate liberal claptrap foisted upon it by the European Union.
If the Front National ever wins in France you can expect the same patently undemocratic bullying to occur. The EU cannot stand diversity of opinion. It cannot stand the views of many — perhaps a majority — of its citizens. This, more than anything else, is the reason for the UK to vote Leave next month, despite the almost certain nuclear armageddon, melting of the polar icecaps and plagues of locusts that Cameron and Osborne assure us will transpire. Oh, and Vladimir Putin will be happy. A bit like the Hitler stuff, making Vlad happy is seen as the sort of clinching argument in almost all political debates at the moment. Don’t vote Leave — it will make Vlad happy. Poland, get in line — you’re making Vlad happy.
Truth be told, I’m not absolutely convinced that Norbert is the kind of chap I’d like to see running any country, and my guess is that nor would most of the people who voted for him. But they did so because he was the only candidate prepared to stand up for values which an enormous proportion of the Austrian population — probably more than half — believe in: social conservatism and a curb on immigration. And Herr Van der Bellen, like Bernie Sanders in the USA and Jeremy Corbyn over here, and Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain, represents another form of populism — i.e. left-wing policies with which a large tranche of the voters instinctively agree. Greater equality, more spending on infrastructure, and so on.
My guess is that in the USA quite a lot of ordinary voters who are tempted to go for Trump would also be attracted by a lot of what Bernie Sanders has to offer (and vice versa) — but have no time at all for Hillary Clinton or Marco Rubio. Across Europe and also across the USA, the flaccid centre — liberal and yet authoritarian, prone to spouting platitudinous drivel, utterly estranged from the electorate — is in retreat. In France, those two forms of populism are very nearly united in the statist and redistributionist Front National. Only the party’s (arguably) former, loathsome anti-Semitism prevents it from sweeping all before it.
Incidentally, this is not just any old column. It is a column written by a graduate of the London School of Economics and Political Science. In future I think I should make this point every time I write anything, because of the immense pride I feel in my alma mater. Especially so now that it has awarded the actress Angelina Jolie an honorary professorship in Rights for Women, or some such abject bilge.
Spend an evening with Rod. Subscriber-only event. Westminster, 13 June. £20
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