Friday, 10 March 2000


Paul Anderson, Tribune column, 10 March 2000

Hate campaigns in politics are always good fun for onlookers - and the Labour leadership's assault on Ken Livingstone since he announced he would be running for London mayor as an independent is nothing if not hugely entertaining for most of the population. But in the long run it would make sense for New Labour to lay off the mud-slinging.

Of course, in Labour Party terms, Livingstone has done wrong. He has committed the cardinal sin of declaring that he will stand for elected office against the official Labour candidate – and to make matters worse he has done so after he promised he wouldn't.

But – like it or not – the voters, and most of the Labour Party in London, think that he has been badly treated by the Labour machine and are minded to use the mayoral election to treat it a lesson. Everything suggests that he is going to win, and that Dobbo will have his day made by not getting the job he didn't want in the first place.

Opinion polls might not always be accurate, but the 55 percentage point lead that the Guardian's ICM poll gave Livingstone this week suggests that only a quite extraordinarily dynamic campaign could hope to stop him.

And, despite all the best efforts of the party machine, Dobbo's campaign has all the momentum of a dead dog. Even if most Labour Party members in London decide not to jeopardise their membership by actively campaigning for Livingstone, hardly anyone is going to lift a finger for Labour's official candidate. (And I wouldn't be at all surprised if a majority of party members vote for Livingstone.)

This means that, after the votes are counted on 4 May, it is likely that the Government is going to have to work with Livingstone as London mayor – and that Labour as a party is going to have to woo back vast numbers of Livingstone supporters, both activists and voters, before the next general election.

In this light, spending the next eight weeks slagging Livingstone off as a liar, an ego-maniac, a traitor, an extremist and worse is not, to put it mildly, very intelligent politics. It would be more sensible by far for the Labour machine to write off the London mayoral election as an inevitable defeat, run a gracious, low-key (and low-cost) non-campaign and then, as soon as possible after Livingstone wins, find a way of getting him back into the party fold.

There are historical precedents for this. Labour ran magisterial non-campaigns in several by-elections between 1992 and 1997 where the Liberal Democrats were the main challengers to the Tories, most memorably that in Newbury, which was masterminded by Peter Mandelson. And Labour has not always treated its prodigal sons and daughters by casting them into outer darkness for ever.

With all the talk from the Dobbo camp of Oswald Mosley, Ramsay MacDonald, the Gang of Four and Militant, it is easy to forget that many who have left Labour have returned and been forgiven their sins – among them such luminaries as Aneurin Bevan, Stafford Cripps, John Strachey, Jennie Lee and Fenner Brockway.

Given that Livingstone is not planning to set up a political party to rival Labour, has argued for supporters in the Labour Party to stay put and has advocated Dobbo as second preference, there is no good reason that he should not be back inside the party by the end of the year.

Reason has long since ceased to have anything to do with the mayoral race, however. "New" Labour appears to be bent on playing as dirty as possible, and hang the consequences. As things stand, it is no more likely that the party leadership will see the sense of damage-limitation than that Dobbo will be mayor on 4 May.

Wednesday, 1 March 2000


New Times, March 2000

Paul Anderson reports from Vienna on the opposition to the new coalition between conservatives and the far-right Freedom Party

The police said there were 150,000 people there, the organisers 300,000. Whatever the true figure, the 19 February rally in Vienna's Heldenplatz against Austria's new coalition of conservatives and the far-right populist Freedom Party (FPO) was impressively massive.
Four feeder marches converged on the square – chosen as the gathering point because it is where Hitler addressed jubilant Austrians in 1938 following his incorporation of the republic into the Third Reich – after a day of protest throughout the city centre. People were still arriving long after the speeches began.

All sorts braved the miserably wet and windy weather to take part in the demonstration, the culmination of a fortnight of popular protest against the "black-blue" government. There were pensioners and teenagers, trade unionists and artists, Christians and environmentalists, social democrats and anarchists. The mood was determined, peaceful and remarkably upbeat.
One demonstration organiser delighted everyone by distributing fake banknotes to the crowd – a joke against Jorg Haider, the FPO leader, who had claimed the youth wing of the Social Democratic Party had paid youngsters between 1,500 and 1,800 schillings (£75-£100) to come to the rally. Another organiser was cheered wildly when he declared: "You only have to resign and the demonstrations will stop very quickly."

Chancellor Wolfgang Schussel has dismissed the protest movement against his decision to invite the FPO into coalition with his conservative People's Party (OVP) as an "emotional outpouring". "Things will soon calm down," he told a Swiss newspaper.

But he has good reason to be worried. The latest opinion polls show that support for the OVP has slumped since the formation of the new government, which followed the breakdown of talks between the OVP and Social Democratic Party (SPO) aimed at salvaging the SPO-OVP coalition that had ruled Austria since 1986.

The FPO's support remains at around the 27 per cent it won in last October's general election. Then, it narrowly beat the OVP into third place, precipitating a protracted government crisis as SPO leader Viktor Klima, chancellor since 1997, desperately tried to dissuade Schussel from carrying out his threat of walking out of the coalition if his party failed to come second.

In recent weeks, however, there has been a surge in support for the Greens, who have been in the forefront of anti-government protests. Led by the charismatic Alexander van der Bellen, it now has 16 per cent support compared with the 7.5 per cent it won last October. A general election now could well give an SPO-Green coalition a parliamentary majority.

Not that the SPO is currently in the best of shape. In power constantly since 1970, it has not found it easy to adapt to opposition. Although it remains the largest party in parliament, its performance last October, when it took 33 per cent of the vote, was its worst in any general election since 1920. Most worryingly, it lost large swathes of its traditional working-class support to the anti-immigrant FPO and did particularly poorly among younger voters.

Klima resigned last month as SPO leader to be replaced by party secretary Alfred Gusenbauer, who at 40 is the youngest leader the party has ever had. Gusenbauer, a former leader of the SPO's youth wing and spokesman on overseas development, is a popular and dynamic figure whom many commentators see as the Austrian Tony Blair. He made clear his goal at a press conference after his appointment: "We want to renew the SPO from head to toe and become a party for the youth of our country."

Opponents of the new government have promised to take to the streets once a week in demonstrations modelled on those that brought down the communist regime in East Germany: they have even adopted the 1989 East German demonstrators' slogan 'Wir sind das Volk' ('We are the people'). Whether the strategy works remains to be seen, however. Although public opinion seems to be moving in the protesters' direction – largely  because of worries about the damage to Austria's reputation caused by the FPO's arrival in government – the coalition has a comfortable parliamentary majority.

The far-right in Europe
The rise of Jorg Haider's Freedom Party (FPO) has been protracted and by no means smooth. Until the early 1980s, the FPO was essentially a free-market liberal party with a small pan-Germanic right wing. The right, led by Haider, grew in strength after the party leadership entered into coalition with the Social Democrats in 1983, and in 1986 seized control of the party. Under Haider's leadership, the FPO adopted a stridently anti-immigrant, anti-EU populist rhetoric.  Haider himself made a string of pro-Nazi remarks, praising Hitler's 'orderly employment policy', describing SS war veterans as 'respectable' and referring to the concentration camps as 'punishment camps'. From taking 5 per cent of the vote in the 1983 general election, the FPO won 9.7 per cent in 1986, 16.5 per cent in 1990 and 22.5 per cent in 1994. The party slipped back to 21.9 per cent in 1995 but took 26.9 per cent in last October's election, beating the conservative People's Party (OVP) into third place. 
The three far-right parties in Germany - the National Democratic Party (NDP), the Republicans, and the German People's Union (DVU)-have never won the 5 per cent of the vote in federal elections to win representation in the Bundestag. The NDP is a tiny party of skinhead thugs and out-and-out Nazis, but the Republicans and the DVU - which are scarcely less vehemently racist – have enjoyed some electoral success since German unification. The Republicans, founded in 1983, are currently represented in the state parliament of Baden-Wurttemberg. The DVU, led by the millionaire Munich publisher Gerhard Frey, has found significant support among the young unemployed of former East Germany, its best result coming two years ago in Saxony-Anhalt, where it won nearly 13 per cent two years ago. Many Germans worry that the far right could exploit the current crisis of the Christian Democratic Union to its advantage. 
The far-right Italian Social Movement (MSI) consistently won between 5 and 7 per cent of the vote in general elections from the 1950s until the 1980s, but its growth was checked by its nostalgia for Mussolini's fascist regime and its association with terrorism. Under the leadership of Gianfranco Fini, however, it made a bid for respectability, changing its name to the National Alliance (AN) and dropping most of its overtly fascist political trappings. Largely untouched by the corruption scandals that ripped through Italy's political class in the early In the 1994 election, the AN took  13.5 per cent of the vote and entered Silvio Belusconi's short-lived right-wing coalition government; it increased its share of the vote to 15.5 per cent in 1996. The AN, with its core support in the poor south of the country, tends to avoid anti-immigrant populism, which in Italy has tended to be directed by northerners against their southern compatriots as much as against foreigners. Not so Umberto Bossi, leader of the secessionist Northern League (LN), who shared a platform with Jorg Haider at an anti-immigration rally last year. The LN won 10 per cent of the vote in 1996 -- and like the Austrian FPO, its supporters are overwhelmingly affluent. 
The far right in Belgium – particularly in Flanders – is able to exploit not only widespread distrust of immigrants but also the country's linguistic divisions. The extreme Flemish nationalist Vlaams Blok (VB) first won parliamentary representation in 1978 but has grown alarmingly since the late 1980s, taking 6.6 per cent of the vote in 1991, 7.8 per cent in 1995 and 9.8 per cent in 1999. Its stronghold is the city of Antwerp. The VB demands an immediate halt to immigration and a policy of "national preference": the other parties in Belgium have responded to its rise by freezing it out of power and enacting tough legislation against incitement to racial hatred. 
In the mid-1980s, the virulently anti-immigrant French National Front (FN), led by Jean-Marie Le Pen, was by far the most electorally successful far-right party in western Europe, winning nearly 11 per cent of the vote in the 1984 European election and 10 per cent (and 35 seats) in the 1986 National Assembly election. Its successes, particularly marked in the south of the country, prompted president Francois Mitterrand to change the electoral system to exclude it from parliament, and in the 1988 National Assembly election, on a similar share of the vote, it won a single seat. But the FN continued to make gains in local government and Le Pen won 15 per cent in the first round of the 1995 presidential election; the party took much the same in the 1997 National Assembly election. In 1998, however, the FN split into two after a leadership battle between Le Pen and his deputy, Bruno Megret, with Megret (who declared that he wanted to become part of the 'respectable' right) forming the Republican National Movement (MNR). In last year's European election, the FN took 5.8 per cent and the MNR 3.3 per cent, with much of the FN's former support rallying behind ex-Gaullist Charles Pasqua's Eurosceptic list.
In last October's general election, the anti-immigrant, anti-EU Swiss People's Party (SVP) emerged as the most popular party, with 23 per cent of the vote, up from 15 per cent in 1995. Led by businessman Christoph Blocher, who has built up a significant power base in the eastern German-speaking regions of Switzerland during the past decade, it has a single minister (from its moderate wing) in the four-party coalition government. This makes it the only west European far-right party apart from the Austrian FPO currently holding national government office. The SVP, formed in 1971 from a merger of centrist and farmers' parties, is now organising a petition calling for tougher asylum laws. 
There has been a dramatic growth of support in the past few years for the Danish People's Party (DF), led by Pia Kjaersgaard. It won 7.5 per cent of the vote in the 1998 general election and recent opinion polls suggest it could double that at the next general election. Anti-EU and anti-immigrant. 
The Progress Party, led by the charismatic Carl Hagen, took second place in the 1997 general election with 15 per cent of the vote. Ultra-free-market in economics, it is also hostile to immigration and virulently anti-EU.


New Times, March 2000

After nearly three weeks of gruelling negotiations, Spain's two main left-wing parties last month agreed a joint manifesto and a partial electoral pact for the 12 March general election.

The agreement falls short of what JoaquĆ­n Almunia, leader of the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE), had in mind in January when he surprised everyone by offering a pre-election deal to the communist-led United Left (IU), modelled on Lionel Jospin's socialist-communist 'plural left' alliance in France.

Almunia, a centrist pragmatist and close ally of former prime minister Felipe Gonzalez, wanted an electoral pact to cover both houses of parliament, though not joint lists of candidates everywhere. The IU wanted joint lists – and, when Almunia refused to accept them, rejected his suggestion that it stand down candidates for the lower house in selected provinces.

As a result, the electoral pact covers only elections for the senate, the upper house, in those provinces where prime minister Jose Maria Aznar's conservative Popular Party (PP) had a majority in 1996. Nevertheless, the joint manifesto, along with the IU's promise of parliamentary support for Almunia becoming prime minister, marks a reconciliation between the two parties that few would have deemed possible three months ago. Both sides gave ground over the contents of the manifesto – the IU by accepting the PSOE's refusal to raise income tax and its commitment to maintaining Spanish participation in the euro and membership of Nato, the PSOE by agreeing to legislate for introduction of a 35-hour working week.

The day the deal was unveiled, both Almunia and IU leader Francisco Frutos pronounced themselves well pleased with their work. 'It is very satisfactory,' said Almunia, 'as well as being a response to what progressive, left-wing people have been demanding from us socialists and United Left people for some time.' 'It is not a matter of patching things over between political parties but of trying to come up with a responsible programme for governing this country from the left,' said Frutos.

Whether the agreement is enough to secure the left victory on 12 March is doubtful, however. On the evidence of the latest opinion polls, the PP has the support of between 42 and 44 per cent of voters, with the PSOE roughly five percentage points behind and the IU on 7 to 8 per cent. These figures suggest Almunia has at least a chance of ousting Aznar – but only if the left rapprochement encourages tactical voting by PSOE and IU voters and does not scare anyone off.