Looking for omens abroad to understand what might be going on in America is a fool’s errand. But omens there may well be in the astonishing results of last week’s election of delegates to the European Parliament. People everywhere are fed up. There was a genuine peasants’ revolt across Europe, and some of the hardest heads, those most oblivious to the anger at the transformation of the Continent, say they learned a lesson.
Candidates skeptical of the European Union — “Euroskeptics,” they’re called — won the biggest share of the vote in France, where the National Front campaigned on a slogan of “politics of the French for the French.”
In Britain, the U.K. Independence Party — popularly known as “UKIP” — won more votes than either the Conservatives or the Labor Party. Prime Minister David Cameron, who once called UKIP “a bunch of fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists” and during this campaign accused the party of saying “appalling” and “deeply unpleasant” things about immigration, seemed to have had a Damascus Road experience, or something close to it on Downing Street.
On the morning after he sent out one of his closest aides, the finance minister, George Osborne, to tell a meeting of grass-roots Tories that “we should show the highest respect for those who go out and cast their vote, and respect, too, those who cast their votes for another party. That includes those who voted for UKIP.”
This is called eating crow raw, including the beak and bones, with neither sauce nor salad. Marine Le Pen, the leader of the National Front, did a little crowing about what Paris commentators called “the European earthquake.”
“The sovereign people,” she said, “have declared they want to take back the reins of their destiny. Our people demand just one politics. The politics of the French, for the French.”
These were the first elections after the debt crisis, and tell how unpopular the bailouts and austerity measures on behalf of governments of other European countries really are. Voters, though still in love with the welfare state, blame the European Union for harsh spending cuts and high unemployment.
Angry voters across the Continent range from moderate to conservative to extremist. One of the small Greek parties that won votes is even neo-Nazi. The rhetoric of the National Front in France indulges anti-Semitism similar to the ugly words about Jews heard in the universities in the United States.
The earthquake rattled Britain just as a study of “social attitudes” found that more than a third of Britons say they are racially prejudiced. More than 90 percent of those who admit to racial prejudice are eager to see immigration ended, at least long enough to give the nation time to catch its breath. But this was the statistic that really rattled the ruling classes: 72 percent of those who profess no racial prejudice want to see immigration curbed, too.
This is not so hard for some to understand. “As shell-shocked politicians from the main parties struggle to discern the causes of UKIP’s electoral success,” columnist Allison Pearson writes in London’s Daily Telegraph, “here’s a tip. Look in the mirror, chaps. It is politicians, not the British people, who are to blame for a resurgence in racism; politicians who have ignored public opinion and created conditions in which resentments fester and grow.”
The elites in Britain, like the elites in America, take a certain pride in having no religious beliefs and do not understand convictions, even sordid convictions, in others. Their first instinct is to cave to outrageous demands of radical newcomers and caution anyone who objects to shut up. Britons have watched as a teacher is hounded from a school by Islamists demanding that girls and boys be separated, as Muslim “grooming gangs” torment girls on the street, as demands grow for Shariah law.
A onetime speechwriter for Tony Blair concedes that the scheme was to banish the old white England and usher in a new, vibrant multicultural country. The elites would be protected by wealth and position from what Mr. Cameron would call “deeply unpleasant” effects. Anyone who thought all this scheming was a bad idea, that the culture wrought over centuries of British history should be preserved, that keeping intact the culture that attracted immigration in the first place, was dismissed as a retrograde racist. Immigration was something nice people didn’t talk about.
Now they’re talking. What was racist yesterday has become legitimate concern about immigration. Europe and even England, to be sure, are very different from America. But politicians everywhere hold certain truths in common: a boot in the backside can change minds.
Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.