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SEAN O’NEIL: Blaming migrants, not millionaires, is already a victory for the far right

The far right have been defeated, for now, in France, but does our focus on migrants play right into their hands?
The far right have been defeated, for now, in France, but does our focus on migrants play right into their hands?

So, France nearly done a fascism. And those of us on this side of the Channel got to smugly declare: “It couldn’t happen here.”

But as we stare aghast at the 13 million people in France who voted for Marine Le Pen’s anti-immigration party, maybe we should also take a look closer to home.

Let’s start with (deep breath)… Brexit.

Not everyone who voted for Brexit was a far-right xenophobe – let’s be clear about that.

Some folk heard politicians promise them an extra £350 million a week for the NHS and thought that money would be better in UK coffers, where it could be spent on our hospitals, doctors, nurses, patients and so on.

It’s a pretty reasonable position to have.

Unfortunately it was a position based on a lie.

A lie purported by now Prime Minster Boris Johnson.

But the far right played their part too.

Pleasing the far right can have long-term consequences

Parties like UKIP, the BNP and Britain First had been on the rise in the UK for some time, running on anti-immigration and Eurosceptic platforms.

So David Cameron did what all totally normal Prime Ministers do and tried to appease the fringe mob by rolling the dice on Europe.

A dice he rolled straight off the table and into the bin.

And in that bin, probably hungover and covered in cake, was Boris Johnson.

'One way ticket to Brexit, please'. Boris Johnson and David Cameron both set us on this journey. Photo: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire.
‘One way ticket to Brexit, please’. Boris Johnson and David Cameron both set us on this journey. Photo: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire.

That was 2016, of course. And it would take Boris a few years to find his way from the bin, via the fridge, to No 10.

(Or maybe he just spent £112,000 on refurbishing the bin.)

But either way it was all made a little easier by the rise of Donald Trump in America.

Learning from the Trump playbook

Trump set a new bar for being a terrible person in public office.

Misogynistic remarks, segregating migrant children from their parents, travel bans for seven Muslim-majority countries, trying to overthrow democracy

The MAGA man and his followers achieved a lot. None of it stuff to be proud of.

But Brexit, Trump, Johnson – it’s the same film. The same playbook.

Blame migrants, blame refugees, blame experts, blame liberals, blame lefties, blame snowflakes, blame woke.

Paint yourself as the common man, despite being anything but.

And then lie, shrug your shoulders when caught and point over there when it all goes wrong.

It’s the dead cat strategy, so deftly deployed with the unveiling of the much-criticised Rwanda policy earlier this month.

Fighting to win that far right vote

I wonder what Marine Le Pen thinks of the Home Office’s refugee plan.

Not that it matters now, of course.

The far-right in France has been quashed by Emmanuel Macron, with the aid of some tactical voting.

But the spectre lingers – and not just over there.

French voters chose Emmanuel Macron over Marine Le Pen. But let’s not be smug about our choices here. Photo: Bob Edme/AP/Shutterstock.

Having politicians who feel the need to appease the far right to win elections is worrying.

Macron has been accused of doing it, as was David Cameron.

And the reason politicians feel the need to appease is because they fear the growth of the far right in their country.

Or they fear losing votes to them.

And that should be terrifying.

We all lose in this blame game

We’ll probably always have racists and bigots.

But they don’t account for the increase in popularity of fascist groups.

I believe that comes from a growing disconnect between the elite and us plebs.

As the wealth divide grows so does unrest.

But we’ve been conditioned to blame down instead of up.

Instead of cursing the billionaires and millionaires – in France, America or the UK – we’re asked to direct our anger at the poor guy arriving on a boat.

Occasionally we’re asked to rage at the woke snowflakes who help them – or the RNLI, as Nigel Farage calls them.

But scapegoating refugees, migrants and people who just want a better life is the biggest dead cat of all.

If you have governments who invest in society and social causes above their own interests, the number of Syrians, Afghans or Ukrainians in your country shouldn’t matter a jot.


SEAN O’NEIL: It’s bad enough paying for the Bulb Energy bailout – why are we still paying the boss’s wages?

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