Whatever the result, the referendum will further take us away from politics and hope

First published on OpenDemocracy

We are now less than three away from the referendum and it is hard to imagine that this campaign could become any more vile. The ITV debate between David Cameron and Nigel Farage demonstrated the dearth of the choice as it proved hard for many to support either option listening to who was defending them. Yet beyond media soundbites, it would be fascinating to know what Cameron is thinking at the moment, as he witnesses the beast he wilfully allowed out to wreak havoc in his own camp and even put the economic rationale his party traditionally stands for at risk. As reported by a recent IPSOS MORI survey for the Observer, ‘the biggest survey of its kind ever conducted,’ ‘Nine out of 10 of the country’s top economists working across academia, the City, industry, small businesses and the public sector believe the British economy will be harmed by Brexit’. This confirms other claims by prominent experts and stakeholders that if one believes that neo-liberalism and the capitalist system are the basis of a strong national economy, then leaving the European Union would be a terrible, even stupid, idea. This therefore begs the question as to why the Prime Minister, who has declared that he ‘yields to no-one’ in his ‘enthusiasm for capitalism’, would promise a referendum on the question in the first place.

The idea behind the referendum has never been to offer the British people a discussion and ultimate choice between a neo-liberal Europe and a social Britain, something the Conservative party has obviously been working hard to dismantle. The choice is between a neo-liberal UK within a neo-liberal EU and a neo-liberal UK without a neo-liberal EU. Systemic change is out of the question and was never meant to be part of the discussion. As the General Election campaign made clear, the referendum promise was dictated by the Conservatives’ lack of faith in their own beliefs and driven by their fear of a radical right upsurge. In a poorly thought-through manoeuvre, Cameron moved rightward in an attempt to occupy a gap partly filled by UKIP. The Prime Minister shifted his campaign towards the more cultural realm of identity politics, pledging to a fantasised version of the good people of Britain that he would allow xenophobic discourse to be freed as he promised a referendum on the EU (even though UKIP only represented at best just under 1 out of 10 voters). Continue reading Whatever the result, the referendum will further take us away from politics and hope

Debating the future of Europe is essential, but when will we start?

The campaign for the UK referendum appears to have induced the French to confront their own pessimistic view of the Union and its future. A recent poll conducted by Eichhorn et al. in six countries suggested that French respondents were the least keen to see their British counterpart remain in the EU, with 44% declaring that the UK should leave. This was in stark contrast with other countries: Brexit supporters were 27% in Germany, 20% in Poland, 19% in Spain, 21% in Ireland and 33% in Sweden.

Of course, such dissonant results may be partly attributable to the UK’s reputation as an ‘awkward partner’ within the EU, something which has led to multiple feuds between UK and French leaders. However, one cannot ignore that the campaign takes place in a unique environment in France, at a time when one of the leading engines of the European construction is faltering, with warning signs flashing from all directions, and no one seemingly willing to put in the necessary work to get it going again. Beyond the UK’s fate, the same poll highlighted that 53% of French respondents wished for their country to ‘hold a referendum on its EU membership’ and only 45% declared they would vote for France to remain in the Union; 33% would vote for it to leave. Again, these numbers are in stark contrast with Germany in particular, leading the Le Monde correspondent to conclude that ‘while the French profess a relative indifference with regard to the Brexit, they appear as the most eurosceptically worked up country, behind the UK’. Continue reading Debating the future of Europe is essential, but when will we start?

Charlie Hebdo attacks – one year on (BRLSI talk)

Below if the recording and Powerpoint presentation of a talk given at BRLSI on the 19th of January 2016, just over a year after attacks.

This talk is based on part of my current research with Aaron Winter from the University of East London – this paper will be part of a book I am currently co-editing with Gavan Titley (Maynooth university) and Des Freedman and Gholam Khiabany (both from Goldsmiths).

The aim of this talk was to focus on the aftermath of the attacks,  to contextualise the events and offer a more nuanced analysis of their impact on French politics and society.

Audio link

Charlie Hebdo – One year on (powerpoint)

Czy naprawdę „szok”? Front Narodowy wygrywa we Francji

Translated by, and originally published in Polish on Krytyka polityczna.

Politycy głównego nurtu we Francji chcą tylko biernej akceptacji tego, co jest. Nic dziwnego, że Front Narodowy na tym zyskuje.

Jak po każdych wyborach ostatnimi laty, dziś rano Francja obudziła się zszokowana i odrętwiała. Front Narodowy znów na pierwszych stronach gazet – to zresztą już stały motyw. Prawicowy „Le Figaro” i komunistyczna „L’Humanité” drukują ten sam nagłówek: Le Choc.

Z 27,96 procentami głosów partia Marine Le Pen zwyciężyła w skali kraju, z przewagą większą, niż ta przewidywana w sondażach. Centroprawicowa Union de la droite (Republikanie, MoDem i UDI) zajęła drugie miejsce z 26,89 proc. głosów, podczas gdy poparcie Partii Socjalistycznej spadło do 23,33 proc. głosów. To fatalny wynik dla centroprawicy, która w poprzednich dwojgu wyborach w 2004 i 2010 roku wygrała we wszystkich regionach Francji kontynentalnej poza jednym. Continue reading Czy naprawdę „szok”? Front Narodowy wygrywa we Francji

The rise of the Front National is only part of the problem

The rise of the Front National is only part of the problem

The ‘shock’ is not the rise of the Front National, but the failure of the system to bring forward a positive alternative.

Marine Le Pen. Demotix/Francois Pauletto. All rights reserved.

As with every recent election, France woke up this morning shocked and groggy. The Front National is front page material, somewhat of a theme recently. Right-wing Le Figaro and communist L’Humanité share the same title: ‘Le Choc’.

With 27.96% of the vote, Marine Le Pen’s party has come top nationally, leading by a larger margin than predicted by polls. The centre right Union de la droite (Les Républicains, the MoDem and UDI) came in second with 26.89%, while the Parti Socialiste collapsed to 23.33%. This is a terrible result for the centre left who had won in all but one region in continental France in the previous two elections in 2004 and 2010.

Yet can we still call such results a shock in light of the past three years? In 2012, Marine Le Pen received 17.9% of the vote in the presidential elections. Later that year, the party received 13.6% in the legislative elections against the odds set by a majoritarian system which had successfully kept the FN out of the National Assembly since 1988. In 2014, the party won in the European elections with 24.86% of the vote. Finally, in March this year, the FN came third in the departmental elections with 25.24% of the vote in the first round.

Yesterday’s results are no longer out of the ordinary in France, and the media pretending to be shocked by them can only point to denial or utter lack of imagination as to what is to be done to reverse the tide.
Continue reading The rise of the Front National is only part of the problem

Η κήρυξη πολέμου εκ μέρους του Ολάντ δεν θα απαλλάξει την Ευρώπη από την τρομοκρατία

μετάφραση: Στρ. Μπουλαλάκης, Γιάννης Χατζηδημητράκης for ΕΝΘΕΜΑΤΑ

Σκίτσο του Μαρκ Ουίλσον

O Φρανσουά Ολάντ επιβεβαίωσε ότι η γαλλική κυβέρνηση θα υιοθετήσει σκληρή στάση ως απάντηση στις επιθέσεις που πραγματοποιήθηκαν στο Παρίσι στις 13 Νοεμβρίου. Ο σοσιαλιστής Πρόεδρος άφησε να εννοηθεί αρκετές φορές ότι τα αντίποινά του θα ξεπεράσουν σε σφοδρότητα ακόμη και εκείνα του Νικολά Σαρκοζί – του δεξιού προκατόχου του στην προεδρία και αντιπάλου του στις εκλογές του 2017, παρά τη φήμη του τελευταίου ως «σκληρού». Οι γαλλικές δυνάμεις ήδη βομβαρδίζουν τη Συρία.

Η αρχική συναισθηματική αντίδραση του Προέδρου, λίγες ώρες μετά τις επιθέσεις, μπορεί να δικαιολογηθεί λόγω της φρίκης που επικράτησε. Ωστόσο, τις μέρες που ακολούθησαν, πολιτικοί από την Δεξιά ως την Αριστερά και η πλειοψηφία των Μέσων Μαζικής Ενημέρωσης έχουν εγκαταλείψει κάθε σύνεση και λογική. Έχουν προσπαθήσει να ξεπεράσουν ο ένας τον άλλο στην πλειοδοσία των πιο αντιδραστικών, βίαιων και διχαστικών ρητορειών.

Σχεδόν όλοι συμφωνούν ότι η Γαλλία βρίσκεται «σε πόλεμο». Ο πρωθυπουργός Μανουέλ Βαλς μίλησε ακόμη και για «εσωτερικό εχθρό» — μια φράση με έντονη φόρτιση στη γαλλική ιστορία. Εξέχοντες δεξιοί πολιτικοί προχώρησαν ακόμη περισσότερο ζητώντας οι ύποπτοι να φυλακίζονται χωρίς δίκη — μια εκπληκτική πρόταση δεδομένης της σκοτεινής ιστορίας των «στρατοπέδων συγκέντρωσης» στην ευρωπαϊκή πολιτική.
Continue reading Η κήρυξη πολέμου εκ μέρους του Ολάντ δεν θα απαλλάξει την Ευρώπη από την τρομοκρατία

Hollande declaring war will not rid Europe of terror

Francois Hollande has confirmed that the French government will take a hard stance in response to the attacks which took place in Paris on November 13.

The Socialist president hinted more than once that his retaliation would even surpass in forcefulness that of Nicolas Sarkozy – his right-wing predecessor as president and opponent for the 2017 elections, despite the latter’s reputation for tough measures. French forces are already bombing Syria.

In the aftermath of the attack, the early emotional reaction from the president was justifiable given the terrible circumstances. But in the days that followed, politicians from right to left and much of the mainstream media have abandoned caution and reason. They have sought to outdo each other in offering up the most reactionary, violent and divisive rhetoric.

Continue reading Hollande declaring war will not rid Europe of terror

Ne tombons pas dans le piège de peur et d’exclusion tendu par Daech

Face à l’horreur provoquée par cette nouvelle série d’attaques terroristes en France, il est urgent de ne pas céder à la peur et de ne pas stigmatiser les populations les plus fragiles.

Les attaques perpétrées ce vendredi 13 novembre sont les plus meurtrières qu’ait connues la France depuis 1945. Selon un dernier bilan, ce sont près de 130 personnes qui ont trouvé la mort à la suite de ces attentats commis simultanément à Paris dans six endroits différents. Les autorités policières ont indiqué que les huit terroristes à l’origine de ces attaques seraient décédés – sept en se faisant exploser.

Ce n’est pas comme si la France n’était pas préparée à l’éventualité d’une telle tragédie. Les mesures antiterroristes ont été renforcées jusqu’à leur plus haut niveau depuis l’attaque, en janvier dernier, de Charlie Hebdo par les frères Kouachi et de l’Hyper Casher par Amédy Coulibaly.

Depuis des mois maintenant, les soldats patrouillant en armes dans les rues font partie du quotidien des Parisiens. Mais le plan Vigipirate mis en place par le gouvernement pour assurer la sécurité des Français n’aura pas suffi à déjouer ce qui apparaît comme l’attaque la mieux organisée qu’ait jamais menée Daech hors de son territoire. Toute la lumière doit encore être faite, mais l’État islamique a déjà revendiqué cette nouvelle vague d’attaques. François Hollande, accusant directement l’organisation terroriste, a affirmé qu’il voyait dans cette série d’attentats « un acte de guerre ». L’état d’urgence a été instauré dans le pays, des mesures radicales comme le rétablissement des contrôles aux frontières ont été prises, écoles et universités ont été fermées.

Continue reading Ne tombons pas dans le piège de peur et d’exclusion tendu par Daech

É essencial lutar contra a paranoia (O Globo)

Os ataques em Paris são os mais mortais em solo francês desde 1945. E não que a França não estivesse preparada. Medidas antiterroristas estavam no nível mais alto desde janeiro, após o ataque ao “Charlie Hebdo”. Soldados armados tornaram-se parte de Paris. No entanto, não foram suficientes para evitar o que se acredita ser o ataque mais exitoso do Estado Islâmico (EI) cometido fora da sua área de domínio.

Agora, Hollande declarou estado de emergência: controle nas fronteiras e escolas e universidades fechadas. Mas um clima de medo e paranoia pode ter consequências graves. Medidas emergenciais são necessárias, mas devem continuar emergenciais. Caso tornem-se permanentes, põem a França num caminho extremamente perigoso.

Continue reading É essencial lutar contra a paranoia (O Globo)

Paris terror attacks: France now faces fight against fear and exclusion

The attacks that took place at a series of venues in Paris on November 13 were the deadliest on French soil since 1945. At least 129 people have been killed in six different places. Reports say that nearly 100 are in a critical condition. Police have reported that eight people believed to have carried out the attacks are also dead – seven by blowing themselves up.

It was not as though France had not prepared itself to face such a tragedy. Anti-terrorist measures have been at their highest level in Paris since January, when two brothers attacked the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, killing 12.

This was obvious to any bystander over the past few months. Armed soldiers have become part of the Paris experience. Yet the government’s security plan, the plan vigipirate, was not enough to stop what is so far believed to be the most organised and coordinated attack Islamic State has perpetrated outside its territory. Details are still thin on the ground, but IS has claimed responsibility. President François Hollande has blamed the group and made it clear that he sees this as an act of war.

Continue reading Paris terror attacks: France now faces fight against fear and exclusion

The French secular hypocrisy: the extreme right, the Republic and the battle for hegemony

Abstract:

The success of the extreme right in France in the past two decades has not been limited to its electoral rise. A more long-lasting victory has taken place in the ideological field, where the discourse of the extreme right now occupies a prominent place in the mainstream liberal democratic agenda. Increasingly, its ideas are seen in the media and in the platforms of mainstream parties as ‘common sense’ or at least acceptable. The growing acceptance of this ‘common sense’ is the result of very carefully crafted strategies put in place by extreme-right thinkers since the 1980s. For over three decades now, in order to change perceptions and renew extreme right-wing ideology, New Right think tanks such as the French GRECE believed it was necessary to borrow the tactics of the left and, more specifically, the Gramscian concept of hegemony: cultural power must precede political power. With the use of contemporary examples, Mondon’s article demonstrates the continuing impact these ideas have had on the Front national and French politics and society, and how this change originated in the association of populist rhetoric with the neo-racist stigmatization of the Other.

Mondon A. (2015) The French secular hypocrisy: the extreme right, the Republic and the battle for hegemony. Patterns of Prejudice 49: 1-22.

UKIP, from a single issue party to the radical right: real symptom, wrong diagnosis

Mondon, A (2015) ‘UKIP, from a single issue party to the radical right: real symptom, wrong diagnosis’, TOR, Vol.1, 25-27

UKIP has been given an important amount of media space, both as a contender and issue in the 2014 EU elections and 2015 General elections. While the party created an ‘earthquake’ a year ago when it won the European contest, its results in the General Elections have proven harder to gauge either positively or negatively. UKIP only managed to send one candidate to Westminster (Douglas Carswell, a defector from the Conservative party), losing not only the second seat it had acquired after another Tory defection, but also with Nigel Farage himself failing to win South Thanet. On paper, it seems that the ‘purple revolution’ has petered out. However, it would be mistaken to reduce UKIP’s electoral performance to the number of seats in parliament it will occupy. On the whole, the party performed well when considering it polled second in 125 seats across England and Wales  (Steafel et al. 11 May 2015). Such contradictory accounts of UKIP’s performance are further nuanced when abstention is taken into account. With 33.9% abstention, UKIP’s overall share of the registered vote falls to 8.3% – a figure which is even lower when non-registered voters are taken into account. This suggests therefore that while the performance of UKIP should not be downplayed, it is not the alternative it has been painted to be in much of the media as the party has failed to appeal to more than one out of ten British voters despite very favourable circumstances  (Mondon Forthcoming 2015).

Continue reading UKIP, from a single issue party to the radical right: real symptom, wrong diagnosis

Populism, the people and the illusion of democracy – the Front National and UKIP in a comparative context

Mondon, A (2015) ‘Populism, the People and the Illusion of Democracy’, French Politics, 13, 141–156. doi:10.1057/fp.2015.6

The 2014 European elections confirmed the prominence in the media of what is commonly called the far right. While parties such as the Front National and UKIP were successful in the elections, their performance has since been exaggerated and they have benefited from a disproportionate coverage. Aiding their apparently ‘irresistible rise’, their normalisation was greatly facilitated by their description as ‘populist’ parties. However, while this term ‘populism’ has been almost universally accepted in the media, it remains a hotly debated concept on the academic circuit, and its careless use could in fact prove counterproductive in the assessment of the current state of democracy in Europe.

Instead of focusing on the reasons behind the rise of these parties, similarities and differences already widely covered in the literature, this article hypothesises that a skewed and disproportionate coverage of the European elections in particular, and the ‘rise’ of ‘right-wing populism’ in general, have prevented a thorough democratic discussion from taking place and impeded the possibility of other political alternatives.

Keywords: Front National; UKIP; populism; democracy; media

Owen Jones is not where the British left should look for answers

[This review was written soon after The Establishment was published, but has sat on my desktop ever since. It felt timely to publish it now]

Owen Jones’ recent book provides a detailed and well-researched overview of the ‘Establishment’ in the United Kingdom, and its role in the construction of a deeply unfair, unequal and divided society. Jones explores in great detail the various segments of society which he concludes represent this loose ‘Establishment’, from outriders to the ‘Westminster cartel’, the media to tycoons and ‘tax-dodgers’ and lists their manifold evils. The Establishment makes for a depressing read, but it is hardly a wakeup call, as most of its likely audience are already broadly familiar with the issue.

This does not mean that the detail in which Jones explores the often detestable misbehaviour of our political, intellectual and economic elite is not important, but simply that he is preaching to the converted. His narrative will stir the well-educated middle class who will feel rightly outraged, but who ultimately do not suffer the brunt of the injustice plaguing this country. The many graphic examples Jones provides make ‘Us’ feel closer to those who suffer, but ‘We’ remain all too able to turn our backs on them when push comes to shove. Upon closing the book readers will feel warm and fuzzy at the thought that exposing such an unjust society will finally change things. But many will subsequently go on with their life, partaking in the consumerist orgy responsible for the very plight they feel so strongly about in their leisure time, yet all but rebuke to the darkest corners of their minds when it counts. In this manner the book acts as a therapy session for those who chafe against the social iniquities of the world live in and yet profit very much from it. Others, of course, will continue their daily struggle to turn the social justice Jones advocates into reality. Yet, it is those who dedicate their lives to effect change whom, I would argue, Jones misleads in his book by claiming his vision is radical and his alternative world view anything but a band-aid.

The conservativism of Jones’ anti-establishment message is demonstrated in numerous ways. First, the Establishment is filled with nationalistic pride in ‘our’ glorious achievements such as the NHS, while conveniently ignoring the world around us: social justice is not just a British affair; it will only be achieved through a global response. Jones avoids addressing the fact that all of us need to rethink our privileged situation and give up on much of our comfort if the justice he proclaims to desire is to reach beyond our relatively comfortable shores. Instead, he harks back to past victorious struggles, forgetting that times have changed, forgetting that the context for radical politics is no longer favourable and change would come at a price. The truth hurts; Jones’ prescriptions are painless. No longer are social democratic forces able to rely on the Communist threat to force their governments to assuage workers. No longer is the West able to rely on wealth built on the exploitation of their empires to appease the justified anger of their poor. Even if the UK could turn the clock back and return to its old self, it would only be at the expense of others across the globe. Social justice in a globalised world cannot take place within one country, it must be global. Issues of poverty, education, health, food, water, the environment and so on cannot be left to individual nations to sort out for their own exclusive conception of the people; this risks fuelling nationalist movements and the exploitation of the most vulnerable on this earth. Jones mentions this caveat briefly on p.313, only to revert immediately to an anglo-centric vision of history.

Jones calls for a reform of the current system, tells us to look back at tradition to effect change, and therefore turn to parties and unions to shift the ‘Overton window’ (a much less convincing concept than hegemony which appears only once in the book (p.297)). While the reforms advocated by Jones would certainly be welcome by most on the left, they remain both moderate and naïve. In his 2005 book The Hatred of Democracy, French philosopher Jacques Rancière articulated a series of obvious rules required for a representative system to be democratic: ‘short non-renewable electoral mandates; the elaboration of laws given exclusively to the representatives of the people; the interdiction for civil servants to be representatives, the reduction to the minimum of political campaigns and the strict control of the influence lobbies can have on the electoral process’ (Rancière 2005; 80-81). Yet he was under no illusion that his proposals, no matter how minimal or obvious, would stand a chance, and would in fact be commonly derided as utopian despite their moderation. Despite its very title and apparent subject, Jones’s book fails acknowledge the oligarchic and post-democratic nature of our political system and his blind faith in the radical potential of Parliamentarians and the electoral process as it stands are what make his prescriptions tokenistic resistance in the face of injustice. Too often, the responsibility for the plight of the ‘people’ is placed on individuals or parts of society gone rogue such as the city (pp.262-63), instead of flaws at the heart of the system itself. Jones even takes the German workplace as an example to follow for his ‘democratic revolution’, demonstrating how moderate the change he is advocating for are (p.304-305). The ‘Establishment’ acts as the perfect scapegoat to ignore more deeply seated issues about our democracy. Jones may be standing on the edge of the Overton window, but his presence there only serves to reinforce the hegemonic order by giving the semblance of a contestation of the establishment without ever risking undermining its real basis.

Fourteen years after Colin Crouch’s widely-read evaluation of post-democracy (2004), it is a tribute to the strength of the current hegemony that someone positing himself as one of the most radical writers of the time fails to even reconsider his faith in the political parties to effect real change. Little more than piecemeal reform can come through the present electoral system, it being naive to think a major party would risk its neck by promoting a truly egalitarian platform. Since our parties are unlikely to campaign on such bold programmes which would necessitate drastic sacrifices from its electors, Jones’s prescriptions fall flat, and if anything ensconce us ever deeper in the status quo where each stands on their own and against the rest, albeit to different degrees. While his voice is necessary in the current landscape to denounce the misbehaviour of our oligarchy, it will not be the source of change. A truly radical voice would not stop at the true but limited account given in the book, but explore possibilities beyond the current hegemony – quite frankly, the affairs of Parliament – and thus beyond an essentially unjust system.

Charlie Hebdo attack: this is not a clash of civilisations

The attack on Charlie Hebdo was an abominable tragedy. It struck the heart of one of our capitals and symbols of our democracies as terrorists attacked our freedom of the press. It is now essential to pay our respects to those who lost their lives yesterday and hope that those responsible for the attacks are arrested as soon as possible.

In terrible circumstances, where shock and confusion prevail, it is also crucial to remain level-headed in our response to these horrendous events. While we must stand on the side of the victims and in defence of our inalienable rights, this should not lead us to simplistic, uncritical conclusions and further divisions.

Much of the reporting so far has had the tendency to pit a “Muslim community” against a French or European one in the most essentialist manner. While most commentators, be they journalists, politicians or academics, have warned against laying indiscriminate blame against Islam, their initial disclaimers have too often been lost in simplistic and stigmatising analysis. Many have inadvertently blamed Islam in their subsequent arguments. In the prevalent discourse, the “Muslim community” is commonly described as foreign to our land, values and beliefs.

Continue reading Charlie Hebdo attack: this is not a clash of civilisations

On politics, exclusion and rhetoric