Will Hutton has a piece in today’s Observer headed “While the European left dithers, the right marches menacingly on”. He warns against the threat posed by the rise of xenophobic far-right parties in Europe and states correctly that “what is unifying all Europe’s populist right is outright hostility to Muslims”.
But he argues that the left has lost ground not least because it has failed to adapt to anti-immigrant views among the voters. Referring to discussions at the Progressive Governance conference in Oslo last week, Hutton writes:
“Denial is the default position, because the left does not want to believe its own people could descend to hating immigrants with the ferocity of the populist right. To make concessions is to legitimise attitudes that should only stay on the margins. The Spanish socialists spoke for the consensus, saying that the left must make the case that immigration is a force for good – it makes Europe richer. Others, such as the Danish and Dutch social democrats, were more street-wise, wanting to bend to the popular mood. After all, immigration does create economic losers. The left cannot allow purism to come before realism.”
Hutton’s view is that the left must “accept that immigration offends basic attitudes to fairness. Once any host population starts to believe that new immigrants can get benefits without paying anything into the collective pot they feel cheated. Immigrants need to be offered ways of earning their citizenship to ease their path on arrival.”
Which, couched in the language of liberalism, is basically a recommendation that the left should try to undermine the far right by getting tough on immigrants.