The power of the doorstep | Pushing the Wave

The power of the doorstep

Opinion, 5 July 2024
by L.A. Davenport
The Acropolis at Dusk
The Acropolis at dusk. Athens is considered the birthplace of democracy.
Looking at the way the political winds are blowing in Europe at the moment might give the impression that the UK is going in an entirely different direction than, for example, France or Germany.

While the far right, in whatever guise it takes nowadays, is on the march in those two eurozone heavyweight countries, Britain has just elected a socialist party with an historic landslide that may put the right into the wilderness for a political generation.

Yet the huge victory for the left by the Labour Party on one side of the English Channel and the steady encroachment of the National Rally (le Rassemblement National), or the National Front as it used to be known, on the other, alongside the rise of the Alternative for Germany (Alternative für Deutschland), display similarities that are not so much about specific policies or beliefs about society and how it should be run, but more about connecting with people who feel unheard and ignored by the political system.

The fear game

In France, politicians are tying themselves in knots over the the far right edging ever closer to power, but in reality they only have themselves to blame.

It is well established that there is a general disillusionment with ‘traditional’ politics, but those French lawmakers who are clustered around the centre, whether it be left and right, have spent so many decades talking amongst themselves, and talking down to ‘the people’, that they haven’t noticed that the far right has, over years and years, been polishing its communication strategy, funded by the Russians and other meddling forces of course, until they learned to speak directly to the public in a language that the people wanted to hear.

Worse, mainstream politicians in France dismiss anyone who votes for the far right as stupid. But they are not stupid, they are simply responding on messages on common concerns that are presented in a way that they understand.

Most people are perfectly reasonable and don’t want to be identified with racists, homophobes and extremists, and that is why Marine Le Pen has been careful to moderate the party language and kick out people who stray to far from the confines of respectability. The result is that she and the charismatic and TikTok-friendly would-be prime minister Jordan Bardella are deemed by many to be the acceptable face of the dark fears that have been fanned in people’s souls over recent years.

It almost doesn’t matter what the topic is, fear is the name of the game, and you see the same thing with AfD in Germany, Viktor Orban in Hungary, the Law and Justice (PiS) party in Poland before they lost the election to Donald Tusk and his Civic Platform party, Giorgia Meloni in Italy, and the Daily Mail and Nigel Farage in the UK. Although it should be acknowledged that Farrage is smart enough to appeal to the British voter by leavening his extremist subtext with humour and a sense of the ridiculous (as did Boris Johnson, who is just as much the rabid zealot; he is just better at hiding it).

Hard graft

Politicians in France talk as if Marine Le Pen and her ragtag bunch of double-speaking fanatics is getting into power by the back door, as if somehow she is cheating, but she is not. She has, like Sinn Fein legitimising themselves after years of association with the IRA, done the hard work of real democratic politics, talking to people on the stump and on the doorstep, day after day, week after week, slogging away until she has broken through into mainstream politics.

And this is the hard work that the traditional mainstream politicians in France don’t want to do. People complain about Emmanuel Macron not deigning to campaign properly and thinking that it should be self-evident that people vote for his project, but they are all the same, whether left, right or centre. They don’t want to go back to basics and go from door to door for years on end as they climb back up the mountain of power, hand over weary hand, until they reach the summit.

Which brings me back to Sir Kier Starmer and his landmark victory. This isn’t the UK taking a lurch to the left, or even to the centre if you look at the impressive gains by the Liberal Democrats. And the result was not simply gifted to him by the ineptitude of the Tories. That ineptitude had been evident for years and years, and yet people still voted for them.

What it took was graft, and that is why throwing the odd stone at him or the occasional gaffe during the final weeks of the election campaign did not make any difference. And the same goes for Marine Le Pen. If her party doesn’t win this particular parliamentary election in France, they will surely the next one.

Local engagement is key

There is a theory doing the rounds that Macron is content to see the National Rally win the parliamentary elections, as he and many others believe that Bardela will prove to so tragically inept as prime minister and the far right so incompetent in power that voters will be turned off their project of division and hate for a generation and come running back to the mainstream, begging for forgiveness.

I wouldn’t be so sure. After all, it didn’t have that effect in the United States after four years with Donald Trump in power, even though he lost the election to Joe Biden. We are staring down the barrel of another election and Trump is still on the scene. He could still win in the upcoming US election, especially if Biden doesn’t either turn things around or see that he needs to step aside for the good of his country.

It would be far better if politicians in France, Germany and elsewhere learned to stop dismissing, patronising and infantilising the public, and instead convince them that they actually care about them, rather than talking down to them from their ivory towers.

We are at a critical moment in European and world politics. Only the day-to-day hard work of engagement at a local and individual level will stave off the forces of division and hate, and stop the lost economic and social decade that we have all suffered turning into a long-term decline.

Other news

Leaving aside politics for a moment, I have been very hard at work in the background, with many projects slowly inching their way towards fruition and, hopefully soon, their launch.

First up will be the slightly delayed but much-improved Pushing the Wave 2017–2022, which brings together the best of the first five years of this site and features short stories, poetry, thought-provoking articles, drawings, photographs and even recipes.

Alongside that, I have been putting the polishing touches to a stage play I have been working on for just over a year, and have started on a new collection of short stories, which I hope to publish at some point next year. Then there is the next installment of the Pushing the Wave annuals to come, that for 2023, and a rather exciting project in which I will be involved, and can’t wait to tell you about.
© L.A. Davenport 2017-2024.

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The power of the doorstep | Pushing the Wave