The advances made by the right, both the BNP and the UK Independence Party, in the European elections should send alarm bells ringing on the serious left. Not least because these advances demonstrate once more the inadequacy of the left.
The little Englanders of the UK Independence Party increased their share of the vote in the election to 16.1% (their share was 6.5% in 1999). They beat the Liberal Democrats to come third in the poll. They got themselves 12 MEPs. In some parts of the UK - the East Midlands, Eastern England, the South West and the South East they gained just under or over 20% of the vote. In the South West they beat New Labour and came second in the poll.
With all proportions guarded - the low overall turn-out, the protest nature of the vote - the vote for UKIP is still alarming. It represents something rotten in the British body politic. It is very bad news for democrats and for anyone concerned with the long-term political health of Britain. In the wake of the UKIP right, the fascist right can grow and spread.
As the TV cameras swarmed around the unpleasant and surgery-smooth face of Robert Kilroy-Silk on election night, he shouted in his typical demagogic style: "[The British public] want their country back from Brussels and we are going to get it back for them."
In fact, vote wasn't quite about that; nor is it a mandate for British withdrawal from Europe. It was vaguer protest vote than that - an indication of general discontent. But nonetheless it was a protest vote for a political party that represents a pretty clear set of reactionary policies: Britain out of Europe, scapegoating of asylum seekers. The UKIP wants all asylum seekers who arrive in the UK by way of a "safe" country to be instantly deported back there. In all this they repeat what the jingo newspapers have been saying.
The UKIP insists that it is not, contrary to it's image, "the BNP in blazers", that it is not racist (although some of its senior members have been members of parties with explicit racist roots like the New Britain Party). It is true that the UKIP is not a fascist party like the BNP. But it's nationalistic, chauvinistic and xenophobic stance is fertilising the ground for the growth of the serious far right now and in the future.
This vote, and continued support for UKIP, is likely to push mainstream politics in the UK further to the right.
A big bulk of UKIP's votes came from ex-Tories - people going one better along the Tories' anti-Europe trajectory. Over Europe, the Tories are in a mess. The Tory Party had hoped that Michael Howard's election to the leadership would paper over the differences on Europe among MPs and Tory Party. Clearly it has not. Nor has Howard convinced Tory voters that the Party is "Euro-sceptical" enough.
Howard now calls for an immediate referendum on the European constitution - he want to gain ground he has lost to UKIP on the anti-European agenda. UKIP is setting the pace.
Blair's response has not been to present a positive case for Europe and the European constitution - even within his own terms, that of a the capitalist consensus in Europe. Instead Blair talks about how the constitution is "not all that bad" really.
The overall effect on the political debate of UKIP's success is to increase the proportion of anti-European sentiment and "scepticism" in British public life.
Against both Howard and "me-too" Blair the labour movement and the left need to voice a clear pro-Europe policy. Not necessarily for the Europe Blair wants but a pro-Europeanism centred on building working class unity across Europe and democratic political institutions in Europe. But the left, or rather the pseudo-left, does the very opposite.
Labour lost out spectacularly in the elections. That would not at all be a bad thing if there were a solid working class political alternative to Blairism in place. There wasn't. Most of the "left" in England and Wales was lined up behind George Galloway and the SWP. "Respect" went to the polls with a broad and vague list of good causes. In many areas they sought to relate primarily to the Muslim community and Muslim community politics. It was positively opposed to the euro and the draft EU constitution. It did not pay them the looked-for dividends, but to all intents and purposes, this "left" presented itself to voters as being as anti-European as UKIP.
The left has to do some serious rethinking on the issues that have been raised by UKIP's success in the European election. There is no cause for complacency. When all is said and done the success of the UKIP was a success for the right; the fascist right can and will build on it.
It is tempting to think of all UKIP voters as clones of their leading members: over 50, well-to-do and very square. That just isn't true. Many will be young. Many more will be working class. Over the next two years, in the run up to the referendum on the Constitution, the debate over Europe will intensify. Will the left continue to add its "No" to the clamour of anti-European voices? On all past experience yes they will. An old "left" like Dennis Skinner who has been silent against Blair and Blairism for ten years is stirred back to life by his insular little-Englander's hatred of "Europe".
It matters not that the left's "no to Europe" is supposed to be no to a bosses' Europe. That is too indistinct to be separable from the rest of the anti-Europeans. Given the European Union has involved many gains for British workers (see page 2) it is also plainly phoney.
The general backlash against asylum seekers which the UKIP has, along with the Tories and New Labour, stoked up has to be countered by the left and the labour movement with much more energy. It has to be countered with international ideas and by championing working class unity within Britain and all across Europe. That can't be done by a "left" which out of the other side of its mouth mumbles its chauvinist "me too" at Blair or Howard, the UKIP and the BNP.
We need a big, properly organised campaign for working class unity and internationalism - one that takes the arguments out to working class communities. A campaign with sufficient weight to counter and neutralise the hysteria against refugees that will be able to protect them from the hostility that they face.
Those are the lesson we must take from UKIP's success. If we want to stop the rise in chauvinism and do something about the rising numbers of physical attacks on asylum seekers it is time for the left to be positive in it's approach to Europe.
A united Europe is a good thing. Yes, for now, it is a bosses Europe. But the alternative is the cluster of competing European nation states whose conflicts in the 20th century twice reduced much of Europe to ruins. That is a lot worse.
Against the unity of the European bosses we need European working class unity.