In case you don’t already know, there is to be a national day of action against Trump’s visit. Momentum Cornwall West are organising a local protest this Monday 6 to 9pm at Lemon Quay.
In one sense, Trump is already here. If not physically, then in spirit. Trump’s election, Brexit and the rise of xenophobic nationalism in Europe are part of a pastiche of shock political events that are re-configuring international politics and rolling back the multilateral framework that has kept the peace – or at least the European peace – for the past sixty years. We are at the very beginning of this process. Brexit was the starting gun not a one-off event, for a more combustible and volatile politics that is taking us into uncharted waters; it inspired Trump with hope at a time when his own campaign was flagging and in turn, his election has charged the European far right with new energy and determination to promote their own brand of aggressive nationalism, sexism, open racism and anti-Muslim hatred.
Expect further gains by the far right in Europe to operate as a feedback loop here in the UK. They only need to do well rather than win outright, tilting the political axis to the right and infecting media and political discourse with values and sentiments that would have been utterly unacceptable a decade ago. An election win in Holland could see the Far Right Geert Wilders take Holland out of the European Union – a prospect gleefully trumpeted by the Daily Express. Germany is a liberal bulwark and founding member of the EU but its elections in September 2017 could see the newly established far right party Alternative for Germany become become the third-largest party in the country. A far right in the UK draws strength from these developments and at this very moment a petition in support of Trump’s state visit has garnered over 300,000 signatures – still far below the 1.8million petition against his visit – but a very significant number nevertheless; it is indicative of how far right sentiment is on the rise.
Which brings me to the progressive alliance initiative here in Cornwall (there are other grassroots initiatives elsewhere – see here). So far I have framed its inception in terms of an anti-Tory alliance and the need for centre left parties to come together to promote a progressive agenda for change. Yet it is also a defence of values we have so far taken for granted: democracy, free speech and tolerance, an internationalist outlook, an embrace of diversity, basic human rights and values of economic and social justice.
These values and rights are no longer givens. They are being contested by the spread of extremist sentiment, the tilt of the political mainstream to the right, the rise of strong men who give simple answers in a world of great uncertainty and change, and the real possibility – already evident – of a ‘regressive alliance’ of different political parties and campaign groups.
The challenge therefore is much greater than simply ousting the Tories from power. As such, this is no time for centre-left parties to perpetuate divisive tribal politics that dwell on party differences. This is politics-as-usual at a time of tectonic change. To continue down this road risks retreat from the centre stage, a sideshow for hardened politicos leaving a broader public scratching its head in bewilderment at why, when we have so much in common, we insist on fighting each other to a standstill. In short we risk irrelevance, leaving voters a choice between the hard right and the far right. We cannot and must not let that happen.