Tom Gallagher is Emeritus Professor of Politics at the University of Bradford. His book Europe’s Leadership Famine 1950-2022: Portraits of Defiance and Decay was published on 22 June.  A biography of Portugal’s enduring 20th century leader, Salazar, the Dictator Who Refused to Die,was published by Hurst Publishers in 2020 and his twitter account is @cultfree54

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The areas of the Netherlands coloured light blue were the ones which voted for the PVV on 22 November.

Geert Wilders, who led a rebellion of Dutch voters on 22 November against an urban ,left-wing and globally—focussed managerial elite, didn’t appear before a cheering multitude as the scale of the electoral earthquake in the Netherlands became apparent. After the first exit poll showed that most parts of the country had voted for the Party for Freedom (PVV) outside the biggest cities, viewers were treated to an unusual sight. It was that of an animated guy wearing a blue suit and red tie, and in quite good shape for someone of 60, jumping up and waving his arms in evident joy, at the news of the not-so-small earthquake just registered in Holland.

There was almost something of the Man in the Iron Mask emerging blinking into the day light from captivity contained in this shot, for Wilders has been under tight police protection non-stop since his mid-forties. It is a remarkable state of affairs for any European country but almost unfathomable for one like the Netherlands where freedom has been so highly regarded.

His brother recently told Der Spiegel: Geert’s world has become very small. It consists of the parliament, public events and his apartment. He can hardly go anywhere else.’

His uncompromising views on Islam and the danger which he is convinced that the growing concentration of its adherents pose for the Dutch liberal, secular model of existence, have provoked a wave of threats to kill him. He has also attracted the ire of leftist forces entrenched in many of the institutions who have pursued him through the courts on account of his views.

The PVV has been in third or fourth place since its formation in 2006. It was set up due to a rising gulf of mistrust between the state and a growing number of its citizens, who felt as if they had become outsiders in their own country. It never broke into front rank politics until now. Mark Rutte, a technocrat with a background in the human resources industry, enjoyed an unsually long tenure as Prime Minister, from 2010 till this summer. At the helm of the liberal free market Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), he displayed the knack of soothing voters anxieties as storm clouds built up.

The decision of this Machiavellian figure to call a snap election after divergences in his 4-party coalition on asylum policy, led to unexpected happenings. Rutte seems to have assumed that by reshuffling the coalition pack, and perhaps by ridding himself of the party of Dutch middle-class radicalism whose eco-fundamentalism had alarmed many, it would return to being business as usual.

It was a gamble given that their had been months of public uproar in normally calm parts of the country. The farming population had discovered it was the sector which was required to make the sharpest adjustments to the new Green economic model. It was one that committed the Netherlands to slashing carbon emissions and endeavouring to make Europe the poster boy for an environmentally-focused planet. In 2021-22 months of mass protests ensued due to rural opposition to closing thousands of farms in order to fulfil Net Zero targets.

This March, a new party, the Farmer-Citizen Movement (BBB) emerged as the big winner in the Dutch provincial elections which decides the composition of the upper house of parliament.

But the urban-rural fracture in Dutch life was overtaken by an older one which had acquired fresh intensity midway through the election campaign when Hamas struck southern Israel on 7 October. Traditionally, the Netherlands has been very pro-Israel. Shock at the scenes of horror that lead to the slaughter of over twelve hundred Israeli civilians was followed by anger and fury when celebrations of Hamas’s ‘victory’ occurred, ones staged mainly by citizens of Moroccan or Turkish descent. These triumphalists gatherings were less numerous than in Britain or the USA and had fewer white, middle-class participants.

The readiness of various pro-Hamas zealots in the West to demonstrate their solidarity in this way made it awkward for the comeback being planned by Frans Timmermans. This ex-diplomat and former Labour party (PvdA) MP had stood down from his position as the EU’s climate commissioner as soon as Rutte called an election. He placed himself at the head of an alliance of Labour and the Green party in order to try and maximise the strength of the progressive, climate-focussed wing of Dutch politics.

The desertion of the Dutch working-class had ravaged the previously large and powerful PvdA. It increasingly drew its support from recent arrivals or unassimilated groups who retained an enclave identity. Timmermans, a bland and somewhat patronising figure, struggled to articulate an exciting coherent message, beyond the shibboleths on climate, the need for more Europe, and the importance of everyone just somehow getting along.

He squirmed as diverging reactions to 7 October led to tensions within his hastily assembled coalition of hipsters, NGO officials, academics, bureaucrats on the one hand and religious focused activists absorbed with events beyond a country whose way of life seemed strange to many of them, on the other. A disquieting incident in Rotterdam, the main industrial city, revealed his predicament. Its mayor, a Moroccan-born former journalist, Ahmed Aboutaleb, was one of the few remaining Labour figures who exercised real power in the country.

His decision to refuse to fly Israel’s flag from the town hall as a mark of sympathy after 7 October caused a stir. It  played into the hands of Wilder’s formation, consistently pro-Israeli in its stances which doubled its vote in Rotterdam and became its largest party on 22 November. Beforehand, instead of doubling down on his anti-Islam rhetoric, he adopted a milder stance. He stated his willingness to draw back from several of his outspoken views which included a ban on Islamic schools and mosques if it increased the likelihood of non-left parties having him as a partner in a new coalition.

His offer to work with others on a common agenda to fix the country and trim the influence of out-of-touch groups in the bureaucracy and corporate institutions whose policies were demoralising many voters, struck a popular chord, as it was bound to do.

On issues like climate policy and managing immigration, the Dutch metropolitan elite was forthright about replacing identities shaped around loyalty to a fixed territorial community with commitment to building a new progressive global order. It did not flinch from backing schemes which required major adjustments in lifestyle and occupation from Dutch citizens. The ability of the state to lockdown the country during the 2020-21 Covid pandemic seemed to prove that the status quo could weather even the farmers protests. Rutte’s globally-minded liberal alliance did well in a parliamentary election called in March 2021 as elder voters in particular craved the certainty that this smooth operator offered.

But the Netherlands had also seen the fiercest riots anywhere in northern Europe against the lockdown regime. It took Rutte nearly eight months before he could form a government, and he alienated a party stalwart Pieter Omtzigt. He stood for national Liberalism rather than Rutte’s global variety and the New Social Contract party which he formed this summer, came in fourth this week.

This decent but lugubrious figure was too close to the status quo to appeal to the young. At the end of 2022, a survey revealed that 50 percent of young people believed that things are ‘going in the wrong direction in the Netherlands’, up from 38 percent in 2018. Results from school elections this year show that school attendees are more conservative in their outlook than the population at large (a complete contrast with Britain).

What happened in the closing days – indeed hours – of the campaign was a massive shift in preferences. It seemed there would be 3 main blocs, the left, the liberal VVD, and the party of Wilders, each with around the same voting percentage. But it turned out that many people were masking their true voting intentions even to friends and neighbours. Many of the unusually large ‘don’t knows’ whom pollsters encountered were in fact going to vote PVV. They were people who felt that enough was enough and something would have to change in order to stem the drift towards social polarisation and rule of a fragmented and unsafe country by unaccountable overseers.

As a result the PVV vote soared from 11% to nearly 24%, shocking even Wilders himself. This was the largest swing recorded in any Dutch election in the last eighty years (other than for new parties). Only cities like Amsterdam, Utrecht, and the Washington DC of Holland, the Hague (home to an increasingly overbearing state), withstood the PVV wave (as did smaller university centres).

These were the strongholds of progressives grimly intent to impose a design for living on the whole of society based on radical precepts that only a minority embraced. But even the anti-globalist socialist party saw a huge exodus of votes towards the PVV.

Geert Wilders might easily feel vindicated. He had been banned from entering Britain by a Labour Home Secretary Jacqui Smith in 2008. Ten years later, Prime Minister Theresa May effectively did the same thing when her government said that he would only be allowed admission if he came without the security officials laid on by the Dutch authorities to ward off physical attack.

The parties in the outgoing coalition saw their voting total fall from 49 to 27%. Inevitably, attempts will now be made to form an unwieldy coalition of the losers. There are two likely outcomes of the horse-trading that will flow. One is a centre-right coalition including the PVV but with Wilders probably not in government. The other, perhaps the likeliest is a centre-right formation sustained by the PVV (the kind of arrangement that already exists in Sweden).

Postscript: A polling survey carried out on 23 November found that 84% of voters from the VVD,  78% from the National Social Contract (NSC ) and 99% from the BBB wer2e happy to see their party enter a coalition with the PVV.

If Wilders decides to exercise power from the sidelines, he will naturally drive a hard bargain. He can rightly say that the electorate have rejected by a massive margin the policies pursued by the former ruling caste, centred on migration, climate, bureaucratic interference with everyday life, and more Europe. He wants to end adherence to the outmoded United Nations refugee statutes, various climate conventions that Timmermans tried to impose on the country when he was the ‘Pope of climate change’ in Brussels, expand oil and gas extraction in the North Sea and stop deploying massive subsidies to wind and solar parks.

Wilders is already being dismissed as the Dutch Trump but he has been active in politics since Trump was busy donating to the US Democratic Party. His constituency is a massive one. Most PVV voters did so for the first time:

‘Something has to change in the Netherlands. Wilders was the only choice for us’, one of them said.

https://www.telegraaf.nl/nieuws/614410902/deze-mensen-stemden-voor-het-eerst-op-de-pvv-wilders-was-voor-ons-de-enige-keuze?

In four of the founding EU states 🇫🇷 🇩🇪 🇮🇹 🇳🇱 national conservative parties increasingly dominate the political scene with left-wing parties struggling to remain on top through their domination of the media and various state institutions.

If this is a season of ‘change’ elections where the voters revolt against elites who plainly don’t have their interests at heart, what has just happened in the Netherlands is surely a vivid example of the power the ballot box still has, at least in some significant European countries.

Tom Gallagher is Emeritus Professor of Politics at the University of Bradford. His book Europe’s Leadership Famine 1950-2022: Portraits of Defiance and Decay was published on 22 June.  A biography of Portugal’s enduring 20th century leader, Salazar, the Dictator Who Refused to Die,was published by Hurst Publishers in 2020 and his twitter account is @cultfree54

1,495 Luis Rubiales Photos & High Res Pictures - Getty Images

Rubiales and Sanchez in happier days.

 

The triumph of the Spanish side in the World Cup women’s football competition held in Australia this month delighted millions of Spaniards. It was an occasion for pride and even ecstasy for a country that has been reeling from years of economic adversity and currently finds itself politically polarised after an election in July resulted in a dead-heat. The affectionate embrace and kiss which Luís Rubiales offered to the team captain, Jenni Hermoso, seemed to encapsulate the joyous occasion. Two hours after the match, Hermoso’s team colleagues greeted him with calls of ‘Presi, Presi, Presi’ [short for President’) and immediately after wards ‘Kiss, Kiss, Kiss’.I

But soon their joy was followed by long faces and censure as Rubiales was slammed as a sexual dinosaur by radical feminists whose reach in Spain extends to the heart of government. A dispute has ensued which it is already clear is having profound repercussions extending beyond football.

Arguably, this ongoing controversy has done much harm to already-frayed male-female relations in Spain, left victims of gender-related violence at a disadvantage, shown the ability of global corporate bodies like FIFA to invade the private sphere of human relations, and not least shown the readiness of ruthless politicians to whip up a scandal in order to advance their power in the state.

Scandal has never been far away from the world of Spanish football and in his management role Rubiales has been embroiled in controversy and has made enemies. But until now his conduct has never troubled his left-wing allies.

It is likely that the gesture of the tall, extrovert President of the Spanish Football Federation grated with many on the Spanish left who saw their path to power lying through reshaping the cultural environment on terms that dethroned the traditionally influential position of men in Spanish society. Progressive social media outlets had hailed the 1-0 victory over England as a feminine triumph but it was the image of Luís Rubiales displaying his runaway enthusiasm which became perhaps the defining image of the occasion.

Soon the world of social communications was abuzz with claims that what had happened was nothing less than a sexual assault. The knives were out for Rubiales when Yolanda Diaz, a longstanding member of the Spanish communist party, and head of the far-left electoral coalition, Sumar, said that Jenni Hermoso and her team mates felt harassed by their male boss. Within a few days, he found himself assailed from almost all directions. The crucial occurrence was the decision of Hermoso to acquiesce in the developing left-wing narrative and say that she had felt intimidated in what to her was a non-consensual incident.

She declared on 25 August:

With time and after delving deeper into my initial feelings, I feel the need to denounce this act because nobody in any working, sporting or social environment should be the victim of this kind of unconsented behaviour.’

Events then moved very quickly. FIFA, the powerful world footballing body, condemned the gesture of Rubiales and demanded that he resign. Threats were made that unless the Spanish football association toed the line, it could become a pariah in European football, with huge financial losses resulting. It duly obliged and Rubiales was suspended from his position for three months. The clamour grew louder when after reflecting on his situation, Rubiales decided not to fold. Threatening statements were issued by figures in the government. These were dutifully taken up by a compliant media much of which relies on state subsidies. On 28 August prosecutors opened up investigations on the basis that Rubiales had committed sexual assault.

Initially, only his mother Ángeles Béjar seemed prepared to take a strong stand on his behalf. On the same day she embarked on a hunger strike in a church in her home town of Motril to complain about her son’s media execution. The irony is that the family have left-wing sympathies. Rubiales was on easy terms with Spain’s prime minister Pedro Sánchez. His mother had tweeted her ecstasy at the news that he had polled well in last month’s election. But he now shunned the disgraced football figure and called for him to go. There was even persistent speculation that the campaign to drive him out was being orchestrated from the very heart of power. If it wasn’t Sánchez himself who was playing a direct role, it was certainly Yolanda Diaz who had become his key government partner. In some quarters, they were seen as a duo keen to take Spain fully down the populist path which Argentina had traversed with fateful results under Juan and Eva Peron, 75 years earlier.

Holding the labour minister just like Eva Peron had done, Diaz had turned this office into a powerful engine for increasing left-wing influence across state and society. She is a very self-confident person with a dominating presence who claims to be in regular contact with Pope Francis as well as enjoying close ties with other figures on the Latin American radical left. She and her allies had helped ensure that plenty of state money had been channelled into the union representing women football players. Sport was an important area where the burgeoning influence of the left has hithero been weak. It would make sense if a very competitive, not to say ruthless political operator like Diaz would have seen the Rubiales affair as a way of bringing the influential world of football into the orbit of the left.

 

 

 

Spain's potential leftist kingmaker courts voters with shorter workweek pledge

Yolanda Diaz

As a stand-off ensued between a defiant Rubiales and his many detractors, a small number of journalists forsook the robotic chants of much of the media to hunt him down and began to probe beneath the surface. Claims, backed up with evidence, emerged that enemies of Rubiales in the soccer world, the players association, and others, had sought to ally with critics in the political world to topple him for their own advantages.

The image of Jenni Hermoso as a noble sporting great whose hour of fame had been tarnished by the gross conduct of a male chauvinist superior was a powerful one in the hands of a range of interests who hoped to profit from his demise, not just professional rivals but radical feminists who had already gone some considerable way to turning identitarian feminism into the new official religion of the Spanish state.

But the tide suddenly began to turn on 29 August when videos emerged showing the Spanish women players commenting light-heartedly on the kiss that supposedly constitutes a macho assault on womanhood just hours after it happened. On the team bus Hermoso asked her supposed molester for a kiss ‘as a joke’ and laughed when Rubiales declined. She and her team-mates seemed to celebrate the kiss which in statements delivered with solemn expressions became tantamount to a serious sexual assault.

The England women’s football captain Leah Williamson argued that it was ‘conditioned behaviour by women’ to laugh off unacceptable male behaviour. Butt Jenni Hermoso will surely be forced to explain why her attitude towards Rubiales changed so radically. Interestingly, she has stopped short of making a formal complaint to the authorities without which a criminal prosecution cannot be mounted. But the 33-year-old was willing to join the clamour against Rubiales in return, it has been claimed (from within the footballing world) for concessions meant to assist and prolong her footballing career.

Spain has been shaken up by a controversy which has highlighted and, arguably, greatly deepened a fracture on cultural lines between, on the one hand, those in lower-income groups and older age ones who are content with a slowly evolving model of inter-personal relations and, on the other an arguably rather smaller number of social radicals. They see the need to dethrone what they describe as male patriarchy and press ahead urgently with implanting a new progressive model for Spanish society. It is one that cannot take hold without the intervention and supervision of a state with a transformative agenda and powers to curb opposition.

These determined radicals are unlikely to step back now that different narratives are swirling around ‘Kissgate’. There is simply too much at stake, not least state funds for social engineering policies. Moreover, turf wars have continued between rivals on the ruling far-left seeking to derive capital from escalating the sense of outrage. Equalities minister Irene Montero, recently supplanted by Diaz as the left’s main main female voice, has been especially outspoken. She is seeking to claw back ground after introducing a clumsily-worded law which had the effect of both widening and diluting the definition of sexual assault. It soon led, inadvertently, more than 130 convicted sex offenders having their sentences reduced or else being set free early.

It is equally unlikely that the Spanish media, much of which has been given large state subsidies to be a tool (according to some) of disinformation for the cultural left, will raise its game. A near-complete media black-out was imposed on the hunger strike of the mother of Rubiales in Motril perhaps because locally it seems there is a strong belief that her son has been framed.

Media outlets have been assiduous in requiring prominent figures to take sides. Lists published with the names of those who stood by Rubiales quickly emerged. Other lists include lists of sporting figures and politicians who have declined to speak out on the matter. People have been urged to come out and show their solidarity with Hermoso, small rallies having occurred in various Spanish cities. This is a very strained which shows how insistent moralising can have a corrosive impact on society.

Perhaps victims of real gender violence are among the biggest losers. Their claims may appear less credible in future given how much official backing as been given to a very flimsy accusation of assault whose veracity people are able to judge for themselves due to the ample media footage. How little troubled, the government is by violence of this kind is perhaps shown by the appointment to be speaker of the Spanish parliament of a local politician from the Balearic islands who has been unable to shake off accusations that she covered up a scandal involving the sexual abuse of girls when in charge of the regional government there.

Spain is the current holder of the presidency of the European Council of the EU. It is somewhat troubling that so far nobody prominent beyond Spain has denounced the stitch-up which it is increasingly clear was organized and directed by prominent office holders.

The main international intervention has come from the scandal-ridden world football body, FIFA which has forbidden Rubiales to have any contact with Hermoso. He has not been found guilty of anything and such contact might conceiveably result in the situation being defused. When a powerful global organization can assume a role normally confined to a court or law-enforcing body on a human rights matter, it raises troubling questions about how fragile personal feedoms now appear in an interconnected world.

The evidence is growing that the left and global businessees and bureaucracies who see left-wing themes and posturing as important marketing tools, corporatism have been instrumental in driving forward Woke values worldwide. Luis Rubiales’s determination not to go quietly has complicated what increasingly seems to be a power-grab by forces with little love for core individual freedoms.

Those fearful about the ability of the democratic monarchy in Spain to survive much beyond its 50th anniversary believe that the Kissgate controversy has been fomented by the ruling left in order to detract attention from a power-grab meant to hollow out Spanish institutions. There is growing despondency that even without a strong governing majority, the Sánchez government will slip through an amnesty for terrorist offences and turn Spain into a confederal state in which different units can secede by holding referenda.

Democracies might founder not just in Spain if disinformation is used on a similar scale to create a moral panic or further a political agenda during a time of tension and instability.

It is a sobering thought that what should have been a sporting triumph that could have a unifying role has, instead, fuelled a bitter controversy whose most serious repercussions could occur beyond the sporting realm.

Tom Gallagher is Emeritus Professor of Politics at the University of Bradford. His book Europe’s Leadership Famine 1950-2022: Portraits of Defiance and Decay was published on 22 June.  A biography of Portugal’s enduring 20th century leader, Salazar, the Dictator Who Refused to Die,was published by Hurst Publishers in 2020 and his twitter account is @cultfree54

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Picture shows Jenni Hermoso with Luis Rubiales after the supposed sexual aggression which is now convulsing Spain.

All for offering an affectionate embrace and kiss to Jenni Hermoso, the captain of Spain’s victorious World Cup women’s football team, minutes after she brought her side to victory, Luís Rubiales, the President of the Spanish Football Federation, has been turned into a virtual non-person. The international footballing body FIFA has demanded that he quit his job. Spanish prosecutors are opening a preliminary investigation to see what law he might have broken. Support for him is fast ebbing away in Spain’s football officialdom, perhaps due to the threats of expulsion and financial penalties now being made by world soccer power-brokers.

The politically ascendant left in Spain, which is absorbed with dethroning patriarchy in every conceivable situation, spies an imminent triumph. It has labelled Rubiales an oppressive force of authority whose very existence at least in his present post, is seen as an outrage on progressive and liberated Spain. Even the main-centre-right Popular Party, whose insipid leader Alberto Núñez Feijóo hopes to be nominated as prime Minister shortly, has fled before the drumbeats of the totalitarian left, offering its own denunciation of a football boss who has suddenly been transformed into a monster.

Ironically, Rubiales is a man of the left but he is being hung out to dry by the lider maximo of Spain Pedro Sánchez. He shows every sign of being one of those well-born cynical adventurers who periodically disrupt the politics of a European country in search of novelty or glory. Critics fear that he will stop at nothing in order to turn Spain into an outpost of Latin American populism. He has opted to ally not just with fringe feminists who wield power that far exceeds their numbers, but also with regional nationalists who wish to secede from Spain. He reckons that these insurgent forces are likelier to provide him with a longer stint in power than the stolid working-class base of his Socialist Workers Party. Besides, many working class supporters have deserted due to being baffled by the niche middle-class priorities of a party whose name suggests that it once stood for completely different values.

During his five years in office, Sánchez has shown himself to be a gambler who is quite prepared to sweep away the rules and conventions that have shaped the democratic transition that got underway in the mid-1970s. He wishes to base a personality-focused brand of left politics around appealing to mobilised minorities even if they wish to break up Spain and ignite a war between the sexes.

The mother of Rubiales, who tweeted her ecstasy at the news that Sanchez had polled well in last month’s election, has now gone on hunger strike in a church in her home town of Motril to complain about her son’s media execution. She is likely to find sympathy for her gesture in this small coastal resort in Andalucia. Like much of Spain beyond its major metropolitan hubs such as Barcelona, the family-orientated and decidedly non-Woke south finds the demands and priorities of zealous middle-class activists jarring and hard to reconcile with the pace of their own lives. If Rubiales thinks he will have a chance of vindication by challenging his detractors in the courts, then it is unlikely that he will lack defenders among Spain’s ‘silent majority’ whose views rarely penetrate an electronic media which caters overwhelmingly for the urban left. It remains to be seen what political repercussions it will have if fresh elections occur soon in order to break the parliamentary impasse that has existed since the inconclusive July 13 general election.

The outcome of the Rubiales affair, tawdry and melodramatic though it is, will be noted far beyond Spain. Unsurprisingly, much of the media, including even the star columnist of the conservative Daily Telegraph in Britain, Alison Pearson, have said that the notorious kiss was not an affectionate gesture but was intimidatory and non-consensual.

If left liberal activists with their allies in the media and in bureaucratic arms of the state turn an exuberant kiss into an unpardonable social crime, then the consequences could be grim across society. If the Woke puritans turn Rubiales into a non-person, it will be a giant leap towards the imposition of a fearful social climate in which public behaviour is rigorously policed and a spontaneous public gesture can quickly result in personal destruction.

I suspect Spain was the wrong battleground for those who wish to turn control of social manners into a totalitarian weapon to display their mailed fist. The large Iberian nation remains a notoriously convivial place where people still obstinately refuse to look over their shoulders for fear of daring to say something that offends any vigilant scold lurking in the background. Anyone venturing forth in a large Spanish city after 9pm when diners are building up for a night of bonhomie and frank conversation will see the futility of trying to beak the spirit of this extrovert society.

The leader of the Communist Party, an imperiously posh lady called Yolanda Diaz has been in the vanguard of the ‘Get Rubiales’ movement. She is using the scandal in order to insist on parity between men and women’s football, long a leftist demand rejected as impractical until now by Spanish football’s governing body. But even this dominatrix must see that her task of forcing the Spanish nation to bend before a North American-imported model for a controlled society, one that is neurotic and deeply miserable, is a mission impossible.

She will no doubt be aware of Lenin’s advice to fellow militants that ‘You probe with bayonets: if you find mush, you push. If you find steel, you withdraw.

I suspect the cultural left will find that much of Spain has steely resolve to continue enjoying its freedoms. Thus, there will be a refusal to acquiesce in the sinister farce that Rubiales was engaged in a terrible assault. His behaviour may have been boorish in some eyes but the passionate embrace of the Spanish football captain Jenni Hermoso was a spontaneous one in the heat of an epic victory, one that was swiftly over. If the footage is re-shown in a court of law before a representative Spanish jury, it may well prove hard to secure any kind of conviction against Rubiales.

It is the attempt to build up a moral panic over a public and fleeting kiss which is by far a more deplorable gesture. Almost everywhere one looks, the contemporary left has no answers for the major economic and social questions of the age. Increasingly, it doesn’t even bother to hide the fact that it has no interest whatsoever in making life better for ordinary folk. Instead, it promotes de-industrialisation through climate communism and imposes taxes on the poor and snatches freedoms away that have long been taken for granted.

It goes on the offensive over the victimhood of favoured minorities and seeks to intimidate and bamboozle people with displays of performative outrage. Its grip on the media and increasingly key parts of the state enable it to mount witch hunts against targets of its disapproval.

The biography of Luis Rubiales may well reveal him to be a contentious figure who has clawed his way up to be President of the Spanish Football Federation from relatively humble beginnings. But he has remembered that Spain is still a free society and being a proud individual keen to preserve his honour, has no intention of wishing to be offered up as a sacrifice by high priests of cultural Marxism.

Activists like Senora Yolanda Diaz who wish to create a path to power by fuelling a social fracture in Spain between men and women on spurious grounds, are the worst kind of feminists. They have vastly over-played their hands and unwittingly exposed the limitations of the destructive form of identity politics which they seek to impose on a still mainly sensible and proud Spain that remains comfortable in its own skin.

The claim of Carl Schmitt, the German political scientist, that in essence politics boils down to ‘who is my friend, who is my enemy’ enjoys growing acceptance in different quarters. Too often, in a supposed age of ideological politics, causes big and small have been capsized by personal enmities. Scottish Nationalism is just the latest example. A famous alliance between the man who put it on the map and his chief disciple, collapsed into bitter enmity, contributing to the retreat of a once formidable cause. In Spain this week, the conservative nationalist party Vox, after poor electoral results, also seems bedevilled by personality disputes.

But in the longer sweep of history, it shouldn’t be forgotten that one of the reasons why democratic politics has taken off and persisted in Europe is because of the taming of the personality factor.

Parties were the units created to advance an agenda of improvement that citizens would hopefully endorse. They inevitably attracted diverse types. Effective movements saw campaigners and orators close ranks with figures whose skills were to be found in drawing up legislation, negotiating, and committee work.. The desire to win elections in order to alter power relations in a society, make improvements, and rescue a country from difficulties or danger, enabled disparate types to shelve personality differences and cooperate.

In Britain during the middle of World War 1, the danger of defeat at the hands of Germany, saw a remarkable transformation of human relations at elite level. Under David Lloyd-George, a coalition of Liberals and Tories was drawn from politicians who had been ready to fight a civil-war just two years before over the future of Ulster as Irish Home Rule loomed.

From 1945 to 1951, Britain saw an unprecedented wave of change at the societal and economic level under Labour politicians who conspired against one another due to mutual dislike. To take just one example, when a Labour figure remarked that the home secretary, Herbert Morrison was his own worst enemy, the then foreign secretary, Ernest Bevin riposted, ‘Not while I’m alive he aint’.

These touchy figures nevertheless kept their vicious feuding in check. The hand of history was on their shoulders. The transformation of attitudes brought about by the struggle against Hitler had released a demand for fundamental changes. The Attlee government concentrated on accomplishing some of them and postponing the settling of scores until the 1950s when Labour was out of office.

But the curbing of personal feuding can also be used to perpetuate bad political practices or outright despotism. There is no doubt that when the full story of the forty years of repressive and corrupt rule by a ruling clique of mullahs in Iran is written, the intensity of some of the rivalries will spring forth. Nevertheless, despite being reviled by much of the nation, this deplorable outfit has remained a cohesive one perhaps because the violent history of the country underlines one salient fact for ruling groups: if you don’t hang together you will surely hang separately.

In Italy, unity among often unethical politicians helps explain why one party, the Christian Democrats, exercised dominance for much of the time between 1945 and 1992. This centre-right political platform was increasingly a collection of powerful factions. I describe the resulting misrule in my new book, Europe’s Leadership Famine.

It pays attention in particular to how a devious and supple figure like Giulio Andreotti was able to channel the ambitions and appetites of his colleagues into a formula for the long-term exercise of state power.

I was drawn to reflect on the ability of politicians to curb their mutual aggression for good or bad ends, by one curious development in Edinburgh this week.

Exploiting a certain talent for the theatrical, Alex Salmond has put on a show of political entertainment at the Fringe Festival. His outsized personality has not proven to be the locomotive needed to allow his new party, Alba, to race past the one that spurned him, the Scottish National Party (SNP). Nevertheless, the stars seem to be aligning for this political survivor after almost a decade in the doldrums.

Nicola Sturgeon, arguably the person who tried to prematurely end his political career by standing over a range of accusations of misconduct against women which ended up going to trial in 2021 him being acquitted, now sits on the backbenches at Holyrood, the seat of the Scottish parliament. He would possibly have liked to have been the one to drive her from office on account of letting down the cause of Scottish independence, the one that had made them close comrades. But it was her own behaviour and an ego that eclipses even his which led to tactical missteps, policy failures, and reckless overreach which resulted in her resigning on 15 February 2023.

Today the infighting and recriminations in separatist ranks exceeds that seen in the Labour of the 1950s or the Italian Christian Democrats once prosecutors started to uncover various cases of corruption. The disarray is shown by the willingness of several leading SNP names to appear as guests on Salmond’s festival show – the man forced out of the party by the hostility of a scheming successor determined not to allow him to upstage her in any way.

Heads were turned when Salmond said that he would not rule out working with Nicola Sturgeon again. ‘Never say never’ was his mischievous response when he was asked whether recent rancour could ever be put aside. She had, after all, used her grip on the civil-service and indeed parts of the justice system (the chief prosecutor sits in the government) to facilitate a prosecution that could have resulted not only in Salmond’s disgrace but long years of detention.

In a tweet posted on 9 August I criticised Salmond’s remark. It suggested there was a club atmosphere in nationalist ranks where the importance of the cause far exceeded the need for a minimum degree of ethical behaviour.

One member of Alba tweeted that if a rapprochement ever blossomed, he would walk out of the party. For much of the year, Salmond had been busy speaking to branches across Scotland. I doubt if any followers have urged him to make up with someone increasingly seen as an imposter by nationalists who feel that she has sabotaged the independence movement for her own narcissistic ambitions.

In a long career, Salmond built up his movement by making an underlying sense of resentment towards the role of various British power centres located in London go mainstream. Lower-income groups were encouraged to feel victims of a cynical and ruthless British ruling class.

But I suspect few contemporary Scots felt as victimised as Salmond himself, especially when he was struggling to clear his name and stay out of jail in 2019-21. Sturgeon was then at the height of her power and the state was very much answerable to her.

On 22 February 2021, he declared that a malicious attempt’ was being made to remove him from public life. He named Sturgeon’s husband, the CEO of the party, and her chief of staff Liz Lloyd, as well as prosecuting service as determined adversaries who were out to get him.

Thirty months later, while grievance politics remains central to driving forward the nationalist cause, Salmond seems content to leave the language of victimhood for the masses to absorb.

As he puts on a political light entertainment show in Edinburgh, he seems to wish to appear the conciliatory uncle of what is now a rather shop-soiled cause.

Actually, I can see why he scales down the indignation which might have consumed figures with less self-belief who suddenly found themselves outcasts in their own political family.

It isn’t in his interest to give Sturgeon any excuse to reprise her role as a defender of women in jeopardy at the hands of powerful men. The autobiography she announced that she was penning, hard on the heels of Salmond’s intriguing remark, will probably emphasise her role as a paragon of identity politics (with Scottish Nationalism having to share billing with climate change, gender-self-identification and the Me Too movement).

It is in Salmond’s interest for Sturgeon gradually to become the irrelevance that she tried to turn him into. If the widening scope of police investigations into the financial affairs of the party and state which she had the ability to micro-managed in many ways, results in more involuntary visits to police stations and the need to hire lawyers and prepare defences, how will he respond?

My hunch is that this self-regarding but also canny politician will not crow over it but instead display charity or else remain tight-lipped.

However, he has not kept his counsel about the alliance with the Scottish Greens which Sturgeon engineered after the 2021 Holyrood elections. He would be unlikely to call Patrick Harvie’s raft of measures to restrict human activity in the name of a planetary cause, climate communism. But he must be aware of how small business firms and Scots on lower incomes feel about the rise of a small unrepresentative party keen to confiscate both freedoms and income.

Without a Sturgeon whose fame catapulted outwards during the Cop 27 summit in Glasgow three years ago, the SNP-Green alliance would never have happened. It makes sense for him to keep quiet about her ruthless exploitation of her position and instead focus on her willingness to allow fringe figures to shape the direction of her government with Scots outside the power elite being the victims of their eco-zealotry.

Salmond’s olive branch to an arch-enemy has offended many. It likely confirms to many who have quit the SNP in the recent past the sleazy and transactional nature of the small political world that has done a lot of harm to the country. But his offbeat move has won him publicity and probably put her on the back foot. Publicity is what this entrepreneur of ethnocentrism lives and breathes. He knows that, at 68, his chances of exercising state power again are remote ones.

Instead, he wishes to hasten the departure into obscurity of an ally who, with little warning, became a fierce enemy. Being infuriatingly nice to her might further that ambition. But there is a darker backcloth: the domination of petty and personal politics in Scotland amply shows a country where, as in much of the rest of Europe, the political stage has narrowed to include a very few actors. So far there is no sign of the voters being allowed to have even a brief cameo appearance as prima donnas of politics prepare their memoirs and put on political cabarets.

 

Update

The article suggested that the idea from Alex Salmond of a bromance, or tactical understanding, between enemies who once had comprised the most effective partnership in British politics was unlikely to enjoy much appeal.

24 hours later, Salmond did a volte-face and declared in an interview that ‘Nicola Sturgeon has become a “sad, reduced figure” and should undertake a “period of silence” while she is under police investigation’. 

He went on: ‘The reality is she led independence into a cul-de-sac’. 

If that’s what he really thinks, his idea of extending an olive branch appears a downright quixotic one.

My new book exploring the causes of the deterioration of leadership in Europe over at least the last two generations has identified some alarming outcomes.

But in Spain there has been an unexpected denouement.

A mainstream party has embraced extremists on the left committed to raw socialism as well as prosecution of US-style culture wars. Separatists, some with a background in terrorism, have been treated as respectable coalition partners and offered state positions and a big say on policy.

A project that some see as a bid to reconstruct the nation around the agenda of one faction in the political world, has been the brainchild of an ambitious middle-class adventurer Pedro Sánchez. He has fought five elections as leader and so far has not obtained a governing majority in any one of them. But he has still been able to rule Spain for the past five years and pushed through many controversial measures. This is because he has been prepared to ally with previously marginalised fringe forces on condition that he incorporate some of their policy planks. He has not held his nose in the process but instead seems to relish the belief that it is time for Spain to live dangerously.

To the dismay of many in the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) arguably the chief political actor in the Spanish democratic transition that got underway in the second half of the 1970s, its current leader has rejected the need for balance and moderation. He has sought to demonstrate that pragmatism and restraint are obsolete. He feels instead that it is a time for fierce contestation in order to awaken Spain from a parochial slumber. His hope is that Spain can be a front-runner in creating a new global progressive order. His inspiration comes less from the EU or the USA and more from Latin America where middle-class radicals have sought to impose a brand of authoritarian personality politics on disparate nations.

He has provoked a backlash from conservative nationalists in the Vox party which scarcely existed a decade ago but is now the third main political force. But the good news is that Sánchez lacks a critical mass of supporters, and many Spaniards are prepared to prevent him reviving ideological trench warfare which, in the 1930s, led to Spain tumbling into a disastrous civil-war. Even the Vox party has not risen to the bait as he has sought to politicise ((hitherto dormant) civil-war memories by various provocative gestures.

A general election is being held on 23 July when it normal for much of Spain to bake in temperatures approaching 40 degrees centigrade. The unexpected move was taken in order to limit the scale of the defeat most commentators assumed the government was facing when its term was over at the end of the year. Sánchez and his party had suffered a crushing defeat in elections for autonomous regions and municipalities held on 28 May. He found it difficult to defend a feeble economic record and was often not welcome on the campaign trail in places where his unpopularity was seen as a liability for the party. Indeed, in no other set of elections for these administrative tiers in a very decentralised country has PSOE suffered losses on anything like this scale.

It was thus seen as odd that Sánchez called a snap general election straight away. He hoped to wrong-foot his main challenger, the centre-right Popular Party and go before voters as ‘the come-back kid’. But in a presidential style campaign he proved insipid and lacklustre. Instead of setting out an interesting or appealing policy agenda he concentrated a wave of attacks on his opponents.

Alberto Núñez Feijóo, his chief opponent, was seen as compromised because he had once been photographed in the company of an alleged smuggler thirty years previously. In the only television debate between the two main leaders, held on 10 July, the cerebral Feijóo eclipsed Sánchez who came across as a nervous aspirant for office rather than as Prime Minister.

Sánchez continues, however, to be admired from afar as a glamorous and smooth figure, one who has retained his good looks into his fifties. The view of many Spaniards, irrespective of their party allegiance, that he is someone without any strong principles who is addicted to personal power has scarcelybeen communicated in West European media outlets.

He has worked out that his greatest chance of enjoying the fruits of office at home and being a notable figure in European decision-making circles lies in making common cause with the far-left. This Faustian pact has not led to condemnation at EU level. Insouciance is displayed in Brussels towards his readiness to tear up conventions about the separation of powers that were inserted into the 1978 Constitution, underpinning the new democratic era. He has inserted followers who share his dogmatic and cynical attitude to power not only in the party but increasingly across the apparatus of the Spanish state. What is condemned if it occurs in certain post-communist lands is seen as excusable in Spain. European decision-makers, some with far-left backgrounds themselves, continue to be far more animated by the dark night of Francoist repression in Spain than they ever were by the more systematic and intrusive repression that occurred east of Vienna between 1945 and 1989.

Sánchez’s main political weapon is the moral superiority enjoyed by his left-wing followers, very few of whom spring from the working-class but are to be found among educators, media figures, favoured NGOs, and bureaucrats. As elsewhere the post-working-class left sees itself on the right side of history. In Spain the contention is that it now faces a particularly dark set of forces with roots in the 1939-75 Franco dictatorship.

Sánchez’s well-honed self-righteous streak enables him to focus on appearing modern, progressive, and virtuous while having an often negligent approach to governmental responsibilities. This was perhaps never more obvious when he allowed a clumsily drawn-up law to be introduced by a far-left ally, supposedly meant to crack down on violence against women but which instead allowed hundreds of people already condemned for such a crime to have their sentences reduced.

Ultimately, his posture of moral virtue grates with too many Spaniards to be an effective politician weapon. Franco’s arguably most important political legacy, was the creation of a large middle-class with pragmatic instincts. Appeals to partisanship worked when Spain was socially polarised into haves and have-nots and class animosities were intensely felt. But for fifty years there has been a widespread desire for low-key competence rather than passion and experimentation at the top of government.

It is the misfortune of Sánchez that his main opponent, the leader of the Popular Party (PP) Feijóo, comes over as an efficient centrist with a serious approach to governmental responsibilities. His fiscally conservative and socially liberal party has consolidated its hold on the political centre where most Spaniards continue to be found. Sánchez has partly compensated for the defection of moderates by an influx of new support from both the previously ill-led far-left and the Catalan nationalists whose performance has disillusioned many adherents. The concessions Sánchez has made to radicals and the fact that he rarely bothers to mentions Spain in his public utterances facilitates such a movement.

But veteran Socialists are furious that he has ditched the social democratic legacy of the party. Dismay is expressed that he has given positions of power to parties which viewed the 1978 constitution, the cornerstone of Spanish democracy, as a continuation of Francois by other means.

No less than 24 of the 71 ministers who served under the last two Socialist Prime Ministers have refused to give an endorsement to Sánchez. One of them, Juan Alberto Belloch, has declared that ‘Pedro Sánchez has decided all that matters is power and everything else is unimportant’.

The term, Sanchismo, denoting egotism, improvisation, and the lack of a national project is often seen as a right-wing slur but the term was first coined by his own predecessor as party leader, the late Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba. Democratic Spain’s longest-serving Prime Minister, Felipe González, has made a point of reaching out to Feijóo. The veteran socialist has quietly asserted the continuing need to occupy the centre ground in order to safeguard a nation historically prone to ideological polarisation. But another socialist, César Antonio Molina, a former minister of culture, has not been as reticent. He has warned that Sánchez is on ‘the road to authoritarianism’. He believes that his bid to ‘colonise the state’ violates the separation of powers upon which a democratic Spain is based. He is in no doubt that the defeat of Sánchez is necessary for the reconstruction and survival of PSOE.

If the historic party of the left is badly wounded, the beneficiary will undoubtedly be the far-left. A changing of the guard has occurred, with the Podemos party which emerged in 2015, being replaced by a federation of left parties called Sumar (which means ‘Add up’). Its architect is the forceful minister of labour and the social economy, Yolanda Diaz. She has revived the fortunes of the long moribund Spanish Communist party and has had a campaign that perhaps even Madonna would hail for its unabashedly egocentric character. Its emphasis has been placed not on importing US-style culture wars which backfired badly on Podemos, but on economic redistribution. At the start of the campaign Diaz promised to give a handout of €20,000 to each Spaniard when they turned 18, to be paid for by a tax on the wealthy.

The gesture was dropped after it provoked an outcry. But it led to parallels being made between her and another blonde social radical Eva Peron. She was famous for her redistribution zeal as minister of labour in Argentina 75 years ago and she made an unlikely but effective alliance with the Argentinian caudillo Juan Peron.

Diaz, the daughter of an imprisoned communist trade-unionist, and Sánchez work well together. But despised his alleged Caesarist tendencies, he still seems unlikely to carve out the place in history that the Perons managed to do. Too many Spaniards see him as a man on the make. As one commentator wrote recently:

‘The list of his flagrant lies is endless and many Spaniards already know it by heart: that he would not pardon the Catalan coup plotters, that he would not govern with Podemos, that he would not repeal sedition, that he could not imagine a government in which half of its ministers defended the self-determination of Catalonia, that he would not agree with Bildu [former Basque terrorists], are some of the most far-reaching’.

In his defence, Sánchez insists that changes of position have been forced upon him by altered circumstances and that he is no less dishonest than other politicians. But he has trampled over too many people and left too many casualties in his wake to impose his will on a democracy that was carefully constructed to foil ruthless power-grabs.

An uninhibited and sinuous Sánchez-type could possible do much greater damage on the other side of the Pyrenees than in Spain where people have learned the hard way not to let their politicians get away with murder.

There have been mounting warnings that Dutch political stability is fast becoming a thing of the past. Recent holders of government positions have lost the ability to balance individual and local freedoms and rights with the need for the state to manage the challenges faced by a densely-populated small country of 18 million people in what is an age of growing confusion and discord.

In my new book, I have argued that the longstanding Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte has appeared increasingly opportunistic and insipid in his reactions to the growing fractures in Dutch society brought about not least by the pressures of globalisation. On 7 July, the fourth coalition which he has presided over since 2012 fell apart over disagreements about the number of asylum seekers to accept into the country.

Rutte has been unable to reassure citizens from the small towns and provinces, as well as the indigenous working-class, that he is a watchful steward of their interests. Parties keen to alter lifestyles and economic occupations by ushering in a globally-focused order based on Green social engineering, have made the running during his thirteen years of rule. Paradoxically, Rutte belongs to the centre-right. But it is the priorities and world view of the metropolitan left, driven not least by D66, hitherto the main voice of middle-class Dutch radical liberals, which have shaped key public policies.

Bureaucrats and NGOs have been able to impose a ‘progressive’ design for living on the Netherlands while largely disregarding the big swathe of citizens who feel they are being subject to unwelcome top-down experiments. Dutch farmers, hitherto a quiescent element in society, have mounted vigorous resistance to state plans to expropriate farms in order to fulfil Net Zero targets. A party founded only in 2019, the Boer Burger Beweging (BBB, coloquially known as the Farmers Party) is now the leading political force, having won the elections for the upper house of parliament in March. Its leader Caroline van der Plas has the common touch which seems to have deserted most recent high-profile Dutch political figures.

She has cleverly tapped into growing disgruntlement arising from the deterioration of the urban environment, demographic pressures on public services, economic insecurity, and collisions over competing rights and ideological agendas. It means that the BBB is not just the voice of overlooked farmers. It is poised to do well in cities and towns also. Plenty of urban electors exist who are weary of arrogant and out-of-touch parties and an administrative elite who seem more interested in carrying out experiments on the Dutch population than in paying close attention to their immediate needs and longer-term interests.

The highly proportional Dutch system gives voice to opinions and interests denied representation in Britain where the single plurality system (First past the post) invests power in a few increasingly disfunctional electoral blocs. New parties have risen, and some long-established ones have declined or foundered, because of deepening splits in Dutch society about what is the national model to embrace in increasingly tempestuous times.

Energy disputes, climate politics, and strains caused by the wave of asylum seekers, confounded Rutte’s abilities as an able diplomat and communicator. Previously, he had sailed through crises over austerity policy, the unfair penalisation of social security claimants, the debacle over the Dutch withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021, his storing of classified state information on his Nokia phone, and an erratic and often harsh application of lockdown measures in 2021-22 which roiled Dutch society.

Opposition to state measures to contain the pandemic gave rise to the fiercest protests seen anywhere in northern Europe during this medical emergency. The tumult seemed to bring to the surface long-simmering tensions about what should be the Dutch design for living – to be at the cutting edge of developments to find ‘expert-driven’ solutions for major global challenges or to take stock and slow down after decades of non-stop change in Dutch society which had left many feeling disempowered or burnt-out.

Rutte no longer seemed to be the indispensable butler in the unruly house of Dutch politics able to manage an increasingly querulous household. Initially, however, it was assumed that he would use the months before a general election, called for 22 November, to strengthen the middle ground and characterise his detractors as impractical figures with no real answers for pressing national problems. Towards that end, he would be able to rely on the Binnenhof, the national institutions concentrated in The Hague, as well as a largely supportive media. A critical mass of Dutch voters would sober up and, as before, recognise that only he could steer the country between its global responsibilities and local self-absorption.

But he caused astonishment four days after his government’s resignation when he announced that he was stepping down from national politics and would not be standing in the election. He was only 56 and days later, the deputy prime minister, Sigrid Kaag announced that she too was bowing out. As leader of D66, the 61-year-old who had given up a long United Nations career, just six years earlier presumably to spend a long time in politics. But now she claimed that family members had compelled her to quit. The strain of spearheading the forcible closure of Dutch farms to comply with targets for nitrogen reduction set by the EU, had placed her in the eye of the storm.

In the same week, not dissimilar reasons were offered by the 47-year-old foreign minister Wopke Hoekstra, for retreating from the fray. His party, the Christian Democrats, the predominant force in politics until the turn-of-the-century, now faces an even bigger wipe-out than the Dutch Labour Pary which, by 2017, had been reduced to impotence for backing fashionable Green norms. The proportional system enabled voters to substitute parties which seemed insincere and transactional with brand-new alternatives like the BBB.

This period of sharp de-alignment has also been accompanied by bouts of ugly political violence. The first outsider to break the mould, conservative nationalist Pim Fortuyn was slain by an environmental activist in 2002 on the day before his party’s electoral breakthrough. In 2004, Theo Van Gogh, a well-known film-maker, was brutally killed in broad daylight in Amsterdam by a citizen of Moroccan background who deplored his views. Gert Wilders, until now the most successful nativist politician has been under 24-hour police protection, for holding similar anti-immigrant positions. In 2014, the D66 politician responsible for introducing legislation permitting euthanasia was murdered by someone who claimed to be carrying out ‘an order from God’.

It would be understandable if government forces decided to go before voters with the urgent warning that the Netherlands is at the crossroads: it can either hurtle down the path of mob rule and might-is-right politics, or else it can step back and allow elected politicians the room to govern even though some of their decisions may impact disfavourably on totemic elements of Dutch national life such as the 6,000 farmers due to have their properties expropriated by the state.

An appeal for the established pillars of Dutch society to be allowed to reassert their authority or else there will be little to stop anarchy disfiguring Dutch society and turning it into an unstable basket-case, is likely to influence middle-ground voters.

But the trouble is that the middle-ground has substantially shrunk. Previously moderate and even apolitical voters, not least farmers, have been radicalised. They have used their solidarity and social media tools to shake the ruling elite. In Caroline van der Plas, they have found an unconventional but redoubtable champion.

Perhaps Rutte concluded that he could no longer read the room, nor could anyone else in the limelight representing liberal capitalist status quo interests. A fierce struggle for power will likely play out in the Netherlands for the rest of the year.

It remains to be seen who are the most adept at the game – discredited globalists backed by the legacy media and still in charge of the state machine, or else conservative realists determined to ensure that ordinary Dutch citizens are listened to rather than subject to demeaning and dangerous experiments.

Tom Gallagher is Emeritus Professor of Politics at the University of Bradford. His book Europe’s Leadership Famine: portraits of defiance and decay 1950-2022 was published on 17 June.

France faces a collapse of order and an increasingly ominous and uncertain political future as its cities succumb to insensate mobs who revile the whole concept of the French nation but are more punk tearaways and gangster anarchists than true globalists.

Although it was only yesterday, it therefore seems the product of a simpler age to compare Emmanuel Macron and Boris Johnson. It’s what I did a chapter of my new book on Europe’s leadership failure.

What made them bond on occasion was that they were both big state liberals instinctively drawn to global institutions.

The extremely competitive Macron may have sniffed in disdain at Johnson’s inability to hold on to power, but as widely-dispersed parts of France now show they are ungovernable, he might be forgiven for envying his former British rival’s slow incarnation as an author and return to being a media celebrity.

It is worth remembering that both have been caught up in riots. In the summer of 2011 Johnson was enjoying a break from being Mayor of London – on a family camper van holiday chugging around the US Rockies – when riots erupted in the Tottenham area of the city which soon spread across England. Calm had been restored by the time of the London Olympics a year later. But what will be the fate of the Paris Olympics next year with the Olympic pool that is under construction having been torched and 40,000 police and gendarmes struggling to quell a near-insurrection?

Johnson cut short his holiday but Macron lacked the presence of mind to cancel his attendance at Elton John’s farewell tour at Paris’s Accor Arena on Wednesday evening. He danced as rioters ran rampage elsewhere in the French capital’.

Mass violence on a scale perhaps exceeding riots that erupted in 2005 raged through the night and continues unabated at the time of writing. It was only on Friday morning that the scale of the crisis hit home. He arrived for an EU summit in Brussels only to hurriedly depart to stage a crisis meeting back home. His bid to contextualise the riots by blaming ‘bad parenting’ and the prevalence of video games once again showed that this energetic and intellectually spry politician could rarely get the optics right. If by pointing his finger at social media and promising to expose those who ‘call for disorder’ on various online sites was meant to display a sense of purpose, it is unlikely to have convinced many.

In an age when politicians often seem timid, listless and unsure of what to do, Macron has never been short of self-confidence. But he has a tin ear for what the French feel and think in an era of economic decline, political fragmentation and growing social tension. From François Mitterrand onwards, most French leaders have neglected devising any practical steps to integrate the growing population of Mahgrebi descent. A combination of exclusionary labour laws, an enclave religious identity, prejudice from parts of society, and poor educational opportunities kept many (not all) at the margins of society. The lack of upward mobility meant that disaffection slowly spread, as growing numbers fell under the sway of clerics preaching a message of radical disengagement. This has been the pathway to a situation where millions are disaffected from the state and society and choose to devise their own rules for living. Truly a frightening shift in the social order in France.

Mitterrand’s decision to redesign the electoral law in order to frustrate his Gaullist rivals by making the far-right a permanent presence in politics, summed up the cynicism of a political class increasingly insulated from much of society. For much of the time in the Élysée

palace, Macron has been absorbed with promoting his own image as a visionary thinker and fixer in an inter-connected world while millions of his countrymen seethed and became increasingly fearful of the future.

Unlike Johnson he has never gone through a phase in which he has displayed the common touch in a sure-footed way. He came from nowhere in 2017 to snatch the presidency because Marine Le Pen was deemed un-electable and the Gaullist challenger was consumed in scandal. An ability to appear and sound innovative while mobilising forces committed to preserving the dominance of entrenched elite groups drawn from Paris, served him well. This power-base was enough to gain him re-election in 2022 against far-left-and far-right rivals but this time without a majority in the National Assembly.

Books appeared not long after Macron’s presidential tenure began, in which he was depicted as the only person on the European stage with the vision and determination to press ahead with further integration of the EU, a quarter of a century after the path-breaking Maastricht Treaty. He himself wrote Revolution in 2017, where he scarcely bothers to disguise his ambition to rank as a historical figure, or a ‘Jupiter’, as he once dubbed himself.

Unfortunately for Macron, most French citizens possess little affinity with his vision of greatness, which has seemed too bound up with personal aggrandisement allied to the pursuit of global technocracy, in which France (though not him) can only enjoy a negligible role. He has been consistently under fire for systematic exploitation of his powers of patronage. He received fierce criticism for side-stepping French ministries and institutions and commissioning major global consultancy firms to formulate policy on everything from the environment to health, often at an exorbitant cost.

He has undoubtedly tried but failed to reach out and establish trustworthy dealings with the mass of ordinary French citizens. Too many tactless remarks suggest that he believes in an epistocracy in which power is concentrated in those entitled to rule on account of talents and social placement that dwarf those of ordinary mortals. It is not hard to sense that under the surface he thinks that many of his fellow citizens are too limited in their understanding of political affairs to deserve much control over them.

The 2020-21 Covid pandemic helped quell a militant anti-elite protest by the Gilets Jaunes (Yellow Vests) against poorly-designed austerity measures which played havoc with the low-incomes of artisans and non-unionised provincial workers.

Macron returned to the theme of belt-tightening when, in a speech delivered in August 2022, he declared that climate change and the war in resource-rich Ukraine meant ‘the end of abundance’. He clearly thinks at a rarified level of the problems besetting France. But his solutions seem remote and unappealing except to protected state officials and middle-class technocrats. This was shown in the spring of 2023 by his decision to raise the pension age from 62 to 64. In most countries there would have been disgruntlement but not the outpouring of rage against a step felt to be necessary because of a fast-ageing population. Macron, the most ambitious president in the 75-year history of the 5th Republic, found himself the object of intense hatred, far more than the measure itself.

Its imposition by presidential decree, due to the absence of sufficient votes in parliament, was seen as proof of his illegitimacy. While being interviewed on television at the height of fierce riots that fanned beyond Paris, he surreptitiously removed a luxury watch from his wrist, presumably due to the unfavourable impression it might give.

Such artful guile has too often proven self-defeating. He acts like an undeniably clever but disdainful overseer towards a population who sense his lack of sympathy allied to a readiness to interfere in their lives. He may be acutely aware of the malaise of a country buffeted by de-industrialisation, communal fractions and demographic imbalance, but he is powerless to offer remedies or improvements because of a brittle and adversarial relationship with much of the French people.

In a fortnight France and the world will be reminded of the revolutionary origins of the modern French state with the commemoration of the storming of the Bastille on July 14th. Unlike in the United States, these revolutionary roots have not been a recipe for internal unity. The fact that France has had no less than eight constitutions since 1814 attests to that. If past history is any guide, Macron may be lucky to see out his presidential term which has nearly four years to run. This talented figure has too many features of an enlightened despot to withstand the furious gales blowing from different sections of the population who feel themselves with little stake in French life.

The French presidential system is unresponsive to public sentiment. This increases the likelihood that Macron will simply be unable to find a new empathetic and reassuring tone that can rally a majority of French citizens who distrust the far-right and hate the far-left for exploiting the revolt of mainly North African-origin youth. Accelerated social programmes and a tougher law-and-order response are unlikely to be more than short-term palliatives. A profound reformation of the haughty French way of running France – remote, crony-ridden, focusing on international hobby-horses rather than internal woes – may be the only way to prevent the country toppling into the abyss of permanent social strife and political warfare.

The ambitious shape-shifting Macron is capable of many somersaults but I doubt if he could revert from being a super-globalist to proving instead to be the architect of a French Reformation. Accordingly, he is likely to prove a temporary and ephemeral figure. It means that he may well have to consider new line of work just like his Anglo-Saxon rival Johnson, and sooner than he could possibly have imagined.

The disastrously misjudged priorities of his Presidency means it is far likelier that the commanding French political figures of the future will spring from the army, an overlooked provincial France, or from the radicalised street rather than from an already much-discredited political class.

Tom Gallagher’s new book, Europe’s Leadership Famine: Portraits of Defiance and Decay, 1950-2022, (Scotview Publications) was published on 22 June. ISBN9780993465444