The new face of Islamophobia

A study of the far-right in Europe has found that supporters are young, male, and anti-Islam.

The far right in Europe is on the rise and supporters are disproportionately young, male and concerned with Islam and immigration.

A study by Demos has collated information on the demographics and attitudes of supporters of the far right online. Given the wide range of groups involved -- ranging from France's long-established National Front to semi-organised street movements such as the EDL -- it is difficult to make generalisations.

What most of these groups do have in common is that they have significantly more supporters online and that social networking sites such as Facebook are an important tool for members to swap ideas.

The report looks at 14 parties and street organisations in 11 countries. Using Facebook's data on around 450,000 supporters of these organisations, Demos found, perhaps unsurprisingly, that more than two-thirds were under 30, while three-quarters were male.

Over 10,000 supporters filled in detailed questionnaires about their attitudes. The main reasons listed for joining the groups were Islam and immigration, which cropped up far more frequently than economic worries. Interestingly, these concerns were often framed as a belief that Islam was incompatible with the traditions of liberal democracy. This marks a shift from the crude racism of the earlier generation of populist, far-right movements. Such an argument has the capacity to appeal to more people than out-and-out racism; this is evident in Holland, where Geert Wilder's Party For Freedom has become the third-largest party. In contrast to most other surveys, anti-Islamic and anti-immigration feeling rose with younger supporters.

Thomas Klau from the European Council on Foreign Relations, who is chairing a conference on the rise of the far-right today, noted the implications of this trend:

As antisemitism was a unifying factor for far-right parties in the 1910s, 20s and 30s, Islamophobia has become the unifying factor in the early decades of the 21st century.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, supporters are deeply pessimistic about the prospects for their respective countries. Only 10 per cent thought their country was "on the right track", compared with an average of 28 per cent across EU countries.

While the report highlights the importance of the internet and social media to the spread of these populist movements, most supporters are not simply armchair activists -- for political parties, 67 per cent of respondents said they voted for the party at the last election.

The anti-Islamic sentiment that runs through the ideology of supporters is disturbing, yet it is not difficult to see where it has stemmed from -- it merely echoes the actions and arguments taken by mainstream parties in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

The Guardian quotes Gavan Titley, co-author of The Crises of Multiculturalism:

Racist strategies constantly adapt to political conditions, and seek new sets of values, language and arguments to make claims to political legitimacy. Over the past decade, Muslim populations around Europe, whatever their backgrounds, have been represented as the enemy within or at least as legitimately under suspicion. It is this very mainstream political repertoire that newer movements have appropriated.

Today's report sets out some of the identifying features of the far-right in Europe; it remains for governments to tackle this trend.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Autumn Statement 2015: George Osborne abandons his target

How will George Osborne close the deficit after his U-Turns? Answer: he won't, of course. 

“Good governments U-Turn, and U-Turn frequently.” That’s Andrew Adonis’ maxim, and George Osborne borrowed heavily from him today, delivering two big U-Turns, on tax credits and on police funding. There will be no cuts to tax credits or to the police.

The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that, in total, the government gave away £6.2 billion next year, more than half of which is the reverse to tax credits.

Osborne claims that he will still deliver his planned £12bn reduction in welfare. But, as I’ve written before, without cutting tax credits, it’s difficult to see how you can get £12bn out of the welfare bill. Here’s the OBR’s chart of welfare spending:

The government has already promised to protect child benefit and pension spending – in fact, it actually increased pensioner spending today. So all that’s left is tax credits. If the government is not going to cut them, where’s the £12bn come from?

A bit of clever accounting today got Osborne out of his hole. The Universal Credit, once it comes in in full, will replace tax credits anyway, allowing him to describe his U-Turn as a delay, not a full retreat. But the reality – as the Treasury has admitted privately for some time – is that the Universal Credit will never be wholly implemented. The pilot schemes – one of which, in Hammersmith, I have visited myself – are little more than Potemkin set-ups. Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit will never be rolled out in full. The savings from switching from tax credits to Universal Credit will never materialise.

The £12bn is smaller, too, than it was this time last week. Instead of cutting £12bn from the welfare budget by 2017-8, the government will instead cut £12bn by the end of the parliament – a much smaller task.

That’s not to say that the cuts to departmental spending and welfare will be painless – far from it. Employment Support Allowance – what used to be called incapacity benefit and severe disablement benefit – will be cut down to the level of Jobseekers’ Allowance, while the government will erect further hurdles to claimants. Cuts to departmental spending will mean a further reduction in the numbers of public sector workers.  But it will be some way short of the reductions in welfare spending required to hit Osborne’s deficit reduction timetable.

So, where’s the money coming from? The answer is nowhere. What we'll instead get is five more years of the same: increasing household debt, austerity largely concentrated on the poorest, and yet more borrowing. As the last five years proved, the Conservatives don’t need to close the deficit to be re-elected. In fact, it may be that having the need to “finish the job” as a stick to beat Labour with actually helped the Tories in May. They have neither an economic imperative nor a political one to close the deficit. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.