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John Pilger: Welcome to the violent world of Mr Hopey Changey, Barack Obama

As Barack Obama continues his ludicrously overhyped European tour, media gloss cannot disguise the renewed imperial ambition of Libya’s western aggressors.

When Britain lost control of Egypt in 1956, Prime Minister Anthony Eden said he wanted the nationalist president Gamal Abdel Nasser "destroyed . . . murdered . . . I don't give a damn if there's anarchy and chaos in Egypt." Those insolent Arabs, Winston Churchill had urged in 1951, should be driven "into the gutter from which they should never have emerged".

The language of colonialism may have been modified, but the spirit and the hypocrisy are unchanged. A new imperial phase is unfolding in direct response to the Arab uprising that has shocked Washington and Europe, causing an Eden-style panic. The loss of the Egyptian tyrant Hosni Mubarak was grievous, though not irretrievable: a US-backed counter-revolution is under way as the military regime in Cairo is seduced with bribes, and power is shifting from the street to political groups that did not initiate the revolution. The western aim, as ever, is to stop authentic democracy and reclaim control.

Robbers and bombers

Libya is the immediate opportunity. The Nato attack, with the UN Security Council assigned to mandate a bogus "no-fly zone" to "protect civilians", is strikingly similar to the final destruction of Yugoslavia in 1999. There was no UN cover for the bombing of Serbia and the "rescue" of Kosovo, yet the propaganda echoes today. Like Slobodan Milosevic, Muammar al-Gaddafi is a "new Hitler", plotting "genocide" against his people. There is no evidence of this, as there was no genocide in Kosovo. In Libya, there is a tribal civil war; and the armed uprising against Gaddafi has long been appropriated by the US, French and British, their planes attacking residential Tripoli with uranium-tipped missiles and the submarine HMS Triumph firing Tomahawks, in a repeat of the Iraq "shock and awe" that left thousands of civilians dead and maimed. As in Iraq, the victims, including countless incinerated Libyan army conscripts, are media unpeople.

In the "rebel" east, the terrorising and killing of black African immigrants is not news. On 22 May, a rare piece in the Washington Post described the repression, lawlessness and death squads in the "liberated zones" just as the visiting EU foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, declared she had found only "great aspirations" and "leadership qualities". In demonstrating these qualities, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, the "rebel leader" and Gaddafi's justice minister until February, pledged: "Our friends . . . will have the best opportunity in future contracts in Libya." The east holds most of Libya's oil, the greatest reserves in Africa. In March the rebels, with expert foreign guidance, transferred to Benghazi the Libyan Central Bank, a wholly state-owned institution. This is unprecedented. Meanwhile, the US and the EU froze almost $100bn in Libyan funds, "the largest sum ever blocked", according to official statements. It is the biggest bank robbery in history.

The French elite are enthusiastic robbers and bombers. Nicolas Sarkozy's imperial design is for a French-dominated Mediterranean Union, which would allow France to "return" to its former colonies in North Africa and profit from privileged investment and cheap labour. Gaddafi described the Sarkozy plan as "an insult" that was "taking us for fools". The Merkel government in Berlin agreed, fearing its old foe would diminish Germany in the EU, and abstained in the Security Council vote on Libya. As in the attack on Yugoslavia and the charade of Milosevic's trial, the International Criminal Court is being used to pro­secute Gaddafi while his repeated offers of a ceasefire are ignored. Gaddafi is a Bad Arab. David Cameron's government and its verbose top general want to eliminate this Bad Arab, much as the Obama administration killed a famous Bad Arab in Pakistan recently.

The crown prince of Bahrain, on the other hand, is a Good Arab. On 19 May he was warmly welcomed to Britain by Cameron with a photocall on the steps of 10 Downing Street. In March, the same crown prince slaughtered unarmed protesters in his country and allowed Saudi forces to crush the Bahraini democracy movement. The Obama administration has rewarded Saudi Arabia, one of the most repressive regimes on earth, with a $60bn arms deal, the biggest in US history. The Saudis have the most oil. They are the Best Arabs.

The assault on Libya, a crime under the Nuremberg standard, is Britain's 46th military "intervention" in the Middle East since 1945. Like its imperial partners, Britain aims to control Africa's oil. Cameron is not Eden, but almost. Same school. Same values. In the media pack, the words colonialism and imperialism are no longer used, so the cynical and the credulous can celebrate state violence in its more palatable form.

Keys to the kingdom

As "Mr Hopey Changey" (the name that the great American cartoonist Ted Rall gives Obama) is fawned upon by the British elite and launches another insufferable campaign, the Anglo-American reign of terror proceeds in Afghan­istan and elsewhere with the murder of people by unmanned drones - a US/Israeli innovation, embraced by Obama.

On a scorecard of imposed misery, from secret trials and prisons, to the hounding of whistleblowers and the criminalising of dissent, to the incarceration and impoverishment of his own people, mostly black people, Obama is as bad as George W Bush.

The Palestinians understand all this. As their young people courageously face the violence of Israel's racism, carrying the keys to their grandparents' stolen homes, they are not even inclu­ded in Mr Hopey Changey's list of peoples in the Middle East whose liberation is long overdue. What the oppressed need, he said on 19 May, is a dose of "America's interests [which] are essential to them". He insults us all.

John Pilger, renowned investigative journalist and documentary film-maker, is one of only two to have twice won British journalism's top award; his documentaries have won academy awards in both the UK and the US. In a New Statesman survey of the 50 heroes of our time, Pilger came fourth behind Aung San Suu Kyi and Nelson Mandela. "John Pilger," wrote Harold Pinter, "unearths, with steely attention facts, the filthy truth. I salute him."

This article first appeared in the 30 May 2011 issue of the New Statesman, Hands up who knows how to fix our schools

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Why are right wing parties thriving across Europe?

The resilience of the right in Europe and the Anglosphere.

On 15 September 2008, Wall Street’s oldest investment bank filed for bankruptcy, sending shock waves through the world’s financial markets. Leh­man Brothers was not “too big to fail” ­after all. Its collapse heralded the main, most perilous phase of the global financial crisis – and it seemed to have exposed the limits of right-wing orthodoxy and unbridled free-market capitalism. Indeed, Ed Miliband was spurred to run for the Labour leadership by a belief that politics had shifted to the left after the crash.

Yet, seven years on from Lehman’s implosion, right-wing parties are thriving. In the UK the Conservative Party won a majority in May for the first time in 23 years. Across 39 countries in Europe that we analysed parties of the right are in government in 26 of them. Add in the Anglosphere – Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States – and right-wing parties control the legislature in 30 of the 43 countries. This is four more than before the crash.

Why is this? One big factor is that the centre left has not been able to answer the question of what it exists for when there is no money left. As management of the economy has become a much more important issue, right-wing parties have benefited because they “are often labelled better economic managers”, says Andrew Little, leader of the New Zealand Labour Party. Thomas Hofer, an Austrian political consultant, says: “In times of crises, conservatives might be trusted more, as they are seen to keep an eye on a balanced budget. When there’s growth, social democrats are – or were – trusted to spread the wealth.”

Relentlessly, and often misleadingly, parties of the right, including the Tories, have drummed home this message of superior economic competency. “The PR of the centre right is unbeatable,” says André Krouwel, a lecturer in political science at VU University Amsterdam, even though “empirical evidence shows that left-wing governments or coalitions actually perform better and cause much less deep crises”.

The crash has also damaged the left by making voters more insular and defensive, especially towards immigration. Parties of the centre right, meanwhile, “have always been more associated with a rather tougher line on immigration” and so “are likely to do better at elections where it’s up in the mix”, says the Conservative Party historian Tim Bale. The populist right has been the biggest beneficiary of this shift, attracting working-class people who once voted for left-wing parties but now fear immigration is threatening their livelihoods. The Ukip leader, Nigel Farage, told the NS last year: “Everybody thought that people’s tribal allegiance to Labour was as strong, if not stronger, than the tribal allegiance to the Conservative Party. What we’re actually finding is, they don’t even recognise the tribe.”

Ukip has been stymied by the British voting system, but parties of the radical right elsewhere in Europe often benefit from proportional representation. Ultimately this helps the mainstream right, too: as voters shift from parties of the left to the radical right, “It makes right-wing majorities and coalition formation easier,” Krouwel says.

In some countries leaders of populist-right parties have portrayed themselves as the protectors of a welfare state under attack from liberal immigration policies. The Danish People’s Party, for instance, has branded itself as “representing classical social-democratic values combined with a tough line on immigration”, says Klaus Petersen, a professor at the University of Southern Denmark. He believes that the failure of centre-left parties to acknowledge and help those people negatively affected by the forces of globalisation and immigration has been a big mistake. The consequences are clear in the Nordic countries, historically the fiefdom of social democracy. Right-wing parties today control Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Norway, leaving only Sweden in the hands of the centre left.

Only southern Europe provides much solace for the left. Syriza holds power in Greece but it is only in Italy, largely as a result of Silvio Berlusconi’s self-destruction, that the left displays any great sense of vibrancy (see above). In the west, the Parti Socialiste holds power in France, though François Hollande’s time in office has been tumultuous.

The left is also battling against trends that pre-date 2008. The growth of “individualisation” since the 1970s is the most important structural factor in the success of the right, Krouwel says. “The idea of free and individual choice undermined the traditional drivers of left-wing thought: solidarity and state interventionism.” Right-wing parties have also been helped by the collapse of manufacturing, the decline in trade union membership and the rise in self-employment.

The best could be yet to come for the right. Across Europe and the Anglosphere populations are ageing. “[This] benefits the right, because voters shift right as they get older,” says Eric Kaufmann, professor of politics at Birkbeck College in London. The “old vote” counts even more because so few young people vote: across Europe last year, only 28 per cent of those aged 18-24 voted in the European parliamentary elections, compared to 51 per cent of those 55 and over. In addition, there is an apparent rightward shift in young people’s attitudes. In the UK research shows that the “millennial generation” has moved to the right of its parents in its attitudes to the economy and the state and its confidence in the welfare state.

So much, then, for the idea of the economic crash heralding another dawn of ­social democracy. Instead, it ushered in an age of the right.

Tim Wigmore is a contributing writer to the New Statesman and the author of Second XI: Cricket In Its Outposts.

This article first appeared in the 01 October 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The Tory tide