We are back in the land of lost innocence; we must wake up, eschew complacency, hasten to preserve democracy; the fascists are everywhere, under the bed, in the streets, on the radio, in the council chamber. The great and the good hear the echoes of Nazi jackboots and warn the voters to behave themselves. The people have spoken, and the people should mind their language.
But this is not the 1930s. There is unemployment and poverty in Europe, but not the desperation of 70 years ago. Much of the support for extreme-right parties derives from the ennui of prosperity and comfort. People find mainstream politics boring and consensual, particularly in countries such as France, Italy and the Netherlands, where power-sharing and coalition have blurred boundaries and taken the edge off debate. They see corruption everywhere: in recent years, major political figures in Italy, France, Germany and Belgium - some still in power - have been implicated in scandal. Stories about Brussels gravy trains appear almost weekly.
In Britain, new Labour ministers have failed to convince people that they have cleansed the system; they do not line their personal pockets, which is an improvement, but they seem to hand out favours in return for party funds, and many voters do not see much difference. Indeed, the view that the world is run in the interests of big business, and that politicians are part of a seamless conspiracy with it, is more widespread than sophisticated European elites think; the view is confirmed every time a big retail chain invades the high street, closing local shops. Most people do not feel strongly enough about this (or anything else) to join a boycott, still less to join the anti-globalisers on the streets. But some can just about stagger to the ballot box to mutter a metaphorical "bastards!" to their rulers. Any government that asks for approval of its policies on Europe is promptly sent away with a flea in its ear. Any maverick who can command a few seconds of attention in the media - a Ken Livingstone, an ex-chief constable, a football club mascot, a gay Dutch sociologist, an ageing French clown - stands a chance of success. Nobody much cares what these people stand for or what they may do: campaigners for a local hospital have taken control of Wyre Forest District Council, which may be an admirable result but is a wholly preposterous one, because the council has no control over health services. Anything will serve as the vehicle for a protest vote, as the Liberal Democrats in Britain well know.
None of this is to deny that there is a whiff of racism in the air; this is a worrying time for anybody in Europe who is Jewish, Asian, black or Romany. But this is precisely the issue that exposes the middle-ground politicians at their most arrogant and duplicitous: a touch of polite racism, with calls for "strict controls" on asylum-seekers, is permissible, but not the ruder racism of the populace. Our leaders think they can give racism an occasional outing, rather as they would take the dog for a walk round the park. They do not see the danger that it will escape the leash. They turn a blind eye to hidden middle-class racism: the sort that keeps even black graduates out of jobs, or prompts smart, well-heeled parents to send their children to exclusive schools. They are then surprised that poor people object to immigrants being dumped next-door to them in the inner cities.
Millions will flirt with parties that wrap racism up in a plausible package; in most countries, opposition to immigration goes alongside opposition to the European Union and to multinational corporations. Call it ignorance and chauvinism, even fascism, if you like. But people sense that decisions are drifting further away from them, to central governments, to corporate head offices in foreign countries, to the EU, to those international meetings where self-important men bustle back and forth with bulging files.
Two developments have changed democratic politics and caused it to lose its bearings: the end of the cold war, and the end of class conflict as the middle classes expanded and the working classes became bourgeois. The old simplicities have gone; as John Lloyd (page 18) argues, politics now involves balancing interests and mediating between various levels of power. So public-private partnerships replace the clarity of nationalisation and privatisation; stealth taxes replace simple increases and cuts in tax rates; faith schools, specialist schools and so on replace grammars and comprehensives. All this takes politics further away from ordinary people; the debate seems muted, and conducted in an alien language.
Centrist politicians should not upbraid those who express contempt or simply mock. It is up to the politicians to return power to the people, where it belongs. Trust them; given real power, the people will not let us down.
We repeat: off with their heads!
A gross libel has been committed against the editor of the New Statesman. Various organs have suggested that a visit to Windsor Castle has compromised his republican principles and, more importantly, the New Statesman's. The truth should be told. The editor drank too much before he went and too much while he was there; he smuggled in an uninvited guest; he was seized by a courtier who thought his proximity to Her Majesty to be a threat to her well-being. In short, he did his best to behave badly. Nevertheless, the palace spin machine, in its drive to repair the royal image, has cleverly exploited the attendance of known republicans at the golden jubilee reception for the media. What a pity it didn't spot that the Queen's decision to keep her mother's will secret and to avoid inheritance tax is likely to undo the PR gains. It will take more than a royal handshake to convert this paper and its editor to monarchism.