There is nothing in the least amusing about neo Nazis although you will be permitted a wry smile during my opening paragraphs.
On Saturday I attended the MSZP socialist party rally in Budapest. It was held at the national stadium dedicated to Ferenc Puskás. Football followers of a certain age will want to take time here to genuflect: younger supporters of the beautiful game will just shirk their shoulders and pass.
I travelled by underground and two stations before my stop a man in his 50s entered my carriage. He was dressed in quasi military style and wore boots that were highly polished and could inflict a good kick. He carried a large flag and with him were two women with furled flags plus a man in his 40s dressed normally.
As they chatted happily I presumed they were MSZP supporters on their way to the rally. They got off at my station and I fell in behind them. Outside the station they were joined by other similarly dressed people who all seemed to be gathering along the road. I followed along happily.
Then alarm bells began to ring. The stadium with the thousands of MSZP supporters was on my right. Why were this group crowding together on land beside the main road? Why did they have a stand handing out leaflets? Why did they have a stage where giant speakers blared out slogans in Hungarian and loud music? Why was there a TV camera trained on their every move? Why were they surrounded by police? Then I spotted the massive flag with “Árpád stripes” and realised I had marched with Jobbik, Hungary’s far right anti-Semitic nationalist party. For the first time in my life I swung to the right and hurriedly joined the members of MSZP queuing at the stadium gates.
There was a session at the Party of European Socialists conference in Budapest on the far right. I have to say that after attending it I did not come away reassured the left had yet found an answer to the sinister threat of Jobbik and its sister parties especially in Eastern Europe.
One of the speakers at the PES session on the far right was Sanchia Alasia. She is a young Labour councillor for Barking. Sanchia and her colleagues at the last local elections defeated the 12 BNP councillors leaving the far right party with no seats. They did it by reengaging with local people, making the local Labour Party an activist party. However Sanchia admitted the BNP had not been eradicated and could make a come back.
This is where Jobbik and the BNP connect. The Jobbik supporters I met were working men and women, natural supporters of MSZP you would think. The people who voted for the BNP in Barking were not racists but traditional Labour supporters who no longer felt the party spoke for them on immigration, housing and employment or other key issues.
During the last UK election campaign the then Labour Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, was caught on a SKY TV microphone, calling 66-year-old Mrs Duffy a “bigot” because she had raised immigration with him on a walk-about in Rochdale. The discovery that his remarks had been broadcast to the nation sent Brown into grovel mode. However the fact is the BNP has been able to grow in traditional Labour seats such as Barking and Rochdale because those who voted Labour in the past have felt abandoned by their party.
In an interview in 2011 Lord Maurice Glasman, the man behind Blue Labour and an advisor to Ed Miliband, got in to hot water because he seemingly suggested the party should engaged with the English Defence League. Later in the New Statesman he said: “It did not cross my mind that anyone could think that I support the English Defence League (EDL), which I consider a thuggish and violent organisation. When I said in an interview with magazine in April that we should listen to supporters of the EDL, I was arguing that the best way to defeat fascist organisations is to engage with their supporters in a politics of the common good that addresses issues of family, housing and safer streets, the living wage and a cap on interest rates.”
The thought that Glasman, a practicing Jew, would align himself with the EDL or the BNP is too ridiculous for words. Yet his belief that “the best way to defeat fascist organisations is to engage with their supporters in a politics of the common good that addresses issues of family, housing and safer streets, the living wage and a cap on interest rates” is 100 per cent right.
The supporters of the BNP and EDL are working class Britons who the Labour Party used to speak for but has now lost its voice. I suspect the same may be true for Jobbik in Hungary. It doesn’t mean that Labour or the MSZP have to become racist but it does mean they have to address the fears of many people over immigration, housing and the changes in their communities. These traditional socialists are not bigots – but they are scared.
(Photo: “Árpád stripes”)
(The above article was published in the London Progressive Journal on March 17 2013).