‘Spectre’ of liberalism now has right-wingers on the run – in NI too

Alliance Party leader Naomi Long
Alliance Party leader Naomi Long
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Tories outvoted by the Green Party in Great Britain. Unprecedented. Labour and Conservatives outvoted by Lib Dems in England. Unprecedented.

Anti-sectarian Alliance Party has taken one of Northern Ireland’s three European Parliament seats from the UUP. Unprecedented.

Stephen Douglas, Alliance Party

Stephen Douglas, Alliance Party

The UK anti-Brexit and pro-EU parties easily outpolled those still unambiguously in favour of a hard Brexit.

Now the UK government, understandably wary of not fulfilling the people’s wishes expressed three years ago, should become even warier of ramming through a divisive Brexit on 9% of current electoral support.

For the past while we’ve been hearing of the rise of the populist right across the entire western democratic world.

The spectre I’m now noticing clear as day is the persistence of multi-cultural, transnational, liberal, tolerant, equal rights-driven democratic rhetoric.

Brexit, sure, has upended and disrupted decades of entrenched so-called tribal politics in Northern Ireland, with nationalist Sinn Fein calling on its supporters to give second preferences to a pro-EU party that could win (widely interpreted as a nod to lending votes to Alliance).

Yes, I understand that the UK government’s continuance depends on the anti-progressive, anti-equal marriage DUP whose hard Brexit anti-EU and anti-Backstop stance has alienated many of its relatively recently-acquired electoral base of pro-business, and suburban electors.

But I sense an alternative force gathering power: the strength of open, internationalist politics personified by the recent electoral successes of pro-EU political parties demonstrates its abiding attraction to huge swathes of our neighbours, old, young, British, Irish, or neither.

Meanwhile in Ireland, last Friday’s referendum on divorce got a thumping 80+% majority in favour of loosening constitutional constraints on divorce. This seems like the final nail in the coffin of old Ireland which has now voted by huge majorities in recent years to introduce equal marriage rights, divorce and in favour of the right to choose for women contemplating abortion.

A traditionalist culture war that began with Irish independence has now been finally won by progressive, pro-European, outward looking forces.

Yet those on the winning side in this battle must neither evince triumphalism nor complacency that such changes are irreversible or that they won’t stimulate counter measures.

In the UK, Brexit’s impact seems now but one provincial manifestation of a much wider post-2008 financial crisis realignment in European politics.

The signs are clear from recent elections in the UK and elsewhere that the anti-incumbent, anti-establishment sentiment ruthlessly appropriated in the UK by establishment figures like the European Research Group, Brexiteers, and Nigel Farage is now being reappropriated by internationalists.

The signs are there that this evolving post-Brexit referendum re-alignment will not lead inexorably to some ultimate victory for far-right, Stephen Bannon’ite, religious conservative, pro-“family values”, hedge funded traditionalist reactionaries like Salvini-Le Pen-Farage’ista anti-progressive forces.

Instead, a resilient progressive, pro- transnational, pro-EU victory for those professing unashamedly, ruthlessly well organised, genuinely positive and optimistic, pro-multicultural, pro-equality and pro-Green rhetorical agendas has come into view.

En marche, indeed.

• Stephen Douglas was general secretary of the Alliance Party in 2010-2011