The perils of a racialised underclass

If the PN co-opts a cheap, far-right bait to win votes in the next European elections, it will be Muscat – with his strong welfarist state and economic liberal message – who will gain

Cartoon by Mikiel Galea
Cartoon by Mikiel Galea

The gains of the far right in Sweden seem to have confirmed a trend where the polarising forces on the fringes of mainstream politics, are hollowing out the ‘consensus’ centrist parties. With their urgent mix of both populism and radicalism, it is these forces which are making crucial inroads into the stability of the post-war political formula.

The Swedish election was billed as the country’s most important election ever, as the consensus model stood threatened by the rise of the Sweden Democrats, a party which has its roots in new-Nazism.

The party won 19.2% of the vote by making anti-immigration its core issue, and presenting a mix of both identity conservatism with the stability of welfare politics: a mix of right-wing on morality and identity, but left on welfare spending.

It stage-managed its exit from the Nazi imagery by dropping extreme rhetoric, and pushing its nativism to the centre: with that comes a promised ‘Swexit’ referendum on Sweden’s EU membership.

Despite its strong welfare tradition, Sweden’s ‘Scandinavian’ model has been in trouble of late. Ulf Kristersson, head of the centre-right Moderate Party, told the Financial Times that Swedes had lost trust in the state and that the country was paying the price for 20 years of “very unsuccessful integration policies” by both left- and rightwing governments.

More to the point, the SD’s success is built on this very obvious shortcoming. Unemployment is around 4% among native Swedes but exceeds 16% among the foreign-born, and 23% for non-European immigrants. In certain towns, school drop-out rates exceed 70%. In 2017, there were over 320 shootings, dozens of bombings, and 7,226 rapes – a 10% increase over 2016 – while Norway, a nation half the size of Sweden, recorded only one gun homicide in 2017 compared with Sweden’s 43. All of the crime and the unemployment is related to immigrant areas.

In a nutshell, this is what you get when you create a racialised underclass.

But this is not anywhere close to Malta - yet.

And it is at this very point that PN leader Adrian Delia and his aspiring MEPs have picked on a very careless course of action on immigration. With his scurrilous discourse on Sunday, and the mediatic criminalisation of both migrant workers and successful ethnic entrepreneurs in our inner harbour towns, Delia is mixing up all types of immigrants into an ‘other’ to be targeted for easy votes.

If Delia thinks that by co-opting a cheap, far-right bait he can make the PN grow in the next European elections, it will be Muscat – with his strong welfarist state and economic liberal message – who will gain, while Delia will only legitimise minority and marginal far-right voices who have been so far shunned by the consensus of Maltese mainstream politics.

What politicians have to fight – now, today – is poverty.

They have to fight the creation of an underclass of asylum seekers and migrant workers who are being exploited by Malta’s rentier economy.

The political class should be celebrating migrants who set up businesses here: MEP candidate Dione Borg’s shameful criminalisation of Hamrun’s business outlets should have been condemned by employers’ bodies. Nobody holds up this sort of uncritical magnifying glass to foreign workers in Malta’s remote gaming and financial services industry. This clear distinction on its own exposes the ‘new’ Nationalist Party’s racialised discourse on immigration. It is short-sighted, and on second thoughts, highly unintelligent, for it bundles the problem of crime amongst particular categories of foreigners (the violence between Syrian exiles is a phenomenon unto itself), and it further conflates it with the problem of skilling these migrants into workers fit for the Maltese labour market. And this is an area where – as a recent conference by the Foundation for the Shelter and Support of Migrants revealed – the government is actively trying to address.

If Delia wants to wave his ‘soulless state’ banner, he should be targeting the construction developers who are turning Maltese villages into all-inclusive tourist resorts, hollowing out our unique identity with which we should be asking foreign communities to buy into – not simply soliciting for the highest buyer to rent out our properties or for the cheapest worker to wait on restaurant patrons.

Delia has to go further, and present real policies, radical solutions to Muscat’s neoliberal agenda. And yet it looks abundantly clear he is simply content to rest on far-right canards to scavenge for votes.