Imagine being told a year ago that the UK would vote for Brexit, Donald Trump would be President of the United States and that far right parties would be favourites in elections across Europe.
However, it has all happened. The idea of the far right as political outsiders is no longer true. Le Pen, Wilders, Hofer and Farage have won the hearts of millions using their populist rhetoric to connect with the “ordinary citizen”.
Although the rise of these parties has been years in the making, it would be foolish to ignore the impact of Brexit. Geert Wilders regularly speaks about how Britain has inspired him and how he wishes for a “Nexit” in the coming years. Marine Le Pen has said that the Brexit vote is “the first real blow to the old order” which is true. Political norms no longer exist, the world has changed and with that comes a new wave of opinion. One explanation for the rise in popularity for these parties is the refugee crisis. The anti-immigration policies of these parties along with their patriotic preaching has resonated with the “everyday person”. Many in Europe, especially in Britain, feel threatened that their way of life is going to change for the worse. Whether that is true or not is another issue entirely; the fact is that the far right rise is real and happening.
Sharing certain political beliefs in today’s society is now a taboo – hence the concept of the ‘shy Tory’. This has made the pollsters’ jobs very difficult; we can’t know what average people are thinking with any degree of certainty. Oddly enough, students from the UK feel as if that the older generation have ruined future opportunities by voting for Brexit. This can be seen in predominately student towns like Oxford and Exeter voting strongly to remain a part of the EU. However, while the older generation in the UK may be more likely identify with far right politics, this is not the case across the channel. Europe Elects found that in France and the Netherlands people aged between 18-25 are the far right’s main support base – which makes for interesting reading as we usually think of students almost exclusively towards PC culture.
EU28: Age group that supports the far-right the most in…
UK: 50-64 yrs
— Europe Elects (@EuropeElects) March 4, 2017
These unpredictable demographics mean it’s anyone’s guess what will happen in upcoming European elections. According to the latest polls, Geert Wilders and the PVV are likely to win the Dutch election, which will take place in less than a week. Despite Emmanuel Macron being the most likely future President, Le Pen is expected to win the first round of the French election. Victory however is not important. The impact that the far right have made is unlikely to disappear when elections are over. For example, Norbert Hofer failed to win the 2016 Austrian elections but was able to win 46% of the total vote; the impact of his movement is still felt in Austrian society today. The fact of the matter is that the far right are not going to simply go away, the momentum and spread of the ideology in Europe is so vast that it will dominate politics for years to come.
Angela Merkel’s immigration policy has resulted in her party’s vote being eroded by the AfD and her favourability ratings have taken a massive hit in recent months. The adage that in times of trouble or need electorates are more likely to turn to extremes seems to ring particularly true at the moment. Again, Austria is a prime example of this; for first time in decades that the winning party was guaranteed not to be centralist. In countries like Greece, Portugal and Italy youth unemployment has reached the highs of 50% and this helps explain why the far right is so successful. The youth of France and Holland are afraid that their future is under threat – siding with parties like the PVV and National Front gives them a sense of security. Voting for a party that wants to put locals before others seems logical given the current climate. Employment, housing and education have all been affected by the refugee crisis and Europe’s youth want clarity on their own futures. In this context, the rise of Wilders and Le Pen may be shocking but not surprising.
Overall, the political landscape has changed; the 1990s was dominated by centralist ideology (i.e. Blair and Clinton) but now is the time of the far right. Britain is having its own issues in regard to Brexit and the House of Lords. However, in the coming months Europe will decide whether to follow in the footsteps of the UK. Both Wilders and Le Pen are harsh critics of the EU and if they are able to put in a good performance on polling day it will be worrying times for Mr Juncker.
The spring of 2017 is set to be interesting times for politics in Europe. The rise of the far right has shocked many but with the benefit of hindsight perhaps it’s something we should have seen coming. Le Pen may not be as likely to win as Wilders but that does not take away from how impressive the rise of such parties has been – particularly against the background of such traditionally liberal societies such as the Netherlands’.
Whether you find the rise of the far right worrying or exciting, it is undeniable that the world has changed. In the next few months, it will be interesting to see where Europe stands politically. The UK will need to sort out its own approach to Brexit whilst the rest of the continent heads to the polls. The rise of the far right has come down to this moment. However, it is very unlikely to end here.