First there was Brexit. Then the Dutch election when the PVV showed a more than 30 per cent gain. Then the unexpectedly good electoral performance of Corbyn’s openly 1950s socialist Labour party in the UK.
Then France – the collapse of traditional parties and the success of Macron’s En Marche – seemingly sweeping all before it and allowing everyone to ignore the fact that only a quarter of the French population supported him directly while Le Pen on the far right and Melanchon on the far left made gains.
Now Germany. The seemingly invincible Angela Merkel – champion of the ‘there is no alternative’ school of thought – led her party to the second worst showing in its history while the AfD gained 13 per cent of the national vote. Add to that the current governments in Poland and Hungary, the political landscape in Denmark and Sweden, the possibility that the Five Star Movement could win the next election in Italy, and the increasingly acrimonious fight over Catalan independence between a minority Spanish government and the separatists. Europe’s political landscape has been thrown up in the air with nobody quite sure where and how it will come back to Earth.
And all the while, mainstream politicians seem engaged in collective self-delusion. They try to spin the results as a victory when they were nothing of the sort. They keep taking citizens for fools.
The various successful movements and political parties across Europe all have somewhat different complexions. In so far as the terms right and left have any residual meaning at all in contemporary politics, some of these movements can be described as far right, others as far left. Others defy definition on the outdated left-right axis, but have managed to energise voters by tapping into what is a deep desire for radical change that is driving voters today.
A sense of stagnation has beset the European political landscape. There is a woeful lack of new ideas and new visions among tired political parties that have dominated for far too long and are too deeply enmeshed with powerful vested interests that resist change.
Voters do not seem to care much what insurgent parties stand for. The only thing they care about is the promise of a different approach. To some this may seem reckless. But it is how it is.
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