How the UK has escaped the fad of right-wing populism

By Luke Price

As populist parties across mainland Europe make huge gains in elections, the UK counterparts are struggling to even get one seat in parliament.


When we take a look at the UK’s political parties, they host many similar ideologies to that of the other European nation states, having a centre-right and centre-left as the two main parties, however one major difference is that of the right-wing populist parties and how their gains in the polls are so different from that of the UK.


Taking Germany as an example, the 2017 election gave the alternative for Deutschland 12.6% of the vote, a 7.9% gain from the previous election.  In France, Marine le Pen’s national rally gained 33.9% of the vote, a substantial amount for a party so ridiculed with cries of supposed fascism. These are just two of numerous examples found in mainland Europe, but how does this compare to the UK?


In the UK you have two main parties, the Labour Party (centre-left) and the Conservative Party (centre-right). The closest that UK politics gets to right-wing populist parties is Reform UK, previously the Brexit Party, however these parties lack the momentum that their European counterparts have, both parties rarely getting a seat and normally only collecting around 3-4% of the vote. This can be explained by three major points: youth momentum, effects of immigration and Euroscepticism.


In countries like France and Germany where the populist parties gain large proportions of the vote, a major voting base for them is young people. This factor can be contributed to many things, two being: youth unemployment and a ‘love’ for their nation which other parties supposedly undermine. When we take this and compare it with the UK, it is perceived that only ‘old bigots’ vote for these parties, which in essence is partly true, (the old part) the Brexit Party having most of its supporters in the age groups 50-59 and 60-69. This response could largely be drawn to the fact that many young people vote Labour, but also that the young people who are voting right-wing find the Tory Party a good enough option. Furthermore, when a party that has the momentum of the Tories says it wants to ‘take back control of its borders’ there isn’t the same void of no solution as we see in the centre-right parties in mainland Europe, which the right-wing populists draw on. 


To deny that the UK hasn’t faced the negatives of immigration is a lie, however the response, reaction and effect of immigration seems to have been far greater in the mainland of Europe. The parties use the statistics on youth unemployment together with the fiscal cost of immigration to push forward their ideas. These parties also use the ideas of nationalism along with culture and how due to immigration it is being ‘destroyed’ and ‘replaced’, something the UK counterparts do not seem to follow. Perhaps as a consequence of this they’re unable to achieve what the other parties are achieving, which is votes.


As the UK leaves the EU, the UK populist parties lose another token. The UK is also not a part of the Euro, something many populist parties want to leave. Euroscepticism is on the rise in lots of the EU member states, but for the UK populist parties we’ve already left, once again dwindling down their manifesto opportunities and policies. The EU was greatly used in the last two general elections by the Brexit Party and the Conservative Party, and it worked – clearly. However, they now lack their main vocal point and with the UK now out of the EU, it undermines the parties very existence.


With the continuous rise of the right-wing populist parties across Europe, perhaps the UK for once is being slow to catch up on the fad and maybe by the next election we will see a populist party being an actual opposition.


Image credit: European Parliament

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