Clearly the global economy is disarray. Several large economies around the world have still not resumed their pre crisis levels of output and that does not appear to be changing anytime soon. This has several consequences, unemployment across the world, especially in Europe is high, people have less disposable income so spending levels are lower and there seems to be rising support for right wing politics. This has led me to ask a question: do right wing political parties become more popular during periods of economic upheaval? My answer is yes.
Economic stagnation or downturns are periods in which more people lose their homes, credit is harder to obtain, several businesses close down, unemployment & underemployment rise and disposable income is reduced. They occur during an economic upturn, however, the positivity during an upturn far outweighs the negativity, so the effects are minimalized. So if we take the UK for example and we look back during Tony Blair’s premiership, the economy was booming during most of his time, with exception to the downturn of the early 2000s, (dot com bubble) post 2002 the economy is performing well. At the time Britain was pro E.U. and pro immigration and a lot people were contempt to allow migrant workers to come to Britain. Nobody can escape the UKIP hysteria; they were often ridiculed as just another political party whose views on immigration and E.U. membership were extreme. Now Nigel Farage has David Cameron looking over his shoulder. The progress UKIP have made since the credit crunch has been nothing short of remarkable. In this age where the main political parties have lost connection with several disillusioned members of the public, UKIP represent boldness and consistency. But their views are more acceptable during a time of economic disarray. They are saying nothing different from ten years ago, they were anti-E.U. then and they are now. They were anti-immigration then and they are now. And migrant workers coming into Britain is not a recent phenomenon, yet there surge in popularity has transformed them from just another political party comprising of disgruntled former Tories into a real pain to the three main political parties. Moreover, their MEP seat looks secure and a recent YouGov opinion poll shows that public opinion is on their side and politically, immigration is such a contentious issue, politicians know they must tread carefully around it, often lacking the boldness UKIP has, hence there surge in popularity.
This surge has stemmed from the fact that the large public sector cuts have affected millions of people. This is on the back of the huge bank bailouts ordered under Gordon Brown for several failing banks and the fact that the large public sector deficit does not appear to be reducing. Economically the UK has a long way to go. It certainly has a huge effect on people’s lives, their mood, thoughts and actions. People think differently during recessions and downturns and this is reflected on the political landscape. Politics provides the avenue in which any citizen can protest against political actions and clearly people are speaking out against the way society is today. And this is because the economy is in such a dire situation.
Last year in France, François Hollande won the general election. By defeating Nicolas Sarkozy he was elected President. One could suggest that many French voted out of protest in order to remove Sarkozy due to the problems in the economy. The French had similar concerns to the British, mainly regarding its economic woes and social problems based around immigration. Moreover the real story of this election was Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right group Front National (National Front.) Of the 35,883,209 who voted, the Front National received 6,421,426 of the votes. So 18% of the votes went to a far-right political party. Thus the Front National came third overall. Again, their clear policies struck a cord with over six million people and this was their best election result to date.
The Euro Zone has come close to collapse and nowhere has that been more apparent than in Greece. Greece has always had high levels of public expenditure and around 10% unemployed for the last ten years, so this has added to the high national debt. Who should be blamed is not the issue at hand? If anyone should take responsibility it is the Greek politicians, for overseeing the mess and allowing public finances to spiral out of control. in the midst of this the far-right party Golden Dawn has had a huge impact on Greek politics, their surge in popularity certainly provide and sometimes channels the energy the recession has created. Their anti-immigration policies, much like Front National and UKIP have resonated with people and have provided them with the platform in which they hope to gain considerable election success.
If we look at the UK again, much of what the BNP said about immigration is not that different from what UKIP opine. Where they are on the political spectrum is different fair enough, but in terms of both being anti-immigration they are virtually the same. Yet the BNP was close to bankruptcy and UKIP appear to be going from strength to strength. Times have certainly changed. In an economic downturn people may have less patience for issues such as immigration, social housing and the provision of social services such as education and health care. This is usually because tax receipts have shrunk as a result of higher levels of unemployment, public sector cuts and less activity in the economy as a whole. So people may feel that domestic policy ought to prioritise its national citizens before seeing to the needs of others. What does not garner the same emotion from public attention are the benefits immigrants usually bring to communities. Ethnic minorities make up 6.24% of the Greek population. This figure has been growing steadily, but up until 2005, Golden Dawn were not the force they are now. The Greek economy has rotted since and the popularity of not just Golden Dawn, but right wing politics, especially in smaller parties, has gathered loyal cult followings, what they hope is that it manifests into tangible political success. They are at the very least making their bigger counterparts take notice, especially at local elections.
Personally, I think UKIP and the surge in popularity in far-right political parties highlight the sad state of politics in the UK and the rest of Europe today. However, I genuinely believe in freedom of political expression. For me UKIP provide more problems than solutions because they are virtually a one-policy party and I am yet to be convinced what they would do if the UK were to leave the E.U. In the case of the Front National in France, Le Pen was recently voted the most popular French female politician so she does not look to be losing any momentum.
I am confident that if the global economy was in a better state, more people had jobs and more money in their pocket then I can’t see where the far-right could get their impetus. Blaming immigrants for instance is a weak and flawed argument for the UK at least. There is no doubt that immigrants reduce the cost of labour, but the problems in the UK are more complex than blaming one group. Maybe the UK has got too many immigrants, but what I am certain of is this issue is not a simple case of close the borders and the problems will disappear. I would personally like to see the same energy exerted towards tax avoidance from large multinationals because that could potentially recoup billions in tax revenue.
How UKIP and other right wing parties perform in the next series of elections should be interesting, if the economy is still as sluggish as it is now, I predict well, and if the recovery is looking strong then I don’t think they’ll do that well. My only hope is that the economy starts to show real signs of growth and it will be interesting to see how the right reacts to that.