A Shock Upset in British Elections Signals Europe-Wide Confusion

The United Kingdom Independence Party is just one of many small, burgeoning movements across Europe that's challenging the Union-centric status quo

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OLIVIA HARRIS / REUTERS

UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage at a media interview in London, on May 3, 2013

In Italy, a clown engineered a startling upset in February’s parliamentary elections, when the Five Star Movement, a band of political novices led by comedian Beppe Grillo, took more votes than long-established mainstream parties. In the U.K., “a collection of clowns” — in the dismissive phrase of veteran Conservative Cabinet Minister Ken Clarke — has just delivered a similar shock to the three large parties that have dominated Westminster politics for the best part of a century.

With counting still under way in some of the 34 municipalities in England and Wales that held elections on May 2, the UK Independence Party (UKIP), founded in 1993 and for many years more adept at infighting than at fighting elections, appears to have snatched a big chunk of seats on local councils and almost a quarter of the popular vote. A parliamentary by-election, held the same day to fill the South Shields seat vacated by former Foreign Secretary David Miliband, gave UKIP another triumph: not the Westminster seat that Britain’s first-past-the-post electoral system makes hard for any upstart party to win, but the satisfaction of pushing David Cameron’s governing Conservatives and their Liberal Democrat coalition partners into distant third- and seventh-place finishes respectively. Miliband’s Labour Party, now under the leadership of his brother Ed, held the seat, its majority also sharply reduced as UKIP’s message resonated with its blue-collar voters too.

That message bears a striking resemblance not only to the Five Star Movement’s manifesto but also to the platforms of many other once insignificant parties that are making a mark in European politics. This isn’t just about the desire to kick big, unresponsive parties where it hurts, though it’s certainly that. UKIP, in common with Grillo’s party and the others, is campaigning for tighter immigration controls, smaller government and, above all, a repatriation of powers from the European Union. These are ambitions that would not look out of place in a Conservative manifesto — and as Nigel Farage, UKIP’s jovial leader pointed out during a recent lunch with Westminster journalists, some Thatcherites, including the original Thatcherite, might feel more at home in UKIP than in today’s Conservative Party. “I cannot believe that a young Margaret Thatcher leaving Oxford [University] today would join the Conservative Party led by David Cameron. I think she’d come and get involved in UKIP and no doubt topple me within 12 months or so,” he said.

A Conservative Party led by Margaret Thatcher might conceivably take a more consistently Euroskeptic line than Cameron’s Tories and so stanch the flow of support to UKIP. But Thatcher herself would almost certainly stop short of UKIP’s central aim, to pull Britain out of the E.U. Europe has moved on since the Iron Lady wielded her handbag against its growing sway, and as Cameron took care to emphasize in a pivotal Jan. 23 speech, British businesses expect unfettered access to the E.U.’s single market:

If we leave the EU, we cannot of course leave Europe. It will remain for many years our biggest market, and forever our geographical neighbourhood. We are tied by a complex web of legal commitments. Hundreds of thousands of British people now take for granted their right to work, live or retire in any other EU country. Even if we pulled out completely, decisions made in the EU would continue to have a profound effect on our country. But we would have lost all our remaining vetoes and our voice in those decisions.

Cameron used his speech to promise Britons an in-out referendum on Europe if the Conservatives win an outright majority at the next elections. For now the Conservatives rely on the votes of their passionately Europhile Liberal Democrat partners who are unlikely to help them anchor Cameron’s promise in legislation. Meanwhile the upsurge in support for UKIP is, with no small irony, eroding the prospect for a Tory majority and its concomitant chance to vote Britain out of the E.U.

So it’s not clear that UKIP’s success brings Britain closer to leaving the E.U., any more than it’s clear what, exactly, the Five Star Movement means for Italy. The same calculations, and confusions, exist across Europe. Economic turbulence and political stasis have combined to roil establishments and open the door to Euroskeptic populists even in countries that have been historically ardently pro-Union.

A brand new party in Germany, the Alternative für Deutschland, is winning as much as 27% support in opinion polls. It’s unlikely to perform so strongly in the voting booth, but it has more than a fighting chance of polling above the 5% threshold necessary to win seats when the country holds federal elections in September. Elsewhere in Europe, hard-right parties are benefiting from anger at European and national institutions. In Finland, the anti-immigration True Finns have been the largest opposition party since 2011. Matthew Goodwin, an associate fellow at London’s foreign-affairs think tank Chatham House, describes the situation as “a perfect storm of parties that are trying to tap into that popular discontent with the established elite.”

The elite in many countries is responding by aping the populism and policies of their smaller rivals. Coalitions are fracturing, party discipline is fraying. The big parties are foolish to dismiss UKIP, the Five Star Movement and other small, burgeoning parties as clowns. But European politics has never looked more like a circus.

24 comments
Ocsicnarf
Ocsicnarf

perhaps the UK should stay out of the EU. europeans shall be more confortable without it.

MarkPotterUK
MarkPotterUK

James, I doubt very much that you actually live in an inner city neighbourhood in the UK. There has been huge immigration in to the UK from many parts of the world and particularly Eastern Europe. Native British people at the lower end of the earnings range have been very badly affected by this, unemployment is very bad and if you can get a job wages havent been keeping track with inflation for the last five years, this is a function of the huge numbers of immigrants competing for the limited numbers of jobs. The only part of society to have benefitted is the people who want to use cheap labour.  It isn't unreasonable for native British people to want to do a job that will actually pay sufficiently well so that they can do things like rent a modest home and think about raising a family, but when you are competing for a job with Eastern European immigrants who are willing to work for very low wages and live in a very cheap way i.e 10 people in a caravan, it's impossible to strive for what previous generations had in years gone by.

Your thoughts about double the people/double the revenue show no grasp of economics, the only reason that people are not rioting in the UK is because they get a handout from a government whose finances are in crisis and has huge debts. If you want to talk about broken a broken healthcare system understand that elderly British people who have worked all their lives who fall ill and need care in a nursing home now have to sell their homes to pay for this. While at the same time immigrants who have made no contribution to the state system, turn up to public hospitals and receive free surgery. Can you see why people are angry?

Mass immigration of unskilled/unsuitable people into a country with a complex welfare system usually leads to a crisis in public finance, ask any finance minister in Western Europe.

jamesf161
jamesf161

Most anti immigration can be boiled down to racism. Growth in nations over time has not led to broken healthcare and poor quality of life; it has improved. A nation with twice as many people has twice as much revenue, twice as much domestic product, all other things being equal.

atvarnieks
atvarnieks

@jamesf161 

Immigration into the UK  has not benefited the native population at all its has simply resulted in  overcrowding a burgeoning  welfare bill as the taxpayer is expected to fund benefits for the new arrivals.

I for one have no desire desire to see my country turned into a 3rd world dumping ground simply to appease left wing anti racists.

Migration simply means the average guy in the street is worse off and the 1% at the top pays less for labour .  

WalterEngler
WalterEngler

"UKIP, in common with Grillo’s party and the others, is campaigning for tighter immigration controls, smaller government and, above all, a repatriation of powers from the EU" -- Take note Liberals in the US.  Even in the socialist stronghold of Europe, the conservative message is growing.  Controlled Immigration, Smaller Government, reducing Federal Power and leaving more to the States .. all the same goals as the Conservatives in the US.  People everywhere are getting sick of the Socialists as they have come to realize their message makes no sense.  All they want to do is open the borders, set new regulations on what you can and can't do in life in order to enforce their version of fairness, and make you dependent on them for you health and retirement.  People with brains can see this makes no sense.   

Uncle_Toad
Uncle_Toad

Take note liberals: Last time the right took over in Europe under this guise, World War II happened.

nstaley401
nstaley401

@WalterEngler conservatives may say they want smaller government, but they never really do anything, in fact they tend to expand it

AlexanderDeni
AlexanderDeni like.author.displayName 1 Like

It is not "perfect storm of parties" that are trying to tap into anger or whatever. This article makes these parties sounds so sinister. Its just people are fed up with migration and bad economic policies of the EU. So these parties are a representation of that. You know Democracy.

FreddyBright1
FreddyBright1

Now my question is will it affect the market?Sometimes politics is relative to the economy. sometimes political decisions have major impact on the market. the only thing that businessman can do is keep on striving. I am currently reading a very interesting book on Goodreads called THE 5-STAR BUSINESS NETWORKS by Vivek Sood nd it talks about how a business can flourish amidst the competitive jungle out there.

ManishGupte,PhD
ManishGupte,PhD

Why were the Austerity policies done? Excess outsourcing and imports took jobs and investment out of countries. Lower taxes leave more money in wallets and that is spent on something. That has to be made "locally". That creates jobs. And that income then creates more demand. Standard IMF is not Austerity! Was President Bush discredited to win elections? Foreign investment in India has decreased, but as India has local demand the Bombay stock market is doing well. 

robtcohen
robtcohen

These are serious phenomena for Europe and the USA.

Our GOP presidential primary seemed to this television conditioned citizen something of a clownish exposition.

Politics ought not be circus, though the complexities or nuances seem to evoke the simplistic if not absurd responses.

Romney is a serious person (whom I didn't vote for), and so are the others.

But our conflicting politics seemed to devolve into the facile and demagogic.

I perceive Romney really couldn't recover from those extremist if not expedient distortions.

And I never thought I'd complain about humor and levity.

I am worrying about everything, and those guys were apparently cynically talking down.

Their reactionary audiences got it though.

Humor and wit are  joys in life, and so never mind.

As Tip O'Neil doesn't exactly say, politics are tragi-comic.

bojimbo26
bojimbo26

Anything will be better than this present bunch of retards .

downpour
downpour

UKIP is essentially the racist BNP party with better branding and their hate campaign expanded to include Europeans and homosexuals. With genius policies like promoting smoking and increasing military spending by 40% how can they lose?

ScottMarkJohnstone
ScottMarkJohnstone like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

Im of thinking that you old boy are of American blood and watching from your fox news and NBC, well let me tell you chap that UKIP are not of what you claim. They are about stopping unlimited immigration on this tiny island, coming out of the EU and getting our laws made in our own nation, more schools, smaller govermant, higher military spending (though 40% is not realistic) and well just conservative ideals. Britain does not belong in the EU, we do not need mass-immigration thats hurting wages, housing and healthcare. So Downpour retract your Rascist claim otherwise I will only take you a PC fearing leftist that are hellbent on free for all but not for her people sort of person. This is real politics my boy, in the shire country of the United Kingdom and its a different world from disney land. Imagine America in a union with south American nations, having policies dictated to you made in Brazil and unlimited amount of south Americans coming and making home and swamping your towns when infact you was never giving a democratic vote on if you or your fellow people want this. This is what its all about.

Uncle_Toad
Uncle_Toad

So... he's correct. The UKIP's nothing more than cheap fascism with new paint.

downpour
downpour like.author.displayName 1 Like

Well you are wrong, I'm from the UK. I actually said the BNP was racist, not UKIP, but irrationaly blaming all your countries problems on immigrants isn't much better. Parties like UKIP play on our tendency for 'otherisation', this divides people and encourages conflict, the exact opposite of what humanity needs if we want to progress. If we are not happy with some of the decisions made in Europe then we should be getting more involved, not less.

It's a myth that we don't have room for immigrants, I live in a highly populated city and there is still plenty of room. There are big areas of industrial wasteland that could easily be cleared for new housing. The vast majority of the UK is wide open countryside were you can walk around and not see another person for hours. Far from hurting healthcare the NHS is mostly staffed by immigrants, it would fall apart without them. We complain about them taking our jobs but the real problem is most of our native population are just too lazy to apply. The truth is over time, the more people come here, the more jobs are created by the requirement to fulfil the needs of those people. It's not like there is a set number of jobs and once they are gone that's it.

atvarnieks
atvarnieks

@downpour Bully for you I  advocate that every bleeding heart liberal  in favour of unlimited migration should be forced to accommodate these migrants in their spare rooms in the meantime not one tree should be cut down or one field built over in order to have house's built by migrants for migrants created at the expense of the countryside.

MarkPotterUK
MarkPotterUK

@downpour 

Sorry Downpour but what you have written goes completely against the facts, there are more immigrants than ever and the economy is worst it has been, with very very little wages growth, many jobs only being "fillable" with extra payments from the Government to bring the wage up to a basic level. The government is basically completely broke, and unable to contemplate infrastructure improvements with out foreign capital read the most recent article on HS2. 

When it comes to healthcare the system is overloaded, staffed by immigrants yes ( as you point out) but overloaded and broke, if you elderly and have to go in to care you have to sell your home, new immigrants get free heart surgery while they haven't paid a penny in contributions to the NHS. To point out that there is land that hasn't been built on yet doesn't mean that the country isn't overcrowded and exactly where would the money come from to build on the wasteland near you and where are the jobs for the people who might live there? Or shall we put it all on the UK credit card and not worry about it?

tiktin
tiktin like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 3 Like

We desperately need this in the U.S. The democrats and republicans have outlived their usefulness. There are other parties and other candidates on the ballots, folks. Please give them your serious consideration.

deconstructiva
deconstructiva like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 3 Like

Thanks, Catherine and Megan. I hope the UKIP does NOT turn into a movement similar to the Tea Party movement in the US. The TP's created a lot of damage to the US economy and political "system". We're still not rid of them, let alone able to clean up their mess. Hope you all avoid that fate.

juvus
juvus like.author.displayName 1 Like

@deconstructiva  I hope you know you are talking non-sense. I love how people you don't agree with are always the one doing the destroying.  I am sure a teapartier somewhere is sitting writing how people like you are destroying the economy and the political system.  And they can't wait to be rid of you either. 

roknsteve
roknsteve like.author.displayName 1 Like

Since everything you wrote is negative you must belong to the Party of No.  So much hate for everyone who doesn't think like you or look like you.  What a waste.