As Europe turns right, why has a center-left party won by a landslide in the UK? | CNN (2024)

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The United Kingdom’s decision to hand the center-left Labour Party a parliamentary majority comes at the same time Europe is broadly in the grip of what some call a right-wing populist surge.

Last month’sEuropean electionssaw a historic number of lawmakers from hard-right and far-right parties elected to the European Parliament. The results caused such chaos that French President Emmanuel Macron called a snap parliamentary election in his own country, the first round of which the far-right National Rallywon last week.

A government composed of far-right figures was formed in the Netherlands this week. Italy is led by the most right-wing leader since the rule of fascist wartime leader Benito Mussolini. These electoral victories and the prospect of populist right-wingers in power is no longer a surprise in European countries.

There are many reasons for this rise in populism, often unique to individual countries. But broadly speaking, a number of European countries are suffering from sluggish economies, high immigration and higher energy prices, due in part to the drive for carbon net zero. The European Union is often blamed for national woes by populist politicians and breathes oxygen into an increasingly Euroskeptic national discourse.

So why is Britain, the only country where Euroskepticism led to a referendum on EU membership, bucking this trend?

Despite the scale of the Labour victory, it is clear from the results that the British right is far from dead. The Conservative Party, despite its undeniably disappointing night,has outperformed againsttheexpectations of a number of opinion polls during the campaign, some of which predicted it would win fewer than 100 seats – which would have been a truly epic wipeout.

As Europe turns right, why has a center-left party won by a landslide in the UK? | CNN (1)

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Nigel Farage and Reform UK outperformed expectations. Expert has theory why

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Another party that exceeded polling expectationsis the populist right-wing Reform UK, led by long-term scourge of the Conservatives Nigel Farage, who is perhaps best known these days for his friendship with former US President Donald Trump. Before this, he was credited with making Brexit possible after decades of campaigning against the UK’s membership of the EU. On his eighth attempt, Farage has now been elected as a member of parliament (MP).

The Conservatives may have been reduced to only 121 seats and Reform may have only secured four, as of Friday morning, but the overall vote share for these two parties combined is larger than that of Labour – which has secured more than 400 seats.

This will doubtless have a major impact on what happens next to the right of British politics. Ahead of the election, the existence of Reform and pressure from Farage on issues like tax and migration had already forced the Conservatives further to the right.

Farage identified that irregular migration, particularly people crossing the English Channel in small boats from France, could become a major factor in an election campaign. His relentless campaigning on the issue forced the Conservatives to introduce the highly controversial Rwanda policy, which would see asylum seekers sent overseas for their claims to be processed.

The Conservative Party now needs to find a new leader. The debate over who takes over from Sunak will focus largely on what values the party should embrace.

Many Conservatives will believe that by leaning to the right they can steal Farage’s votes. Many will believe that some kind of pact should be done with Farage. Others will want absolutely nothing to do with a man who has spent decades attempting to destroy the Conservative Party.

Regardless, it is likely that Farage will play a starring role in the Conservative leadership campaign. Even if he isn’t in the party himself, Farage thrives as an outsider.

Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer arrives on board his election battle bus at a campaign event in Halesowen after unveiling Labour’s manifesto in Manchester for the forthcoming General Election on July 4. Picture date: Thursday June 13, 2024. PA Photo. See PA story POLITICS Election Labour. Photo credit should read: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire Stefan Rousseau/PA Related article Can Keir Starmer give Britain the change it desperately wants?

The majority of his political success to date has all come without him holding a UK parliamentary seat. Now he has not only won a seat himself, but will have a small band of colleagues ready to hurl grenades at Labour leader and new Prime Minister Keir Starmer.

That said, it is probably quite a long time before there is any kind of coherently united right. It is possible that Farage’s splitting of the right has actually helped Starmer on his way to such a huge victory.

An odd quirk of British politics is that the percentage of votes a party gets doesn’t necessarily translate to seats. Every seat is decided individually, the winner being the candidate with the most votes, which is often less than 50%.

And with Reform performing well in many of the seats that Labour won, the hard-right will not only be impossible to ignore in this parliament, but it could easily see its influence grow further.

Britain suffers from many of the same problems as other European countries. If Starmer falters as prime minister, there is every chance that the popular right could continue to capture the public’s imagination, as it has elsewherein Europe.

As Europe turns right, why has a center-left party won by a landslide in the UK? | CNN (2024)
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