A return to the politics of ideas?


In recent months – even years – we have observed the rise and rise of far-right, “extremist” parties across central and western Europe. Yet might we now be seeing a reactionary rise of the far-left, as has been seen in Greece this week?

It has been clear for a number of years that Europe is in a state of discontent. The European Elections saw the popularity for parties such as France’s Front National, the UK’s UK Independence Party, and Denmark’s Dansk Folkeparti (DFP) expand, creating “shockwaves” in the international media, and making some in Brussel’s a little hot under the collar.

The cause of this popularity growth has been quite clear. In France, 91% of Front National’s voters considered immigration to of primary concern. Likewise, 83% of UKIP supporters see immigration and asylum seekers as a top issue.

UKIP has prided itself on being the anti-establishment party for the real working people of Great Britain. Yet, ironically, it is made-up of, and supported by, some of the wealthiest, private-educated, white men in the UK. This anti-establishment mantra, plus a radical anti-EU approach, has made many people excited about politics again.

Yet, despite the increasing popularity of right-wing parties, we see Greece, a country on its knees following years of EU austerity measures, voting for the far-left Syriza party. Despite losing out on claiming a majority in the Greek parliament, Mr Tsipras’ Syriza party still received 36% of the Greek vote.

Tsipras has announced a raft of striking policies: the creation of 300,000 new jobs; renegotiating of Greece’s bailout (worth £179bn); increasing the monthly minimum wage; write off most of Greece’s £239bn debt (175% of GDP).

Many Greek’s are jubilant at Syriza’s victory, but others have reservations, particularly when it comes to relations with Brussel’s and Berlin.

Tsipras hails victory for Syriza.

Tsipras hails victory for Syriza.

The result begs the question, however, of whether this trend will continue across Europe?

Last week, Oxfam published a report that found the richest 1% will own 50% of the world’s wealth by next year. That means that 80 people will have more wealth than 3.5 billion of the poorest people. Staggering. And it looks set to continue.

We may be able to use this figure to analyse the result in Greece. It is evident that the expansion of wealth, and economic recovery, is not benefiting the poorest in our society. The rich get richer, and the poor go nowhere.

Many of the right-wing party support stems from middle class white people, who have been pushed into voting for far-right parties in reaction to immigration. (Oddly, as we have seen in the Pegida marches across Germany, most of this anti-immigration mantra emanates from the areas least affected by foreign migrants).

For the poorest there is nobody speaking out for them. Party politics, evidently in the UK, has become complacent; choosing to stay in the middle of the political spectrum, hoping to gather as many votes as possible. This is changing.

In the UK, despite what you might think of him, Russell Brand’s anti-establishment, anti-capitalism, approach is gaining momentum, with crowds of people gathering to listen to the words of a comedian. Meanwhile in Spain there is another insurgent left-wing party, Podemos, who only came into being 10 months ago, but who would win a Spanish election if it were held today.

Though not a political party, the OCCUPY movement generated a great amount of media coverage, highlighting a potential alternative to big business capitalism.

Though the rise of the left is minimal, the fact that we have a new far-left party now in government in an increasingly capitalist Europe is a trend we should be on the look out for. Across Europe, Green parties are being seen as a potential alternative to extreme left-wingers, which may be the start of a revitalised left-wing movement.

It is evident, though, that despite the growth in wages, economic recovery, big business and capitalism, that there is a severe gap to the left of the political spectrum. Whether those at the bottom of society will fill that space with a reactionary left-wing party is not yet set in stone.

What is clear, however, is that the politics of ideas may be on the rise again; people are excited about new parties, new ideas, new figures, and new agendas. All that needs to happen is for people to act upon that excitement, and the multi-coloured party system may spill across Europe.


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