Paranoia about the rise of the radical right has penetrated the minds of voters, the platforms of politicians, and the pages of the press and it is overshadowing pressing democratic and economic issues. However, is the radical right really in a position to make a genuine political difference?
On March 9th, King’s Think Tank hosted a debate about the resurgence of right-wing politics and informal activity in Europe. The speakers were policy expert Mr. Marley Morris, who worked as a senior researcher at Counterpoint and has recently moved to IPPR, and Dr. Radu Cinpoes, Head of the Department of Politics at Kingston University and author of Nationalism and Identity in Romania: A History of Extreme Politics from the Birth of the State to EU Accession.
Mr. Morris began with an engaging overview of the radical right, defining the term and situating it within the political schema. He divided right-wing politics into three categories: the extreme right, the radical populists, and the non-radical populists. Mr. Morris explained that extremist activity is replete with violence, intolerance, and often anti-Semitism, while radical populists are just vocally opposed to immigration. Extreme right-wing parties include the BNP in the UK, Golden Dawn in Greece, and the National Democratic Party of Germany, while the radical French party, Front National, and the Freedom Party of Austria fit cleanly into the category of radical populists. Lastly, Mr. Morris extrapolated on the third group, the non-radical populists, which are parties that exhibit some borderline radical tendencies and tend to be anti-establishment. Examples of non-radical populists are the Five Star Movement in Italy and UKIP.
Mr. Morris then expressed his views on why the radical right has emerged and described its voter base. While the media attributes the rise of the radical right to economic chaos, he argues that the reason is much more nuanced; in fact, he gave several examples of parties such the BNP, who have actually declined in recent years. The rise of most of these parties, such as Front National, has been quite gradual, beginning in the 80s and 90s. In terms of right-wing votes, Mr. Morris exclusively highlighted the importance of education as opposed to wealth, which is frequently seen as an indicator for political alignment. He argued that radical right voters tend to have a low level of education, be hostile to immigration, and be disillusioned with political institutions. He confidently stated that populism will not pose a serious challenge to governing bodies in the near future, but he also cautioned that radicalism can cause political paralysis and even undermine the legitimacy of major institutions.
Expanding upon Mr. Morris’ detailed overview of the right wing, Dr. Radu Cinpoes situated radicalism within the framework of the Romanian populace. Dr. Cinpoes argued that extreme radicalism actually has an impact outside of the realm of political parties. While in Romania a radical right-wing party has not been represented in parliament since 2008, extremism is still entrenched in Romanian culture. Dr. Cinpoes argued that due to the casual illustrations of intolerance in everyday conversations and activities, the official and informal spheres remain convoluted and interlinked. Despite strict anti-discrimination legislation, cultural opposition prevents these laws from having a serious impact. Dr. Cinpoes contends that in the long term, the embedded contradiction between institutions and society in Romania will undergo a decisive shift towards one end of this spectrum. Dr. Cinpoes ended by expressing the idea that informal activities are causing high-level political shifts towards the right wing, referring to this change as the “insidious moving of the goal post.”
The audience grappled with issues such as immigration, links between intolerance levels and exposure to minority groups, and the importance of perception in politics and society in general. While the right wing may not have a salient presence in the political sphere, how can we prevent the rise of radical intolerance in society? How can we encourage these parties to work with other political bodies in order to prevent governmental stagnation?
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European Affairs Editor