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UK voters reject Conservative populism as Europe rightens.

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image credit: samvada world

Center-left Labour’s landslide triumph in the British election contrasts with far-right victories throughout Europe.
The party’s victory reflected people’ dissatisfaction with their political leaders, not populism.
Keir Starmer won a landslide parliamentary majority on Friday, sending Rishi Sunak’s Conservative Party to its worst loss ever.

The triumph comes days after Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally (RN) party won the first round of the French legislative election with unprecedented gains.
That followed populist gains in last month’s European Parliament elections, when German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democrats had their worst showing ever.
Before his election, Starmer said progressive leaders had to show they had learnt from nationalism and populism.

“We have to show … in the UK and across Europe and the world that only progressives have the answers to the challenges we face,” stated.
The same voter yearning for change and to punish perceived ineptitude by existing administrations that drives far right support drove Starmer’s triumph, not a European populist wave.
Since the 2016 Brexit decision, Britain has faced the COVID-19 epidemic, strained public services, and a rising cost of living.
The Conservative Party, in power for 14 years, had become more populist and focused on immigration, including sending asylum seekers to Rwanda. Nigel Farage’s even more right-wing, anti-EU, anti-establishment Reform UK party was a threat.
“I think there are cycles in politics and I think in a way the UK is coming out of a cycle of quite a populist flavoured government since the Brexit vote,” said former foreign office chief and ambassador to France Peter Ricketts.

“There does seem to be a trend after many of these populist governments come into power there are question marks about their competency in governing, and the cycle turns, and other parties get a chance.”
Under former prime minister Boris Johnson and his successor Liz Truss’s catastrophic 44-day premiership and financial market-crashing economic policies, the Conservative administration became increasingly connected with scandals. Sunak failed to change that picture.
Eurasia Group managing director for Europe Mujtaba Rahman said Conservative weariness and a yearning for stability and cohesion were present.
“The lesson one draws from the UK experience is that it takes a long time for the pendulum to swing back in the other direction and it serves as something of a warning or a cautionary tale to other European countries . that look like they are about to embark on their own populist adventures, notably in France,” said.
Rahman also remarked that Britain’s first-past-the-post system “is a very cruel electoral system for small parties” and why populist parties like Reform seldom win many seats.
Rising far right
In Europe, far-right parties are increasing.
In the two years after Emmanuel Macron won a second term as president, his centrist coalition has collapsed, while Le Pen’s National Rally is closer than ever to establishing a government.
Sunday’s run-off vote will determine France and its EU allies’ fate.
The Alternative for Germany (AfD) placed second in the European Parliament elections in Germany and has record party membership.
Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s arch-conservative Brothers of Italy won the most votes in those elections, while Dutch anti-Islam populist Geert Wilders’ ministers were sworn into cabinet this week.
The Conservatives’ populist promises to curb immigration and reform the economy were shattered by years of economic stagnation and the inability to halt tens of thousands of asylum seekers coming in tiny boats.
“The Tories were populist, but it hasn’t gone well, so people are fleeing,” said Oxford University Professor Geoffrey Evans.

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