Europe's new far right, fear or fantasy?

Saturday 20 October, 5.15pm until 6.30pm, Pit Theatre

Many have started to sound alarm bells about the rise of right-wing parties across Europe. In addition to the right’s victories in Hungary’s national elections last year, groups from Golden Dawn in Greece to Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France have been making electoral gains, while street groups like the English Defence League have generated many headlines. Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg has not been alone in warning of ‘a whole range of nationalist, xenophobic and extreme movements increasing across the European Union’. There is widespread concern in political and media circles that a ‘decontaminated’ breed of far-right groups are starting to gain acceptance and a purchase among the European public, who are attracted by their ‘populist’ policies. As Corrado Passero, Italy’s minister of economic development, declared earlier this year, ‘Our worst enemy right now is populism’.

Yet while some fearfully quote Yeats’ warning that ‘the centre cannot hold’, others query whether, taken together, such groups express much coherence as a far-right ‘movement.’ In an attempt to account for the initial collapse of the centre-left in the aftermath of the financial crisis, some argue that right-wing parties are merely riding a surge of popular hostility to technocratic austerity measures rather than gaining a genuine political foothold. In France, for example, Sarkozy’s opportunistic co-opting of Le Pen’s rhetoric could not swing the election in his favour; while the EDL do not even have the BNP’s one-time political prominence. Yet the heated debate generated by lone outrages, such as that of Anders Breivik and Toulouse gunman Mohamed Merah, are tragic reminders that tensions over immigration and identity are common across Europe.

Is there such a thing as a ‘new European far-right’ or is there a greater danger of scaremongering and exaggeration? Are fears over the rise of the right a product of reading the present in terms of past reactions to economic crises? Is it the case that democracy – even with unsavoury elements involved – is worth defending over a supposedly enlightened, unelected technocracy? How does today’s brand of populism differ from older popular political movements? Is there a genuine threat in unstable times that fringe populism could go mainstream?

Jamie Bartlett
director, Centre for the Analysis of Social Media, Demos; author, The New Face of Digital Populism; co-author, #Intelligence

Dr Thierry Baudet
teacher, Leiden Law School; former columnist, NRC Handelsblad; author, The Significance of Borders: why representative government and the rule of law require nation states

Matthew Goodwin
associate professor in politics, University of Nottingham; author, New British Fascism: rise of the British National Party

Bruno Waterfield
Brussels correspondent, The Times; co-author, No Means No

Patrick Hayes
director, British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA)

Produced by
Patrick Hayes director, British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA)
Recommended readings
The far right is fragmenting

The BNP is in freefall but there is potential for one of its many rivals to move into the space it vacates

Matthew Goodwin, Guardian, 19 September 2012

Far-right ideas: Britains's generation gap

Our research shows that anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim policies are much less likely to appeal to young people

Matthew Goodwin, Guardian, 16 September 2012

Culture matters more

The far right in Europe is rising in many European countries in spite of its inability to provide a coherent economic message

Economist, 11 August 2012

Beware the rise of EU anti-populists

The EU elites’ fear of an imminent Fourth Reich reveals a great deal about their loathing of the European mob.

Patrick Hayes, spiked, 28 May 2012

The New Face of Digital Populism

This is the first quantitative investigation into these digital populists, based on over 10,000 survey responses from 12 countries. It includes data on who they are, what they think and what motivates them to shift from virtual to real-world activism. It also provides new insight into how populism — and politics and political engagement more generally — is changing as a result of social media.

Jamie Bartlett, Jonathan Birdwell, Mark Littler, Demos, 7 November 2011

Inside the EDL

Populist politics in a digital age

Jamie Bartlett, Demos, 28 October 2011

Session partners