General Election 2024: The rise of the far right is not just a 'Europe problem'.

Dr Charlotte Galpin reflects on the results from the first round of the French election and what the rise of the far right in Europe means for Britain.

French flag being held up at a protest/gathering

"The success of National Rally in the first round of voting in the French parliamentary election on Sunday is deeply worrying, and their ultimate success in forming a government will depend on how well the left and centre can coordinate in the second round. With an expected high number of three-way races, third-placed candidates are being asked to withdraw from the race to make way for the moderate candidate most likely to beat the RN, either from Macron’s Ensemble or the left-wing New Popular Front coalitions. The success of the RN in France comes on the back of European Parliament elections that saw increased seats for the populist radical right, not only the RN but also Brothers of Italy and the Alternative for Germany. 

As we approach Thursday’s general election, however, we should be mindful that UK media coverage of European politics has long tended to portray the far-right as a “European problem” happening “over there” on the continent. It is a popular element of the myth of British exceptionalism to imagine Britain as the traditional defender of liberty, moderation, and democratic freedom, juxtaposed with an idea of Europe as tending towards totalitarianism. Right-wing, pro-Brexit campaigners have even argued that leaving the EU was necessary because it was a sign of crisis in Europe. 

These narratives contribute to drawing attention away from the reality of the populist radical right in Britain. While much attention has been paid to Nigel Farage’s return to politics as leader of Reform UK, the Conservative Party also meets many of the defining criteria of radical right politics: anti-immigration policy, lack of respect for the rule of law and international human rights norms, and ongoing rollbacks in trans people’s access to healthcare and self-determination. At the same time, Keir Starmer’s attempts to win votes from traditional Conservative voters have failed to challenge the underlying assumptions of such policies, which risks legitimising them - his pledge to “stop the boats” and his statement that he opposed “gender ideology” being taught in schools are examples of this.  

While we should be concerned about the potential of a government formed by the National Rally in France, we also need to be mindful of stemming the radical right at home, which means ensuring we do not see it as a problem of continental Europe, or of the “fringes” in Reform UK, but as one that goes to the heart of mainstream British politics."

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