It’s rare that elections for local councils in the United Kingdom make headlines outside their constituencies, let alone in the rest of Europe. But that’s just what happened last week.
In what is turning out to be a major news story throughout Europe, the ruling Conservative Party of Prime Minister David Cameron lost a huge 335 seats in local elections, while the Liberal Democrats, its coalition partner in governing, lost a further 124 seats.
The 20-year-old United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) — and its agenda calling for strict limits on immigration and withdrawal from the European Union — saw big gains from the previous election, receiving 25 percent of the vote nationwide and picking up 139 additional local seats.
“Fruitcakes, loonies, and closet racists,” is how Cameron once described UKIP, sounding not unlike some Republican leaders in the United States denouncing the fledgling tea party movement a few years ago.
With UKIP also coming in a close second to major party winners in special elections for parliament this year, this group of “outsiders” is clearly going to be a force in British national elections in 2015.
“This is a real sea change in British politics,” declared triumphant UKIP leader Nigel Farage, after the local returns came in.
Farage himself is the epitome of the “outsider” politician. The suave stockbroker holds press conferences in pubs with a pint in hand and doesn’t care who sees him chain-smoking. He once survived the crash of a small plane and, after freely admitting claims of a Slovakian woman in Brussels that they had spent a night together, Farage’s political career — and his marriage — survived. Supporters believe he is unstoppable.
The recent surge of political “outsiders” is not just limited to the British. With much of Western Europe gripped by debt and economic uncertainty, there has been a dramatic surge by those who defy the political establishments across the continent.
In Italy, the balance of power in the Italian parliament is held by the Five Star Movement, headed by comedian Beppe Grillo. The Five Star Movement denounces the financial community in Italy — “the forces” — and professional politicians.
Five Star wants a referendum on Italy remaining in the Euro currency, an end to that country’s recent austerity agenda, and a suspension of payments on the national debt.
A year after he won the presidency in France, Socialist Francois Hollande is flailing amid his country’s highest unemployment rate in modern times and hostility to his unsuccessful attempt to raise taxes on the highest-income earners.
A just completed poll by CSA for BFM-TV showed Hollande would be eliminated in the first round of presidential elections by Marine Le Pen, 44-year-old head of the anti-immigrant, anti-EU National Front. Former President Nicolas Sarkozy places first in the poll with 34 percent, followed by Le Pen at 23 percent, and Hollande at 19 percent.
Greece has perhaps the most intriguing political situation of all. With public anger mounting toward the austerity measures of conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, the latest Metron Analysis poll shows Samaras’ New Democracy Party barely edging the Syriza (Coalition of the Radical Left) Party by 29.6 percent to 29.0 percent in parliamentary elections expected to be called this year.
Syriza is headed by 38-year-old Alexis Tsipras, onetime youth leader of the Greek Communist Party and admirer of the late Venezuelan Marxist strongman Hugo Chavez. Tsipras and his party call for an outright annulment of Greece’s bailout agreement and a three-year moratorium on servicing the debt.
Running third in Metron and most surveys with about 10 per cent is the controversial Golden Dawn Party. The Independent reported that “the neo-fascist party [is] gaining ground among the country’s youth, aggressively spreading their anti-immigrant, far-right message through social media, the internet, and youth clubs.”
You get the picture. Call them “againsters,” “outsiders,” or “populists,” but when times grow bad and the political establishment is trusted increasingly less, these challenges to the established order are likely going to do well at the polls.
John Gizzi is a special columnist for Newsmax.com.
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