Sunday 20 August 2017

Populism is flowing into Irish mainstream

From water charges to public service pay policy, our largest parties are shifting ground in the name of expediency, writes Colm McCarthy

Marine Le Pen, the National Front’s candidate in the upcoming French presidential election. Photo: Robert Pratta/Reuters
Marine Le Pen, the National Front’s candidate in the upcoming French presidential election. Photo: Robert Pratta/Reuters
Colm McCarthy

Colm McCarthy

The mainstream European media have been venting about the rise of a new populism, concerned that far-right anti-EU parties will do well in elections in the Netherlands this week, in France in April and May, and later on in Italy. But they are downplaying an important political truth: populism is as old as the hills, nothing new anywhere in Europe, Ireland included.

Comparisons of Marine Le Pen, Donald Trump and the UK Independence Party to the fascist movements of the inter-war period are overblown. There have long been populist parties, and populist tendencies in the mainstream parties.

France's Front National made its first electoral breakthrough as far back as 1987. Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia party first propelled him to the prime minister's office in 1994 while in the Netherlands, where the Freedom Party is polling well ahead of Wednesday's election, its precursor first polled strongly in 2002. The Austrian Freedom Party attained participation in government two years earlier. The economic downturn since 2008 has fuelled the rise of right-populism in Europe but did not summon it into existence.

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