EVENT TRANSCRIPT: National Populism and European Parliament Elections
DATE: 6:00 pm – 7:00 pm, 23 May
VENUE: Millbank Tower, 21-24 Millbank, London, SW1P 4QP
SPEAKER: Professor Matthew Goodwin
EVENT CHAIR: Dr. Rakib Ehsan, HJS Research Fellow
DR. RAKIB EHSAN:
I would like to thank anyone for joining us for this incredibly timely event on the drivers of national populism. Incredibly timely considering that the country has voted today for the European Parliament elections. Now, in recent times, national populism has really much been on the march in the Western world. 2016 was the year of political earthquakes with the United Kingdom voting for leaving the European Union and Donald Trump being elected as the 46th President of the United States. In 2017, we saw the National Front, which has now been rebranded the National Rally, winning over one third of the votes in the French presidential elections and actually, pre-elections polls for the European Parliament show the National Rally actually finishing at the top. Looking towards Germany, we see the Alternative für Deutschland, that now established itself as the largest opposition party in the German federal parliament and has now gained representation in every single state parliament in Germany. In recent times we have obviously seen the formation of a populist coalition in government in Italy.
Now, with the newly formed Brexit Party lead by Nigel Farage, that is expected to secure a comfortable victory in the UK European Parliament elections along with the host of national populist parties predicted to perform well across much of Europe, I think it is more important than ever to really explore and discuss what is national populism, its economic, political, social and cultural drivers.
Now, for this discussion, the Henry Jackson Society is absolutely delighted to welcome Professor Matthew Goodwin, establishing himself as an established authority on all things national populism and Brexit related. Professor Goodwin is based at the University of Kent and co-authored this incredibly insightful book “National Populism: The Revolt Against Democracy” with Professor Roger Eatwell.
PROF. MATTHEW GOODWIN:
Thank you. Thank you for coming to talks over what is going to happen over the next week. What I wanted to do is really use the European Elections just to make some broader argument about where we are, both in the UK and also Europe more generally.
The first thing to say is that, in terms of what is happening today in the UK, we are almost certainly going to see the Brexit Party win the European Parliament elections and that is sort of stating the obvious. But if you look at opinion polls, the Brexit Party is averaging around thirty-two percent of the votes and I suspect it might end with a slightly higher share than that. And if you look at who is actually voting for the Brexit Party, seventy-two percent of the party’s current voters voted conservative in 2017, but within that electorate, there is a smaller number of labour and liberal-democrats and also I think crucially a small cluster of voters that did not vote before, at previous elections.
So the Brexit Party, I think, is going to do particularly well in lots of middle-class conservative areas but is also going to do very well in lots of labour area. One of the stories that will emerge on the early hours of Monday morning is going to be the extent to which the Brexit Party finishes ahead of the Labour in lots of traditional Labour-territories, from Gateshead to Doncaster.
That will emulate the UKIP performance of 2014, where again we saw UKIP not only wining conservative areas but also finishing first across a number of labour areas. And in fact if the Brexit Party wins these elections, not only will they emulate UKIP’s triumph of 2014, when UKIP became the first party other than Labour and the conservatives to win a nationwide election since 1910, but Nigel Farage will also become the first politician in British history to win two elections with two different political parties. So this will be a difficult weekend for the political mainstream.
I think the other thing to watch with regards to the elections in the UK is just how low the votes share for the two mainstream parties falls. Now it is likely that Labour and the Conservatives will probably get somewhere in the region of thirty-three to thirty-five percent. That would be the lowest ever combined share of the votes for the two mainstream parties. One of the ironies of British politics ever since we voted for Brexit is that it is becoming more European in the sense that mainstream parties are being squeezed as an array of challengers are doing well.
If you put a gun to my head and say “predict what is going to happen then I would say it is going to be a good weekend for the liberal-democrats, I think they are probably going to take away somewhere between seventeen and twenty-two percent of the votes. I think mainly they are going to do well at the expense of Labour ‘remainers’. About one quarter of the Libdem support at the moment is coming from the Labour party. And you are likely to see the Libdem getting their highest share of the votes since Charles Kennedy in 2004. So this is probably going to be a good weekend as well for the Libdem.
I think it will also be a good weekend for the Greens. They are scheduled to achieve their highest share of the votes since 1989. That will reflect some European trends that I will talk about.
But if we take a step back from what is going to happen in terms of the votes share, I think ultimately, what happens this weekend is going to have a profound impact on the positioning of the two mainstream parties. The stronger that Nigel Farage and the Brexit Party become, the more likely it is that the conservative party will not only leave or dump Prime Minister May, but actually go strongly towards a hard Brexit, WTO model. I was at the Brexit Party rally at the Olympia a few nights ago when Ann Widdecombe made a statement that she said earlier in the year that Prime Minister May was the worst Prime Minister that the UK has had since Anthony Eden, and that now she must apologise to Anthony Eden given that May is perhaps not even equivalent to that.
But I think what we are going to see via the Brexit Party is a very strong internal push within the conservatives now throughout the summer to ramp-up the volume with regards to hard Brexit and the WTO, to really rebrand the Conservative party as a hard Brexit party. I think for Labour it is going to be more complicated. The fact that the Brexit Party is probably going to win areas like Doncaster and Hartlepool, means that the Labour party will be reminded of the electoral cost that will come from switching to a second referendum, soft Brexit people’s vote position. Even though the majority of labour voters favour such a shift, the reality is that the Brexit Party wining those areas will be a reminder that lots of those constituencies could see quite a strong challenge from pro-leave voters in areas like Plymouth and Middleton and elsewhere that have voted very strongly for challenger parties in the past.
What happens this weekend will partly be played down by the mainstream parties but it will have a great deal of significance. Never forget that European elections are expressive in nature, that they are not just about instrumental government of the day business, that the European elections tell us a great deal about the public mood. And if indeed we see the Brexit Party take somewhere in the region of thirty-three to thirty-nine percent of the vote, that is going to send quite a strong message with regards to where people are on the Brexit issue.
The other thing to say is that, having watched the campaign very closely, I think it is fair to say that there is now more money, more organisation and more members behind the Brexit cause than there probably was at the time of the 2016’s referendum.
I was at the Brexit Party rally and one of the things that struck me at the Olympia was the number of serious conservative donors who were in the room. Multimillionaires who were giving a significant amount of funding to the Brexit Party. And we have to remember what happened during 2014 and 2015. UKIP won the 2014 European Parliament elections with twenty-seven percent of the votes, but then at the general elections the next year, they fell to twelve percent of the votes. One of the reasons for that, do not forget, is that the UK independence party lost a lot of loyal conservative voters, but also lost a lot of money from conservative donors. I am not entirely convinced that it is going to happen again this time around.
I have run some numbers this morning for this talk and to give you an idea of what could happen, if the Brexit Party were to poll fifteen percent of the votes at the next general elections, which is basically what UKIP got in 2015, that would cost the conservative party fifty-seven constituencies. If the Brexit Party were to pol somewhere in the region of twenty percent of the votes at the next general elections, that would cost the conservative party approximately seventy-seven constituencies. The longer the Brexit Party remains a significant political force, the higher the probability that Jeremy Corbyn is the next Prime Minister of this country, and Britain will have the most economically left wing government that it has ever seen.
Remember, the crucial difference between 2015 and the next general elections is that Lynton Crosby (inaudible) in 2015 was that he offset conservatives’ losses by effectively scalping liberal democrats’ seats in the South-West. This time around, those seats do not exist. If anything, the liberal-democrats who will have good European elections this weekend I suspect, will probably be wining those seats back from the Conservative Party. That leaves the room for manoeuvre for the conservatives much smaller. It means they have much less room for flexibility. So if they are going to suffer some losses to the Libdem or the Labour, in more pro-remain areas, they are also, as a consequence of the Brexit Party, going to find themselves squeezed in lots of marginal constituencies where pro-Brexit voters may say “this government has not delivered on Brexit”. Some of the high profile losses would include people like Amber Rudd, Ben Bradshaw, Georges Eustice. But to give you an example, if the Brexit Party were to beat the UKIP share of 2015 and reach twenty percent of the votes, then actually people like Boris Johnson would start to fall as well. Boris is not safe as a conservative MP, by the way.
What happens this weekend is actually going to have a big consequence for domestic British politics. What happens across Europe is going to remind us of some of the deeper winds that are sweeping over the continent and which I would certainly argue that many on the remain side have lost sight of. We are going to see a very strong performance by Eurosceptic populist parties. There is no avoiding parties from Lega in Italy to Vox in in Spain, to the Sweden democrats in Sweden, to the Forum for Democracy in the Netherlands, to Alternative for Germany, to the Estonian People’s Movement, and perhaps let us see to parties like Marine Le Pen’s National Rally, and the Austrian Freedom Party which is suffering from a serious scandal. I think overall, the share of votes going to national populist parties will be higher than it was in 2014.
The other thing that is different from that earlier cycle is that Salvini in Italy is trying much more concertedly to establish a pan-European alliance of populist movements, that, he argues, will try and do a number of things. The first is return power from the EU to nation-states; the second is tougher external borders; the third is to increase the number of Frontex border-guards; and the fourth is to allow Eurozone member-states to increase their ability to raise budget deficit.
It is likely, based on the projections I looked at this morning, that Eurosceptic parties on both the left and the right will leave these elections with around one in three seats in the European Parliament. Not a majority, but a much more disruptive and politically significant movement. That also comes at a time of course when the European Parliament is given more power over policy and legislation. Given that the European Parliament is now overall a much more influential institution on the EU policy-making process, the fact that all these outsiders are going to do much better I think is really highly significant.
Populism will not be the only story. I think we are going to see radical left parties do quite well and green parties do quite well, particularly in Germany, but all of this is going to play into a broader story about what is happening in Europe. And I think this story comes down to two words which is fragmentation and polarisation.
For the first time in the story of the European Union, it is likely that the two mainstream blocks in the centre-left and the centre-right, the European People’s Party and the Socialists and Democrats will form beneath fifty percent of all seats in the European Parliament. This is a highly significant moment in the history of the EU. Very few people in the mainstream media will tell you that, but I think it is a highly significant moment in the history of the EU, we see political systems that are fragmenting. If you told me five years ago that Germany, Spain, Sweden or Italy would look like they do today, I would not have believed you. Sometimes, when you are living amid very rapid and significant political change, it is very difficult to grasp the significance of that change, because you are living through it day to day. But what we are seeing is truly significant.
I think the way in which gradually we see middle-class professionals, social-liberals gravitate to green and radical left parties and a coalition of middle-class conservatives, they are asking themselves a very basic question: “are conservative parties still conservative alongside blue-collar workers?” I think that coalition will increasingly orientate around the centre-right and national populist and it is inevitable I think that those two movements will in the coming years form an alliance. If you look to what happened in Sweden, if you look at recent statements of Berlusconi, if you look at what is happening in Germany, I think now increasingly we are going to see the polarisation of our political systems as these two groups really battle it out.
The other thing that will be reminded of this weekend is how the issue agenda is fundamentally changing. If we were gathered here in the 1990 or 2000, I would be telling that the most important issues for voters in Europe were the economy or public services. But if you run a survey today and you ask voters what are the top two issues facing the EU today, in every member-state, they say immigration and terrorism. The only exception is Italy where they say immigration and unemployment.
The new axis that is going to dominate the politics for the next five to ten years, if not longer, as we discussed in our book, is going to be the identity-cultural axis. We are going to see a growing political debate over the capacity of the EU to strengthen and maintain external and perhaps internal borders to protect national traditions, national ways of life and national cultures. And if you think about it, it is much easier for the right to move left on economics than it is for the left to move right on culture. That is going to be one of the dominant debate that plays out over the next few years.
I do not think actually that the centre-left will be able to resurrect itself, but socialists will do well in Spain, Jeremy Corbyn might win by default in the UK, but I think the broader challenge facing social-democracy is more serious than the challenge that is facing conservatives. Thomas Piketty, the economist, recently described the split between the Brahmin left, the urban middle-class liberal professional university-educated left on the one side, and the traditional blue-collar instinctively socially conservative and patriotic left on the other hand. I think it will increasingly tear social-democracy apart. That, I think, will play very strongly to the future of conservative parties.
So certainly one of the arguments in our book is that none of the trends that are sweeping through Europe are going to be going anywhere anytime soon. It was only two years ago that somebody in the European Commission suggested that the wind was back in Europe’s sails. Actually what happens this weekend will be a very forceful reminder that the wind is not back in Europe’s sails.
Actually we are witnessing a trend that is going to introduce a level of political disruption that, in my own view, we are not quite ready to even think about and accept. We are going to see mainstream ideologies come under pressure and we are going to increasingly see a battle not over whether we should have democracy, because one of the biggest misconceptions that is out there, which is that people are giving up on democracy – people are not giving up on democracy, large numbers of people (85,90,95 percent of people say they want to live in a democracy) – but we are going to see a battle over what conception of democracy dominates.
Whether that conception is a traditional liberal conception of democracy that puts a premium on individual rights and perhaps does not pay as much attention to the national community or to majority will, and on the other side, a direct conception of democracy that is going to seek to prioritise what you might loosely call the ethno-cultural majority. It is not crude ethnic nationalism, but a form of patriotism that seeks to prioritise and promote the interest in the culture of the ethno-cultural majority. That is not just about rights, but it is about voters that subscribe to what that nation represents and what is seen to be important to them. It is ultimately about preserving ways of life and preserving national culture.
So I think overall, looking forward as well, one of the new realities of our politics is that levels of volatility are going to be high, and they are probably going to increase. Increasingly Western Europe is going to look like Eastern Europe. You have nation-states in the East without an history of strong multi-party democracy, as a consequence new parties are coming and going very quickly. If you look at Five Stars in Italy, if you look at the Brexit Party, if you look at Macron in France, if you look at the Sweden democrats, all of these in a way are signs that the volatility we have seen in eastern Europe is coming westwards and that we will increasingly see these new parties coming and going quite quickly and changing the political agenda.
The other thing that perhaps should be put on the table is that Europe is lost. We talk a lot about the economy, we talk a lot about the forecasting, we talk a lot about macro-fundamentals. Many people, particularly in the mainstream media, bought into some faulty assumptions. Many of those assumptions are rooted in a somewhat questionable Marxist analysis of what makes people take. One of those ideas is that people are simply motivated by transactional economics that ultimately say why people vote the way that they do is simply because they are motivated by their economic interests. This is a fundamental miscalculation of what is happening in politics today. If the last five years have taught us anything it is that people care passionately about things like national community, identity, ways of life, patriotism and words that we do not hear very often in politics like recognition, like dignity, like voice.
All of these things are probably going to be a forceful reminder again this weekend that we have voters out there that are not buying into the mainstream script of politics, that they want to have a serious conversation about the future of their nation-states, or in other words, the future of what they consider to be their home.
Now for many voters, the nation is their home, and it is something that they have built up for a long period of time, and with it comes a set of obligations, a set of rules and a set of expectations that they would like others to subscribe to and that they feel are being overthrown and disrespected.
For all of these reasons, I think what we are going to be left with, in the early hours of Monday morning, is once again a mainstream debate trying to explain, diagnose, political disruption, saying it is a short term flash in the pan, saying it is a by-product of the financial crisis, saying that it is about Cambridge Analytica or who read what on Facebook and Twitter. But underneath what we see in the next few days, it is simply going to be the continuation of some very deep rooted, long term currents that have been coming for three, if not four, if not five decades and which, for some reasons still have a long way to run. For all of these reasons, the mainstream political parties may be left scratching their heads wondering, again, what the answer is to this period of political disruption.
On that note we can go into some discussion and some questions and thoughts and reflections.
DR. RAKIB EHSAN:
Before we go to the Q&A sessions, I would like to say that we do actually have a number of the books here. We will be selling them.
We will be taking the questions in blocks of three.
Masato Kimura: People raise ethno-centric issues, why now? What is happening in people’s mind? What are the dynamics?
Question: Question about Wales (inaudible).
Question: Lots of the votes in the weekend will be about the nation-state. What does it mean for the English nationalism versus the British nation? What is the explosive and the interesting parts of this debate?
PROF. MATTHEW GOODWIN:
Unfortunately, we set up some kind of a faulty debate ever since 2016: it is about the economy or is it about culture? This has been quite misleading both for social sciences and the public debate. The left says everything that is happening is because of the economy. Effectively, people only support challenger parties, challenger movements, political projects that want to overturn the status quo because they are losing out to others with regards to economic resources, whether it is about jobs, wages, or economic growth. The right typically says that people are voting that way because they feel that fundamentally their national culture and their traditions and their ways of life are under threat from broader processes irrespective or their economic position. How you view what is going on is going to be inevitably shaped by your own politics.
I think it is fair to say that both of those things are interacting and having an influence on how people vote today. But one of the fundamental miscalculations that has been made in politics and explains, at least in my view, the collapse of the centre-left across much of Europe, has been this assumption that people only care about GDP. Not to sound too dramatic, but people do not die for GDP. There is a tendency on the liberal left to underestimate the lingering appeal, the lingering strength of people’s attachment to their nation, and to, in lose terms, their tribe, to an ethno-cultural majority that subscribes to a particular set of values, of traditions, a particular language, to a respect for certain rules that they feel need to be preserved and upheld for future generations.
I think if you actually look at all of the evidence we have now on who voted for Trump in the US, which is a very different movement from Brexit, but also who voted to leave the EU, or who is voting for populists in Europe – and all those movements are slightly different from one another so I am hesitant about putting them all in the same camp – there is a common threat which run through them all. The threat does centre on this notion of wanting to slow the pace of change and wanting to preserve national traditions, ways of life and culture and to pass those on to future generations.
Where the liberal left sometimes goes wrong is in saying that people have to accept globalisation and get on with it but without actually being able to clarify to voters where that train is going to take them. So it is a kind of endless period of change without any fixed destination. Any preference for an alternative route is disregarded as being a desire to return to the 1950s, which I have always found curious because it is ultimately the only destination that people know.
I think that is going to play out with regards to the question in terms of Wales. Wales received a lot of funding from the European Union. But again, I think that it is implicit in your question that people that voted to leave the EU were somehow irrational on that basis, that it was rational to vote according to economic interest and irrational to prioritise what they feel is national interest. It is completely rational to prioritise your community and your national group. It is not less rational than to prioritise what is in your wallet. It makes people feel uncomfortable because it comes close to nationalism and one of the legacy of our post-war era is that nationalism has been highly discredited by parts of our discussions and framed as an irrational response to political events.
The Welsh have very good reasons to want to change the economic and social settlement. It is highly rational to want to overturn a social and economic settlement that has brought you almost no inwards investment from the nation-state in comparison to other areas of the country. It takes you ten minutes traveling around Wales to realise why the Welsh people gave the majority of support to leaving the EU. There is very little social mobility, very little prospects for economic growth. Look at the polls this morning, thirty-five percent are going to vote for the Brexit Party, fifteen percent are going to vote for labour. I do not view this moment that we are leaving as a threat for democracy, I view it as a revitalisation of democracy. Our mainstream parties should be challenged by insurgents, they should be held to account by new political parties. They should be forced to explain how and why we came into this situation where coastal communities and industrial North and communities in Wales have clearly been left behind and left out from the settlements that have prioritised middle-class graduates and socio-liberals.
DR. RAKIB EHSAN:
Matthew, can we also discuss the question whether there is any potential tension between British nationalism and English nationalism?
PROF. MATTHEW GOODWIN:
It is a fascinating topic of conversation. If you identify as British, you are far more likely to have voted to remain. If you identify as English, you are far more likely to vote to leave. One of the most important books that help us understand where we are today is Linda Colley’s 1992 book on Britons in which she argued that our national identity has ever since 1707 really been defined by our relationship with continental Europe. It has actually been forged through a political debate, through an actual conversation, that has always, I think, prioritised things that are uniquely British, but more specifically uniquely English within our identity.
Some of the things we talked about with regards the Euroscepticism are hard to measure but the foundational aspects of what happened in 2016 are quite clear: we were never invested in the European Union in the way the French and the Germans and the Italians were. We did not buy into this process through shame. We were not invested in this project as a way of saving our national consciousness or pursuing our national redemption. That foundation block that you can pick up through surveys is absolutely critical to understand what happened in 2016. Our national history is fundamentally different. We have always been an independent, proud, successful, and at various times triumphant nation-state. So we have always had a very different history from those who were fundamentally seen as if their national essence had been invested in this project through an effective attachment to the European Union. We have always been slightly different from that.
David Conway: I am very persuaded by your analysis, but I would just like to raise a few points. With regards to the voting in Britain, you said seventy-two percent of hard Brexit supporters voted for the conservatives at the last elections and then, you also said given the current level of popularity of the Brexit Party, what the various impacts would be. However, wasn’t it the case that after 2014, they compelled Cameron to call for a referendum which lead to a collapse in the Brexit vote which meant that the Tory Party might come in. And therefore are the Tories going to be obliged to have a more Eurosceptic and hard Brexit following this upcoming election today? Won’t it be likely also to have a similar collapse? If we leave on the WTO terms before the next elections, and if there is very choppy water economically, wouldn’t that give a big (inaudible) to the Labour irrespective of everything else?
Richard Galber: Historically, European elections have very low turnout. What percentage do you think it will be for this election? At what point could it be taken as a referendum in a way on the various different points? One other thing: do you think that the Brexit Party and the conservatives could possibly come together to form a block to actually get something going?
Question: You mentioned the rise of populist parties in Europe, when are mainstream parties in Europe going to wake up and address it?
PROF. MATTHEW GOODWIN:
For the first question, I think the simple point is that if the conservative party does not deliver a meaningful Brexit, the conservative party will not exist in its current form. The reason I say this is because nearly three quarters of conservatives are pro-leave. The immense majority of leave-voters and conservatives, when you ask them “do you want May’s deal or no deal?”, they say no deal. Clearly, what they have been offered so far, is not in their eyes sufficient or meaningful enough to constitute Brexit. It is Brino (Brexit in name only). The inevitable consequence of the Brexit Party wining the European Parliament elections is what we already see through those statements of the successors to Theresa May, they will turn up the volume on Brexit WTO and they will probably go through the summer with increased preparation for no deal, with a new conservative administration making the case that if the EU does not grant an exemption on the backstop, then inevitably we will be leaving with no deal.
Is that sufficient to kill the Brexit Party vote? I am not convinced it is. I think what we are seeing at the moment is more durable than what UKIP mobilised. Even if I am wrong, there is inevitably going to be a percentage of the Brexit Party votes that will stay loyal to Farage. For example, at the rally the other day, they were pointing at the fact that Boris Johnson did support Theresa May’s withdrawal deal and in a whole series of other areas, Boris, who I think might end up leader of the Conservative Party, is an effective socio-liberal. If you are a traditional conservative, I think there are lots of reasons why you would be anxious about a Boris’ premiership.
If the Brexit Party were to hold on to ten to fifteen percent, which is what UKIP achieved, with a much more amateur operation, with less money, with less professionalism, with much fewer members, then I think actually that is enough to bring the Conservative Party down and to open the door to Jeremy Corbyn.
The other issue which came up as the third question: what is interesting is that when mainstream parties are not even mentioning immigration in Europe anymore because they do not need to. They are just talking about Westminster, about politics and party system. But once we get through the Brexit debate, there will be a large section of the population that will think they have been given comprehensive immigration reform and will realise that they have not. Freedom of movement may be reformed and we may give it a different name, we may call it a sort of migration labour policy or whatever, but as we all know, what is going to be one of the consequences of the British politics is that non-EU migration is going to increase significantly, even if migration from within the EU falls. That will make Britain ethnically, culturally and religiously diverse. A few years from now, a lot of leavers will sit up and ask themselves a question: “what happened to one of the main reasons why we felt we were voting for Brexit?” So they will feel that perhaps this is not a project that has delivered. I do think there will remain lingering potential, not only in the UK, but across Europe over this issue of migration.
David mentioned what I think has been entirely validated by the events of the last fifteen years so I think my own view is David is a primary example of the fact that all the interesting ideas in British politics are coming from the outside. And it is really easy for typically the liberal left to try and dismiss thinkers that they find inconvenient but there are very few ideas coming back. That is the point, watch Gordon Brown speech the other day, the speech was entirely about process, about party funding. Integrity is an important issue, but process is not the same as ideas. Across much of the UK and US, what you are saying, the democrats and labour, is a reflection of the fact that ideas left the building. There are no new visions, there is no new framework for interpreting what is happening in society, which is partly what explains why populists are finding it so easy.
The immigration debate, inevitably, will reach new heights in Europe. If you look at the projections of what is going to happen in terms of Central and Eastern European states, the next thirty years will probably be (inaudible) in places such as Bulgaria and Latvia, which are forecast to shrink by thirty to forty percent. If you buy my assumption, or share my view that the political and economic instability in Northern Africa is probably going to increase, I just do not think this issue is going to go anywhere. Europe is aging, Europe is inevitably either going to need to have new waves of migration, or it is going to need to find another way of increasing its population and so on. So the debate over borders and migration is not going to go anywhere.
Just lastly, before you go back to questions, the issue of turnout. I would be interested to see what the turnout is today. My instinct is that it is going to be around twenty-eight to thirty-five percent. But another thing to keep an eye on is which areas turnout more strongly. We are going to have data at the local authority level, so if you see a lot of those leave areas, coastal England, the North of Wales, if you see the turning-out at much higher rates or vice versa, that is going to be some very useful data for a potential second referendum if that ever happens. The other thing to watch is where the flow of the votes goes today. The Libdem is probably going to hit Labour in remain areas. But what I am interested in is not the number of conservatives that go to the Brexit Party, but how many voters in Labour leave areas go over to the Brexit Party. That will be another clear indication of how these tensions are really pulling apart the mainstream.
Question: I was very interested in what you were saying about the fact that there are no ideas on the left anymore. If you look at social media, (inaudible). We have also talked about pressures from Northern Africa, from Eastern Europe, what great will that do on populism turning nasty if the left just resorts to insulting people?
Question: What sort of changes do you think could actually locate social conservatives leave voters that you describe if, as you say, even if there is a Brexit, immigration is going to increase? I think a lot of what they say is a concern about globalisation sometimes means Islam, which is a separate point. What sort of changes would do you think (inaudible) that democracy and culture have been restored?
Stuart: The labour party was meant to be rooted in its communities and it is not transactional, it is about identity and belonging, and yet, we moved to a place where the need for identity and belonging (inaudible). How did the SNP managed to make nationalism left wing trendy and progressive and English nationalism is still regarded as right wing retrograde and despicable? What do we need to do in England, outside London?
PROF. MATTHEW GOODWIN:
The first point, about populism and the far-right: I think you have to work through what sort of a default strategy is needed for dealing for awkward political movements. Technically, it is to go for guilt by association. That is typically the default response strategy, so rather than engage with the ideas or debate on migration, or borders, or political reform, let us just say, as we have seen on Twitter today, go often vote against the far right. When it is patently obvious, I have met a lot of far right people in my career and I can say that the Brexit Party is not a far right organisation. It reminds me more of a traditional conservative party in terms of what is being said, in terms of what congregates and so on. The problem that we have now is that there are sections of the liberal left that ideologically are quite lost, they are not entirely sure what is happening. Their response to it is to then say “this is an extremist political project”.
But of course that is having another effect, which we now know from lots of research on the Trump’s vote and lots of research here in Britain, which is that if you make people feel as the expression of their believes is illegitimate, what you are simply doing is fuelling their support for those outside the movement There is a lot of research showing that if you remind Americans of some of the attacks of democrats, saying they are fascists or totalitarians, they actually become more supportive of Donald Trump because they feel that the market-place of ideas is now only open to people of a certain political viewpoint.
Actually, this is a deeply worrying state of affairs, one that is increasing. There is a hypocrisy on display where we collectively and rightly take a very strong line against violence against MPs, but somehow we are supposed to view violence against right wing politicians as being acceptable. Voters are not idiots; they see this hypocrisy. That strategy is clearly not working, because it is a reflection of the fact that there are many people who are entirely lost and do not know what they want to do.
There is a key question for the liberals now across Europe: “what are you willing to concede?” There are lots of voters that want to say “I want to change certain aspects about how my nation, my society are treated, and how they are reformed, how they are managed. There are elements within the democrats in the US, within the centre-left in Europe, and the question is “what are you willing to concede?” If the answer is nothing, then we will have more polarisation and more of this disruptive political moment. But if, alternatively, your answer is “I accept that we do need to reform the economic and social settlement and we do need now to come together after the vote for Brexit or the vote for these European Parliament elections and think about how we should reform borders and migration or whatever it is”, then that to me is classic moderate mainstream politics. That is reaching a compromise, bargaining and reaching a consensus.
But I think there is an element on the left that has been completely hijacked by a new ideology, that is actually quite intolerant and quite totalitarian in how it views its political battles. Ironically, it is as intolerant as the old far right was. The issue about what is going to change in Europe, my opinion, and I am happy to be wrong, is that Europe will increasingly emulate Denmark. The Danish have pursued two avenues. One is a more restrictive migration policy, but the other is a far more robust integration policy. That will increasingly come to shape other European responses to where we are. If you look to what the Danes are doing, they are very instinctively conservative, but they are investing a lot of money in integration measures, in disrupting segregated neighbourhoods, in sending kids to schools, in adjusting welfare regimes to incentives people to mix with others from different backgrounds. They are taking a much more robust assertive response to their migration issue. Actually, the Swedes, and the French and others will find themselves heading in that direction, not because their political leaders want to, but because public opinion will simply demand it.
On the other issue around Scotland versus England, I think it is a fascinating question. The issue we have had in England is that the sentiment you point to in Scotland are there, but the difference is the very contrasting positions and views of the elites. In Scotland, you had an elite in broad terms that has been quite willing to discuss and legitimise the ideas around identity and belonging. In London, you did not have that ability, capacity to think about what SNP patriotism might mean for the mainstream parties. You can count on one hand the thinkers who tried to get that debate going. Maurice Glasman, David Goodhart and some others. But generally, it has not come from above in the same way that I think it has in Scotland.
That has had a real consequence actually. The two mainstream parties are against that becoming a legitimate opinion, a legitimate expression. I always go back to Orwell lines that we always have a lot of people in the corridor of power. You have that constant stance that any expression of patriotic sentiment is to be seen as being seen as illegitimate and somehow out-of-sync with what Britain is. The story of Englishness is the story of a movement that is far more important than London often thinks it is. The problem today is that we have a lot of users that were used to feeling like winners and do not like feeling like losers. They are defining the way in which the post-referendum debate is being shaped and still saying there are things that we cannot talk about and we should not discuss and we should go back to where we were.
We have had nearly three years and yet we have not come close to having the national conversation that we should have had about how to renew our social, economic and political settlement. It has been a complete waste of an opportunity to get to those points and those discussions that you allude to. For me it actually starts at that elite level and some of the themes that we talk about in the book about political parties and institutions becoming increasingly detached from average voters, from mainstream public opinion. If you look at the House of Commons, only three percent of MPs have an experience of working class occupations, eighteenth percent having only ever worked in politics. This really matters. One in two columnists, commentators, are only going to one or two universities. This shapes how the debate is framed!
I would like to see a response to this referendum where we completely diversify the opinions and the voices and views that we have within our national conversation.
Question: In 2002, Le Pen came to the top in France right after the implementation of the euro. Do you see the rise of the right wing again as sort of the end of the European Union or the euro?
Question: I was at the Olympia for the Brexit Party rally and Nigel Farage made references to the Conservative Party manifesto, which is at the centre of the general elections. But there is a complete disregard of the manifesto by the parties that are elected on it, where does that bring our democracy?
Question: Do you see any script for a populist party based on original nationalism as such, so for example if you have the Brexit Party (inaudible) moving the parliament to Doncaster?
PROF. MATTHEW GOODWIN:
I think that is already happening, I think that in effect that is what the Brexit Party is. If you look at the poll for the party in London. This weekend, about twenty-four percent of London said they would vote for the Brexit Party. We had this idea that London is not at all a kind of pro-leave, but still. If you look at the midlands, there is closer to fifty percent of people who say they are going to vote for the Brexit party. Wales as well, North-East and North-West too. If the Brexit Party were to start a campaign on regional inequalities, and why we are spending so much on transports in London and South-East, why don’t we pick up some of the social mobility commission reports recommendations, why don’t we look at the latest ISF report by Sir Angus Deaton – which is a devastating betrayal actually of contemporary Britons and the way in which non-degree holding middle-aged Britons are now experiencing a decline in their life expectancy and their life prospects.
We are now seeing things that the Americans saw ten years ago, and that is an open goal for a party that says “let us reform the economic and social settlement”. That is also something that the Labour party should be talking about. It should be out there making the case against rising levels of regional and economic inequalities. But because elements of the Labour party sort of turned inwards and became much more consumed by defining everybody as a victim and engaging us all in a sort of rush to be offended, and to identify one another simply by our group identity rather than our individual aspirations, that is why that space vacated.
If we were to start talking about “let us having an English parliament”, if we started saying “let us spend as much on schooling and teaching education training and transports in the North-East and the North-West as we do in the South”, you would have a very potent political vehicle.
Your question about the manifestos, I was at Olympia too. It was quite hard to disagree with some of the elements at point because the 2017 manifestos have been blatantly disregarded on all sides. We have had this curious discussion about the extent to which party financing and social media is undermining faith in democracy, but we have also left this elephant in the room which is that if you do not have political parties that are remaining committed to what they promised, isn’t that also undermining the perceived legitimacy of political systems. There is a point there that has to be interrogated.
But behind that is a broader point for the conservative party which is “is it a conservative party?” I leave that question flying. The reason why we see so many conservatives defect is because a lot of those voters have concluded that the conservative party is no longer what its name implies. This is not unique to the UK. The classic example is Canada in 1993, the liberal-conservative party was replaced by a traditional conservative party that said you are no longer a conservative movement. I do not thing that will happen in the UK because I think what happens over the next few days is that May will go, the next leader will have to commit to being a serious brexiter, a hard brexiter and will have to try and reconnect with grassroots conservatives because if they do not, it will usher in Prime Minister Corbyn and a very economically radical labour government.
But there is a deeper question conservatism today which is “what does it stand for?” If you do not have conservative politicians defending conservative philosophers, where are we? If the left went through a similar moment, the left would never have allowed that to go anywhere near as far as it is. But somehow we had conservative cabinet ministers not coming to the defence of conservative philosophers. Which I think speaks to the intellectual cowardice that is at the heart of the conservative party.
On the euro and the EU, I do not think it is the end of the euro or the EU. I think if you look at what is happening in the survey support for EU membership outside of the UK is actually increasing. Whether that is a long term trend remains to be seen, but it is certainly there, I think it is pretty reliable. I think what we are going to see, increasingly, is a push to change the nature of the European Union, to restrict the federalist ambitions of the European Union and to turn it into a project that is much more responsive to individual nation-states. That will start this weekend. Lots of commentators and journalists will try and downplay the significance of what happens and they will say “well, some green parties did well” and so on.
Actually, what happens this weekend is going to be the most successful set of results for Eurosceptic parties since the European Union was created. My belief, for reasons that we have set out in the book, is that this is actually part of a long-term trend that will see those parties continuously bearing down on these supranational institutions, because by their nature, they cannot satisfy peoples’ concerns or their nationhood and national identity. I do think that when people say “is this the beginning of the end?”, or “is this the beginning of something new?”, in my mind we are entering a new period of political realignment. We are not coming to the end but this is very much the beginning of new realignments in politics. If you are interested, there is a lot more evidence and further reading over this in the book.
Thank you for your time.