Last week, the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) won a landmark victory in the Rochester & Strood by-election. With this win, UKIP secured its second Member of Parliament. The UKIP candidate, Mark Reckless, won 42.1% of the votes, thrashing the Conservatives (34.8%), Labour (16.8%) and the Liberal Democrats (0.9%). It was the first time ever that UKIP stood in Rochester & Strood. The party won votes from all the major parties. The Conservatives lost 14.4% of the votes, Labour 11.7% and the Liberal Democrats a whopping 15.5%.
UKIP is expected to do very well in the British general elections next May. Last month, a poll predicted the party could win up to 25% of the vote in these elections. In the 2010 general elections, the party had only 3.1%.
UKIP stands for the preservation of the Britain's national identity. It opposes the European Union (EU) and wants Britain to remain a sovereign nation rather than become a state of a federal Europe. The party is also critical of mass immigration, in particular from Eastern Europe. Though Nigel Farage, the UKIP leader, carefully avoids the issue of Islam, the party has also become the refuge of voters who worry about Islamization. Above all, however, the party embodies the dissatisfaction of the electorate with the traditional political establishment.
Nigel Farage, leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party [UKIP] (Image source: Euro Realist Newsletter/Wikimedia Commons)
As such, UKIP is part of a broad trend that can currently be perceived all over Western Europe.
In Spain, a poll this week said that Podemos, a brand new party that was established only nine months ago, is currently the largest party in the country with 28.3% of the vote. The governing conservative Partido Popular of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy would finish second with 26.3% and the Socialist Party would get only 20.1%. Three years ago, in the November 2011 general elections, the Partido Popular won 44.6% of the votes.
Unlike UKIP, Podemos is a party that clearly belongs to the left of the political spectrum. Podemos (the Spanish for We can) was founded by "anti-capitalist" academics and trade unionists who want to "oppose the dominating EU politics from the left." Unlike UKIP, Podemos does not want to abolish the EU. On the contrary, since Spain is receiving billions of euros in EU subsidies, a majority of the Spaniards clearly want their country to remain an EU member state.
However, the party opposes the austerity policies that the EU is imposing on Spain as a prerequisite for the continuation of the flow of EU subsidies. Both the Spanish Socialist Party and Prime Minister Rajoy's Partido Popular are perceived by voters as implementing the same set of EU-prescribed policies. In this regard, Podemos does resemble UKIP, which also accuses the British political establishment of simply implementing EU mandated policies. In Britain's case, the dissatisfaction with the EU stems mostly from British taxpayers having to pay billions to the EU, which are then transferred to countries in the south of Europe, where governments use them to fund welfare programs. In this sense, the rise of leftist tax-and-spend parties (or rather tax-other-countries-and-spend parties), such as Podemos, reinforces the rise of parties such as UKIP in the north of Europe.
Indeed, all along the Mediterranean, parties opposing the EU-mandated austerity policies are growing spectacularly. One of the keynote speakers at Podemos' recent first-ever party congress was Alexis Tsipras, the leader of Greece's neo-communist party Syriza. In last May's European elections, Syriza became Greece's biggest party with 26.5% of the votes, ahead of the governing Nea Demokratia party of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras. Syriza draws on the same kind of sentiments as Podemos and is popular for exactly the same reasons. The same is true of Italy's Five Star Movement, led by the comedian Beppe Grillo, which, with 21.2% of the vote, became the country's second largest party in last May's European elections. And the same is even true for the Front National of Marine Le Pen in France. Ms Le Pen claims that without the euro, the EU's common currency, there would be "no need for austerity." Drawing on anti-EU sentiments, the Front National became the largest French party in last May's European elections with 24.8% of the vote.
The popularity of these parties is still rising. A recent poll in France revealed that Marine Le Pen might win the next French presidential elections, not just in the first round, but also in the decisive second round. It is the first time ever that the FN leads in a presidential poll against France's two major parties, the Socialist PS and the Center-Right UMP.
In the countries to the north, however, the popularity of the parties opposing the EU subsidization of the southern countries is rising equally spectacularly. In the Netherlands, the anti-establishment Party for Freedom (PVV) of Geert Wilders is currently the biggest party in the polls. Wilders has consistently opposed the bailing out of countries such as Greece and Spain with Dutch taxpayers' money.
In neighboring Germany, the Alternative for Germany (AfD), a party established last year to oppose eurozone bailouts, is shaking up politics with its astonishing wins in recent state elections. In Sweden, the Sweden Democrats (SD), opposing both immigration and the EU, won 13% of the vote in last September's general elections, but their popularity keeps rising. Last week, an SD spokesman said the party is currently expected to win up to 18% of the vote.
All across Europe, the electorate is deeply dissatisfied and disillusioned with both the Conservative and the Social-Democrat parties of the political establishment. Voters no longer see much difference between the traditional political protagonists, who are perceived as imposing an EU agenda that, for various reasons, is seen as bad for the country.
In Europe judging by the polls, political landslides are on the way.