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Friday 31 October 2014, Rob Lyons

Debating the rise of populist parties in Europe

Battle of Ideas satellite events in three different countries will look at why parties like UKIP, the Front National and SYRIZA are having such success today.

The news that the EU has demanded an extra £1.7 billion in payments from the UK no doubt brought anguished groans from mainstream politicos. Already struggling to convince the nation that EU membership is a good idea, the major parties now have to come up with a credible way of paying the bill - rules is rules, after all - while sounding tough about it. It’s all been a tonic to the UK Independence Party (UKIP), which has had a timely shot in the arm in the run up to the Rochester and Strood by-election, where Tory defector Mark Reckless will try to win UKIP’s second Westminster seat.

Badly timed EU announcements aside, the mainstream parties’ problems are much more deep-seated and intractable - and UKIP is not the only beneficiary. The feeling that Westminster has become a closed and unlistening clique is palpable, reflected as much in the surge towards a ‘Yes’ vote in the final months of the Scottish referendum campaign as in the success of Nigel Farage. Yet the problem also goes way beyond the borders of the UK. Across Europe, populist parties have made major gains in recent elections. Like UKIP, the Front National in France topped the European Parliament polls earlier this year. Nor is it just right-wing populists making headway - the left-wing coalition SYRIZA was the big winner in Greece.

The reaction from political elites has been to accuse voters of being ‘idiots’ or to dismiss the results as mere protests from voters who will return to the fold for national elections, like the UK General Election in 2015. But support really is bleeding away from the established parties, who seem bereft of vision or solutions for Europe’s stagnation.

So what should we make of this turn towards populist parties? It’s an issue that will be discussed in a series of Battle of Ideas International Satellites over the next couple of weeks, in Stockholm (5 November), Brussels (12 November) and Berlin (20 November). It will be fascinating to see how people in these different countries respond to this question. Visit the Battle of Ideas website to find out more about these events.

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