Professor Bale: PRR Parties Can Be Beaten at Elections, But They Can’t Be Eradicated

By analyzing the recent electoral success of Nigel Farage’s Reform UK Party (RUKP)as a representative of European PRR parties, Professor Tim Bale emphasized that “mainstream parties who oppose them have to learn to live with this fact and realize that while they can be beaten at elections, they can’t be eradicated.” Discussing the broader political climate, Professor Bale warned of the challenges posed by both right-wing and left-wing populism. He pointed out that left-wing populism, while lacking the xenophobic and Islamophobic elements of its right-wing counterpart, often proposes overly simplistic solutions that could threaten good governance and economic stability. 

Interview by Selcuk Gultasli

In an interview on Tuesday with the European Center for Populism Studies (ECPS), Professor Tim Bale, a renowned scholar from the School of Politics and International Relations at Queen Mary University of London, provided deep insights into the enduring presence of populist radical right (PRR) parties in the UK and European politics. Reflecting on his earlier predictions, Professor Bale emphasized that “mainstream parties who oppose them have to learn to live with this fact and realize that while they can be beaten at elections, they can’t be eradicated.”

Professor Bale analyzed the recent electoral successes of Nigel Farage’s Reform UK Party (RUKP), highlighting the demographic trends underpinning its support. Unlike in many European countries, where far-right support often comes from younger voters, in the UK, it is generally middle-aged or older individuals who are drawn to these parties. These supporters, many of whom left school at 16 or earlier, are not necessarily deprived but often feel uneasy about cultural changes and harbor nostalgia for a bygone Britain. RUKP has skillfully expanded its appeal beyond immigration to include resistance to "woke" politics and rapid environmental policies, positioning itself as a defender against perceived excessive social liberalism and fast-tracked net-zero targets.

The interview explored the potential implications of the Labour Party’s recent electoral victory on far-right parties. Professor Bale noted that Labour’s handling of immigrationwould be crucial. While a reduction in legal migration might temper some support for RUKP, ongoing issues such as illegal Channel crossings could still provide fertile ground for Farage’s rhetoric. “Nigel Farage and RUKP will be able to capitalize on that particular problem and Labour’s inability to stop them completely,” he observed.

Discussing the broader political climate, Professor Bale warned of the challenges posed by both right-wing and left-wing populism. He pointed out that left-wing populism, while lacking the xenophobic and Islamophobic elements of its right-wing counterpart, often proposes overly simplistic solutions that could threaten good governance and economic stability. “While left-wing populism has its downsides, it may not be as dangerous for minority communities as right-wing populism has proven to be,” he concluded.

In reflecting on the Conservative Party’s strategy, Professor Bale highlighted the ongoing internal debate about how to address the rise of RUKP. He suggested that the Conservatives’ move towards populist radical right policies has so far been counterproductive, potentially perpetuating a vicious cycle. The party faces a crucial decision: whether to embrace Farage and his supporters or to reaffirm its commitment to centrist, economically focused policies.

Overall, Professor Bale’s insights underscore the complex and enduring nature of PRR parties in the UK and Europe. His assertion that these parties are now a permanent fixture in the political landscape serves as a sobering reminder for mainstream parties of the challenges they face in addressing and countering populist narratives.

Here is the transcription of the interview with Professor Tim Bale with some edits.

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