UK, France polls could loosen traditional parties' grip on power

Opposition to immigration seems to be a unifying issue for right-wing parties who have recruited supporters from the poor and marginalised, tired of the empty promises of traditional parties

UK, France polls could loosen traditional parties' grip on power

Public opinion polls on upcoming elections in Britain and France reveal a lot about the right of the far right in Europe. In Britain, the Conservatives seem to be on the decline following 14 years of uncontested rule, with the Labour Party showing a 20-point increase. And, in France, polls indicate that the far-right National Rally is leading its left-wing New Popular Front rival by 7.9 points.

French far-right movements have made significant strides in electoral contests in previous years. A notable instance was in the 2002 presidential elections when their candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen advanced to the second round against Jacques Chirac—a prominent Gaullist figure. For the first time, traditional French parties accustomed to the longstanding rivalry between Socialists and Gaullists were dealt a significant blow, signalling a profound shift in French society.

Two lacklustre presidencies followed: Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande. For its part, the current presidency under Emmanuel Macron has been plagued by the Yellow Vest movement, other social justice protests, and anti-police riots that spread from the suburbs to the heart of Paris.

Recent legislative elections gave the National Rally a whopping 88 seats, and the party is slated to expand its influence even further. If the polls hold true, Rally leader Jordan Bardella could vie for the position of prime minister if he can pull together a political coalition.

In Britain, the Conservative Party has been plagued by scandals and controversies, including premature speculation by its candidates on the election date before party leader and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced it.

Opposition to immigration seems to be a unifying issue for Britain's Reform UK and France's National Rally.

This has allowed space and appetite for Brexit champion and Eurosceptic Nigel Farage to resurface. Known to be among Britain's 'most divisive politicians', he recently announced he would stand in July's general election for the new right-wing British party Reform UK. It's referred to as Farage's party because it is registered as a private company in official records rather than as a conventional political organisation. Reform UK supporters now comprise 17% of the electorate, trailing the Conservatives by only three percentage points.

Opposition to immigration seems to be a unifying issue for Britain's Reform UK and France's National Rally. However, they are not only calling for restrictions on immigration. They also want to prevent legal immigrants from obtaining citizenship and slow the issuing of visas for foreign workers, among other measures.

Decline of traditional parties

The rise of extreme right-wing movements in Europe and around the world—the subject of a recent special coverage series by Al Majalla—continues to be a significant phenomenon in the public life of democratic countries.

It shows how traditional parties—which have dominated the political landscape since the end of World War II—have lost public support through their empty words and promises. These parties have struggled to adapt to profound societal changes and have failed to manage immigration waves effectively.

As a result, right-wing groups have been able to exploit economic and social frustrations to recruit supporters. The poor and middle classes see their governments prioritise the wealthy at their expense and being largely dismissive of their growing problems, as seen by this year's farmers' protests across several European countries, particularly in France.

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