Britain’s Populist U.K. Independence Party has no seats in Britain’s House of Commons. Nonetheless, UKIP, led by Nigel Farage, could outpace both Conservatives and Labor in the upcoming European Parliament elections that begin May22. Also expected to do well is France’s hard-line, right wing Front National, led by Marine Le Pen. FN is strongly against immigration and wants to opt out of the EU. The New York Times explains the changes in Europe here.
GATESHEAD, England — Before winning power, Prime Minister David Cameron once called them “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists,” and a cabinet minister, Kenneth Clarke, dismissed them last year as “clowns.” But the U.K. Independence Party is showing that it cannot be laughed off.
Polls suggest that the party, which emerged from the right-wing fringes of British politics to call for sharp limits on immigration and for exiting the European Union, will perform strongly in the European Parliament elections that start on May 22. It appears poised to outpoll Mr. Cameron’s Conservative Party, and it may even vie with the Labour Party for first place in Britain.
The party and its leader, Nigel Farage, are exerting substantial influence in Britain even before the voting begins, despite holding no seats in the House of Commons. The strength of the following it has built is forcing Mr. Cameron and his party to move further rightward, and compelling other mainstream parties to take account of the appeal its anti-elitist message has for economically stressed voters who might otherwise lean left.
In that sense, UKIP, as the party is known, is similar to the National Front of Marine Le Pen in France, the Party for Freedom under Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement in Italy, and other protest parties in Europe. All have a chance in this month’s elections to establish themselves as legitimate political forces, their clout coming less from the seats they win than from their skill in redefining public debate around their populist themes.
From Amsterdam to Athens, populists are seeking to capitalize on discontent with mainstream politicians and with European integration, which many voters now associate more with austerity than prosperity. Even in Germany, arguably the nation most committed to the European Union, one fringe party is campaigning to scrap the shared euro currency.