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Moving Toward May


Last night saw the second of two debates between the leader of Britain’s Euroskeptic UKIP, Nigel Farage, and Nick Clegg, the Europhile Liberal Democrat who is (sadly) Britain’s deputy prime minister. By almost every account Farage won the debate handily (I’m planning to watch it over the weekend). The (Europhile and anti-UKIP) Guardian reported here:

Nigel Farage triumphed in the second television debate on Europe by a clear-cut 69% to 31%, an instant poll showed, suggesting that a more emotional but often overscripted Nick Clegg failed to convince viewers that Ukip is selling the British people a “dangerous con” and a “fantasy”. The Guardian/ICM findings after the BBC2 debate were almost exactly matched by a separate YouGov poll for the Sun, showing that in a sometimes brutal debate, with both men accusing the other of lying, it was the Ukip leader who came out ahead by an even bigger margin than a week earlier.

The BBC description of the debate is here, the Daily Telegraph’s here.

The Guardian adds:

The result as demonstrated by the polls will be a heavy blow not just to Clegg, but also to David Cameron, who will be terrified that the two hour-long TV debates have given Ukip not just massive publicity, but political momentum for the European elections on 22 May.

I think that’s correct. To me at least, UKIP had appeared to be losing some momentum of late. If Farage has now reversed that drift, it revives the prospect that UKIP might best the Conservatives in the May vote (something that will further shake the already shaky nerves of many Tory MPs uneasily anticipating the 2015 general election) and might even come top, ahead of Labour.

Cameron’s tone-deaf response will have reminded many that he was the Tory leader who threw away what should have been a respectable election win in 2010.

The Guardian:

David Cameron has dismissed both Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage as “quite extreme” over Europe following the second debate between the pair on the issue, adding slightly dismissively that he did not “have a dog in the fight”.

Slightly dismissively?

As for UKIP, it is noteworthy that the party appears to be taking a more conventionally “populist” (lazy term, but for now it will do) tack than in the past.

That’s something that may also happening to Germany’s AfD, the new anti-euro, pro-EU party that nearly made it into the German parliament in last year’s elections (it narrowly failed to pass the required 5 percent threshold). The AfD now seems set to enter the European parliament (where there is no equivalent hurdle) on about 6 percent of the vote amid a climate of euroskepticism that would have been unthinkable in Germany until very recently.

AfD began life as an essentially classical-liberal party (a rare thing in continental Europe), but, judging by this Open Europe comment, that stance may be changing:

At the start of the year, it was being reported that some founding members were leaving in disillusionment in the belief that the party was abandoning its liberal roots and embarking on a sharply ‘rightward’ trajectory, which was manifested by the embracing of traditional Christian moral values and taking a tough line on immigration – AfD were notably the only mainstream German party to praise the results of the Swiss referendum on curbing free movement.

Initially, it seemed that this shift to the ‘right’ was limited to social policy, with AfD still maintaining its liberalism on economic policy; Hans-Olaf Henkel – the former head of the Federation of German Industries – described it as “Germany’s last liberal party”. However, this also seems to have been consigned to the past following the party’s convention over the weekend at which it voted on its manifesto for the European elections.

Crucially, the party’s grassroots voted to reject the EU-US free trade deal (TTIP) currently under negotiation despite strong support from the leadership including party leader Bernd Lucke, who argued that it was a “positive, constructive objective which is very much in Germany’s interest”. Beatrix von Storch (pictured), an MEP candidate and high profile AfD activist – who for many epitomises the party’s recent lurch towards conservatism – argued that the agreement “is not fair and will burden our country”.

Interestingly, when it came to the recent events in the Crimea, the party’s deputy federal spokesperson criticised the independence referendum but also called for greater “understanding” for Moscow and described the interim Ukrainian government as “not democratically legitimate”. A motion was passed (to thundering applause according to FAZ) rejecting German taxpayer assistance for Ukraine and economic sanctions on Russia.

As for Farage, he said this in the first debate against Clegg:

’The British government has actually geed up the European Union to pursue effectively an imperialist, expansionist and even the Commission President once himself said that we are building an empire…We have given a false series of hopes to a group of people in the western Ukraine, so geed up were they that they actually toppled their own elected leader. ‘That provoked Mr Putin, and I think the European Union frankly does have blood on its hands in the Ukraine.

Interesting times. Interesting fault lines.


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