Australia: As populism plummets in Europe, fascism once again rears its ugly head to fill the void

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In Europe, the decade-long anti-party movement that seemed to be remaking politics is suddenly collapsing. Movements like Italy’s Five Star (M5S) or Spain’s Ciudadanos are falling faster than they rose.

  As populism plummets in Europe, fascism once again rears its ugly head to fill the void © Provided by Crikey

Dangerously, the populism they traded on is finding a new home in a rejuvenated fascism, not due to policy (most of the new fascist parties have none) but out of shared contempt for established institutions.

These anti-parties are built on a repudiation of the politics-as-usual of the traditional parties — they’re movements disdainful of the political class, strong on corruption, light (and often confused) on policy, heavy on forward thinking rhetoric. Some bring a grassroots environmentalism to their movement. Others mix ethno-nationalism into their populism.

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There’s been a faint echo in Australia’s anti-party populism, although here it has built more slowly and is less united, divided between the right of One National and UAP, the centrist teals and independents, and the Greens.

The European anti-party breakthrough was triggered by the rolling crises that tested — and often broke — governments: the 2008 global financial crisis, the 2010 sovereign debt and austerity mess, Russia’s 2014 intervention in Ukraine and the 2015 immigration and refugee surge.

It shook the relatively stable rotating governments of countries like Spain and Italy, which rotated between centre-left and centre-right parties or, Italy being Italy, coalitions of parties.

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In those last financially halcyon months of early 2008, elections in each country saw the two big parties or coalitions split about 85% of the popular vote, just as they had the previous few times around. Same in Australia the year before, where a Rudd-led Labor and the Liberal-National Coalition split 85.3% of the national vote between them, just as they had in the election before and most elections before that.

In Europe, it couldn’t hold. By 2018, in Italy, the populist anti-party known as the Five Star Movement had surged election after election to become the most popular party, with about a third of the national vote. In Spain, in 2019, the centrist populist Ciudadanos and the left-wing Podemos took about a quarter of the vote, although down on their 2015 peak.

Now? Polls show all the anti-parties sliding. Five Star heads into next month’s election on 10% after splitting over the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Polls show Podemos down at the same level and Ciudadanos in vanishing single digits.

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What happened? The same thing that happens to all movements that end up in parliamentary politics: they risk becoming the parties they despise. Success leads to government, with all the compromise and concessions — all the “politics” — that demands.

In Italy, the post-2018 election Five Star nominated the prime minister, supported first by the right and then by the left. Shedding support each time, it ended up backing the very sort of government anti-party populists should despise: the multi-party technocratic rule of Mario Draghi.

In Spain, Podemos went into coalition with the Socialists after the 2019 election while Cuidadanos chased its voters to the right.

And their disaffected voters? Seems in both countries, plenty of them have ended up supporting movement-style parties which claim descent from their respective 20th century fascist regimes. In Italy, the extreme right Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy) has surged to a dominating 25%. If that holds, its leader Giorgia Meloni will be prime minister.

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Spain, which thought it had left Francoism safely behind, has discovered it’s become hostage to the far-right Vox. Across two elections in 2019, it opened with 10%, then jumped to 15% of the vote. Polls have shown its support in the twenties since then, making it the essential ally of any future right-wing government.

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The trend from anti-party movement populism to one party domination was identified by Hannah Arendt in her political-science classic The Origins of Totalitarianism. Movements “above party and started outside of parliament”, she wrote, “surge in popularity”. But as movements become parties like all the others, unhappy voters look again for “some consistency, some permanence, and a little less contradiction”.

In Australia, anti-party populism has grown more slowly, with the two big parties sliding election by election down to about two-thirds in this year’s vote. As per Duverger’s law, Australia’s mix of single-person electorates with compulsory and preferential voting has, usually, continued to deliver a ruling party parliamentary majority (in the lower house, at least), saving the crossbench from the political costs of governing (which saw the rural independents lose seats in 2013).

But the past decade’s European experience shows that in politics, things change slowly. Then suddenly.

The post As populism plummets in Europe, fascism once again rears its ugly head to fill the void appeared first on Crikey.

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As a youth activist she praised Mussolini, but as leader of the far-right Brothers of Italy, Giorgia Meloni has sought to detoxify her country's post-fascist movement -- and has brought it to the brink of power. Brothers of Italy grew out of the country's post-fascist movement, but Meloni has sought to distance herself from the past, while refusing to renounce it entirely. In public speeches she is intense and combative as she rails against the European Union, mass immigration -- she wants a naval blockade to deal with boats coming from north Africa -- as well as abortion and "LGBT" lobbies.

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