In last weekend's European parliamentary elections, capitalism triumphed, at least in its mushy European form. Admittedly, these European polls are a peculiar species of election. Far fewer people vote in them than vote in national elections, and those who do cast ballots are far vaguer about what their deputies, once elected to the European legislature, actually do...But how is it possible that the European right is doing so well -- and so much better than its American counterparts -- during what is widely described as a crisis of global capitalism? At least in part, the Europeans are winning because their leaders have the courage of their economic convictions. While the European continental welfare states have certainly kicked into high gear over the past six months, there are few equivalents of either George W. Bush's budget deficits or Barack Obama's spending binge. And where there have been -- in Britain, for example -- the high spending has hardly bought popularity.
ThinkProgress blogger Matt Yglesias disagrees, making the shopworn (but true!) argument that most right-leaning parties in Europe aren't exactly Hayekian in their appreciation of free markets, while failing to point out that Applebaum acknowledges this point (Yglesias might also note that, unlike most socialist parties, the center-right parties tend to be good on free trade). Well, ok. But what he doesn't get around to explaining—and it is a point worth looking into, seeing as it's the one Applebaum makes—is why, when social democrats everywhere are pooh-poohing the free market and blaming the current crisis on "Anglo-American" capitalism, more voters aren't fleeing into the arms of the left.
The answer, he says, is that all non-socialist parties in Europe are squishy centrists resigned to living in a large welfare states. Again, this is correct—up to a point. The Tories, Yglesias writes, are the closest European party to the Republicans (this is debatable, if one considers the parties of Eastern Europe) "but even they don't dare admit to any qualms about government-run health care." Again, on some level this is true. Most European parties of the right understand that, for all of the problems associated with socialized medicine, proposals to eliminate nationalized health care would likely frighten voters. Before the rise of Cameronism, Labour stressed that a government headed by William Hague or Ian Duncan Smith would result in an American-style system, with the sick and infirm forced on to the streets, grasping at the hem of your garment, pleading for help with medical bills. So in many countries, like the Netherlands and Sweden, right-leaning parties (and social democratic parties) have taken the "mend it, don't end it" line of piecemeal privatization.
So yes, Cameron has attempted to position the Tories as "the party of the NHS," but this doesn't mean that the party hasn't spoken ill of the current system or strenuously argued that it is in desperate need of reform. Indeed, as an editorial in the new issue of the BMJ (British Medical Journal) argues, there exist "many similarities between the health policies of the opposition and those of the government should come as no surprise given that the Labour government has pursued market based reforms for almost a decade." (emphasis added)
One more point. In a post yesterday, Yglesias "explains" British politics to his readers and offers this bit of shock at the two BNP seats: "The rise of the BNP is all the more shocking for the fact that UK voters already have a 'mainstream' far-right option available to them in the form of the UK Independence Party, so it's hard to rationalize BNP support as simply a sign of disgruntlement with the establishment options." This is misinformed nonsense. After being tipped by Spectator blogger Alex Massie, Yglesias acknowledges what has long been known to observers of British politics: the BNP siphons off Labour voters, not voters from UKIP. The coal mining town of Barnsley, where the BNP received 17 percent of the vote and is the birthplace of thuggish union leader Arthur Scargill, is a traditional Labour stronghold. So why would these voters be interested in UKIP, a Euroskeptic party that is the exact opposite of the BNP on economic issues? Yesterday I quoted MEP Dan Hannan's description of the BNP manifesto: ""[I]t wants nationalisation, subsidy, higher taxes, protectionism and (sotto voce) the abolition of the monarchy." Watch this video of BNP leader Nick Griffin announcing that his first speech before the EU parliament would address the scourge of "privatization."
UKIP, on the other hand, is far more market-oriented. It is not "far-right," as Yglesias seems to think, though it has attracted its fair share of kooks over the years, some of whom have been purged for their odious views. This Guardian editorialist moans that, Euroskepticism aside, UKIP members "have opposed the minimum wage and limits on working time and have argued for a far-reaching deregulation of the economy" and have agitated against the British surveillance state. Now, the party isn't exactly libertarian (though some of its members are) nor is it classically liberal, but if UKIP and BNP are considered by Yglesias to be ideological bedfellows, perhaps he needs to do a bit more Googling.