The Rise of the Euro-Right, Part II

A follow up to yesterday's post on the European elections: Anne Applebaum, writing in the Washington Post, argues that the results were a vindication of capitalism:

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.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • ejay||

    When someone first forwarded me a plain-text version of M. Yglesias's "writing," I thought I was reading some B-track high-schooler's rejected op-ed. I was astounded to find that not only does Yggie get paid to, er, ruminate in public (which is illegal in polite communities) but he's considered by some to be, uh, an "intellectual."

    He can't spell, he can't think straight, and daily he proves Cicero's observation that, "If you know nothing of the world before you were born, you remain forever a child." (That's from memory, so feel free to correct me.) The piece of tendentious twaddle I read a month or six ago (it was that compelling), by the way, had Yggie musing, as he patted his back for the original thinking, that the government should just grab all earnings over $10 million. He opined, as I recall, that it would only affect a few major-league pitchers or some such nonsense.

    This lamebrain went to Harvard? Graduated? Got someone to give him money for his "insights"? He should believe in Santa Claus, if not God, because that's a freakin' miracle. (Clarification: In the real world that lies just underneath the Paris Hilton Layer, it would be a miracle.)

    I am absolutely stunned. One more occurrence of that magnitude, and I may even be stunned silent.

    Now that I think about it, probably not. Where's the fun in that?

    As to the article... It goes beyond surface appearances and uses no custom-made Faux Facts, so Yggie won't be able to understand it. I did, and it's a good one, as I expect from this source.

  • ||

    In last weekend's European parliamentary elections, capitalism triumphed, at least in its mushy European form.


    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

    That point completely contradicts her statement above...and deserves a bit more rebuttal than "Well, OK".

    Sorry, Mike, this entire post sounds like you trying to pin some fault on Yglesias to make Applebaum's article look like something else other than the worthless, irrelevant, mistaken piece of junk that it is. Note how Applebaum's self-contradictory statements are presented without scare quotes around the verbs, while Yglesias' lumping the BNP and UKIP together as "right-wing" parties (ahem, a mistake you made in your own previous post, I might add) makes his explanation into an "explanation".

  • ||

    Actually, it's Iain Duncan Smith and Arthur Scargill, not what you wrote.

    I never thought I would have the opportunity to put them together like that! So thanks for that.

  • ||

    I think I made the point the other day that American definitions of left/right don't fit well with the European political spectrum, which is, itself, not really polarized along a single axis anyway, sine they've got more than two serious parties.

    Yglesias seems to be guilty of making this mistake, by assuming (according to American sensibilities), that a nationalist party and a free-market party must go together, just because thats the tendancy in the US.

    Also, in general it's part of the common failure of the American left to recognize that facism isn't a free-market capitalist ideology, but is actually a nationalistic, corporatist, variant of socialism. If you don't get that, you end up making these idiotic mistakes like putting UKIP and BNP in the same category.

  • Alan Vanneman||

    "Again, on some level this is true."

    Or, more briefly,

    "This is true."

    Sorry, Mike, but Tulpa nailed your equivocating ass, and didn't do a bad job on Anne "Why don't we go to war with China, just for the hell of it" Applebaum as well.

  • ||

    The UK is so screwed. But so are we, not enough anti-social security/medicare politicians could ever get elected to save us from the same.

  • Ebeneezer Scrooge||

    Yeah, but at least we can say the UK screwed itself before we did. We can thumb our noses at them in self-righteousness.

  • Ebeneezer Scrooge||

    btw, why *did* we save Europe from Hitler? I'm really not seeing the point.....

  • Solanum||

    thuggish union leader Arthur Scargill

    Who was eventually brought to justice by Superintendent Harry "Snapper" Organs.

  • Avatar300||

    I may be just a humble lurker, but I need to ask: why does anyone link to this Yglesias fellow? He's an idiot and nothing I've ever seen from him has suggested otherwise to me.

  • Spoonman||

    Jesus. The Nazis got 17% in a place in Britain? At least when we vote for nutjobs, they're Ross Perot.

  • ||

    The Nazis got 17% in a place in Britain?

    Apparently, most of their votes were cannibalized from Labour. Imagine.

  • JB||

    Yglesias isn't very bright.

  • Custom Nike Dunk||



Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Video Game Nation: How gaming is making America freer – and more fun.
  • Matt Welch: How the left turned against free speech.
  • Nothing Left to Cut? Congress can’t live within their means.
  • And much more.