The rise of the populist radical right in Europe is a topic that worries citizens, journalists, political elites and scholars alike. Much has been written on the nature of these parties, as well as why they are currently gaining in the political arena. This has focused on the institutional arrangement of different electoral systems and the dissimilar opportunities that they offer for the thriving of this kind of party; or on the demand side trying to unravel the reasons behind citizens’ voting behavior.
This strong emphasis on the behavior of citizens seems somehow unfair to them. Whether in contrast to the emphasis placed on the role played by citizens, or possibly in conjunction with it, it is worth considering the role played by mainstream parties, which has been a considerable factor in the rise of the populist right. Furthermore, and most importantly, is the role they must play if the current situation is to be reversed.
This situation is set out in the mind map below, which also details some of the most important bibliographical references.
As demonstrated, European mainstream parties pay a two-fold role: both in the origin and also in the resolution of the increasing electoral relevance of populist radical right parties (RRP) in Europe. They have played an important role in the origin enabling the contextual conditions for the current reinforcement and electoral success of RRP. They have done so by the progressive abandonment of the social-class cleavage and the discourses of equality and social justice, by the ideological convergence toward neo-liberal economic policies, and by their estrangement from their representative function. It is evident from these, that I hold leftist parties to be particularly responsible for this situation, although rightist parties are not free from blame.
However, it is for this same reason that, although all mainstream parties may contribute to the solution, it is probably the left who should lead the change. In termsof identifying a solution, the future development of our democratic societies will depend on the answer mainstream parties are able to give to the new electoral cleavages presented by the populist radical right in electoral competition. The essential choice is between emulating the discourses and strategies of RRP or, on the contrary, bringing new, or recovering old, dimensions of electoral competition that appeal to citizens while still being inclusive.
It seems most feasible that the best option is to recover both the cleavage based on social class and return to discourses of equality and social justice linked to welfare state. Not only do these have a tradition in European political tradition (even of a populist nature), they can also be considered to have the potential for crafting inclusive and transversal national identities.