Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Wednesday, May 27, 2015


Maintain Britishness by becoming more European? It's not unexpected. Politics are becoming more global and many people are threatened by that trend: identity politics is on the rise in nearly any country you name.

How Britain Became European
An election holds up a mirror to society, revealing the relationship between the people and the politicians.

The 2015 election in Britain revealed widespread distrust of a political class seen as remote and out of touch by those left behind, by voters who feel disfranchised and powerless to control their own lives. It showed that disquieting trends on the Continent are not without some resonance in Britain…

In Scotland, voters noticed that Mr. Cameron and Mr. Miliband seemed equally committed to austerity and retention of the Trident nuclear deterrent. How was a citizen who rejected this consensus to vote? Those supporting the UK Independence Party believed that, if only Britain left the E.U., there would be no immigration problem. Scottish National Party voters believed that, if only Scotland left the United Kingdom, austerity would come to an end…

These attitudes were felt most strongly among those left behind by social and economic change in the areas of the first Industrial Revolution…

In the past, it had been the Labour Party’s historic task to represent the disadvantaged. Indeed the party has traditionally been a coalition of liberal intellectuals and the working class…

UKIP and the S.N.P. have something in common: They both seek to replace the politics of ideology with the politics of identity. They cannot easily be located on the left-to-right spectrum…

UKIP argues not that Mr. Cameron is insufficiently right-wing but that he is insufficiently British. The S.N.P. argues not that Labour is insufficiently left-wing but that it is insufficiently Scottish.

It is a paradox that, as the world is becoming increasingly interconnected economically, it is also becoming more fragmented politically. UKIP and the S.N.P. have their analogues on the Continent – parties of the Right, more extreme and tainted with racism and Islamophobia…

The European Union was intended to contain nationalism, which was indeed strikingly absent from the Continent during the immediate postwar years… But it has now returned with a vengeance.

The new political conflict in Europe reflects a social cleavage between those who have benefited from globalization and those who have not and it is coming to overshadow the traditional left-right conflict between mainstream parties.

The new ideological cleavage pits internationalist against nationalists — and it exists within as well as between mainstream parties…

Paradoxically, UKIP has made Britain resemble the rest of Europe by helping to transform Britain’s traditional British two-party system into a multi-party system. And both UKIP and the S.N.P. support proportional representation, which also would make Britain more European.

For a long time, pro-European politicians have urged that Britain should become more like the rest of Europe. Perhaps they have succeeded all too well.

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