Financial crises and the far right

Simon Oxenham writing for the New Scientist:

To many, the rise of Donald Trump in the US and the UK’s vote to leave the European Union have come as a shock. It is feared that right-wing movements may now rise across Europe, including Marine Le Pen’s Front National in France. Why is the face of global politics changing so quickly, and could we have predicted this rightwards shift?

Some studies suggest so. Over a period of nearly 150 years, we have seen that every financial crisis was followed by a 10-year surge in support for far right populist parties, as shown by a recent analysis of more than 800 elections by German economists. Interestingly, they did not see the same right-shift reaction in response to recessions or macroeconomic shocks that formed part of the normal cycle of economic rises and falls and weren’t explicitly sparked by a financial crash. The UK is now eight years on since its last financial crisis – although it should be returning to pre-2008 levels of far-right support around about now.


The full study can be found here.

Overton Window

The following excerpt is taken from the essay “Brexit Blues” by John Lanchester.

“The ‘Overton window’ is a term from political science meaning the acceptable range of political thought in a culture at a given moment. It was the creation of Joseph Overton, a think-tank intellectual based in Michigan, who died in 2003 at 43 after a solo plane accident. His crucial insight, one which both emerged from and was central to the work of the think tank Right, was that the window of acceptability can be moved. An idea can start far outside the political mainstream – flat taxes, abolish the IRS, more guns in schools, building a beautiful wall and making Mexico pay – but once it has been stated and argued for, framed and restated, it becomes thinkable. It crosses over from the fringe of right-wing think-tankery to journalistic fellow-travellers; then it crosses over to the fringe of electoral politics; then it becomes a thing people start seriously advocating as a possible policy. The window has moved, and rough beasts come slouching through it to be born.”

Consider the archetypal, linear political spectrum. On the extreme left you have communism, on the extreme right you have fascism. The Overton Window describes the portion of that gradient scale that any one culture deems acceptable.

Over time that window expands, contracts, shifts left and shift right.

Fringe parties that gain popularity open the window’s boundaries on one side. This has the affect of moving the centre ground and reframing the way all mainstream parties are perceived.

This is what I find most interesting.

By expanding the window, fringe parties indirectly influence mainstream politics.

You don’t have to look much farther than UKIP. From The Spectator:

“UKIP has shifted the Overton window to the right (…) making room for the main parties to formulate harsher policies on immigration than the UK has previously experienced.”

At the time of writing UKIP hold just one of 650 seats in the House of Commons. And yet their presence in Britain’s mainstream politics contributed to The Conservatives’ promise to hold a referendum on EU membership.

I find this equally fascinating and terrifying at the same time.