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Russell Foster Matthew Feldman

Abstract

Boris Johnson’s electoral victory and the 2020 culmination of Brexit are accelerating Britain’s shift towards the right and towards open criticism of technocracy in the UK and EU. Since 2016 the UK’s political atmosphere has polarised into hostile extremes. The continuation of this toxicity beyond Brexit, the dominance of nationalist narratives as Britain’s new ‘politics of everything’ (Valluvan 2019). While the Conservative Party remains traditionally centre-right and the Brexit Party has ceased to be relevant, the UK continues to witness the growth of the far right and what is called here the ‘Radical Right’, which have been accelerating since 2016, rapidly gaining influence (Norris and Inglehart 2019: 443-472), and ‘mainstreaming’ (Miller-Idriss 2017) in the Conservative majority elected in December 2019. The past four years have seen growing British contempt for technocracy in London and Brussels, while the Leave vote has been represented as a “Will of the People” antithetical to a Remain/Revoke/Second Referendum position, often portrayed as an anti-democratic scheme by “the elite” to frustrate the will of “the people”. This ‘us and them’ populist narrative is deepening as the UK’s volatile political environment moves away from the political procedures and economic values by which the UK has operated since 1945. Since early 2020, this narrative has been significantly accelerated by Covid-19 countermeasures, with anti-EU parties and narratives on the left and right becoming anti-lockdown or anti-vaccine parties and narratives. This paper approaches the radical right as emblematic of British politics’ shift from centrism towards polarised factions defined not by party but by support or contempt for technical governance. In this paper we propose a new explanatory basis for studying the populist radical right not as a temporary phenomenon in response to specific political events and conditions, but as a fluid, amorphous, and heterogeneous set of groups, parties, and narratives whose strategies, appeal, and narratives make them extremely adaptable, and significant as a force with substantial influence of politics into the future.

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Article Keywords

Brexit, UK politics, Anti-establishment politics, Populism, Covid-19

Section
Commentary
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