For someone who is interested in politics, 2016 has been some year. From the EU Referendum and Brexit to Donald Trump. But 2016 will go down in history as one thing, the year that the establishment lost.
2016 was going to be a big year for politics right from the start. The referendum on Britain’ membership of the European Union was to be held in the June of this year, and the United States was due to elect it’s primary candidates for their presidential election, the same election where Donald Trump had been gaining publicity in the Republican primaries.
The first of these political events had to be the EU Referendum. The campaign highlighted the anti-establishment sentiment in the UK. The majority of political parties in the UK took a remain stance, with a few politicians deflecting from the party stance and supporting a leave vote. The fact that 52% of those who voted chose to leave the EU showed that they had rejected the ideas of the UK and European political establishments. After the UK voted to leave, we saw the first casualty of the anti-establishment movement, UK Prime Minister David Cameron. Cameron resigned as PM on the morning after the EU Referendum, he campaigned for remain, and had travelled across the continent meeting with the leaders of EU member states to try and secure a good deal for Britain. Obviously the people of the UK thought that he had failed in his attempts, and opposed him in the great debate in the UK that is Europe. His political career was over, he couldn’t lead a country that had overwhelmingly rejected him. This mood has continued after the campaign, many citizens have expressed their dislike of establishment politicians who are claiming that they didn’t know what they voted for. The resentment has been on the rise and it looks as if the cynical view that the public holds of establishment politicians in the UK is going to remain the same after 2016, and throughout the political processes of 2017.
A similar event also highlights the anti-establishment feeling in the UK, the Labour Leadership election. After Britain’s vote to leave the EU, many of the Labour Party’s Shadow Cabinet resigned in a coup against the leader, Jeremy Corbyn, triggering a leadership election. The race was between Corbyn and Labour MP Owen Smith, who some in the party saw as a moderate candidate. At the end of the election, Corbyn secured the party leadership again with 62% of the party vote. This shows that members of the British public and even members of political parties are beginning to reject the establishment, not only in our society but also within political movements. Since this the Labour party have launched a strategy of trying to follow the anti-establishment trend to gain support.
However, the anti-establishment movement goes beyond the UK. Over the year we have seen the rise of political candidates in Europe which conventional politicians seem to be alarmed at. The rise of some far-right candidates in Europe has caused alarm. Such as the far-right Austrian Freedom Party candidate Norbert Horfer, he was said to be the frontrunner in the first round of the Austrian Presidential elections. However Horfer did lose the election by a considerable margin and the party blaming the establishment for the loss. But it does show the prominence of these candidates. Austria is not the only country to witness this rise. In Germany, the rise of the Alternative for Germany party was shown in the March State Elections where they gained up to 25% in some regions. The New York Times reported that support for the party had increased following a spate of sexual assaults in the German City of Colonge at the start of 2016. The newspaper also reported that the party are hopeful for the 2017 Federal Elections in Germany, where they hope that the support that they picked up in 2016 will help them. The NYT described who the party would attract.
“The party attracts voters who are “anti-establishment, anti-liberalization, anti-European, anti-everything that has come to be regarded as the norm,”
The New York Times
This highlights the anti-establishment sentiment in Germany that has risen, and it has had a similar impact on their European neighbour, France. The prominent far-right party in France is the Front National (National Front) who are a nationalist party who are anti-immigration and against France’s membership of the European Union. In the most recent election FN failed to claim a victory in any of France’s 13 regions. The party leader is currently Marine La Pen, who is expected to run for the French Presidency in 2017 and many French political commentators are saying that after the US Election, it is possible for La Pen to secure the Presidency in 2017. The same has been seen across Europe, in the Netherlands with the Party of Freedom led by Geert Wilders was leading in polls taken in November, however it has been on the decline as it has lost seats in the Netherland’s lower house. In the UK the UK Independence Party (UKIP) led by Paul Nuttall has been gaining momentum amongst the public.
Now it can be said that because these parties have had very little or no electoral success that they are not a serious issue, nor do they show that the establishment has failed, but it has shown that the establishment has lost support. The increase in the prominence of these parties show that the establishment could be rejected, as the majority of these parties are opposed to the European Union, and these far-right parties could gain more power in elections and become more mainstream across Europe in 2017.
But Europe is not the only place where the establishment has failed, and it is not the one that everyone knows about. A major hit for the political establishment has been the election of Donald J. Trump as President of the United States.
The election of Trump as US President is probably the biggest hit to the establishment of 2016. It showed the dismay that Americans had for Washington. Trump’s rhetoric about Islam and Immigration gained the attention of the media, and nobody thought that he would win. I have written about the US Election before and after the result. You can find them linked below.
All of this showed that the establishment had been rejected in the United States and that a new kind of politics would be in operation. The American public said that they had been let down by both Democrat and Republican representatives. But the feelings go the other way. It is not only Trump supporters who are rallying against the establishment, Clinton supporters are doing the same. They are calling for the established electoral system in the US to be scrapped as Clinton won the majority of the popular vote but Trump won. The establishment came under attack from candidates like Bernie Sanders who called for a complete change of the way that America operates politically, promising free healthcare and college education. Clearly the establishment is under attack from all sides in the US.
Clearly this has been a bad year for the establishment, but one thing I have learned is this. Usually when I say or hear the term anti-establishment I assume that it will be a left-wing sentiment against tearaway capitalism, but this has not been what we have seen this year. The establishment has lost to a more nationalist regime. Most of the far-right parties and candidates that have been on the rise this year have been opposed to immigration and have often been described as patriotic, expressing national identity and pride. We have seen a rise of nationalism, nationalist ideology and nationalist parties across the world.
Some are describing 2016 as the year which saw the death of neo-liberalism, if this is true then we have seen neoliberalism replaced with far-right nationalism.
If I were to make a formula for the politics of 2016 that has been used so much this year it would be;
Make (insert country here) Great Again
A dangerous thing about the rise of these parties in 2016 is that these candidates who are on the rise have prejudices against certain groups. Many news outlets and mainstream political parties have pointed out that many of the parties in Europe have anti-Islamic policies and campaign against the spread of the religion in Europe. This along with Trump’s proposals for a Muslim Ban show that the rise of far-right parties followed a sense of Islamophobia in our politics. Legislation with follows this ideology could lead to racist, sectarian and homophobic persecution.
It seems as if the current establishment will be replaced by a more nationalist establishment, this can be expected following the rise of identity politics across the west. Some political commentators say that this is evidenced in the alt-right movement following the election of Trump. They argue that the phrase alt-right was brought about to cover the ideology of extreme conservatism and those with far-right views in the United States. It is said to reject the views of mainstream conservatives and have bigoted views due to many members of this movement using prejudicial language to describe certain groups. It can be argued that if there is going to be a new establishment then phases like this will be employed to remove the connotations of the ideologies it covers, an attempt to make it more mainstream. It has been described by leaders as a white nationalist identity movement and anti-hate groups have described the movement as racist. We must ask these questions, has the alt-right been brought about to make these ideas more mainstream for the new establishment? And has the current establishment’s failings made way for this new establishment?
However it is not just the right that have seen a growth in support this year. Senator Bernie Sanders, a democratic socialist gained a massive amount of momentum from his campaign for the Democratic nomination for President, and Jeremy Corbyn, another socialist won his second leadership election in the UK. This shows that the left wing of politics has had success this year. Showing that it is not just the far-right and nationalism that has grown. Overall 2016 has see a growth in populist movements on all sides of the political spectrum.
To summarise the article, this has been a year where the establishment has lost. European countries such as the UK have rejected the European Union and have seen the growth of far-right ideology. In the United States, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have seen how the establishment Democrats and Republicans are not appealing to the public. We could be seeing the rise of a new establishment. And although nationalism has grown in our political systems, it is not the prominent growth within politics. Populism has witnessed growth in every side of politics.
The growth of the far-right and left wing candidates and ideologies could be a message to establishment politicians, sort yourselves out or one of these guys is going to take over.
Although I may be wrong, the rise of nationalism and the defeat of the establishment may only be a 2016 thing. 2017 may see the establishment learn from their mistakes and regain ground from the far-right. Or there may be a rise in left wing ideology instead of the right. All I know is that a new year is approaching and any of this could happen. As we continue our voyage into the era of identity politics then we may see a rise of the right, the left, or continue with the mainstream.
We’ll just have to wait and see.
New York Times Article on the far-right in Europe: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/world/europe/europe-far-right-political-parties-listy.html?_r=0
Heavy.com post about the alt-right movement: here
Wikipedia page on the alt-right: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alt-right