Over the last five or so years in Europe, much of the narrative in relation to election results includes two key features. The first is that populism is rife and starting to break into the mainstream, the second is that the centre-left is falling apart and sinking to all time lows. Both of these conclusions are in fact right, we’ve seen it in Germany, Spain, France, the UK, Netherlands, Italy, Greece and this is just naming a few. However, another pattern is emerging, something we’re not really talking about, which is Europe’s centre-right parties, who are also part of the mainstream, are also in severe decline.
If you look at the 2017 Election in Germany, in the wake of the results, commentators and pundits both came to the same conclusion. That populism is on the rise, which was seen with the AfD entering the Bundestag for the first time and that the centre-left was in decline. This was seen with the SPD achieving their lowest election result in post-war Germany. Another pattern that has emerged is that the centre-right are also in decline. Angela Merkel’s CDU received its lowest percentage of votes since 1949. This is something that is rarely ever discussed.
The same has happened in Italy, for example. At the most recent election this March, there was a right-wing pact between Lega, the far-right former secessionist party, and Forza Italia, the mainstream conservative party, headed by Silvio Berlusconi. It was expected, prior to the results, that Forza would be the biggest of these two parties. However, this did not happen, and Forza fell behind the far-right Lega. The two conclusions people came too after the election were, you guessed it, that populism is rife and social democrats are in decline, both of which are right, but we’ve failed to look at the downturn in fortunes for Europe’s centre-right.
The same has happened with Mariano Rajoy’s PP in Spain and Mark Rutte’s VVD in the Netherlands but the most shocking example that was never truly discussed is that of the centre-right in France, which for the first time in the history of the Fifth Republic did not see its candidate get to the second round of voting. Commentators discussed the rise of populism with Marine Le Pen’s Front National getting to the final round and the same was discussed of the Socialist Party’s failure to do such a thing. However, no one discussed how the centre-right were also falling out of favour with voters.
Britain has also had the same issue. It’s Conservative Party, which is arguably the most successful political party in history, has only got a majority of seats in the House of Commons for one of the last six general election and at the most recent election in 2017, lost a 20+ point lead and even though they increased their vote share, they failed to win a majority of seats. Once again showing how the mainstream centre-right across Europe is falling apart.
As the results carrying on coming in from Sweden, we’ve seen two things discussed by the media already. That the social democrats are in decline and the right-wing populism is on the rise, both of these are true but the reality is that the centre-right Moderate party actually saw a bigger vote swing away from them, than the social democrats did.
So next time a major European country goes to the polls, look out for it’s centre-right parties and see how they’re failing to capitalise on the changing political landscape. The fact that both centre-right and centre-left are missing out may suggest a bigger rejection by the electorate of the mainstream policies that have defined the post-war era since 1945, but don’t just assume its the left that this losing out. The exact same thing is happening to moderate conservatism across the whole of Europe, and this should be a trend we pay further attention too.