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EU Election Deadlock Is Allowing Demagogues to Flourish

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Elections to the European Parliament rarely arouse more than passing interest here. Every five years since 1979, they have come and gone with precious little debate—and abysmally low turnouts.

Not this time. Most voters this Thursday will not care that the body itself is toothless or that it has no role whatsoever in resolving the Brexit crisis. These elections have given a platform to the most strident voices in the debate about Britain’s relationship with the European Union (EU) and a chance to rally protest votes for their positions.

For the newly formed Brexit party, led by far-right demagogue in chief Nigel Farage, this vote was never supposed to happen. That the elections are taking place, as a condition of the EU’s giving Britain more time on Brexit, is itself a “betrayal” of the outcome of the 2016 referendum and a “humiliation” imposed on “a great nation.”

For uncompromising opponents of Brexit, represented by several small parties and some in the Labour Party, they are a chance to demonstrate support for the second referendum—or “people’s vote”—they hope would reverse the decision to leave. Such is the populist mood that one of the Remain parties—the Liberal Democrats—has even adopted “bollocks to Brexit” as their slogan.

Polling suggests the governing Tories will be the main victim of this polarization. They could see their vote plummet to below 10 percent as most of their supporters defect to the Brexit party and some conservative remainers join former Tory deputy prime minister Michael Heseltine in migrating to the Liberal Democrats.

Labour, meanwhile, has also been squeezed from both sides. Though still leading in polling for the Westminster Parliament, its support dips when people are asked about their voting intentions on Thursday. In most, it is in second place to the Brexit party, and one has it third, a point behind the Liberal Democrats, who look certain to beat the Greens and Change UK (a new group of former Labour and Tory lawmakers) in the battle to be the largest Remain party.

Labour has struggled with the Brexit issue for three years. There are broadly three trends of opinion in the party: Lexiteers who see the EU as inherently neoliberal and fiscally conservative, Remain-but-reform advocates who accept many of the Lexit arguments but believe the EU can be changed from within, and Euro-enthusiasts who view the organisation almost wholly as a force for good.

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