It has to be said that Britain, in recent years has been pretty rubbish at protesting. When we have managed to gather in numbers, such as during the anti-war marches of 2003 or the tuition fees protests of 2010-2011 they have rarely managed to change anything. Sadly. Instead of striking terror into the hearts of the political establishment these events only seemed to reinforce certain generations view that young people were either crusty hippies or shirking layabouts who should really get a job or become chimney sweeps or whatever bizarre Dickensian fantasy conservative middle Englanders are partial to these days. The only real fear inducing mass movement of recent years were the riots of 2011. Even then the only successful outcome appeared to be a fantastic selection of five fingered discounts on local high streets chains and a Twitter based rogues gallery of ineptitude. Unlike our Gallic neighbors the French, Britain will usually rely on grumbling at bad news and decamping to the kitchen to switch on the kettle for the fifteenth time that day.
In fact, it’s possible that Britain’s reliance on a soothing cup of tea has prevented all hell breaking loose earlier. When in doubt, have a brew and possibly a chocolate biscuit and whatever was irking you five minutes ago will simply wither away under the sustained pressure of a hot beverage. In fact if the police had acted quickly enough during the riots of 2011 and set up make shift tea urns on every street corner JJB Sport and Phones 4 U might not have put their insurance firms on speed dial. It would be honestly no surprise if next time mass social disorder occurred, the Tetley tea men are drafted in to man tea cannons to blast (and might I add refresh) the mob, while the PG Tips chimps wait round the corner in riot gear just in case.
Cuppa based dystopian nightmares aside, there has been a steady rise in protest parties all over Europe since the beginning of the financial crisis. Within each European member state these parties have taken a variety of different forms but all reflect a growing dissatisfaction with the current political situation. One of the more notable is Beppe Grillo’s Five Star movement that is currently hounding established politicians at every turn and continually refusing to adhere to the accepted norms of politics in which any party can be easily defined as left or right. On the other side of the spectrum, Greece’s neo-Nazi Golden Dawn has gained ground condemning immigrants, foreigners and anyone who looks a little left leaning. Their tactics seem to have been lifted straight from the DIY fascist manual, a tome almost as thick as it’s adherents. In an a-typical show of stupidity and total failure to understand the basics of irony that only the far right can muster, Golden Dawn has taken to emigrating to countries with large Greek populations to promote their fine line in bigotry. I would insult them further but there are only so many adjectives and adverbs in English.
Here in Germany the left leaning party of protest, Piraten party, has been gaining, losing and then gaining ground. Although they have routinely failed to enamor themselves to the mainstream electorate, their polices on freedom of the internet, drug legalization and education has found support among young people who see little of substance in the current political classes. There policy on total political transparency, to the extent that they stream their policy meetings live has certainly been seen in some quarters as a refreshing change to the back room deals of more popular parties. Although it’s debatable whether this will transfer into the required 5% minimum required to take a seat in the Bundestag, there mere presence shows that an active anti-establishment movement has a place in the German political scene.
Another recent addition to the ballot is the Alternative für Deutschland party that is standing on an anti-European platform. With policies such as a withdrawal from the single currency showing a place for Euro skeptics within one of Europe’s leading nations. If the anti-European rhetoric sounds familiar to British readers, it’s possible that they see a comparison with Britain’s self proclaimed party of protest, UKIP. Led by the former aerial acrobat, Nigel Farage, UKIP’s desire to see Britain withdraw from the EU and end immigration seems like a bit of a damp squib when compared to the political movements within Italy and Germany. Only this weekend a senior conservative, Ken Clarke reiterated PM David Cameron’s belief that UKIP was a party of “fruitcakes, loonies, waifs and strays”. This might be true (it is) but it does go to show Britain’s ineptitude at any kind of protest. While other parties around Europe try to change the landscape of politics, Britain’s protest takes the age old form of retreat, self imposed exile and angrily shaking fists at any passing foreign type that might happen to be in the vicinity. Essentially, UKIP is the crazy old man on the porch telling the kids to get off his grass while brandishing a rake.
The real fear for the conservative parties of both Germany and Britain is that the AFD and UKIP will split the right in their respective countries. This would possibly be a boon to the Left wing parties of both countries if they weren’t so fragmented themselves. In fact it comes as no surprise that the Labour party in Britain has already suggested there should be no place for UKIP in the televised debates before the next election. The only possible reason I can imagine for this is that due to the bland, sound bite based tedium of 2010, the inclusion of UKIP would drive the electorate over the edge. If so, every politician knows there isn’t a cup of tea big enough to stop that kind of madness.