The Role of Conservatism in Development of Right-Wing Populism in Western Democracies: UK Case

  • Abstract:

    The purpose of this paper is to reveal the role of conservatism as the factor of development and as the limited factor for right-wing populism (RWP) in Western countries. The relationships and mutual influence of United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), as the initiator of EU membership referendum and electorally successful RWP, and Conservative Party are one of the main cases that are relevant to contemporary Western politics. On the one hand, the British case shows that conservatism, especially in its Thatcherite variation, acted as an ideological and programmatic resource for UKIP. Conservatism was a kind of a role model in regard to the combination of anti-Europeanism and populism [Bale, 2018]. Conservatism and right-wing populism often use the same concepts (“nation”, “sovereignty”, “tradition”, “order”, etc.), but the correlation of these concepts, their “proportion” and place in the structure of ideology and political program definitely vary. Right-wing populism being largely “parasitic” in the ideological field of conservatism, adopts the right elements from its program and gives them hyperbolic attention. On the other hand, the growth of right-wing populists makes conservatism act as a restraint of right-wing populism. According to William Downs, there are few strategies that mainstream parties undertake. That includes strategies of ignoring, political and institutional constraints, co-optation and collaboration [Downs, 2001]. The British case demonstrates that conservatism used various strategies to neutralize right-wing populists: since 2006 they have been ignored. However, it is difficult to ignore right-wing populists when they use elements of your program. Therefore, the conservatives switched to a mixed strategy, which included both political isolation, for example, a tacit agreement on the “sanitary cordon” of the main parties around right-wing populists, and institutional isolation, which was expressed in tactical cooperation of the leading parties again on the issue of preserving the majoritarian electoral system elections to the House of Commons. However, the main part of conservative strategy was the co-optation of elements of the political course, first of all, the claim to hold a referendum on Britain’s withdrawal from the EU. Thus, the British case demonstrates that conservatism can play dualistic role. On the one hand, conservatism can act as an ideological resource of right-wing populism, ensuring its ideological equipment; while on the other hand, it can undertake effective strategies, such as co-opting a number of elements of a political course to reduce the electoral positions of right-wing populists.