CRF Blog

Drawbridges up

by Bill Hayes

In Drawbridges up, The Economist reports that the people in many nations are divided between those who want to open up their countries to the outside world and those want to shut out the outside world.

“The old left-right divide in this country has gone,” laments Rafal Trzaskowski, a liberal politician. Law and Justice plucks popular policies from all over the political spectrum and stirs them into a nationalist stew. Unlike any previous post-communist regime, it eyes most outsiders with suspicion (though it enthusiastically supports the right of Poles to work in Britain).

From Warsaw to Washington, the political divide that matters is less and less between left and right, and more and more between open and closed. Debates between tax-cutting conservatives and free-spending social democrats have not gone away. But issues that cross traditional party lines have grown more potent. Welcome immigrants or keep them out? Open up to foreign trade or protect domestic industries? Embrace cultural change, or resist it?

In 2005 Stephan Shakespeare, the British head of YouGov, a pollster, observed: “We are either ‘drawbridge up’ or ‘drawbridge down’. Are you someone who feels your life is being encroached upon by criminals, gypsies, spongers, asylum-seekers, Brussels bureaucrats? Do you think the bad things will all go away if we lock the doors? Or do you think it’s a big beautiful world out there, full of good people, if only we could all open our arms and embrace each other?”

He was proven spectacularly right in June, when Britain held a referendum on whether to leave the European Union. The leaders of the main political parties wanted to stay in, as did the elite of banking, business and academia. Yet the Brexiteers won, revealing just how many voters were drawbridge-uppers. They wanted to “take back control” of borders and institutions from Brussels, and to stem the flow of immigrants and refugees. Right-wing Brexiteers who saw the EU as a socialist superstate joined forces with left-wingers who saw it as a tool of global capitalism.

A similar fault line has opened elsewhere. In Poland and Hungary the drawbridge-uppers are firmly in charge; in France Marine Le Pen, who thinks that the opposite of “globalist” is “patriot”, will probably make it to the run-off in next year’s presidential election. In cuddly, caring Sweden the nationalist Sweden Democrats topped polls earlier this year, spurring mainstream parties to get tougher on asylum-seekers. Even in Germany some fear immigration may break the generous safety net. [more]