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Meloni and Le Pen point to a new direction for the Right

Will there be a Le Pen in the Élysée? Credit: Getty

March 15, 2024 - 11:50am

One overlooked aspect of international politics is the difference between winning an election and winning a majority. This becomes especially clear in the ongoing debate as to whether Europe’s Right-wing populists are succeeding or falling short of expectations. Among a new generation of Right-leaning intellectuals, the likes of Giorgia Meloni in Italy or Geert Wilders in the Netherlands are now seen as a “disappointment” against what their electoral platform promised.

A closer look, however, reveals a somewhat different picture. In Italy, Meloni’s Brothers of Italy (FI) party has maintained its lead in the polls with numbers consistently around 30%. As 30% isn’t enough to govern alone, Meloni was forced to form a coalition with two other parties — the Matteo Salvini’s Lega and Forza Italia, led by another populist, Silvio Berlusconi, who died last year.

Despite this combination of big personalities, Meloni not only formed a government in record time but has kept it together ever since with no obvious signs of cracking. In a country that has had 69 governments since 1945, this is no small accomplishment.

Despite the FI’s recent defeat in a regional election in Sardinia, support for the party remains relatively high, and Meloni’s premiership secure. She may not be the Right-wing revolutionary some initially hoped for, but even the centrist publication Politico has conceded that Italy is subtly shifting Europe to the Right. From softening climate goals to pushing for a continental equivalent of the Rwanda scheme, Meloni is delivering in small steps what many Right-leaning voters in other European countries are hoping for.

Her detractors do not seem to understand that in order to make changes, Meloni needs to remain in power within the notoriously fragile and crisis-prone Italian political system, and so far she is succeeding. Which brings us to the second female populist who has serious chances of leading a major country in the coming years: Marine Le Pen.

The leader of the Right-wing Rassemblement National first ran for the presidency in 2012, but her party has never been as strong as it is now. The RN currently holds a national lead with around 28% (similar to Meloni’s FI in Italy), and Le Pen has a chance of becoming France’s next president in 2027. The differences between a Meloni premiership and a Le Pen presidency, however, would be significant.

Contrary to the Italian system, the French invest significant power in the office of the president, meaning that Le Pen could govern less restrained by backroom deals with coalition partners than her Italian counterpart. There are already voices proclaiming that Le Pen will “go soft” just as Meloni has supposedly done, especially due to both politicians’ criticism of Russia’s war against Ukraine.

This misses the point, however. The people of both France and Italy do not wish for a revolution or an upending of the political system, but instead a change in direction on issues that the Right has been campaigning on for decades: cultural cohesion and more restrictive migration policies. Politically speaking, these are winning propositions, while siding with Putin is not.

If Meloni and Le Pen have learned one thing from the political Left, it is that lasting change can be best achieved by a slow and steady march through the institutions, not a few flash-in-the-pan election victories. There is a difference between being in office and being in power, and Meloni and Le Pen appear to have understood this, certainly more than their critics.

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Mike Downing
Mike Downing
3 months ago

Whoaah ! A whole article in this subject area and no mention of the ‘far’ (ie yesterday’s bog standard conservative) right.

How refreshing or indeed rafraîchissant.

trevor david
trevor david
3 months ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

Yeah just play the race card that will keep the White masses happy until you get around to bigger and better things. Just feed them some Black meat I mean Red Meat to chew on. We know how Honkkkkee like blood with there meat.

Ted Ditchburn
Ted Ditchburn
3 months ago
Reply to  trevor david

Keep up the good work.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
3 months ago

More from Ralph Schoellhammer please. The world has had enough of utopian ideology from both left and right. Let’s go back to common sense and social solidarity.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
3 months ago

The idea that Le Pen exists in opposition to the Left is completely mistaken. She is left of Macron economically but just combines her socialism with a kind of nationalism. (sound familiar?)
Anyone who is hoping for a return to old conservative values e.g. the guy in the comments below referring to “yesterday’s bog standard conservative” values should prepare to be disappointed.
These populists lean further left than the mainstream. They’re just taking over huge socialist states with no idea how to run them.

Matt M
Matt M
3 months ago

1. Low rates of immigration, strictly controlled, 2. resist woke sex and race nonsense (particularly in schools), 3. start promoting your own nation, her culture and history and not denigrating it, 4. resist the excesses of the green movement – particularly high utility prices and JSO types blocking traffic. 
Not revolutionary, very popular and quite conservative. The mechanics of delivering are hard (especially if you are in the EU and an ECHR signatory) but a skilled government with a majority should be able to make progress.
And then everything else is normal policy: what to tax and what to spend? Law and order, etc.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
3 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

How about farmers blocking traffic? That’s okay, right? Blood and soil types. Good chaps.
It’s embarrassing that your primary concerns are cultural things that mostly exist on the TV and internet in your experience then “tax and spending and law and order” are just footnotes like yeah whatever normal policy.

Matt M
Matt M
3 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Why is that embarrassing? There isn’t much to say about tax and spend (as seen by the cigarette papers difference between the main parties on these subjects). Basically we all want the lowest possible taxation compatible with funding the huge health, pension and welfare budgets. These are no longer hot topics because there is so little room for manoeuvre but neither are we at any great tipping point that requires dramatic action – though perhaps we are on a slow road to perdition. The arguments are generally about how to make public services more efficient and less wasteful.
Crime and punishment should probably be number 5 in my list above. There is a clear desire on the “populist” part of the public (viz. the majority of it), to have longer prison sentences for violent criminals and to deport foreigners who commit crimes here. There is probably a majority in favour of capital punishment too.
As to farmers blocking traffic, you nailed it. It is fine for the native working classes to protest through direct action but watching Tarquin and Jemima having public hysterics about the cwimate cwisis is a revolting spectacle.

Andrew Boughton
Andrew Boughton
3 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Yeah, right-on. Those “farmers,” eh. What do they know, aside from how to feed everyone, regardless of their politics, and how to work harder than anyone else? I bet not one has ever attended tertiary courses in the really important things in life, like politics and sociology.

A D Kent
A D Kent
3 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

‘Everything else is normal policy’ – only to the extent that is possible in the single-market and the EU’s Treaty enforced rentier capitalist/neoliberal boundaries.

Tony
Tony
3 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

The Tories are failing with a high majority as they are signatories of the ECHR and will not give it up. If this is the case they will never be able to deal properly with illegal immigration and choose not to put their money where their mouth is.

A D Kent
A D Kent
3 months ago

Meloni, Le Penn or whoever know the parameters now. They’re just a dash of right-wing lipstick on the Neoliberal pig of the EU and the Eurozone. Any transgressions – even if they were keen to enact any – will be taken care of by the ECB and their flexibly enforced deficit strictures. Beyond that there’s always the Polish/Hungarian option if they prove themselves to be too chippy. Neither will have the backbone to go beyond the grandstanding on culture war issues and when that makes no material difference to their populations whatsoever then we’ll be on to the next round of showboaters, except this time in a more or less completely de-industrialised Europe. That’s when the complete de-development will start to be noticed.

Adrian Smith
Adrian Smith
3 months ago

Surely not – “right wing populists” remaining popular and delivering what the people want!

Jake Raven
Jake Raven
3 months ago

I wish for a shift, even gradually, to the right. Unfortunately, our FPTP system will make this all but impossible. With the Conservatives shift to the left, there seems little hope for a return to a right of centre government. If such a change happened, it would have to be through revolution, not evolution.

Tony
Tony
3 months ago
Reply to  Jake Raven

You know who to vote for. Just do it. LabCon won’t do it.

Andrew Boughton
Andrew Boughton
3 months ago

What a fine and accurate piece. A rare thing in these Orwellian days.