The Law and Justice party (known in Poland as PiS), was re-elected in the Polish elections last weekend, securing 43% of the popular vote. The party stands on a platform combining economic interventionism with social conservatism.
Commonly – though somewhat lazily – characterised as ‘Right-wing’, PiS, after coming to office in 2015, set about redressing economic inequality. It boosted the minimum wage, lowered the retirement age and increased the state pension. It also made heavy investment in a variety of social and welfare programmes, helping to free thousands from poverty. That Poland currently enjoys an economic growth rate superior to many of its European neighbours should command attention.
PiS also promotes the type of cultural traditionalism – with much emphasis on family values – that is in keeping with the country’s Catholic heritage and appeals to much of small-town and rural Poland. It is certainly far from perfect: its opponents have accused it of authoritarianism, and it is seen as hostile to the LGBT community.
But its wide support and retention of power should be seen as instructive.
Some of us have been arguing for a long time that a similar sweet spot exists in British politics, where an enthusiasm for economic radicalism fuses with a desire for cultural security.
Millions of voters here would see themselves as falling into this category, but feel unrepresented by any of the mainstream parties. It was the anger and alienation of these millions that gave us the Brexit vote, and has been instrumental in the ongoing polarisation of our politics and breaking down of normal tribal loyalties.
These voters, often (though not exclusively) residing in the poorer parts of the UK – such as the post-industrial towns across the north and Midlands – would find great appeal in a party that was, on the one hand, committed to delivering an economy built around redistribution, intervention and investment, while, on the other, placing a high value on place, family and nation. The politics of economic fairness mixed with the politics of belonging.
With the fracturing of traditional politics across parts of Europe, we have seen that similar attitudes exist among some of our neighbours there, and not just in Poland. For example, the Gilet Jaunes protesters thrust themselves into the international consciousness with their demands for greater democracy, economic justice and national sovereignty, and earlier this year the Centre-Left Social Democrats secured victory in the Danish elections on a programme of increased public spending and stricter immigration controls.
Which will be the first mainstream party in Britain to try out this winning formula?