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Britain’s government took a sharply xenophobic turn this week. Prime minister Theresa May poured scorn on “citizens of the world,” while her home secretary, Amber Rudd, warned that companies might be forced to publish how many foreigners they employ, causing dismay both in Britain and outside it (paywall).
But just as notable as the Tories’ newfound nativism is their newfound interventionism. May called for creating “a new centre ground in which government steps up,” possibly pressuring companies to not only employ fewer foreigners but also pay more taxes and treat both workers and customers better. It’s a near-reversal of the party’s pro-market shift under Margaret Thatcher. And it’s a far cry from the US, where Donald Trump and his allies have hijacked the Republicans’ big-business conservatism with a brand that, while even more xenophobic than Britain’s, is virulently anti-government.
In short: what does it even mean to be a conservative any more? Or, for that matter, a liberal? On some things, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton couldn’t be further apart, while many of Trump’s and Sanders’ supporters are similar people angry about similar things (paywall). In Europe, likewise, both the hard left and hard right have benefited from voters’ frustrations.
This is captured in a recent YouGov poll that shows “authoritarian populism” becoming mainstream all across Europe. A legislator for Jobbik, Hungary’s far-right party, told BuzzFeed, “Immigration is the only common denominator between right-wing parties.” Jobbik’s economic policies are more in line with those of left-wing populists like Greece’s Syriza and Italy’s Five-Star Movement.
This unraveling of left/right categories suggests it’s becoming time to ditch them. The ideological divide in the years to come will be the one May staked out this week: for openness to the world, or against it.—Gideon Lichfield
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