Poland and the rise of ‘red and blue’ politics

Addressing voters’ cultural and economic anxieties is a winning combination.

Rakib Ehsan

Topics Brexit Politics

The victory of the Law and Justice (PiS) party in the Polish parliamentary elections this week raises an important question: are we seeing the emergence of a new politics in Europe?

Law and Justice’s robust brand of ‘red and blue’ politics – social-democratic economics combined with socio-cultural conservatism – has gone down a treat with the Polish electorate. It carried 36 of the country’s 41 parliamentary constituencies and won a handsome 43.6 per cent of the popular vote. Civic Coalition, the PiS’s more pro-European and socially liberal main rival, only won five constituencies – and this included a razor-thin 0.6 percentage-point victory over PiS in the north-western city of Szczecin.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, free-market, cosmopolitan Europhiles have reacted to the result in rather hysterical fashion. How dare the Polish people not vote for the pro-European option on offer and pledge their support to a socially liberal ‘internationalist Poland’? That voters instead opted in great numbers for a mix of soft Euroscepticism, left-inspired economics and right-wing traditionalism seemed to bemuse many onlookers.

There is a recognition within the EU of the need for a common political culture to sustain the ‘European project’. This drives recent efforts to generate cross-country support for a ‘European Way of Life’. But ruling parties across Europe, whether they be France’s En Marche or Hungary’s Fidesz, have sharply different views on what a ‘European Way of Life’ should entail. It is unrealistic to seek to bring a wide range of national political cultures under a broader, uniform, European-level social framework.

And these efforts are by no means appreciated in the ‘Visegrád’ member states of Eastern and Central Europe. Indeed, they are increasingly seen as an EU intrusion into national-conservative culture.

Meanwhile, many voters in Eastern and Central European countries are fully aware of the unsatisfactory integration outcomes among migrants of Turkish Muslim origin in countries like Germany, and the spate of terrorist incidents there involving refugees from unstable Muslim-majority countries.

Law and Justice, like other parties in the region, offers a robust rejection of the EU’s refugee burden-sharing proposals and talks about preserving Poland’s European and Christian heritage. It is no surprise that this resonates with the Polish public.

While it is important to recognise variations depending on national context, ‘red and blue’ politics has also made its mark in other European countries such as Denmark, where the Social Democrats won the General Election back in June.

Under the charismatic leadership of Mette Frederiksen, the Danish Social Democrats are seeking to create a national culture based on shared identity, common purpose and mutual obligations. The party has also adopted a mature approach to public concerns over immigration and social cohesion. The Danish premier has openly criticised problematic attitudes within her Danish Muslim communities – including a lack of respect for Denmark’s judicial system and embedded forms of patriarchal coercion.

But at the same time, Frederiksen often demonstrates her more classical social-democratic credentials by discussing the negative aspects of free-market globalism, such as heightened economic inequality and the erosion of workers’ rights.

Perhaps the political developments in countries such as Denmark and Poland offer a guide for the UK’s current PM Boris Johnson, who is keen to woo pro-Brexit voters in Labour’s traditional heartlands as he looks for a future parliamentary majority.

He is looking to offset inevitable losses in middle-class Remainia by making gains in working-class Brexitland. But the Conservatives will only be able to make inroads in Brexit-voting communities in the Midlands, northern England and parts of Wales through carving out a dynamic ‘red and blue’ politics for the UK.

The Tory party may well find it easy to find common ‘cultural’ ground with patriotic, communitarian voters, with its plans to overhaul the immigration system and take a tougher stance on crime. It is also currently opposed to the controversial ‘Islamophobia’ definition produced by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims, which essentially represents a blasphemy law through the back door.

But in order to win over pro-Brexit voters in Labour’s Leave-voting heartlands, the Tories will also have to adopt a more critical view of the market, take on a more caring attitude towards public services, and flesh out ambitious infrastructure projects that are specifically designed to regenerate ailing ‘left behind’ towns. It cannot only engage with cultural anxieties linked to immigration and multiculturalism; it must also understand the economic anxieties associated with market capitalism.

One thing is for certain – the David Cameron ‘Notting Hill set’ blend of social liberalism and fiscal conservatism appears to be dead in the water. The way forward for Boris Johnson and his Conservative Party is clear – a ‘red and blue’ politics which seeks to bind together the home nations.

Whether the Conservatives are willing to undergo this process of fundamental reinvention remains to be seen.

Rakib Ehsan is a spiked columnist and a research fellow at the Henry Jackson Society. Follow him on twitter: @rakibehsan

Picture by: Getty Images.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.


Gerard Barry

18th October 2019 at 11:22 am

Great article. The reason the left has lost ground in so many countries in recent years is because they made the mistake of thinking that working class people were in favour of mass immigration and other socially liberal policies. They’re usually not and that’s their prerogative.

With regard to Poland, it’s quite shameful how politicians and the media here in Germany constantly attack the country (especially given German actions in Poland in World War II). Just two days ago, I saw some sort of political advertisement featuring the SPD’s Katharina Barley, where she stated: “Countries that benefit financially from the EU must respect the latter’s values”. (It was clearly an attack on countries like Poland and Hungary.) She didn’t of course state specifically what these “values” are. But apart from that, it made my blood boil that the German government would spread such propaganda against sovereign foreign nations like this and I feel it says a lot about the position of Germany within the EU, telling other countries how to run their affairs and confusing – perhaps deliberately so – “European values” with German “liberal” left-green values.

Varsovian Varsovian

17th October 2019 at 3:38 pm

How can people make up their minds in the West when they are not informed by the media of what is happening in, say, Poland?
Yesterday saw the end of a major trial process with the sentencing of two criminals to 12 and 15 years in prison. Almost unreported in the West, because of its repercussions. The two people were debarred from holding directorships but a crooked judge allowed them to set up a parabank called Amber Gold (AG). AG, a pyramid scheme) was set up to provide finance for a hopelessly-cheap budget airline OLT, whose sole purpose was to bankrupt the disressed Polish state airline LOT, so its routes could be sold off to another of OLT’s financial backers Air Berlin. Donald Tusk’s son worked for OLT and OLT’s launch event featured Tusk MPs pulling an OLT plane. The big investors in OLT put money in from unknown sources, so the suspicion is mafia. Several law enforcement agencies sounded the alarm, but nothign happened because of OLT’s political support. PM Tusk said LOT was dead and couldn’t be saved. But OLT ran out of money as AG collapsed and Air Berlin collapsed … LOT survived by the skin of its teeth. Tusk’s group were voted out and LOT started making record profits.
But this scandal was nothing compared to the openly-conducted Russian mafia fuel import scam, which was condoned by PM Tusk and cost the Polish economy $20 billion. Or the suddenly ballooning VAT gap, which rose from 7 to 31% as the rule of law fell to pieces in Poland. Oh the irony, when Lord Tusk of Smolensk started rule of law proceedings!!

Jane 70

17th October 2019 at 1:39 pm

Winston Stanley

17th October 2019 at 1:08 pm

Rakib is cynical to cite an article from 2016 when the refugee situation was at its worst. That looks deliberate and calculated. Refugees are assimilating well into the German economy. Hundreds of thousands are already in employment and hundreds of thousand more are in language, and then vocational, education before moving into the economy. The German picture is one of success. The country is better prepared all the time to build on the lessons already learnt to make a success of future refugee influxes. Germany has also recently changed its law to allow for an influx of skilled labour from outside the EU. The German demographic-economic model is workable, while the Polish one looks hopeless.

> Germany: Refugees integrated into labor market ‘quicker than expected’

The Institute for Employment Research has revealed that approximately 400,000 refugees will be in work before the end of the year. The agency is “quite satisfied” with migrants’ assimilation into the labor market.

Herbert Brücker, head of International Labor Market Research at the IAB, said he was “quite satisfied, especially since the starting conditions for the refugees in 2015 were particularly difficult — if only because German is much further away from Arabic, for example, than the languages of the Balkans.”

He told the newspapers of the Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland that about 36% of refugees between the ages of 15 and 64 are currently working and he expects that figure to rise “to about 40% in the fall. That’s about 380,000 to 400,000 employees.”

About 50% of the refugees with jobs are working in a skilled profession.

“This is surprisingly high, considering that only one in five refugees before leaving has a vocational qualification or has completed a university degree,” said Brücker. (DW)

Gerard Barry

18th October 2019 at 11:11 am

I live in Germany. I recently heard that only around one-third of refugees here have a job. Given that most of them arrived four years ago, this is not a great employment rate! I can’t understand why people want to whitewash the refugee issue by making out that it’s all hunky dory. It isn’t.

Perverted Lesbian

17th October 2019 at 11:25 am

So BJ should move the Tories into the domain of the SDP? I think that would resonate with the voters.
This is a breath of fresh air too: The Danish premier has openly criticised problematic attitudes within her Danish Muslim communities – including a lack of respect for Denmark’s judicial system and embedded forms of patriarchal coercion.

Common sense that would trigger the Guardianista’s here.

The EU/Germany rules about shared immigration quotas stink, and here is why.
Basically Germany is saying, we messed and so now you can share the mess too, no wonder Poland is resistant.
Imagine the outcome if this policy is forced, it would be like a forced marriage that neither side signed up to, the result would be abject misery for both parties, with the Migrants being the wife in this scenario and probably coming out feeling a lot worse, go on kiss each other, go on… yuck. So why not instead, look at what went wrong with Germany’s free for all and LEARN FROM IT,
ikr what a crazy idea. Spend money looking at how people can integrate into vastly different cultures in a way that doesn’t completely erase their own identity, simultaneously the host countries can engage with the citizens and ask for towns or cities to volunteer to become the first to host new arrivals, sounds Gay sure, but if both sides are invested in the same positive outcome it eliminates the creation of ‘ghetto’s, and the ‘us and them’ mentality, if prior to any new arrivals there were ‘getting to know you’ events etc, I know it seems long-winded, and would cost money, but what is more important, the gradual change of attitudes and a happy marriage, or what has happened in Germany? The cost would be paid back 10 fold if you have happy integrated refugees compared to the cost of unhappy disillusioned refugees alongside resentful native citizens.

Amelia Cantor

17th October 2019 at 10:43 am

It is also currently opposed to the controversial ‘Islamophobia’ definition produced by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims, which essentially represents a blasphemy law through the back door.

It is not a “blasphemy law”: it a necessary progressive response to Islamophobia intended to silence haters and prevent further atrocities like the Christchurch mosque massacres and Utøya Island (Breivik’s Norway massacre).

And Muslim immigration — which Spiked fully supports — is guaranteed to bring about anti-Islamophobia laws sooner or later. If France had had such laws, there would have been no need to machine-gun Charlie-Hebdo. The “satirists” would have been jailed instead.

Winston Stanley

17th October 2019 at 10:27 am

Poland has one of the lowest fertility rates in Europe at just 1.42 kid per woman in 2018, which is a replenishment rate of 67.61%. The number of births would thus fall to 45.72% in 2 generations, and to just 20.90% in 4 generations, of the original number of births.

PiS has in recent years enacted a pricey platform to increase the fertility rate, costing $6 billion a year, or 1.3 percent of the country’s GDP and it has delivered perhaps a 0.1% increase in the rate, nowhere near replacement level.

It is estimated that up to 200,000 Polish women a year travel abroad for abortions, as it is illegal in Poland. Obviously contraception is legal, cheap and easily available, which tends to be all that is required to collapse the fertility rate.

The marriage and divorce rate in Poland is similar to UK. Births outside of marriage have doubled from 12% in 2000 to 24% in 2017 (48% in UK).

The RCC in Poland is presently in collapse, partly due to the clerical child abuse scandals and the cover ups by the hierarchy. The generational gap in religious profession is in any case greater in Poland than in any other country in Europe.

Unemployment is down from 20% in the early 2000s to just 3% today. Its GDP growth is OK at 4.6% in 2017. Many Poles are returning from UK with Brexit, only 27% have applied for residency. It will be a shame to see them go, I liked the deli stuff, hearty food.

Mike Ellwood

17th October 2019 at 11:10 am

I agree; we will miss the Poles, and there is of course a longer history of Polish settlement here, arising out of WW2. Going to Catholic schools in the 1950s and 60s, there were many Poles (and other eastern Europeans) present, and i know many other towns had Polish communities.

But on the whole, it’s better for them to develop their own country economically and not be forced to seek work elsewhere. They have done well to get their unemployment levels down to 3% (although I hope it’s not based on a “gig economy” like here).

Varsovian Varsovian

17th October 2019 at 3:55 pm

You missed the point, because you have not been given vital facts by any Western media outlet. Just imagine — for one wild moment — that Jeremy Corbyn came to power and immediately announced the end to child benefit.
“It’s just a handout to make women give birth!” Corbyn shouts.
There’d be outrage.
And yet for almost 30 years the post-Communists were implacably opposed to this fundamental plank of the Welfare State in Poland. They had no money for it, because state money belonged to more deserving, well-connected mafiosi. Who cared that in 2014 some 400k children had meat on the table only twice a week (official govt stats) – and lived in utterly Dichensian conditions?
50% of children never had a holiday. Before child benefit was introduced by the miner and trade union backed party that before the war was called the “Polish Socialist Party”. The people that are ploughing money into the Polish NHS and education and that stopped the fraudulent schemes that Tusk was involved in.
The worst one in money terms was the Russian mafia fuel importation scheme, which netted organized crime $20 billion. Tusk was directly informed in writing that it was a Kremlin-run mafia operation by ABW (Polish Internal Security Agency), but he took no action. Customs were told by the “independent” public prosecutors that Tusk had ordered them not to prosecute the 600 fuel tankers that were crossing the border tariff-free daily. The rule of law broke down under Tusk and no Western reporter dared report it.
And then there 50,000 council tenants evicted in Warsaw alone further to “property restitution legislation” by Tusk which led to hundreds of local authority properties being gifted to post-Communist mafiosi, with the direct involvement of crooked judges and public officials. Even the Mayor of Warsaw swiped a Holocaust asset for her family, worth $20 million!! Tenants’ rights activist Jola Brzeska stood up to them and she was brutally murdered. Burnt to death with her hands tied behind her back in what police called a suicide. Her murder remained unreported in the West for years. BBC reporter Adam easton, who lives down the road from me, failed to report it.
Go figure.

Varsovian Varsovian

17th October 2019 at 4:05 pm

How long before I’m banned from commenting? I’d give Boris greater odds of success with getting his deal through Parliament!!

Major Bonkers

17th October 2019 at 6:18 pm

Thank God – someone who actually knows the country.

The extraordinary development in Poland since it joined the EU was largely due to the UK taxpayer, of course.

Gerard Barry

18th October 2019 at 11:12 am

How exactly does any of this relate to the above article?

Ven Oods

17th October 2019 at 9:57 am

I doubt that BoJo’s the man to enact those changes. He’s always struck me as a stranger to hard work, and that’s what joined-up thinking entails.
BTW, if they’re going after him for misconduct in public office, why would they choose the £126k for the blonde entrepreneuse and ignore the millions of public money he pissed away on the mirage of the Garden Bridge?

Mike Ellwood

17th October 2019 at 11:03 am

Good points, and thank you for “entrepreneuse” – don’t think I have ever seen it used before. 🙂

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