EU Elections: what does populism mean for rural people?

As countries across Europe await the results of the European Union elections, the campaigns of authoritarian and populist political movements are once again in the news. A new collection of articles shows this not only to be a European phenomenon, but worldwide. And rural people, often forgotten or stereotyped, are crucial both in supporting and resisting populist politics.

Brexit division

In the UK, the yes/no referendum over Brexit in 2016 seemed to divide the nation’s politics – between ‘remainers’ and ‘leavers’, or between metropolitan liberals and rural reactionaries – but the divisions were always more complicated than that. Beyond simple binaries, other groupings and arguments emerged. Now, the Brexit Party’s hardline stance on a ‘no deal’ exit positions any compromise or agreement with Brussels as an act of betrayal. Even the Leave side is splintered. Theresa May’s resignation as Prime Minister is just one of the many dramatic results.

Some people – both in rural areas and big cities – faced with poor services, debts and a crippling land and housing regime, have turned to reactionary politics. But others are finding more mutual, open-minded ways forward.

Populism and rural people around the world

In any case, high-profile campaigning in many European countries is now drenched in populism – pitting everyday people against corrupt politicians and ‘elites’, playing on national myths and nostalgia, positioning the dominant culture as threatened and victimised by intellectuals and foreigners, and offering simple solutions to complex problems. It’s a pattern repeated across the world, finding different forms of expression in India’s recent elections, in North and South America and elsewhere.

In the new collection of articles, researchers with the Emancipatory Rural Politics Initiative (ERPI) explore how rural people have been targeted by authoritarian populism, and how they have embraced or resisted it in different ways. Often ignored, stereotyped or patronised, there are many examples of rural people building forms of solidarity and support.

The articles (open access until December 2019) are featured in a Forum on Authoritarian Populism and the Rural World in the Journal of Peasant Studies, part of the ERPI’s series of events and research on the topic.

Read the articles