2017 Review: The Year of the Liberal Backlash

For the third straight year, Betfair markets illustrated the new politics. Highly unpredictable, with conventional wisdom in crisis and unprecedented volatility. We have seen an outsider, with no party infrastructure, gatecrash the French presidency. The Democrats won Alabama. And Jeremy Corbyn came within a few constituencies of pulling off the greatest upset in the history of political betting. Yes, considering where Labour started that campaign, Corbyn becoming PM would have represented a much bigger shock than Donald Trump becoming US president.

Yet the landscape has changed quite markedly over the past 12 months. For liberals or basically anyone on the Left, last Christmas was the most miserable time. The Brexit vote destroyed their assumption that the dominance of their values, that had once rebuilt the continent, was part of an inevitable historic trajectory. Then the greatest democracy on earth voted for a populist who shamelessly and frequently played the race card, boasted of grabbing women by the pussy, pined for the days when police beat up protesters and threatened to shut the press down.

Yet for all the panic amongst the so-called liberal establishment, and soul-searching about the motives of voters the elite no-longer understood, the revolution on the Right stalled in 2017. One by one, their poster children took an electoral beating.

Overhyped alt-right, anti-EU candidates flopped

The backlash started with the Netherlands. We were told by Brexiters that Nexit was next. That the long-running poll lead of Geert Wilders and his PVV party showed the Dutch were sick of liberalism, immigration and the EU bureaucracy. They traded odds-on to win the most seats, and he as favourite for PM, prior to their election in February. Yet this time the gamble fell spectacularly flat and, even as culture wars raged during the campaign, the ‘Dutch Trump‘ was resoundingly rejected.

Not a problem, said the alt-right army on social media. Wilders was stitched up by the other parties but that would not be possible in France, where Marine Le Pen would at the very least win the first round, en route to the presidency and then delivering Frexit. Just like Trump, her rural voters were loyal and better motivated. As it turned out, Le Pen and Le Front Nationale only finished second in the first round, before being obliterated by a two-to-one margin by Emmanuel Macron. So much for the ‘silent majority‘.

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