Way back in 2008, as the full implications of the banking meltdown were beginning to become clear, I was invited to a symposium of business and economic experts convened to discuss the unfolding catastrophe. Most of them seemed pretty sanguine about the longer-term outlook: sure, there would be some pushback from the ‘austerity’ programmes that were bound to be inflicted on European societies in order to prevent the banking crisis from metamorphosing into a sovereign debt crisis; but broadly speaking it would be business as usual and things would get better in due course.
Only two people dissented from this optimistic view. One was the director of a leading business school. The other was yours truly. Why, I asked, shouldn’t the crisis eventually lead to the rise of extreme right-wing, populist political parties in the same way that the depression in Germany eventually fuelled the rise of the Nazis? The experts pooh-poohed the idea (experts are always allergic to apocalyptic talk, in my experience), so I eventually decided to shut up. After all, what do I know about economics or politics?
And now I’m sitting here in my study as the results of the European elections trickle in. UKIP heads the poll in the UK. The Far Right has made big gains in Austria (over 20% of the national vote). Ditto in Denmark (good old liberal, progressive Denmark). Ditto in Greece. Ditto in France, where even the French Prime Minister concedes that Le Pen has swept the board. And so it will go on through the night.
The BBC soothingly assures us that although the next European Parliament will be “more interesting” than its predecessors, nevertheless it there will still be a pro-European majority, so life will go on as normal.