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The Rise of New Populism: Balancing Tradition and Progress in the Green Transition

As new populism gains traction across Europe, the rise of the right-populist Farmer–Citizen Movement in the Netherlands serves as a cautionary tale, underscoring the urgency for the left to reconnect with rural communities and balance tradition with progress in the fight against climate change.

The Emergence of New Populism: A Dutch Case Study

The recent surge of the right-populist Farmer–Citizen Movement (BBB) in the Netherlands signals the rise of a new form of populism. This phenomenon not only challenges the ongoing green transition but also highlights the struggle between traditionalists and progressives in the fight against climate change. The Dutch experience serves as a cautionary tale for policymakers as they grapple with balancing the preservation of traditional livelihoods and the implementation of green policies.

Balancing Tradition and Progress: The Green Transition Challenge

The BBB’s electoral success has alarmed environmental advocates, as the party could potentially veto green policies on national and local levels. This resistance to change mirrors the sentiments of those opposing the 15-minute city concept, which aims to create more sustainable, walkable urban environments. In both cases, opponents argue that tradition and the preservation of current lifestyles should take precedence over progressive environmental policies.

However, it is crucial to recognise that holding onto tradition should not impede the necessary shift towards a greener future. The climate crisis demands urgent action, and countries must find ways to engage in a meaningful and democratic manner while addressing the consequences of past policies. This includes building support for the green transition and being open to innovative ideas like the 15-minute city.

There are already a number of similarities between the Dutch BBB movement and Brexit supporters in the UK.

Both movements are driven by a sense of grievance and resentment against the perceived elites who are seen as out of touch with the concerns of ordinary people. They both appeal to a sense of national identity and nostalgia for a bygone era. And they both tap into a deep-seated distrust of government and institutions.

The BBB movement is a relatively new phenomenon, but it has already made a significant impact on Dutch politics. It has forced the government to back down on some of its plans to reduce nitrogen emissions, and it has raised the profile of the concerns of farmers in the national debate.

It is too early to say whether the BBB movement will have a lasting impact on Dutch politics. However, it is clear that it is a significant force that cannot be ignored.

Here are some specific examples of how the Dutch BBB movement is similar to Brexit supporters in the UK:

  • Both movements are driven by a sense of grievance and resentment against the perceived elites who are seen as out of touch with the concerns of ordinary people. For example, the BBB movement has been critical of the Dutch government’s plans to reduce nitrogen emissions, which they see as an attack on their livelihoods. Similarly, Brexit supporters were critical of the European Union, which they saw as an undemocratic institution that was imposing its will on the UK.
  • Both movements appeal to a sense of national identity and nostalgia for a bygone era. For example, the BBB movement has called for a return to traditional farming methods, which they see as being more sustainable than the current methods. Similarly, Brexit supporters often talked about “taking back control” of the UK from the EU.
  • Both movements tap into a deep-seated distrust of government and institutions. For example, the BBB movement has accused the Dutch government of being corrupt and of not listening to the concerns of farmers. Similarly, Brexit supporters often talked about the “unelected bureaucrats” in Brussels who were making decisions that were not in the best interests of the UK.

It is important to note that there are also some important differences between the Dutch BBB movement and Brexit supporters. For example, the BBB movement is not as explicitly anti-immigration as Brexit supporters. Additionally, the BBB movement has not yet achieved the same level of success as the Brexit Party or UKIP before it. However, the similarities between the two movements are striking, and they suggest that there is a growing sense of discontent with the current political parties in both the Netherlands and the UK.

A Renewed Focus on Rural Concerns: The Left’s Path Forward

The rise of new populism highlights the need for the left to find a new voice in rural areas, as it is apparent that the working class in the countryside has been sacrificed to populists and the far right. To regain the trust of these communities, the left must shed the view that it is solely focused on progressive, metropolitan causes and instead demonstrate genuine concern for the issues faced by rural areas.

One way to achieve this is by shifting focus from engaging in the culture wars to actively listening and addressing the concerns of those who feel left behind. By doing so, the left can develop policies that take into account the unique challenges and aspirations of rural communities while promoting environmental sustainability and social equity.

To effectively bridge the divide between rural and urban communities, the left needs new leaders who hail from working class backgrounds and possess firsthand experience of the challenges faced by these communities. These leaders, with their authentic understanding of rural issues, can help shape policies that resonate with working class citizens and reestablish trust in progressive politics.

To foster genuine connections with rural and working class communities, the left must not shy away from embracing authentic voices who live and work within these areas. The focus should be on individuals who possess a deep understanding of their communities, even if they may not hold university degrees. By prioritising real-life experience over formal education, the left can promote leaders who truly represent their constituents and are better equipped to address the pressing issues faced by rural and working class populations. Why should the Conservative Party always be seen as the party of the countryside?

A critical part of this strategy should involve creating opportunities for dialogue and collaboration between urban and rural areas, fostering a sense of shared responsibility for the environment and the well-being of all citizens. This approach can help bridge the divide between the countryside and metropolitan areas, allowing for the development of policies that balance the needs of both communities.

The left must also make a concerted effort to communicate its environmental policies in ways that resonate with rural constituents. This includes highlighting the long-term benefits of green policies for the rural economy and emphasising the importance of sustainable agriculture and resource management in preserving the countryside’s natural beauty and cultural heritage.

By adopting a more inclusive and empathetic approach, the left can demonstrate its commitment to the welfare of all citizens, regardless of geographical location. This renewed focus on rural concerns can help dismantle the perception that the left is only interested in metropolitan causes (and leaving the space open for populists and the far right), paving the way for a more unified and collaborative approach to addressing the pressing challenges of our time, including climate change and social inequality.

The rise of new populism, as seen in the Dutch context, serves as a reminder that governments must be sensitive to the concerns of various groups while pursuing ambitious climate goals. Policymakers must find ways to balance tradition and progress to ensure a sustainable and inclusive transition. This involves addressing the fears and concerns of traditionalists while promoting the long-term benefits of green policies.

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