There are big differences between the Tea Party and the European insurgents. Whereas the Tea Party’s factions operate within one of America’s mainstream parties, and have roots in a venerable tradition of small-government conservatism, their counterparts in Europe are small, rebellious outfits, some from the far right. The Europeans are even more diverse than the Americans. Norway’s Progress Party is a world away from Hungary’s thuggish Jobbik. Nigel Farage and the saloon-bar bores of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) look askance at Marine Le Pen and her Front National (FN) across the Channel. But there are common threads linking the European insurgents and the Tea Party. They are angry people, harking back to simpler times. They worry about immigration. They spring from the squeezed middle—people who feel that the elite at the top and the scroungers at the bottom are prospering at the expense of ordinary working people. And they believe the centre of power—Washington or Brussels—is bulging with bureaucrats hatching schemes to run people’s lives.
Mainstream politicians in Europe have tried to marginalise the insurgents, by portraying them as unhinged, racist or fascist. But it is not working, partly because many of the insurgents are making a determined effort to become respectable. UKIP, the FN and the Freedom Party (PVV) in the Netherlands could each win the most votes in European Parliament elections in May. In France, 55% of students say they would consider voting for the FN. The Progress Party has joined Norway’s government. Slovakia has a new far-right provincial governor. Count insurgents on the left, such as Syriza in Greece and the Five Star movement in Italy, and mainstream parties in Europe are weaker than at any time since the second world war.