To say we are living in politically volatile times has become the essence of understatement. Here in the UK, the cost-of-living crisis is pushing households across the country to the very brink and the threat of a recession looms large. Despite political claims that Brexit is ‘done’, the fallout is still being felt across the country. Culture wars and ‘wokeism’ are constantly dragged onto the agenda by politicians and right- wing media. A global pandemic has hardened existing inequalities and pushed our shared public services to breaking point.

“only 6 per cent of UK adults believe that voters have the most influence over political decisions taken today”

In this challenging economic and social context, there is a growing sense of disappointment about our lives and a visceral uncertainty about what the future holds (Carter and Lowles 2022)1.

At the same time, recent IPPR research has shown that trust in the British government is at the lowest level on record (Quilter-Pinner et al 2021)2. People feel their vote counts for little – only 6 per cent of UK adults believe that voters have the most influence over political decisions taken today (Patel and Quilter-Pinner 2022)3,4. Many believe our political system is broken. Some, mistrusting of the lockdowns used to bring the pandemic to heel, have turned to conspiracy theories and misinformation to make sense of the world. We are in desperate need of democratic and social renewal. To bridge the gap between the people and politicians, trust needs to be rebuilt.


These conditions are a dangerous cocktail for a resurgence of far-right extremism. Throughout history, we’ve seen that in times of great political upheaval, uncertainty and distrust grow and a kind of political ‘vacuum’ is created in which conditions are prime for extreme and radical views to catalyse. We simply need to look around the world today to see the threat that right wing populism can pose in precarious times – whether present in the hateful rhetoric of Trumpism in the US – the destructive policies of Bolsonaro in Brazil, or the extreme nationalism of Modi in India.

“Progressives must not despair – instead, we must put forward our own coherent alternatives for a better world”

Looking at the current political landscape, one could be forgiven for pessimism. But there are promising signs too, and progressives need to capitalise on these. We have seen an overall shift in public attitudes – as a society we are much more socially liberal than even a decade ago (Carter and Lowles 2022)5. A lurch to extremism is a very real and a frightening risk, but it isn’t locked in. Our work as progressives must be to counter the threat of far right, extreme, and radical ideologies that seek to divide us.

Or, as Elif Shafak puts it in her treatise on staying sane in a divided society:

“We have all the tools to build our societies anew, reform our ways of thinking, fix the inequalities and end the discriminations, and choose earnest wisdom over snippets of information, choose empathy over hatred, choose humanism over tribalism… After the pandemic, we won’t go back to the way things were before. And we shouldn’t.”6

In a crisis, people look for answers – and out of a crisis, something new can grow. Progressives must not despair – instead, we must put forward our own coherent alternatives for a better world.


This edition of the IPPR Progressive Review features some of the prominent thinkers who have been grappling with this vital work. It explores the mechanisms of extremism, conspiracy, and the far-right – as well as a path forward for progressive resistance against their rise.

In conversation with Professor Cas Mudde, we discuss the limited impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic and rising inflation on support for populist parties, what might explain the imbalance between right and left populist parties across Europe, and how social democratic parties might pave a way forward in an era of increasingly polarised politics.

Dr Mette Wiggen traces the role of the far right in normalising welfare state chauvinism across Europe, exploring Denmark’s increasingly dualistic welfare state as a core example. It offers a warning on the pervasive influence of far-right ideas on mainstream politics – including social democratic parties.

Mike Makin Waite, a mediator specialising in work on contested and divisive social issues and the author of ‘On Burnley Road’, reflects on his time at Burnley Council in the early 2000s as the BNP rose to prominence in the town. He thoughtfully considers what conditions are required for extreme right-wing views to flourish and concludes by sharing key lessons for progressives and politicians grappling with similar challenges today.

Azfar Shafi of CAGE provides a comprehensive critique of the UK government’s Prevent programme, arguing that the logic of surveillance which pervades it is inadequate for addressing the root of far-right extremism. Elsewhere, Safya Khan Ruf and Joe Mulhall of HOPE not Hate write about how politicians continue to inflame tensions around immigration, despite its salience dropping dramatically in recent years. While concern may be increasingly marginal, a small but dangerous group of extremists – egged on by mainstream media and political leaders – pose ongoing and significant risks to asylum seekers and refugees seeking safety in the UK.

“There is nothing inevitable about the existence of far-right actors or the political conditions that engender their emergence”

Prof Daphne Halikiopoulou (University of Reading) and Dr Tim Vlandas (University of Oxford) draw on comprehensive multi-country

research to explore the emergence and increasing stronghold of right-wing populism in Europe. They suggest how a progressive politics might counter this – not through appeals to populist rhetoric – but through focusing instead on addressing economic inequalities. In another joint piece, Dr Aurelien Mondon (University of Bath) and Katy Brown, PhD student at the University of Bath, draw upon their research to write on the mainstreaming of the far right, proposing that there is an urgent need for more accountability for ‘agenda setters’.

Last, as a special article in this edition, we reprint C4 news lead presenter Krishnan Guru-Murthy’s speech from IPPR’s 2022 Oxford Media Convention. A comprehensive analysis of our media economy: covering trust in the media, the recent turn to ‘opinion led’ news broadcasting and the future of UK news, there is much here of relevance for how we can understand and deal with the threat of the far-right.


If there is a core message in this edition, it is that we must not collapse into ‘doomism’. There is nothing inevitable about the existence of far-right actors or the political conditions that engender their emergence. As progressives, we must continue the work of organising and coalition building across multiple spaces – from policy organisations to the media; grassroots activism to community building – resisting the destructive and fearful rhetoric of far-right extremism.

We hope this collection of essays can act as tools to inspire further reflection, critical discussion and action. Working together, we can counter the threat of far-right extremism and build salient alternatives. A better world is possible – we must not lose sight of that.

Anita Bhadani, Lucy Mort, Rachel Statham, Chris Thomas and Joshua Emden

Read this edition of the Progressive Review here.

  1. Carter R and Lowles N (2022) Fear and hope 2022: A realignment of identity politics, HOPE not Hate.

  2. Quilter-Pinner H, Statham R, Jennings W and Valgarðsson V (2021) Trust issues: Dealing with distrust in politics, IPPR.

  3. Patel P and Quilter-Pinner H (2022) Road to renewal: Elections, parties, and the case for renewing democracy, IPPR.

  4. Political donors, businesses, lobbying groups and the media are all seen as much more influential.

  5. Carter R and Lowles N (2022) Fear and hope 2022: A realignment of identity politics, HOPE not Hate.

  6. Shafak E (2020) How to stay sane in an age of division, Profile Books and Wellcome Collection.