One of the most prominent thoughts that has passed through my mind since the Brexit referendum in 2016 is, “Why is Nigel Farage still getting airtime?”. As UKIP leader, Farage achieved his ultimate goal when the UK voted to leave the EU. Yet, a year since the referendum, Farage, with seven failed attempts at becoming an MP under his belt, continues to make headlines.
Donald Trump's bold claim that Nigel Farage would be a great UK ambassador to the US, shows just how much power has been given to Farage. Indeed, UKIP, and similar far-right movements, have been legitimised by sensationalism. The recent meeting between Farage and the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) was yet another reminder of this.
The AfD are Europe’s next far-right threat. With the upcoming German elections, the anti-immigrant, far-right party hope to unsettle German politics and Merkel’s status quo. Farage claimed that the AfD’s accession to the Bundestag would be a “historic achievement”, and he’s not wrong.
The united Germany has never had a far-right party in their parliament, but, later this month, the AfD could be the first. Since the reunification of East and West Germany in 1990, the country has managed to fend off the far-right threat. Parties in Germany need to gain at least 5% of the vote to win seats in the parliament - in 2013, the AfD fell just short, with 4.7%.
As a sideline party whose favourite pastime is shouting far and wide about the threat of immigrants, the AfD have already managed to shift the national discourse to the right. Far-right protest groups have been active in Germany, most notably PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against The Islamification of the West). One of the most prominent fears is therefore what the AfD could manage to do were it to gain the 5% vote share needed to enter the parliament and provide opposition to what is looking to be Merkel’s fourth term as Chancellor.
Like any populist movement, the AfD ride the anti-establishment wave. Yet, by definition, their ascent into the Bundestag should nullify their anti-establishment platform as they would be entering the most physical manifestation of 'the establishment' that Germany has to offer.
To come this far, the AfD (much like Farage) have been sensationalised. Their chairwoman, Frauke Petry, has been profiled by domestic and international magazines alike, and their message of a politics of fear has been spread across the world. When one controversial member claimed earlier this year that Germany should do a 180 degree turn when it comes to remembering its war-time history, there was outrage, and rightly so. However this outrage fuelled the legitimisation of the threat, and, as such, bolstered the AfD's position as a true contender in the upcoming election.
That's why Farage’s visit to Germany and his speech to the AfD members is one of the most visible signs of the sensationalisation of the far-right. The appearance showed just how much power has been given to Farage, as he was able to present himself as the far-right voice of the UK. To the world, Farage is that voice, but only because he was made to be that way. Similarly, the AfD are currently a far-right voice for Germany, but, again, only because they are allowed to be.
Germany’s upcoming election and the subsequent formation of a new parliament will demonstrate whether this current far-right threat can manifest as much once it is truly legitimised, or whether it can only thrive when sensationalised.