Ed Balls heads to Europe as part of a three-part BBC Two series, produced in partnership with The Open University, to discover why so many people are rejecting mainstream politics. On his travels, the former politician meets everyday voters to find out what’s behind this populist revolution – and the potential consequences for Europe’s future.
The first leg of his journey takes him to Holland – and the fishing towns of Den Helder and Scheveningen. Here he meets with two fishermen, Dirk and Willem. Dirk takes Ed out for a day of trawler fishing. In the Netherlands, the fishing industry is important to the country’s national identity. Ed hears how the impact of EU law around fishing practices has affected their business.
In Scheveningen, Willem shows Ed around the local fish factory and invites him to join his daily ritual: a bracing dip in the chilly North Sea. Willem tells Ed that he believes in a vision for Dutch politics which puts ‘Netherlands First’ and restores pride to the people of Holland.
With Willem’s words ringing in his ears, Ed journeys north in the country, to Ede, where he meets with Harold Veerwoert who is a ‘Black Pete’ actor and entertainer. Black Pete involves the Dutch daubing themselves in black paint to portray the helper of a Santa Claus-like figure called Sinterklaas. Despite finding the practice uncomfortable Ed attempts to learn more about this age-old tradition, which has come under fire for being akin to blackface and which, in recent years, campaigners have called for to be banned.
The second leg of Ed’s journey takes him to Spain where, unlike Holland, far-right populism is relatively new. In Andalucia, the Vox Party- the first far right party since the days of Franco to win seats in the parliament, is pledging to stand up for the controversial practice of bullfighting. Ed spends time with a famed local matador and his family to try to understand the communities who defend bullfighting.
Finally, Ed travels over the Mediterranean Sea to the tip of Morocco, to visit the Spanish enclave of Melilla, where he spends a shift with the local police, the Guardia Civil, whose responsibility it is to stop migrants jumping over the 11ft fence which separates Africa and Europe.
As Ed is faced with the issues which are influencing people’s move to populism, he reflects on the challenges that mainstream politics faces, and how politics must evolve.
Travels in Euroland with Ed Balls – Thursday at 9.00pm on BBC 2.