Following voters to right is Sebastian Kurz’s strategy for success

Following voters to right is Sebastian Kurz’s strategy for success, by Bojan Pancevski.

The acrid smell of teargas saturated the air as an endless column of people from all corners of the world streamed across the border between Greece and Macedonia in August 2015.

It was there and then that ­Sebastian Kurz decided Europe’s migration policy had failed. Political leaders, he concluded, would need to seal the continent’s borders or risk being swept away by a populist uprising.

Three years after the ­migration crisis he describes as his political epiphany, Mr Kurz, now Chancellor of Austria and at 31 among the world’s youngest ­national leaders, has a simple recipe for Europe’s mainstream politicians seeking to halt the rise of anti-establishment groups: move to the right on issues such as ­migration. Don’t lecture your voters. Listen to them, even if you don’t like what they say. …

“If centrist parties face the challenges and start working for their people more efficiently, the ground for left- or right-wing populism will become less fertile,” he added in a nod to the political upheaval in Italy, where an unwieldy coalition of populist parties from the right and the left is forming a government. …

Mr Kurz doesn’t just want to close the borders to illegal ­migrants; asylum-seekers caught trying to cross the Mediterranean should be sent back, he says, and those who land should be ­deported to processing centres set up in third countries — a position that echoes Australia’s widely criticised policy of expelling would-be refugees to detention camps abroad.

Mr Kurz, who hails from a low-income family and lives in a small flat in a working-class area of ­Vienna, insists that some of the populists’ criticism of an “out-of-touch” political establishment is warranted.

“Many politicians are far ­removed from their own electorates and continue to make the mistake of ignoring their voters’ problems because they live in their own world,” he said. …

To underline his common touch, Mr Kurz flies economy and walks to work, a novelty in Austria, an affluent nation fond of ­hierarchy and decorum. On a ­recent Aeroflot flight to Moscow, he stood in line for the toilet ­behind children and the elderly.

The same conditions exist to varying degrees all over the West.

hat-tip Stephen Neil