Populism – What is It?

Posted on February 22, 2023

Before Brexit, I didn’t know much about populism. I had heard of it emerging in some South American or Eastern European countries but didn’t think it would rear its head in the UK again. I thought we got over all that shit when Moseley was interned by Churchill back in 1940.

So what is populism?

Well, it’s not as it sounds. A popular leader is not a populist. Don’t snigger or sneer, that’s genuinely what some people think it is. If you have never endured populism, it would be easy think it meant someone popular.

Simplistic Solutions

In laymen’s terms, populism is an ideology that promises to solve all of society’s problems with simplistic solutions and catchy slogans. It’s like a magical unicorn that promises to make everything better with just a wave of its glittery horn.

It is the perfect solution for those who want to appear as though they’re fighting for the people, while actually paying scant attention to detail. It’s like a political version of a snake oil salesman. It promises to cure all our ills, whilst secretly fleecing the public purse (ringing any bells yet?).

Champions of the Ignorant

All a populist needs to do is scream “Get Brexit Done” or “Take Back Control” a few times, and they are on the way to becoming a champion of the ignorant. They will happily ignore the fact that their slogans make absolutely no sense. That doesn’t matter when they pandering to the lowest common denominator. In British politics 35% of the vote is enough to get power, so a populist doesn’t even need a majority to get there.

Once a populist control the narrative, if anyone dares to question their motive, they are aggressively accused of being part of the “establishment” or the “deep state”. It doesn’t matter if populists have no evidence to back up their claims, there is an easy solution to that. Keep repeating slogans over and over until the masses believe them. It’s a bit like learning by rote. Get Brexit Done, Get Brexit Done, Get Brexit Done, Get Brexit Done, Get Brexit Done. I know people who voted Tory in 2019 because, in their own words, they wanted to Get Brexit Done. In fairness to the lying oaf, Johnson, it worked. He wasn’t worried about the chaos it would create.

Winning Power

In short, populism is the perfect way to sway the politically ignorant. It is a way win elections and gain power, without actually having to do anything of substance. Populists like Johnson or Trump, don’t bother with boring things like policy and nuance, they just rely on catchy slogans and empty promises? After all, who needs a functioning democracy when you have a populist leader who’s always right?

However, Populism is dangerous. It favours authoritarianism and undermines democracy. Populist leaders claim they speak on behalf of the “common people” while attacking political opponents. Lying is not a problem for a populist.

Undermining Institutions

This kind of rhetoric leads to the erosion of checks and balances and puts the concentration of power in the hands of the populist leader. Populist leaders then look to undermine or eliminate independent institutions, such as the judiciary, media, or the civil servants that keep a check on their power.

Populist policies such as Brexit are not based on evidence and are proven to be counterproductive, but they have been promoted using emotional appeals, impulse and simplistic slogans. This leads to policies that are harmful to the economy, the environment, or social cohesion.

Ultimately, populism is dangerous. It tends to promote a style of politics that is authoritarian, divisive, and ill-suited to addressing complex social issues.

It never ends well, so it makes me wonder why we are having to through it again?

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