Tuesday, 6 December 2016

The Problem with Populism

People should be very wary of voting for single issue, populist parties. Populism revolves around a single issue - invariably grossly over-simplified, offering solutions having nothing to do with the problems, appealing to the lowest common denominator, utilising a scapegoat and consequently polarising opinion. Those who elect a populist government will have a range of views across the political spectrum on every issue outside of the one issue that unites them and hence 50% will be unhappy with the remaining policies (if any) of the party they voted for - policies that affect them on a day-to-day basis - transport, education, health, taxation, etc. Because of this such a party would effectively be paralysed if it wanted to govern and stay in power. You only have to look at the paradox of people who would naturally vote far left joining forces with right wing UKIP in pursuit of the single aim of Brexit. If that's not a recipe for complete disaster in other policy areas, then I don't know what is. Think NHS, for example - would a right-wing or left wing policy be followed?

The result can merely be a bit of inner city rioting or the political collapse of the government through a vote of no confidence, if there is indeed enough of an opposition in parliament to force a vote. In more extreme situations where there is no opposition, martial law can be imposed to regain some form of order and stability, with the attendant possibility of a dictatorship. 

Think of any popular revolution of consequence and it’s hard, if not impossible, to find an example where either a dictatorship or military rule did not follow. The French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, Cuba, the Iranian Revolution, countless examples in South America and Africa, the Arab Spring, even the English Civil War - none of it went particularly well. Furthermore, when you're in power through a popular revolt there's a tendency to paranoia in case there's another popular revolt against you once the realisation set in that half the people who voted for you don't agree with any of your other policies. Paranoia is the handmaiden of conspiracy theories and conspiracy theories facilitate all manner of human rights abuses in the name of stability and public order.

Like it or not, we need a political class experienced in politics and diplomacy and parties with joined-up policies across all areas of government, not just one-trick-ponies. Who can honestly say what the transport policy of UKIP is, or the education policy of the Greens without looking it up?

Popular uprisings invariably replace an allegedly 'corrupt elite' with another, yet more corrupt elite that becomes corrupted through having no previous experience of wielding power and no cohesive strategy beyond the single issue that got them into power in the first place.

Some pundits in the Brexit camp (particularly in the right wing press) are waxing lyrical about civil war if hard Brexit is not carried through, labelling all dissenters and the impartial judiciary as 'traitors' and trumpeting 'the will of the people' (more like the will of the baying mob that's been seduced by the demagogue). That, of course, is armchair rhetoric, but they're not far off the mark with the potential fallout from the consequences of a single issue party gaining power through cynical manipulation of the mob. For that reason, most referendums involving seismic shifts in policy tend toward the status quo, requiring a large majority of two thirds, or even three quarters, not a simple majority.

Baby and bathwater - caveat emptor!

1 comment:

  1. Big problem is that some will honestly think that the others are not only wrong but are mad, bad and dangerous to know. Your definition of Popularism - Pure versus Corrupt.