Christmas Competition: Taking On the Demagogues

We seem to be in an age of populists – from Brexiteers in the UK to authoritarian voices in parts of Europe and beyond, to Donald Trump in the US. Wherever there is a problem, there’s someone to blame, and it’s usually minority groups and the vulnerable – those with the quietest voices – that get blamed.

This development has potentially dangerous consequences – populist leaders fomenting an atmosphere of distrust, resentment, and hatred. At home politicians and newspapers see “traitors”, “saboteurs”, “enemies of the people” and little green men hiding under the bed. We all know where this can lead. “Ordinary”, “hard-working” people whom populists claim to represent only get to have their say once – then the barriers go up, dissent is silenced or drowned out by all-dominant official media (or government-friendly oligarchs buying media space); human rights disregarded and power abused and corrupted. Liberals, people of a broadly liberal outlook, are getting thoroughly sick of all this mean-spirited grumpiness and nastiness. Their stomach-churning rhetoric serves to remind us why we are liberals.

We cannot necessarily blame “technology” or “social media” for this malaise – populist demagoguery has driveled out of traditional outlets such as the Sun, the Mail, the Express and Fox News for decades.

One way to deal with this nonsense is to expose the inconsistency of populist rhetoric. For example, we are told that on the one hand, that there are not enough jobs for British people because of too much immigration. However, weren’t those same media outlets and politicians telling us that there are ‘plenty of jobs out there’ and anyone who’s unemployed is either deliberately shirking, or just not looking hard enough? They are appealing to different audiences – they need to be called out for their hypocrisy.

Populists claim to be against the “elite” – but the elite are just people who are the best at what they do. So “the people” don’t want the best doctors, teachers, footballers, engineers etc.? And we don’t want to be the best country in the world? (That would make us an elite among nations). Let’s just be a nation of mediocrity. Anyway, these so-called anti-elites are often quite well of themselves, and their policy solutions (like a no-deal Brexit) would hurt the people they’re pretending to represent.

With several years of austerity, insecurity, lack of affordable housing and low wages for large numbers of people, there is much justifiable anger out there – but it needs to be redirected towards the real causes and to offer radical (but also practical) solutions, instead of innocent people being blamed and dehumanised. For too long, we have lazily accepted all the pitfalls of globalisation as “inevitable”, telling people to catch up or get left behind in the “global race”. That is why populism has established a foothold. If an intervention can be seen as helpful and just, the markets would not necessarily punish it, especially if there is international action by governments working together.

We need to sell a message of hope and at the same time tell the loud-mouthed demagogues to lighten up, get a life, and stop wrapping up their hateful ideology in patriotic flags.

Inspired? Find out more about our Christmas competition and how you can enter here.

* I am a member of East Devon Liberal Democrats and attend federal conferences. I was a district councillor from 2003-2007 and Exmouth Town councillor 1999-2007.

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  • Richard Underhill 14th Dec '18 - 11:29am

    After the result of the Tory leadership election Rees-Mogg (son of Rees-Mogg) demonstrated pure hatred in an interview. Clearly his attempt to be the power behind the throne had failed. He is not a Minister and therefore cannot be sacked. He has not done anything, yet, to cause him to lose the Conservative whip (unlike Peter Bone who had announced shakily that he had to attend a meeting with the chief whip). The Tory ERG group had tried to demonstrate their power by writing letters to the chairman of the 1922 committee, but failed to deliver their target of 48 letters. They admitted that some of their number had changed their minds about denouncing the PM, that letters which had been sent could be withdrawn, that not all the rebels wanted their actions to be publicly known, etc. One who was willing to go public was Bill Cash (one of John Major’s “bastards” and other wise known for his ability to “bore for England” on the EU). The ERG still failed to reach the target and thereby failed to control the timing when the threshold of 48 letters was eventually reached. Those who had sent letters must have identified themselves as being current Tory MPs and were asked by text message whether they still felt the same way. Rees-Mogg likes to quote ancient sayings as if they were precedents. He should remember the old saying that “treason never prospers because if it succeeds none dare call it treason”. He should be invited to help with air quality in Ulan Bator while paying his own expenses and denied pairing.

  • Sandra Hammett 14th Dec '18 - 1:58pm

    Pendulum Theory. You don’t fight the fire of demagogue with direct opposition, taking the clearly defined ground on the other end of the scale. Neither should your actions be appeasement.
    You progress and elevate society beyond the base fears and methods of the demagogues and autocrats by undermining them with moderation and balance. To do otherwise you make yourself just as reactionary as they are.

  • Peter Hirst 15th Dec '18 - 5:18pm

    The downside of populism is it looks for villains when in truth it is the process that is at fault, not people. It is human nature to look for someone to blame. Politicians must and do to a large extent rise above this mentality at least in public.

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