All cats have four legs; my dog has four legs; therefore my dog is a cat.
This looks like an obvious logical fallacy, yet increasingly across Europe (not least in the UK on 7 May) people are expected to fall for it.
Let us try it another way.
The economic orthodoxy caused a crash; I don’t support the economic orthodoxy; therefore anyone who opposes me supports the economic orthodoxy.
Increasingly proponents of “progressive change” – something I absolutely and unreservedly support, by the way – have become more shrill in their “Our progressive change or no progressive” demands. Be it building houses for £60,000 each, leaving the UK with no border control (or a mega-border control, depending on which populist you listen to), or even simply printing money and handing it to the poor, any hint of opposition to this specific “progressive change” is cast aside as “supporting the economic orthodoxy”.
It should be no surprise that supporters of “this progressive change” choose the articulate, savvy and stylish Nicola Sturgeon as their role model. Scotland has always produced far beyond its fair share of top-notch politicians and she is no exception (although, by the way, the SNP really only has one other in her league).
The problem is, of course, it is quite easy to talk about “scrapping Trident” (something with which I am sympathetic, by the way) or “opposing austerity” (here I am less sympathetic for the simple reason the term is nonsensical) when you do not have to do it. It is easier still when your opponents have not read up on your record. And it is easier still when they have no concrete vision of their own.
Therein lies the problem. Populists are able to get away with making their demands – some actually very sensible, others totally nonsensical – because the mainstream parties have no vision whatsoever. We are now through the first political generation of technocrat professional politicians with no real-world ideas whatsoever. Now that they have overseen a bust, we are into a second such generation, except the next one adds populism into the mix to the extent that some of the ideas it proposes (and gets support for) are self-contradictory or even outright dangerous.
What is striking is how little relation any of these politicians – populist or otherwise – have with real world. Even on hustings, we are predominantly watching a performance, with few politicians able to relate to the real world in any way whatsoever. Oh yes, we have to do lots more good things and far fewer bad things, they say, but when challenged on exactly how they have no concrete ideas which would work in the real world whatsoever.
When populism triumphs, democracy fails – because in the end it becomes all broken promises (think the LibDems’ populist position on tuition fees in England pre-2010). When democracy fails, all hell breaks loose. It is about time the mainstream parties found some real vision and maybe even some real people – and soon.