Populists thrive when the Technocrats fail

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.

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2 thoughts on “Populists thrive when the Technocrats fail

  1. Scots Anorak says:

    Not sure that it’s absolutely correct to say that the SNP has only Nicola and Alex. Hitherto it’s usually only had a handful of MPs. I don’t know about all the candidates everywhere, but I do know that in East Dunbartonshire the SNP candidate is the former BBC political interviewer John Nicolson, who among his other achievements is a former world universities debating champion. He is unlikely to gum up when someone points a camera at him.

    People grow into the roles available to them, and it wouldn’t surprise me if the SNP turn out to have a good few effective debaters at Westminster who are a cut above the back-bench Scottish “Labour numpties” whom they replace. During the Referendum campaign, one of the best proponents of the Yes cause turned out to be Patrick Harvie of the Scottish Green Party, a tiny organisation at the time of which he was perhaps the only weel-kent face. How many more Scottish Greens might prove to be great communicators if they were elected? The SNP is now a party of 110,000 members. It would surely be surreal if they couldn’t find someone to hold their ground against the tiny clique who studied PPE at Oxford.

  2. fermaniard says:

    For politicians to provide vision they need to be able to project the right policies in the national interest. The trouble is, most if not all of them do not know how to project the right policies when they are very unpopular. The failure of democracy is not just about politicians but voters.
    What I would like to see is spending on the NHS slashed for the greater good of the Country. That would mean more people not being treated for their medical problems and some would even die.
    whichever way you cut it though, populism will eventually have to be ditched because the nation will not be able to tax higher or borrow any further.

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