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The role of populism in recent politics

Populism has played a major role in several recent political events: the Brexit vote in the UK, Trump’s election in the US and Marine Le Pen’s unsuccessful campaign in France have all used the rhetoric of putting power into the hands of the people, and rejecting ‘the establishment.’

Dr Jason Edwards, Lecturer in Politics discusses the impact of populism and what it tells us about the political stage globally in a new podcast, with further exploration of how populism thrives in the context of a quickening pace of politics in a blog.

He explains: “Populism seems like a reaction against neo-liberalism. But, in fact, in its most prominent contemporary form – that is, the populism of the authoritarian nationalist right – it follows the same relentless logic of commercialisation and de-politicisation.

A politics that promotes dissent, or even that calls for careful deliberation of important matters is routinely dismissed by populists. It promises instead to outdo the technocrats by providing quick and ‘simple’ solutions to what are deeply complex, and often intractable problems.”

Edwards also explores the role that populism is currently playing in the campaigns for the general election in the UK, saying both Labour and the Conservatives are employing populist tactics to appeal to the electorate. He points to the rise of support for populist ideas as a reaction against globalisation and feelings of a resultant loss of identity, as well as the continuing fall-out from the 2008 financial crash.

He elaborates on this, saying: “You have seen very clearly Theresa May adopting populist tropes in her approach towards Brexit... what she said about the European commission sounded like something Nigel Farage might say, and of course we more readily identify UKIP and Farageism - if there is such a thing – with those populist positions.”

He continues: “But don’t forget Labour. Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell and others in Labour quite consciously have tried to forge an idea of a left-wing populism that appeals to working people, ordinary people, but also has quite nationalist overtones. You can see that in the very half-hearted way Corbyn supported the Remain camp in the [European] referendum.

Many Labour MPs on the left, who want to make an appeal to their traditional working-class constituencies, actually quite often emphasise and stress the uniqueness of national identity or British identity. It’s there on the left as well, and that mirrors the way populism can be seen rising on the right and the left across Europe.”

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Published: 19 May 2017