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What is Populism

(459 Posts)
whitewave Fri 06-Jan-17 17:31:47

About 2 years ago on here we mentioned the worrying rise of the populist right, and have gradually seen evidence of this with it culminating in the Trump election.

So I have been trying to get to grips and doing some reading to try to establish what exactly a populist party looks like and it's fundamental philosophies.

We know of populist party leaders:- Trump, Le Pen, Hoffer, Wilders and Farage amongst others.

Whilst they each represent a slightly different version, I think we can identify 3 main characteristics


Anti establishment because
It is a philosophy that emphasises faith in the wisdom and virtue of ordinary people as opposed to the "corrupt" establishment. There is a deep cynicism and resentment against the existing authorities

So you have

People -good
Elites - bad

Authoritarian because
It's leanings feature the personal power of one leader who is thought to reflect the will of the people

Nationalist/ xenophobic nationalism because
It tends to assume that people are a uniform whole, and favours mono-culturalism over multi-culturalism
Favours national self interest over international cooperation and development aid
Favours closed borders over the free flow of people and ideas, as well as capital, goods and labour
Finally favours Traditionalism over progressive liberal values.

So we have witnessed the rhetoric which seeks to stir up a potent mix of racial resentment, intolerance of multiculturalism, nationalist isolationism, misogyny and sexism. There is strong-man leadership and attack dog politics.

Populism therefore can be described as xenophobic authoritarianism.

Cherrytree59 Fri 06-Jan-17 17:49:24

I have read and understood what you have put forward.

Does that therefore mean a person who votes for a populace representative also displays those characteristics?
Or has the voter just been for want of a better word hoodwinked?

daphnedill Fri 06-Jan-17 17:55:55

The antithesis of populism can be found in Singapore. It is a democracy, because there are elections and society is supposedly based on meritocracy rather than a class system based on nobility. However, once people have cast their vote, they get little say and the government is autocratic. People have effectively made a decision about who governs them, but not how they are governed.

Populism seeks to do the opposite. The voting system in the UK means we choose our representatives from a limited list and then are supposed to trust them to do their best to represent their constituents. We know their stance on various issues (hopefully) and accept them as a complete package, so we might prefer somebody who supports gay marriage, although we don't like his/her stance on nationalisation.

Populism seeks to make MPs delegates, so they would have to go back to their constituents and seek their views on single issues and vote accordingly in debates, even if they thought that their constituents' views wouldn't be good for the country as a whole and didn't match their own beliefs.

When people lose confidence that experts and leaders have a better overview than they do, they will seek to make their voices heard, as happened with the referendum. We are now seeing a government reduced to the role of servants, as they attempt to negotiate something which many of them don't believe is good. Effectively, populists override the role of Parliament. Populism can result either from anarchy or be exploited by autocrats wishing to seize power without going through political processes. It's a breakdown in current processes and can descend into mob rule, a situation which has historically been exploited by dictators.

Ana Fri 06-Jan-17 17:56:32

And if so, is it because they're a bit dim, d'you think?

A bit xenophobic?

A bit traditionalist rather than 'progressive liberals'?

Here we go again...

daphnedill Fri 06-Jan-17 17:58:09

Just to clarify my second paragraph, which I explained badly. The UK does not currently have a populist system.

whitewave Fri 06-Jan-17 18:01:07

Well- both I think. There are undoubtedly voters who have always considered themselves supporters, but there has been a recent cultural change and change in attitude in certain groups, those famous left behinds. This doesn't mean that they are stupid or thick as undoubtedly the zeitgeist is very different from the post war progressive liberalism we all grew up in. Their world has changed and understandably they resent what they see as the knowledge society reaping all the benefit to their detriment.

whitewave Fri 06-Jan-17 18:04:41

My reply was to cherry

But no ana this is not about making perjoritive remarks about certain groups but trying to understand why the change has taken place in our life time from the centre politics which includes all three main parties to the populist parties we see today.

daphnedill Fri 06-Jan-17 18:06:22

No, I don't think they're a bit dim, although 50% of the population is, by defintion, of below average intelligence.

Since the end of WW2, we have supposedly had a consensus. Much has been written about the myth of consensus, but so long as people felt they were doing OK and better than previous generations, they haven't complained too much.

Since WW2, society has become more tolerant and liberal. I think most people thought that this was the consensus. They dismissed people who didn't go along with that view as curmudgeonly old gits. The demise of trade unions and 'traditional' communities has meant that people 'left behind' by globalisation have not had a stage for their voices to be heard.

There is some evidence that the median viewpoint has become more xenophobic over the last decade or so, therefore a populist on any issue might very well reflect that.


daphnedill Fri 06-Jan-17 18:07:16

x post whitewave. I think we're saying the same thing.

daphnedill Fri 06-Jan-17 18:08:25

* typo (omitted word) populist viewpoint

whitewave Fri 06-Jan-17 18:08:35

Yes for sure.

Ana Fri 06-Jan-17 18:09:51

I'll leave you to agree with each other then! hmm

daphnedill Fri 06-Jan-17 18:12:51

I think it's happening now, because Western society is under threat from globalisation. The world, as a whole, is changing and the usual response to that is to batten down the hatches. If you look back through history, social change and economic hardship have often been a catalyst for isolationism.

daphnedill Fri 06-Jan-17 18:13:32

Not at all, Ana. It's boring being in agreement. What are your views?

whitewave Fri 06-Jan-17 18:39:26

I think there are two main reasons for support for populist parties. The first is relatively easy to describe but I must confess I am still grappling with the second.
So the first I think is economic inequality.

Here we are largely talking about the less secure low waged, unskilled, long term unemployed, single parents, those reliant on welfare and poorer whites living in inner cities with a high level of immigrant communities.

These groups have experienced profound changes in work and society, especially in our post industrial economy.
So they've witnessed the rise of the knowledge economy, technological automation and the collapse of manufacturing. Unions have been emasculated, welfare shrinking and austerity as been experienced almost solely by these groups.

The result is that these groups resent the political classes who they see as supporting the wealthy elite.

They are therefore wide open and susceptible to the anti-establishment, nationalist,xenophobic scare mongering, exploited by the populist movements.

The only surprise is that we we so unprepared for this phenomenon.

POGS Fri 06-Jan-17 18:40:37

I openly admit to being unsure what Populism actually means, call me ignorant and I will not challenge you..

It does however seem to me the words Populist/Populism are quickly becoming yet another flipping way of trying to disparage people who oppose your views rather like calling people Racist/Xenophobic. The word Populist is being bandied about willy nilly because it suits those who use it to not have to clarify or explain why they use the word, it has become a form of clap trap speak.

If I look at this definition for example from Wikipedia I could think of Corbyn, The Unions , would I be mistaken?

'Populism is a political style of action that mobilizes a large alienated element of population against a government seen as controlled by an out-of-touch closed elite that acts on behalf of its own interests'.

The underlying ideology of the Populists can be left, right, or middle. Its goal is to unite the uncorrupt and the unsophisticated (the 'little man') against the corrupt dominant elites (usually the orthodox politicians) and their camp followers (usually the rich and the intellectuals). It is guided by the belief that political and social goals are best achieved by the direct actions of the masses. Although it comes into being where mainstream political institutions fail to deliver, there is no identifiable economic or social set of conditions that give rise to it, and it is not confined to any particular social class.[1]

Why is it always attributed to right wing politics?

I genuinely believe it is one word that has no finite definition or purpose and I would never use it personally as I find it's use lazy , tedious and not the smartest way to put a case forward during debate/discussion.

As I say I accept that's just my view but I am interested in reading posts from more academic brains on the subject than mine.

GracesGranMK2 Fri 06-Jan-17 18:40:37

This is fascinating Whitewave. Do put forward your thoughts on this Ana; as daphne says it makes for a more interesting discussion smile

I shall have to think about it - it's beautifully deep. I was just about to read an article titled "The new fault lines" all about 'divided Britain' they sight the division between 'closed vs open', 'city vs country', 'graduates vs non-graduates', owners vs renters, whites vs non-whites. I wonder if this will feed into your hypothesis. The graduates v non-graduates would work with your thoughts about not benefiting from the knowledge society but it could be wider than that.

bellsisabelle Fri 06-Jan-17 18:46:50

Surely we all know what populism is. Whether it's a good or a bad thing, has to depend on the circumstances, and what the populism involves.

If populism could have had a chance in Syria, then that would be good.

Right wing populism in the Western world is bad.

daphnedill Fri 06-Jan-17 18:46:57

I don't think it is always attributed to right-wing politics. It's not the case in countries such as Greece or Spain. However, in the UK, the left wing isn't very well organised, is fragmented and, crucially, our mainstream media tends to be right wing, so the public doesn't read much about it. Outsiders see the UK as a naturally conservative (with a small 'c' society), so maybe a lurch to the left would be too much.

Ana Fri 06-Jan-17 18:50:11

Oh dear, that old 'do tell us what your views are, Ana' - heard it all before.

Not big or clever!

whitewave Fri 06-Jan-17 18:52:03

pogs yes I think you are right, it isn't and shouldn't always be attached to right wing politics, it is unfortunate that I have named all right wingers, but I am sure you can think of a left wing movement that you could describe as populist.

The point inam trying to make is that populism has nothing to do with our mainstream political parties, so they are not Tory, Liberal or Labour and have very few of their characteristics apart from seeking election. But the mainstream are pluralist as far more democratic. But then .ook at the problem UKIP has trying to elect another leader and how Farage is still identified as the go to for opinions. Likewise look at Trump and his difficulties with the Republican Party, and the way the tea party has remained outside the mainstream.

bellsisabelle Fri 06-Jan-17 18:53:51

I like to think of this government, well, at least Theresa, as right wing with commonsense.

daphnedill Fri 06-Jan-17 18:54:09


Sorry. I was trying to encourage you to participate and not be put off that ww and I seemed to be dominating the first few posts. I won't bother in future.

It would actually be quite refreshing to have a sensible discussion with opposing views without the usual sniping.

Cherrytree59 Fri 06-Jan-17 18:54:59

I take it that you mean daphnedill adult population
But who measures the 'below average intelligence'?
Who sets the bar?
How is it measured?

In the event of being lost in the jungle I would prefer the company of an 'uneducated' friend who knew how to survive in that enviroment.
Than a so called intelliigent friend.

whitewave Fri 06-Jan-17 18:55:12

gracegran yes I do think we could say there are new divides, which have happened almost without us noticing we are on a big catch-up I think.