Should We Fear Populism?

The first of two panel discussions in May on connected, contemporary issues to mark our 10th anniversary.

Populism seems to have become the political buzzward of the day – with many debating its meaning and merits. For example, in his New Year tweet, Labour’s Keir Starmer said: “Let’s hope 2019 is a year where long-established values of internationalism, cooperation and collaboration overcome populism across Europe and the World.” 

Starmer’s comment follows repeated concern over recent years about a rising tide of populism throughout the world – from Brexit to Trump, Turkey to Brazil, and across Europe – with his own party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, often included amongst the left-wing examples of that populist tide. 

However, rather than signal anything progressive, many commentators argue that, in practice, today’s populism is almost exclusively populist radical-right. Some even see it as a worrying portend to a “return to the 1930s” – motored by authoritarianism, and nativist and xenophobic prejudices. 

Others aren’t so negative. While critical of the directions it can go, the authors of a recent book on National Populism nevertheless see is as giving a voice to ordinary people who feel “neglected, even held in contempt, by increasingly distant and technocratic political and economic elites.”  And rather than being authoritarian, they say it actually reflects a demand for more democracy. 

So, what do we make of today’s populism? Are populist movements merely symptoms of an out-of-touch political order, reflecting a desire for democratic renewal? Or is populism a threat to liberal, democratic society, and something to “overcome”? 




Thursday 2 May 2019


Doors 6:45pm for 7pm start to 8.30pm




useful reading:

The problem with populism, Cas Mudde, Guardian,  17 February 2015

Us vs Them: The birth of populism, John B Judis, Guardian, 13 October 2016

Why not all populism is bad populism, Antonis Galanopoulos, Newsweek, 2 November 2016

In defence of populism, Desmond Fennell, Irish Times, 23 December 2016

Against populism, the centre must hold, Tony Blair, New York Times, 3 March 2017