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”?