The market for articles about populism is fairly saturated these days. However, I’ve noticed a rather sizeable gap. While everyone writes about Trump, Le Pen, Wilders and co., there seems to be a strange ignorance of the equally-concerning populist left. US President Trump receives ample scrutiny for rallies & rhetoric, but at the same time no-one seems all that bothered by Jeremy Corbyn’s appearance at Glastonbury this weekend. Thus, allow me to present to you an article on the other side of populism, and why you should be just as worried about it.
As a Brit, I would feel remiss in ignoring the elephant in the room that is Jeremy Corbyn. One can’t help but be impressed by his party’s unprecedented success in the recent general election. The future of British politics went from a sea of blue, to a mish-mash of weak leadership, unsteady coalitions, and the fear of the approaching demise of the Good Friday agreement in Northern Ireland (probably the only positive thing to come out of the Blair government), which has ensured relative stability from the Troubles of the past on the condition of equality between Republican and Unionist interests. All of this because of the unpredicted Corbyn-effect, which saw a stark rise in youth participation, and the creation of new faultlines between left and right, reminiscent of that which arose during the 2016 Presidential elections across the pond. While the left in the UK is busy rejoicing over its success, and the right tries to work out how it messed up what was supposed to be a shoe-in, no-one is considering Corbyn’s methods. His appeal to the youth through rallies and memes? The sudden solidification of his power as leader of the Labour party? While the left may not want to admit it, Corbyn has started to become the personification of populism.
Let’s rewind to 2016. In the run up to the American Presidential Election, discussion about the effect of Trump’s campaign strategies were taken incredibly seriously. What began as comedy about memes and rallies suddenly became serious political discourse, once the sheer significance of the role Trump’s magnetism and entertaining personality played in the election was realised. Following his success, we began to understand how the political battleground has shifted from kissing babies, shaking hands, and rational debate, to pictures on the internet, emotionally-driven speeches, and the mob mentality. Members of the left have been very vocal in criticising Trump for his populist, cult of personality approach to politics – and rightly so. Constant scrutiny of leaders and governments is crucial if we wish to avoid tyranny.
Fast forward to today, and the media is silent about Corbyn’s strikingly similar tactics. No one seems to care that someone who could very realistically become the Prime Minister is speaking at the largest music festival in the world. No one seems concerned that, like Trump, Corbyn is revered by his side as an almost infallible saviour. Corbyn’s strategies of appeals to emotion, rhetoric of ‘the people against the elite’, and use of Conservative stereotypes during speeches are archetypically populist.
Whether or not the rise of populism (on both the right and the left) is something to fear is very much down to personal preference, or so many people may believe. While the left (and many on the moderate right) view the success of Trump as a negative, many conservatives maintain a level of glee in their candidate’s success that borders on schadenfreude. An almost mirror image, the socialists of Britain are taking great pleasure in the relative success of Corbyn’s Labour, while the right and moderate left are understandably afraid of a return to the winter of discontent of the 1970s.
Regardless of your own political leanings, however, the popularity of both Trump and Corbyn is something we should all be deeply concerned about, purely because both leaders operate based on their own personalities and rhetoric, rather than on actual policy. Both are textbook examples of style over substance, and their support demonstrates a troubling willingness of the electorate to sign a carte-blanche of power over to the most likeable candidate, regardless of policies.
If you wish to take any message away from my small contribution to the mountainous coverage of populists, take this: trust no one, especially not politicians. While this message may seem extremely dated, it is all too easy today to become swept up in the magnetic personalities of populists, especially when they fall on your side of the political spectrum. But when it comes to populism, there’s really no difference between left and right. In short, if you were concerned about Trump’s rise to power, you should be just as concerned about Corbyn’s; the two are cut from the same cloth.
Picture: Creative Commons Andy Miah
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