Politics and populism
26 February, 2021
Inconsistencies in the book Populism on Trial
• IF the review of Inigo Bing’s book Populism on Trial is accurate there are several inconsistencies in the thesis, (What lies beneath, Review, February 19).
For instance, he laments the, “erosion of an independent judiciary”, and cites Jacob Rees-Mogg’s attempt to prorogue parliament as an example of this, describing it as, “an attack on the role of the judiciary”.
Even if Rees-Mogg had intended it that way, it didn’t work because he was overruled by… the judiciary!
Referring to Boris Johnson’s election victory as “a populist takeover”, Bing declares that Johnson, “won by styling himself as a leader who somehow represented the people”. Name me one politician in the history of the world who hasn’t done that.
Bing wildly underestimates the depthless scepticism with which the public greet almost all political pronouncements, especially at election time.
He declares that “cherry-picked ideas are chosen to suit a pre-conceived opinion – examples being the EU debate”. Well that is certainly true but probably not in the way Bing intends.
The BBC, for example, has admitted that none of its Brexit coverage featured equal representation for both sides of the argument, Question Time being the most glaring example.
Problems arise when those Bing refers to as, “the bedrocks of society – elected legislatures, independent judges and a free press” (I would add the civil service and academia) come to regard themselves as superior to the rest of the population.
If anything “poisons the reservoir of social trust”, as Bing writes, it is the lofty, hectoring, tone adopted by the BBC and others that has delivered the poison.
Until and unless they adopt even-handed, intellectual rigour they will continue to haemorrhage good will and come to be regarded with ever increasing scorn.
He then falls into his own trap when describes populists as “harking back to an ill-defined period when Britain was seemingly a better place” and describes this as a lie.
If Bing is correct and Britain was a worse place in the past, who made it that way and who improved it subsequently?
Bing merely confirms what has always been the case, namely, that those comfy with the status quo have always been wary of the less than comfy who wish to change it. If they are “popular” (that is, there are a lot of them) all the more so.
Politics is the art of not pissing people off too much so that they don’t get fed up in the first place. It’s a lesson the great and the good never seem to learn.
MARTIN KENNEDY, W1