Populism. Picture by Khalid.
From the way the newspapers are banging on about it, you'd think populism was some term of abuse. I suppose it is, if you're a some kind of media luvvie from Islington, or one of those posh pro-multiculturalist types from Primrose Hill, whose only experience of immigration is an occasional influx of foreign spices at their favourite up-market shops. These are people who think they should dictate to others what they should think about things. They tell us that mass-immigration is good for us, even though seventy per cent of us want tighter regulation and a tough border controls policy. They tell us what and what is not 'in our best interests.' So, to them, populism is an insult: the extolling of the knowledge and good sense of the people over that of the 'elites' is a direct challenge to their power.
But, for those Britons who claim no moral right to make decisions on behalf of others, who simply want their opinions to be listened to and respected, populism is about exactly that - the people. It is defined as 'political ideas and activities that are intended to represent ordinary people's needs and wishes.' In other words, if a vast majority of people want stricter immigration controls and a redefinition of our relationship with Europe to a trading zone only, who are the 'elites' to argue? The elites, in bygone ages, were the nobles, the aristocracy, who had a monopoly on the decision-making process. Now, however, they are the collection of parties gathered in Westminster, that have more in common with the honourable gentlemen on the opposite benches than they do with the man or woman on the street.
Whatever you think of 'populist issues,' it is impossible to deny that Parliament is out of step with the people's wishes. The electorate are not stupid. They know about things that government thinks above them; they see the impact of laws, and they see the effects of policies. The things that the narrow strand of opinion in Westminster debates upon have a very real impact on the lives of millions; yet, on everything from defence cuts to EU treaties they have consistently refused to act. It's far easier to call disaffected voters 'bigots' than it is to adequately address their concerns.
Populists seek to change that. It is not a strict ideology; it is not much of an ideology at all. It is the struggle between the people's wishes and what their rulers - elected or not - do. It is the belief that the electorate may be inconsistent. It may be over-opinionated. It may be misinformed. But it is never wrong. It is the belief that people are routinely wiser than their rulers: there is often more logic and rationality in the words of a man on the street than you can find in the Houses of Parliament. It is the belief that the people - and the people alone - should be the source of all public authority - executive and legislative - in a country, with their consent and approval the dual pillars of government.
It is not based on the instincts of the people. It is based on the experience of the people. Experience that, more often than not, those who make decisions on our behalf do not have. It is not far-right.It is not nationalist. It is not socialist. It is not anything. It is merely the collective response of people who have had enough.
As Nigel Farage says, people who want referendums are populists. People who want their elected governments to make law and policy are populists. People who support 'popular' issues - i.e. things that matter to the people - are populists. What, may I ask, makes listening to the people whose lives are affected by government policies - be they on immigration, Europe, or practically any other issue you can think of - automatically wrong?