Populism’ is being discussed a lot.

The narrative tends to follow the same lines: globalisation has led to jobs being lost, mass immigration has changed the character of an area / country, populist politicians blame international companies and immigration and give simple solutions, blaming the wrong people. The working class have lost faith in traditional political parties and are angry. The support for populists is an emotional response.

And the answer is? .. to show people that there are no simple answers and talk up the benefits of immigration, to create a new ‘narrative’ that brings people back into the fold.

I think that this narrative misses a few fundamental points.

Firstly, people want their lives to improve and to feel more in control. Change is happening to them, it is not being initiated by them. So, let’s have fewer anthropological surveys and simply recognise that people want to be better off and have more control over their own lives as well as the direction of the country as a whole.

Secondly, global trade is central to more wealth creation. The negative effects are experienced in a concentrated way e.g. a factory closing and the benefits are experienced in a generalised way e.g. cheap TVs. So, let’s speed up and direct the replacement of the declining industries with new industries. Applications and products from nano tech, bio tech, graphene, shale gas extraction etc would create new jobs and generate wealth. People want well-paid jobs. They want their kids to have opportunities.

Thirdly, let’s recognise that populist politicians have no allegiance from people, they have simply filled a huge vacuum resulting from the failure of alternatives. Bemoaning populists is a displacement activity. Some self-reflection on the failure of establishment projects like the EU or the assumed authority of experts in driving policies would be a better use of time.

We would benefit from less anthropological style research into the motivations of Brexit voters and more self-reflection on why liberal politics is still unable to develop a new political approach that will gain mass popular appeal.

© Andy Shaw, 5th January 2017

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