9 november 2013, of populism

Policies are not always, or even usually, popular. Most are either unknown to or not really understood by most of the population. Successful politicians can explain and justify enough of what they are doing in terms of individual actions. The underpinning intellectual framework is rarely part of the immediate rational. This may seem, and indeed is, a rather elitist point of view. It is also a truism and a reason that politics across the western world seems to be coming so unstuck, as the waves of apathy that built up (or perhaps better ebbed away) in the better times turn now into waves of anger and anti-elitism with times more challenging. Although this political disconnect is most talked about in the european context, both as the "democratic deficit" in eu politics and the rise of anti-establishment parties across the continent (26 march 2011, let's ignore the rise of the right), it is most developed in the us, where a generation of populists with no need to heed sense have risen due to institutionalised gerrymandering that ensures pandering to extremes. It is also increasingly apparent in the uk, where the main opposition, labour, seems to be developing policies designed less with efficacy and outcomes in mind and more with passing popularity tests, which is not necessarily a bad strategy for winning elections, though not necessarily a winning one either. As in so many things, britain is out of kilter with most of the continent, in that there this populism is anchored on the right, railing against a broadly statist equilibrium (which can be stretched to angela merkel and the epp), whereas here the head of steam is building from the left with the right defending the establishment ramparts. Whether populism's rise succeeds in its revolution, on either side of the channel, depends more than anything on experienced economic recovery, as it is not religion but prosperity that is now the opium of the people. If there is enough of it around, the walls will probably remain intact, and despite pretenders to the contrary, there is little real sign of a joshua around, which if you read the actual story, is probably a good thing.