Chris Bickerton: Welcome to the Technopopulist future
The Cambridge professor has identified a new force in democratic politics
The pandemic has thrown traditional ideas about politics upside down. In a sense, it has been the ultimate triumph of the technocrats, with phrases like “following the science” and “trusting the experts” becoming commonplace; but notions like shutting national borders and moving governments onto a ‘war footing’ are more typically associated with the populist Right — it was Donald Trump who first shut the US borders, Modi in India implemented a swingeing lockdown early, and Boris Johnson’s government is, at least in theory, a populist one.
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Chris Bickerton, reader in Modern European Politics at Queen’s College Cambridge and sometime star of the Talking Politics podcast, has a book out which sees a pattern in this fusion of technocracy and populism: it’s called technopopulism. In this fascinating discussion tells Freddie Sayers all about it.
So is Boris Johnson a technopopulist?
Is Dominic Cummings an archetypal technopopulist?
On technopopulism as a ‘politics of truth’:
On the poor Covid debate about the science:
On experts going into politics:
On a problem-solving approach to politics:
Technocrats are acting like traditional technocrats and this is supposed to be new? There is nothing remarkable about our “expert” class thinking they know better than everyone else, trying to force everyone to do what they want, lying to get what they want, screwing up because they are really not that smart, and then shamelessly worrying about their reputation after the smoke has settled. From foreign policy and economics to public health and immigration, we have seen it many times before. They have always been a problem. Now there are many more of them, they have greater influence, and the standards for being an “expert” are lower than ever.
It used to be that politicians were elected as honest, transparent, hard-working representatives of the people. Expertise was NEVER a requirement as that was supposed to come from the civil service or, in exceptional circumstances from outside consultants.
The competence of politicians then came (if it came at all) from a combination of expert advice, populism and occasionally a vision of a better future.
However, somewhere along the line the politicians tended to lack vision ands pleasing the voters became far more important.
Later still, politicians realised they could please voters by relying more on experts and less on the civil service (who also lost any vision in favour of career in turn guaranteed by never making a mistake, ie never risking failire).
Best of all politicians could take credit for the success achieved through following expert advice while blaming the same experts for any failure: ie they couldn’t lose. Blaming civil servants was never allowed so experts are far more useful in that regard!
The final part of the jigsaw is of course the voters: less well read, less well informed (media no longer independent) and easy prey to psycologists and other manipulators like Cummings.
The end result? Democracy dies…
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