by Ed West
Monday, 8
March 2021
Idea
09:39

The EU are the populists now

On vaccines, the bloc's disregard for norms is distinctly Trumpian
by Ed West
Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron and Ursula von der Leyen have had a norm-busting few months. Credit: Getty

To be a supporter of the European Union means almost by definition being opposed to populism. Whatever the differences between member-states and supporters, the EU is against the populists, whether the Trumpians and Brexiteers in the West, or Fidesz and PiS in the East.

Populism includes a number of characteristics but one of its major planks is an appeal to ordinary people, bypassing the political class, the technocrats, economists and so-called experts. Populism upholds the sovereignty and virtue of “the people” and is largely a response to the belief that members of the governing class put the interests of the economy and the global political system ahead of voters. Populism is a response to globalisation, in particular multiculturalism and growing diversity, but also the economic consequences of offshoring (US counties that lost jobs to China post-2001 went heavily for Trump).


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There is much to dislike about populism. Perhaps the worst characteristic, at least in the West, is a marked tendency to ignore norms and long-established rules, which are associated with those same career politicians they’re against. Trump was a true populist in this sense, appealing directly to voters, flattering their prejudices, belittling experts and crassly insulting foreigners.

That is what the EU is against, and that is why EU sympathisers have always been so keen to paint its opponent Boris Johnson as a populist, when he clearly isn’t (he’s popular with voters, but that’s another thing).

We may be dull and undemocratic, the EU argues, but we are grown up; we obey rules and procedures, and oppose the simplistic delusions, and most of all the most dangerous of simplistic delusions, nationalism.

And yet, if a year ago someone told you that, post-Brexit, one side would crudely invoke the Northern Ireland protocol because they’d screwed up vaccine procurement, surely the majority would have suggested Boris’s Britain.

If one were to predict which country’s leaders would have created panic about a safe vaccine because they had made a mess of ordering it, the obvious choices would have been Brazil, India or, had he won, Trump’s USA — not Germany, France and the EU.

If you were told that Italy had blocked shipments of vaccine to Australia for reasons of purely naked vaccine nationalism, you would naturally have assumed the country was now ruled by Salvini’s excitable radical Right, not a bunch of boring, centrist technocrats.

While populists trust “the people”, a core belief of anti-populists is that the voters are essentially easily fooled rubes, agitated by culture war non-issues to distract them from what really matters. And in this case they’ve been proved half-correct, since large numbers of Germans, Italians and French people have been convinced that the safe and effective AstraZenica vaccine is not worth taking.

Populist politicians tell lies, but it’s rare that their lies end up costing tens of thousands of lives. And if the EU’s raison d’être is to encourage good governance and political norms in the face of populist pressure, then what now is the point when they just routinely lie like this? Once these norms are broken, breaking them becomes the norm.

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Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
1 year ago

‘And yet, if a year ago someone told you that, post-Brexit, one side would crudely invoke the Northern Ireland protocol because they’d screwed up vaccine procurement, surely the majority would have suggested Boris’s Britain.’
Perhaps, but only because ‘the majority’ has not been aware that the EU has been screwing up for about 30 years now.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

“If one were to predict which country’s leaders would have created panic about a safe vaccine because they had made a mess of ordering it, the obvious choices would have been Brazil, India or, had he won, Trump’s USA”

Trump did ‘Operation Lightspeed’ bringing the vaccine to the world in record time, he was getting a million vaccinated a day and would have ramped it up exponentially if Biden had not stolen the election (and so claimed Trump’s amazing success for himself). That is the characteristic of anti-populists, they lie and lie because that is how they govern, against the will and benefit of the people. They divide the peoples to conquer so they may further globalism and the ultimate enslavement of the planet. (I respond in the style writers, like above, use to put down the leaders who try to serve their nations rather than the supra-national agenda, by labeling ‘Populist’ in a disdainful way)

daniel Earley
daniel Earley
1 year ago

“And if the EU’s raison d’être is to encourage good governance and political norms in the face of populist pressure”. No it isn’t, it’s to gain as much power as possible without the responsibility.

LUKE LOZE
LUKE LOZE
1 year ago
Reply to  daniel Earley

It’s original purpose was to organise western Europe to stop the spread of Communism and provide some united front. A few years later the French expressed concerns about a rearmed Germany who had invaded them 3 times in 80 years, so the Coal and Steel community was born.
Heseltine and others still speak of us being part of the EU to help contain Germany, it’s cynical politics – not wishy washy liberal dreams.

alancoles10
alancoles10
1 year ago
Reply to  LUKE LOZE

Heseltine a.k.a. Dog strangler

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago
Reply to  daniel Earley

The EU was a plan based on Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’ with some self appointed, semi divine leadership, with rights of high, low, and medium, justice, but with a less noble intention than Kurtz had. We just need a Marlow to get inside their camp and come out to reveal all.

Christopher Wheatley
Christopher Wheatley
1 year ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

I have every book by Conrad but it is difficult to like Marlow because he is so pedantic. In fact, Clive James once said that Conrad would have been truly great – apart from Marlow. But he only features big time in Lord Jim and Chance, I think. (from memory).
Why do you connect the EU with Heart of Darkness?

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
1 year ago

‘Youth’ depicts Marlow the protagonist as a young man, making his way East. Superb short story, recommend.

Duncan Hunter
Duncan Hunter
1 year ago

The horror! The horror!

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago
Reply to  Duncan Hunter

yes

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago

I don’t know, something about illegitimate power, cult of personality, and maybe I just envisioned Tusk and Junker sitting on a dais surrounded by a crazed mob of Gravy Train for life bureaucrats out to crush European culture, Nationalism, Patriotism, and replace it with some sort of human engineered globalist peoples. That sort of thing, because I grew up in Europe and UK, and it is not the place I left. I like Japan who love their culture, and want it to continue, rather than elites deciding Europe culture and people must be completely re-engineered. Did anyone vote for open borders? The social engineering is something the ruling individuals did on their own. That leaders could just take that power with no voter mandate is Kurtz like.

I thought Brexit a good idea.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
1 year ago

A dispiriting article that does nothing but sneer at we populists. Take this, for example:
‘There is much to dislike about populism. Perhaps the worst characteristic, at least in the West, is a marked tendency to ignore norms and long-established rules, which are associated with those same career politicians they’re against.’
No, the ignoring of those rules – which have done nothing for most people – is among the things to like about populism.
At least Ed West is correct in saying that the lies of populist politicians do not lead to the deaths of thousands, unlike the lies of conventional politicians when it comes to Iraq etc.

Last Jacobin
Last Jacobin
1 year ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Bolsanaro?

Christopher Wheatley
Christopher Wheatley
1 year ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

Not Fraser — but South America and, maybe, Africa are not good comparisons. If you see Brazil today as comparable to, say, Britain in WW1 – that would be an accurate comparison.

Last edited 1 year ago by Christopher Wheatley
Sean L
Sean L
1 year ago

“Norm”: not being an ethnic minority in one’s ancestral homeland. Only no British public figure has defended the right of Britons to their own land since Enoch Powell who in spite of that was no populist merely a patriot. Defending Powell today as a native is not only to be banished from public life but ‘cancelled’ in other respects, e.g. employment, bank account. At the same time race separatist and Jamaican folk hero Marcus Garvey is officially feted in England, even if assent is forbidden for members of the population from whom he sought separation namely native Europeans.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago
Reply to  Sean L

What happened to David Starkey still shocks me. I watch free Youtube for entertainment as streaming services are sick, stupid, and intentionally re-write history for political reasons and I dislike them. Starkeys stuff is really top class! The Monarchy series, 17 parts or so, Henry VIII, this was great, this is educated, it taught the past and origins, and I wonder if Starkey had to go as he still taught the truth of history. He was not destroyed for what his one line comment said, it was to shut down his wonderful output as it engendered pride in Britain, instead of shame, as required.

Christopher Wheatley
Christopher Wheatley
1 year ago

Not convinced. Anti-Populism is a stance which means, ‘I am clever and I don’t agree’. It means argument for ever and ever because there will always be someone who is cleverer, always another detail, another report.
If people fought, sometimes with their lives, to get the vote, how is it possible to disagree with them en masse? It is high time that politicians spoke to ordinary people and worried about their lives. It is arrogant just to steamroller something through, because you happen to believe it to be correct.
But the downside of this for UnHerd contributors is that woke seems to be popular at the moment – the rough with the smooth?

LUKE LOZE
LUKE LOZE
1 year ago

The woke are a small minority, but powerful. Of course they too play with slogans, lies & racism – but they’re the good guys.

The whole anti populist argument is warmed over anti-democratic arguments that should belong to a different era. People honestly claim that the modern world is ‘too complex’ for democracy, of course the people claiming this still intend to exercise power themselves. The same goes for free speech where those happy to muzzle others, presume that they’ll never be silenced.

I sometimes see the idiotic circular belief expressed that democracy can lead to dictatorships (often anti Brexit arguments). The choice is democracy & freedom with a risk of electing a authoritarian demogogue who removes democracy and freedoms. Or we remove democracy and freedoms, to protect us from the risk of someone else doing it?

It’s not as if the current anti-democrats are even using the one good argument against democracy – the individuals rights vs society. That’s the only intellectual puzzle around democracy – not the blatant power grab attempts by the likes of the quangos and the unelected.

Last edited 1 year ago by LUKE LOZE
Christopher Wheatley
Christopher Wheatley
1 year ago
Reply to  LUKE LOZE

– the individuals rights vs society. That’s the only intellectual puzzle around democracy –
I agree with the statement above but I don’t agree with some of your other thoughts. I don’t think that woke is a minority – a couple of years ago maybe but now I think it has taken over youth and youth is very important.
Today, young people are taught as a fact that racism was caused by white people and that they have to feel guilty. That is now in our system like the fact that the Earth orbits the Sun. It is a fact. A couple more years and it becomes the majority as older people die.
Today, we are taught that women are equal but they are only equal before the law, not necessarily in everyday life. So young women are pouncing on this and soon it will be the majority view as the older people die.
Other issues could be serious or just a fashion but fashion means majority for the moment.
I feel that contributors to UnHerd tend to dismiss wokism too easily, as if we just have to talk between ourselves and then we magically revert to normal.

Last edited 1 year ago by Christopher Wheatley
Ellie Gladiataurus
Ellie Gladiataurus
1 year ago
Reply to  LUKE LOZE

The woke most definitely are not the good guys. They are the beginnings of dictatorship, as they muzzle those who disagree with them. Many people have lost their livelihoods, because organisations are scared to be found, ‘not woke enough’.
The whole ‘woke’ thing is dangerous, scary, and a threat to our democratic way of life.

Last edited 1 year ago by Ellie Gladiataurus
Christopher Wheatley
Christopher Wheatley
1 year ago

He was using irony again. Bad habit.

LUKE LOZE
LUKE LOZE
1 year ago

But they honestly think that they are the good guys – despite being vile racists and liars.
These virtue signallers with their moral license are very dangerous because so many of them believe that they are good. Quite a few of them must experience the ‘Are we the bad guys’ Nazis moment (Mitchell and Webb).

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago

Rider Haggard wrote the most memorable parable of wokism, that knowing of what wrongness is in a persons heart, and using that to destroy them as a tool of suppression and thus conquering in his great book. King Solomon’s Mines’. The witch Trial:, google it for some beautiful writing and evocative scenes. (always loved Google and Gagool, that ultimate font of all dark knowlage, being almost the same word)

“”It is so, my lords. Alas! the land cries out because of his cruelties. To-night ye shall see. It is the great witch-hunt, and many will be smelt out as wizards and slain. No man’s life is safe. If the king covets a man’s cattle, or a man’s wife, or if he fears a man that he should excite a rebellion against him, then Gagool, whom ye saw, or some of the witch-finding women whom she has taught, will smell that man out as a wizard, and he will be killed. Many must die before the moon grows pale to-night.”

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
1 year ago

Woke is not remotely popular. For instance, 72% of Americans disagree with Disney’s firing of Gena Carano for expressing conservative views.
Few, if any, totalitarian belief systems are ever genuinely ‘popular’. But they attract a combination of those who seek power over others, and those misfits who can’t quite get along in society. Add the fuel of fawning, left-wing mainstream media coverage and you have supposed popularity and ‘woke’.

Christopher Wheatley
Christopher Wheatley
1 year ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

If woke is not popular, why do we spend so much time arguing about it? It is there, in schools. You can take any opinion poll you like but woke is taking over and fast. Don’t assume that I am in favour – my point is that belittling it makes it stronger.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Trotsky, that creator of the Liberal Left methods, perfected the method how a small, but determined and ruthless, minority can dominate a large group of unsure and passive people, the tool is ‘Entryism’, a remarkably simple system which has handed the West to the radicals. Labour perfected this scheme with its 3 pound membership to elevate the Mad Marxist Corbyn to leadership.

Christopher Wheatley
Christopher Wheatley
1 year ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

So, how does that help in a practical sense?

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago

Because Entryism is the tool a small determined faction, say at a University, student body or faculty, use to take control of the body and exercise their power over the entire institution although their policy and numbers are unpopular and few. ‘ENTRYISM’ is the most important political word no one has heard of. To learn how it works is the only way to resist its pernicious effects. The ‘French Turn’ was an old word for it.

Do you know the history of ‘Militant Tendencies’, crushed under Foote as too radical, but now reserected as ‘Momentum’. Not understanding entryism means you could not understand how those worked.

Christopher Wheatley
Christopher Wheatley
1 year ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

I understand your words but I think you are out of date. You focus on academics (the latest spotlight has been on the University of Leicester as well as many campuses in The US) but woke is not new – only the use of the name in the UK is new(ish).
As I’m sure you know, woke is the active side of Postmodernism which has been around for about 30 years. The actions today are a sign of those academics making ground in the real world. As I said above, the school curriculum already involves the teaching of guilt in the primary years.
I am saying these things because I think that the constant belittling of woke, the name calling, the not taking it seriously – is making it easy to push it into place. It can be shown that the only resistance is a lot of old men ‘who just don’t understand’. It can only be fought on a step-by-step, hand-to-hand basis.

J Bryant
J Bryant
1 year ago

I am saying these things because I think that the constant belittling of woke, the name calling, the not taking it seriously – is making it easy to push it into place. It can be shown that the only resistance is a lot of old men ‘who just don’t understand’. It can only be fought on a step-by-step, hand-to-hand basis.
Agreed. I still struggle to take this extreme left-wing ideology seriously. My instinct is to treat it as a niche movement centered in university liberal arts departments. But it has now permeated the entire educational system from kindergarten up, and it seems much of the bureaucracy of government openly supports it as well as the mainstream media and the companies that provide most internet content. We have no choice but to take it seriously and fight it by doing more than complaining on sites like Unherd.
I think your phrase “step-by-step” is key. There’s probably no overarching strategy to deal with this problem. Manifestations of these extreme ideologies must be challenged individually wherever they occur.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago

Postmodernism was more of a jeering, belittling way of fighting. (which by the way is how Christianity was destroyed in the West, by making it seem embarrassing and foolish, and that is a powerful way to attack)

Wokeism would be the militant arm of Postmodernism, it is out to destroy anyone not willing to go along.

I think postmodernism really came out of the Nihilism of post WWI. Orwell, CS Lewis, Ian Flemming all wrote of this jeering banter of parody and irony of what is Classically British and how the Public School children were trained to think it the height of wit and sophistication.

Antonino Ioviero
Antonino Ioviero
1 year ago

Something I dislike is the mention of “norms” without saying what they actually are so they could be examined and discussed as to their worth.

I could mention at least one long-standing democratic norm that was trashed by the political establishment when it proved highly inconvenient.

Jerry Jay Carroll
Jerry Jay Carroll
1 year ago

Would someone tell me why so many articles in the DT have a gratuitous slag at Trump? He even came up today in a story about Prince Harry and the Princess of Humbug. There is a near-zombie in the White House now; surely some wit can be sharpened on this sorry specimen.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago

JP Sears is someone who gives a different picture, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xH9XWNz0GW4 an odd guy, a Vegan Lifestyle Coach turned stand up comedian who does right wing humour.

Nigel Clarke
Nigel Clarke
1 year ago

F****** Ed West again, whining about us plebs who he just cannot understand, but tries ever so hard to. He’s a bit like the drunken man who swears he is sober, whilst tottering about bumping in to things
For most of my life the Left were the populists, and then all of a sudden in 2015 populism became a thing of the extreme (sic) right. Why? Discuss (not you Ed…)

Last edited 1 year ago by Nigel Clarke
Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
1 year ago
Reply to  Nigel Clarke

Yes, he’s pretty awful, isn’t he?

LUKE LOZE
LUKE LOZE
1 year ago

The US/UK have by world standards very stable/bland government, Trump would be a fairly normal/moderate type of leader in Italy, France, Scotland or Spain. Look at Macron and his mixture of petty nationalism and outright lies over vaccines. Look at the SNP at the moment, every bit as bad as Victor Orban. Look at Junker, Barnier & 1000 others for EU level idiocy.

I’m no silly nationalist, I think some Europeans do certain things far better than the UK, however as the vaccine debacle has shown to all but the most blind – they’re far from perfect. Sometimes we’re the grown ups.

Charles Lawton
Charles Lawton
1 year ago
Reply to  LUKE LOZE

From a business perspective I think the EU mentality over vaccine procurement has more in common with big corporation procurement; which in my experience comes from US big business. “If we buy lots, we get it much cheaper and we will control the supply”
From what I understand the price of the AZ Oxford vaccine paid by the EU was similar to the price paid by the UK only that to arrange a pan EU contract took 2 months longer.
The UK on the other hand will be shown to have vastly overspent on excess multiple vaccines, duff PPE and little used “Nightingale Hospitals” when the NAO issue their report in a few years time.
There are many lessons to be learnt from the pandemic, however, I think the EU are as ever, individually populist with a small p Macron needs to be re-elected, Merkel is going but wants her legacy left intact and Von Der Leyen wants to survive as Commission President beyond 2021.

LUKE LOZE
LUKE LOZE
1 year ago
Reply to  Charles Lawton

I don’t think the UK has ‘vastly’ overspent on multiple vaccines. The vaccines were all unknowns when committed too – and most will be used. Vaccines are also exceptionally cheap compared to hospital treatment or shutting down the economy. The gamble on vaccines early was very sensible.

Otherwise our pandemic response has been shambolic, slightly pack leading in a largely poor European response – our leadership probably more related to our general poor health/obesity than any particular actions.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
1 year ago
Reply to  LUKE LOZE

Good point about the SNP, a populist-nationalist party if ever there was one.

Sidney Falco
Sidney Falco
1 year ago

Populist politicians tell lies”
Do they?

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
1 year ago

Populist is simply a word that disgruntled politicians use to describe other politicians who, annoyingly, are more popular than they are.

Dave H
Dave H
1 year ago

Through all the sneering, populism actually sounds good here – politics that responds to the populace.

Western politics has too often tried to shepherd its people toward what’s good for them, meanwhile holding back changes that they actually want or need. Politicians tinker at the edges, change a few parameters here and there, and then ask to be celebrated as revolutionary. It’s no wonder that when real change is promised a lot of people jump at it.

Quentin Vole
Quentin Vole
1 year ago

It’s another one of those pesky irregular adjectives:
I have a democratic mandate.
You are a populist.
He is a rabble-rouser.

Last edited 1 year ago by Quentin Vole
jill dowling
jill dowling
1 year ago

What is the definition of a politician that is not populist? How do they get into power if they and their policies are not popular? You say populism is different to popular – please explain. Should I vote for a party that I find unappealing but tells me that they know what’s best for me and I shouldn’t worry myself as to how I am governed, they are the experts? But that sounds like a dictatorship? Help me out here Tom.

Last edited 1 year ago by jill dowling
Seb Dakin
Seb Dakin
1 year ago

So you describe as a populist someone who thinks that global elites put their interests (global political system, economy) first, above those of the people who they in moments of honesty describe as eg. the deplorables.
How would you describe someone who doesn’t think that? Naïve is the kindest of the words that spring to mind.

Derek M
Derek M
1 year ago

I wish Mr West would stop claiming to be conservative, he isn’t

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
1 year ago

“If one were to predict which country’s leaders would have created panic about a safe vaccine because they had made a mess of ordering it, the obvious choices would have been Brazil, India or, had he won, Trump’s USA”
Not if you knew anything about the US, you wouldn’t. In fact, it was the US anti-Trump media who banged on for nearly a year about how Trump was pressuring the CDC to do something rash to pump out a vaccine for political purposes. We still have people who won’t take the vaccine today due to that very real media behavior.