by Peter Franklin
Tuesday, 3
November 2020
Spotted
07:00

The twilight of the populists?

All over the world, they are in retreat
by Peter Franklin
Credit: Getty

Look around the world and you see populist parties in retreat.

🇩🇰 In Denmark, the latest opinion poll shows the Danish People’s Party on just 5%. Only five years ago, they got 21% at the 2015 general election and became the largest party in government.

🇮🇹 In Italy, Matteo Salvini’s League continues to dribble away support and is now barely ahead of the centre-left Democrats (who replaced the League in the governing coalition).

🇦🇹 In Austria, the Freedom Party was one of the first populist parties to make a breakthrough in modern times. However, it’s now a shadow of its former self. The most recent blow was the Viennese State Election, at which it plummeted from second to fifth place and from 31% of the vote to just 7%.

🇳🇿 Meanwhile, in last month’s New Zealand general election, the New Zealand First party lost all of its seats — including that of its veteran leader, Winston Peters.

🇺🇸 Finally, we come to the USA and today’s Presidential election. According to the polls, Donald Trump is set to lose badly. A crushing defeat, if that’s what it proves to be, would surely mark an end to the great populist surge.

Or would it? With so many examples of populism on the slide, one could easily conclude that what we’re seeing across the western world is a generalised phenomenon. But beyond the impact of the Covid crisis on voter priorities, it’s important to distinguish local from global factors.

Thus in Denmark, the immigration-sceptic stance of the People’s Party has been absorbed into the political mainstream. As a party, it’s in retreat; but its agenda has triumphed.

In Italy, it’s more a case of one populist party fading while another — (in this case, the Brothers of Italy) surges. Incidentally, this is also what happened in the Netherlands: a newer bunch of populists (temporarily) drawing support away from an older outfit.

In Austria, the most important factor in Freedom Party’s downfall was the “Ibiza-gate” scandal. However, it’s worth remembering that the FPÖ has recovered from complete disarray before.

New Zealand First is another party known for its comebacks (they also lost all their seats in 2008). This time round, their downfall was a function of Jacinda Arden’s enormous popularity. They weren’t even in a position to win votes from those New Zealanders who don’t like the Labor leader. That’s because when Winston Peters held the balance of power following the 2017 general election, he decided to make Arden the PM instead of Bill English of the Nationals (who’d actually come a clear first).

As for Donald Trump, if he’s fired by the American people today, then he’s only got himself to blame. While his self-indulgence was unbelievable at the best of times, it became intolerable in a moment of crisis. I don’t know if he was simply unable to rise to the occasion, but he was certainly unwilling.

In short, there’s nothing inevitable about populist decline. In every country where it’s actually happening, there’s a very specific reason why. There is no general return to politics as usual and so the establishment parties should not rest easy.

In the tough years that lie ahead of us, the populists will still be around looking for their next chance.

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Nigel Clarke
Nigel Clarke
1 year ago

Hmmmm, another “writer” that thinks if he believes in something hard enough it is true.

Welcome to Kansas Peter.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
1 year ago
Reply to  Nigel Clarke

OK, show me some stats that support your view.

Simon Denis
Simon Denis
1 year ago

I suspect that the populist wave we have seen is simply a “fore-shock”, a “1905” so to speak. The “1917” will occur when the results of today’s mainstream policies have their fullest effect, of which recent events in Vienna and Avignon and Paris may well offer a sample. By then, of course, it will be impossible to do very much, but society will be split wide open all the same. This why Douglas Murray hopes for a “soft landing”, which is what we all hope for, from motives both altruistic and self-interested. But on current showing, we won’t be allowed to get it.

maps foderit
maps foderit
1 year ago
Reply to  Simon Denis

interesting take. i tend to agree.

do you think the underlying populist ‘us/them’ going on right now is based more on nationalism, economic, or cultural influences in the European theatre? (The US version has an entirely different signature)

I fear it will start with one and morph into the other – trending toward dogmatic fundamentalism as it propagates through a culture to those with less time to think about the details (ideas -> slogans).

FWIW, I believe this is the valid concern that the author is addressing under the hyperbole.

mf

polidoris ghost
polidoris ghost
1 year ago

“In the tough years that lie ahead of us, the populists will still be around looking for their next chance.”
And they will get chances – Plenty of chances.
You can’t cancel The Deplorables, Peter, as there are too many of them.
Irritating isn’t it?

maps foderit
maps foderit
1 year ago

If you are serious, I would ask you to define your chosen term ‘deplorables’ with a bit more depth for us all to better understand those you would wish to ‘cancel’.

if you are being snarky, it’s pretty subtle, but probably effective to the more savvy readers.

i honestly can’t tell which in this case, but I gather you are poking at Peter’s unapologetic smugness, but perhaps not, which would be quite telling.

mf

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
1 year ago
Reply to  maps foderit

Essentially, one is a ‘deplorable’ is one doesn’t worship global finance and Islam.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
1 year ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

How about ones that believes in Q Anon conspiracy theories?

Nick Whitehouse
Nick Whitehouse
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

You will have to ask Mrs Clinton about that.
She used the term to describe people who would not vote for her

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
1 year ago

Q Anon wasn’t around in 2016.
Feel free to answer the question.

Nick Whitehouse
Nick Whitehouse
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

I have answered. You may not agree with my answer, but it was very clear.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
1 year ago

As I can not (surely you know that) ask HC, can you please answer my question:
Are the Q Anon believers deplorable?
Yes or No ?

maps foderit
maps foderit
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

it seems you tend to paint with a fairly wide stroke, which at times can be useful, but most times … not.

i find the q-anon movement very interesting, given the people it seems to irritate most.

Are all of the Q-anon theories ‘conspiracy’? Are they even consistent or aligned in any definable way?

Is anything that widespread and amorphous that simple?

black and white is so easy

mf

maps foderit
maps foderit
1 year ago

As an intentional scanner of both core L/R news sources (figuring the truth is roughly in the centre), this is one of the more surreal reads I’ve seen a good while. Clearly Mr. Franklin favors a particular bias, and his certainty about some of the things he addresses is often quite amusing – at best. Branch out a bit, friend.

A fellow of interest that he likely abhors (Steve Bannon), distinguishes between geographical (and often race-based) populism, verses value-based populism (Bannon’s preference), and he nicely articulates why they are often inter-twined but quite distinct social forces. (obviously groups of like-minded folks converge and confirm in their respective geographies, but conversely, geography doesn’t inherently cause a particular sort of ‘mindedness’)

I believe most contemporary ‘populists’ (said without the usual accompanying sneer), attribute their attraction to their chosen tribes based on the behaviors and beliefs of their favored group, *not* the racial/physical attributes, as most folks that eschew populism would have you believe.

Do you love your country simply because of the earth it’s on or the prevailing color of its people? Or, do you love it because most of its people share your common values – things like good work ethics, and general co-respect for those around you, and a general belief in fair laws and their consistent enforcement?

The answer matters, and it’s important to appreciate which is being addressed, both when speaking of populism, and when reading articles like this.

best,
mf

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
1 year ago
Reply to  maps foderit

You don’t have a bias?

maps foderit
maps foderit
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

good lord

but of course i have bias

FWIW, can *you* tell me which version of the term ‘populism’ the Author is using? Physical, Ideological/cultural. or a mix? IF a mix, what ratio would you estimate?

A quest for a sustainable position having even the most minuscule level of sophistication isn’t possible by simply pretending half of the available information doesn’t exist, obscuring half the information, or being ignorant of half the information.

UnHerd has *many* great writers that acknowledge and consider *both* sides of contemporary issues, after which I look forward to seeing *and respecting* which side they choose to align themselves with. From my recent reads, I am quickly finding Peter is not one of these writers.

To my eye, he’s a brilliant study in propagating deception through omission or obfuscation, which is hardly a new or novel phenomena. That it’s so blatant impresses, almost to the point of parody.

What I’m trying to figure out now, is if this is intentional or just sloppy and/or lazy. One being far more reprehensible (but interesting) than the other, but both being equally weak in their effect on those who would apply even an iota of skeptical scrutiny to the given position.

Sadly, most readers won’t bother with the scrutiny and will simply use their willful blindness to generate their next hit of dopamine, feeling confirmed by the comfortable information rather than being challenged by a nuanced view of a complex situation. Then they’ll bookmark the writer as a new favorite.

The number of unqualified and comfortably arguable statements that are smuggled into the article, being presented as self-evident ‘givens’ is almost obscene, which makes me think the writer is being intentional in his effort to persuade in his usual way.

Enjoy your dopamine. I’ll move on to something more chewy.

best,
mf

Frederick B
Frederick B
1 year ago
Reply to  maps foderit

Perhaps I’m just a bit simple, but you seem to be vastly over-intellectuallising populism. It’s merely a form of politics which tilts to the left on economic issues and to the right on social issues. Easily recognized when you see it.

maps foderit
maps foderit
1 year ago
Reply to  Frederick B

keeping things simple is good in that it keeps them manageable.

That said, given that the term *has* taken on multiple dimensions, it’s valid to wonder how we should verify that the concepts being considered are the ones we think they are.

I suppose new terms are in order, but until they exist and are adopted, the ambiguity makes both the article and any coherent conclusion tough to assess, especially when you sense that the agenda has little to do with converging on truth.

I suppose I don’t see populism as simply as it used to be (the classic definition), and wonder what posture the article is using as its foundation. I see enough bias and BS wrapped around the points of merit to safely ask the question.

best,
mf

Nick Whitehouse
Nick Whitehouse
1 year ago

I hope not!
Surely by definition the party that wins the most votes is the most popular party.
It is called democracy.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
1 year ago

The biggest issue was, is and will be incompetence. Populist are incompetent. Sad but true.

P.S. One can argue that Danish PP are a victim of their own success; they have forced the mainstream parties (currently the Left is in power in DK) to embrace its position on immigration. So why vote for DPP when the mainstream parties can deliver the goods (even if they really don’t want to). If you can not get the original the copy is good enough.

Nigel Clarke
Nigel Clarke
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

Only a few years ago the “Populists” were the left. How times change…

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
1 year ago
Reply to  Nigel Clarke

The populists left has always existed; but the article is not about them. It is about the right.
Danish People Party, Front National have been around for much much longer time.

maps foderit
maps foderit
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

Populist are incompetent. Sad but true.

well thank goodness we’ve settled that affair. on to the next issue.

mf

Paul Savage
Paul Savage
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

“Populists are incompetent” What? Compared to the global establishment that walked headfirst into the 2008 credit crisis and then handled Covid so efficiently? The single unifying distinguishing characteristic of the global “anti populists” who run the world is their appallingly smug incompetence.

Don Gaughan
Don Gaughan
1 year ago

Aren’t populists defined as a democratic plurality of citizens seeking to replace an elitist regime?
The left have used to the term n a derogatory manner to oppose popular support for their rivals .They peddle the term.as a manipulative , truthless demagogue inciting and fooling the gullible when they gain support and power, but of course, the left accusers assume the mantle of the only real legitimate rulers when they gain popular support,with their fear mongering and dissent suppresion.
A leader who listens to their people and addresses the issues important to them for the benefit of all would be nice, whatever party he belongs to.

M Spahn
M Spahn
1 year ago

The key point is whether the shot across the bow was loud enough to rein in the open borders lunacy effectively. If it was, then the job is done, and the fade off of this or that party is irrelevant. If it wasn’t, then this is only a lull, and louder shots will be forthcoming – if not by the aforemention populist parties and movements, then by new and ever more effective ones.

Kevin Ryan
Kevin Ryan
1 year ago

We live, most readers of this, in modern Western democracies. Not only are our basic needs met, but we have functioning political systems, education, healthcare and the rule of law. Our politics has traditionally been, and should be, based around the centre. How much levels of taxation and spending should be tweaked to optimise life for the greatest number of citizens. The right pushing priorities more in one direction, and the left in another, but essentially around the same centre. We should have no room in our political sphere for simplistic populists of any kind. The quality of discourse feels like it’s at all time lows, with tribalism trumping rationality. Hopefully Trump not only gets beaten today, but gets trounced badly enough that the Republicans take a hard look at where alt-right has dragged them and return to being a more intelligent centrist party.

jimewson
jimewson
1 year ago
Reply to  Kevin Ryan

The delusion of a ‘centre ground’ persists……it does not exist because there has been a Gramscian revolution which has seen postmodernism embedded in all our institutions……

Kevin Ryan
Kevin Ryan
1 year ago
Reply to  jimewson

Spare me the hyperbole. A Joe Biden victory tomorrow will show that the centre is very much where the American left wants to be (unless you consider Joe a Marxist revolutionary).

Jean Fothers
Jean Fothers
1 year ago
Reply to  Kevin Ryan

Joe is nothing; he just has his strings pulled. A vote for Joe, is a return to Obarma and Clinton. More wars, more lies, more deceipt, more corruption.

bocalance
bocalance
1 year ago
Reply to  Kevin Ryan

TDR is a simplistic kind of populism, but its sufferers cannot see how radically simplistic it is and they are.

maps foderit
maps foderit
1 year ago
Reply to  Kevin Ryan

interesting, I wonder if the up/down votes reflect your first few sentences or the last few – so different in their nature.

as mentioned elsewhere, I wonder if the term ‘populist’ is being understood consistently across this discussion. While a agree that ‘simplistic populists’ are probably not a productive force, there are many collectives that gather under noble banners of many sorts that could be termed ‘populists’, which makes consistency of dialogue challenging.

I like the early sentiments of your note.

re: Trump and the ‘Right’ – regardless a reader’s leanings, the American election is hardly as simple as an alt-left/alt-right event as the mainstream (entertainment) media would really like us to continue to believe (picture big foam fingers and face-paint).

Roughly, I would propose that the recent surge in trump popularity reflects an undercurrent of tension between the mechanical need for institutional efficiencies (belt-tightening) and our deep-rooted primal/cultural desire to maintain personal discretion within the society. Efficiency is inherently undignified and impersonal.

While not ‘left’ in nature, this ‘trump’ movement really seems notably un-‘Right’ and un-radical to me in most of its signature (but yeah, if the right-leaning radicals are going to pick a side from the two choices, trump would obviously be it…).

Why the shift now? i would propose that as the debt-load burden resulting from the economic policies of the last 4+ decades ‘comes to roost’ (both parties spending and ‘kicking the can’), that the current institutional tightening that *must* occur is coming in the form of inherently dehumanizing efficiencies that are being forced upon a species and culture that has, to date, successfully established society where the participants have been both comfortable and successful while ‘not being a number’.

I believe trump’s offering is something along the lines of ‘human dignity’ and self-determination, rather than some specific (or even vague) right-leaning ideology. I believe biden’s offering is along the lines of a ‘lift you up, helping hand, get you going’ approach, but not realizing the dignity card for its need and value in the current political and ‘pandemic’ climate.

What concerns me about the current language and tenor of this election discussion, isn’t that one side or the other is preferred in ‘the race’ by each of us – heck, that’s what we do! – but that the ‘other’ side is so easily categorically discounted in the win/lose paradigm we so-worship.

Folks need to realize it is not some ‘trump’ or ‘biden’ that will be ‘trounced’ here, it is roughly 180 million people on each side that face being discounted as having meaningless wants and concerns – simply because there were a few more votes counted on the ‘other’ side.

And given a high percentage of participants on both sides have far more energy, capability, and intelligence than most of us will ever have makes a bet that one side will somehow ‘win’ in this situation a non-starter over the long-term.

That media companies, governments, corporations don’t seem to see the potential damage they create by fomenting this win/lose paradigm (so they can generate a few bucks more in ad-revenue before the whole mess implodes – taking them with it…) is mind-boggling.

I’ll wrap by proposing a radical idea to chew on: that the ‘centrists’ that are gravitating toward the ‘dignity’ offered by trump are virtually the same as the antifa ‘protesters’ fighting to destroy the ‘authoritarians’ in Portland Oregon every night for the last 3 months. The only difference being the centrists are still meaningfully connected to the society and community, whereas the antifa folks have either been cut off, or they’ve simply let go. Dignity is what we all want. How we acquire it varies with our situations and expectations.

The only way I see a win-win in the American election (or any like it) is if those that prevail will choose to at least dignify the validity and concerns of their counterparts. Given the mob-like religious fervor being stirred up by virtually all of today’s media machines, I’m not so optimistic that that’s how it will go.

best,

mf