Back in 2008, an outsider politician took on the establishment. His pitch was simple, they don’t listen to you and they are in the pockets of Wall Street. They are the rich elite, serving the one percent while having long ago abandoned the pretense of caring about those who are struggling and the working class.
Despite being a long way behind in polls, despite being written off, a rousing speech in Iowa against the establishment, promising those hit hard by the recession hope and change. It proved a turning point in Barrack Obama’s campaign for the Democratic nomination against Hillary Clinton.
Eight years later and the DNC is surprised that the same people who’d been told Hillary was the establishment and was serving the one percent, didn’t change their minds and vote for her this time around either.
Populism. It’s a nice term. Has a patronising ring about it too. Seems like it’s only appealing to the uneducated voter, not the learned, they would never fall for it. Like the learned don’t read “popular fiction”, they read “literary fiction”.
Over the last twelve months we’ve seen several elections and a referendum. Populism has played a significant part in all results. There are common features to populism, but it’s too easy to ignore them because of the division between left and right.
When it’s Trump or Le Pen appealing on populism, it’s only appealing to old racists and uneducated. When it’s Corbyn or Sanders, they’re “galvanising” the youth. And it appears that there is some truth to that in terms vote demographics as opposed to motivations.
They all blamed the “establishment” whether it is the established political parties or those that hold influence over them. They all pointed to the current political system not working. They pointed to your woes, your struggles and more importantly, they offered solutions.
The best thing that happened to Corbyn was the leak of the draft manifesto. The leak was malicious, an attempt to ridicule Corbyn as an old out of touch Trotskyite.
Instead of mocking, people looked at the manifesto and thought it was pretty good. It had actual bone fide promises and deliverables. The Tories had little. Their promises were to look into social welfare, look into health care but only when re-elected. No substance, at least none that people could easily see.
Macron’s election and later majority shows that even the centre-right can take advantage of populism, especially when running against a far right populist. You can even create a new political party and still win.
The key is to understand that there are a lot of people out there who are not seeing the benefits of the recovery. Those who have been left a long way behind due to austerity. Those who aren’t working for financial, pharmaceutical or tech companies and aren’t seeing the benefits of globalism. They want hope, they want change.
They will follow a leader who can speak for them who can give them a solution. It looks like they’d prefer it if that promise didn’t involve the prospect of goose-stepping and mass deportations. But, you know, any port in a storm.
Then there’s Leo Varadkar.
Leo has decided to vilify the left and their supporters. He’s right from one perspective: they are a threat and are likely to be a threat in any election. But he’s now put him and his party exactly where everyone suspected they were: the establishment.
There’s a chance that this attack on the left will have similar consequences as Hillary’s “bucket of deplorables”. The disenfranchised have shown that they will turn up and vote against you when they are given a figurehead. Leo has set himself up as they perfect foil for anyone who wants to take up that mantle.
Who exactly is advising him? Has he read any analysis of the last 12 months? Or is this actually his idea of how populism works?
The left don’t have to respond, they don’t have to do anything except capitalise on Leo portraying himself and his party as the vindictive establishment.
The only thing standing in the way of the left (or any party) is concrete policies and a cohesive party. Which admittedly is a pretty big thing to not have and, unfortunately, they don’t.
Anyone could do this. The alliance of the left could come together under a new party.
The alternative is that one of the other parties takes up the mantle. But we’ve seen that it’s only ever effective for those who can show that they are “outsider” and underdogs. It’s an opportunity for the right too, in the spirit of Macron.
In a very turbulent year, we have seen that there is widespread disenfranchisement with the political class. The parties will always have their base, but that base is always small.
Their success is reliant on swinging voters and the youth staying at home. Now even the swing voters are looking for change and the youth seem to have got its act together.
It will probably need someone who isn’t currently part of the political world. But the opportunity is there if they want to take it. Leo has set it up perfectly for anyone to capitalise on this, if they want to.
I’m just worried nobody does want to.
Listtrade can be followed on Twitter: @listrade