Leo And The Art Of Populism



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.

In the words of the Gibb brothers “I started a joke, which started the whole world crying. But I didn’t see that the joke was on me, oh no.” (I prefer the Faith No More version)

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.


Dear God.

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


12 thoughts on “Leo And The Art Of Populism

  1. observer

    The alliance of the left could come together under a new party.

    Yes. They could.

    Considering that a few lines previous the author expresses their befuddlement at how out of touch other political analysts are compared to themselves, to then write this suggests a complete ignorance of the last 100 years of Irish politics.

  2. Happy Molloy

    well they already had a chance to come together, and did come together, in the right 2 change movement stemming from the right 2 water movement.

    Funny thing is when a set of principles were sought to be agreed upon for the election they all fell apart with the gathering who are now called solidarity stating that they wouldn’t support the movement if they went to government but they wouldn’t oppose it. There seems to be a lot a factions in the left who are too politically immature to learn how to compromise and fulfill some of their goals rather than all or nothing. There seems to have been a regression after Joe Higgins, the rest of the groups are all newer and trying harder. would be good to see them get it together.

    as for the column listrade, some interesting thoughts. let’s see how it goes.

      1. nellyb

        there is compromise and there is normalized corruption. at this point corruption is accepted as normal way of life, people genuinely struggle to tell one from another.
        In that irish politicians are as successful as the russian ones – corruption is cemented top to bottom, everyone is gaslighted and rendered impotent.

        1. Serval

          People struggle to tell corruption from non-corruption because the media won’t do their job and point out when a politician is lying. They allow politicians to lie instead of publicly humiliating them with facts.
          Of course, the journalists are afraid that if they are too mean to politicians then they will lose access to interviewing them – thus rendering themselves unimportant (in their own heads).


        2. Rob_G

          “In that irish politicians are as successful as the russian ones – corruption is cemented top to bottom”

          that is such a silly and self-evidently untrue statement; yes, there is corruption in Ireland, and yes, any corruption is bad and we should strive to eradicate it further, but to compare corruption in Ireland in the same breath as corruption in Russia is laughable.

  3. nellyb

    thanks Listrade, enjoyed it. You called Macron centre-right (which he probably is in France), but if he showed up with his platform and aspirations in Ireland, Leo would have screamed ‘Red scare!’ and locked himself in a bomb shelter wtih Joseph McCarthy’s portrait on the wall. Fine Gael is a weird bunch. Out of time, out of touch, out of mind…

  4. I'm "alright" Jack. Mad Jack is on annual leave.

    This is awful rubbish. There’s no ideological voters in Ireland relative to France or any other real country.
    So what Leo is doing is appealing to the lowest common Joe Sixpack or Breakfast Roll Man denominator.
    Should work really well for him.

  5. Termagant

    Populism is great. I love populism. The problem with populism is when there’s dishonesty at its heart, when it’s just a campaign ploy, but even a chocolate cake can be a bad thing when there’s poo in the middle. On the other hand I believe the purpose of government is to serve the people, even at the expense their own personal agendas, so fupp me, right?

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