The rise of anti-political establishment popularism

Monday 25 January 2016

The following is a quote from a leading figure in a hugely important upcoming national poll. The city in question has been removed:

“If you think (…) is fundamentally broken, that there is bipartisan corruption of career politicians in both parties that get in bed with the lobbyists and special interests and grow and grow and grow (…), and we need to take power out of (…) and back to ‘we the people’, that is what this campaign is all about!” (

You would be forgiven for thinking that the quote is from Nigel Farage talking about Brussels, but it is in fact Ted Cruz, the ultra-conservative Republican candidate for the upcoming U.S. presidential elections.

Cruz’s statement, and the firebrand popularism he represents, is akin to a tiger abhorring cruelty to chickens. It is ridiculous for this reason. Conservative (Republican) neoliberalism from Ronald Reagan onwards deregulated Wall Street and set it loose to feed like locusts on the U.S. economy, leading directly to the financial crash of 2008 that plunged the U.S. economy, the UK’s and Europe’s (a result of a sovereign debt crisis caused by the crash), along with most of the rest of the world, into deep recession.

By the same token, Nigel Farage’s popularism is just as harebrained, as his proposal to take Britain out of the EU removes the checks and balances that protects the British people from the political establishment, through laws protecting the quality of beaches, food regulation, workers’ rights and safety, and a multitude of others (all neo-liberal checks and balances that protects people from being exploited). His brand of popularism, hence, does exactly the opposite of what it says on the tin. Plain talking, opposite effects.

Popularism in these instances is all noise and no substance, or reality. Even if listened to, the electorate invariably ends up disillusioned and disappointed, until a process of renewal, and the same misguided, misdirected cycle of anti-political establishment popularism begins once again.

What is needed instead to solve the West’s chronic, destabilising neo-liberal marginalisation is a real leader with vision and conviction. Populist figures like Nigel Farage and Ted Cruz are not the answer. They are part of the problem, not the solution.

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