Why populist figures have so much power

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Throughout much of the last few years, one sectiont of polls have proven decisively popular. They are the ‘don’t knows.’ When given a choice between two leaders, voters so often choose no one. It is a trendy claim to make that these times show a lamentable lack of trust in our leaders, and that we constantly are in need of new blood, an outsider, someone with ‘real life experience’, whatever that means. This feeling, which has always been present in all democracies, has of course given succour to the ‘people’s politicians’ that represent the views of ‘the people’, even if they are not actually elected. Much, too much, has been said about the rise of Donald Trump to the White House and Brexit, both themes many are bored and depressed about, as politicians dither over which directions better fit their own ambitions.

‘Career politicians’, who go straight from Oxbridge PPE to party HQ and then an MP, has fast become a term of insult. It may well be true that these people are therefore out of touch elitists who do not know the concerns of ‘ordinary people.’ The counter argument is that as well-drilled politicos they know every nook and cranny of Westminster and are therefore able to make the best decisions based on their judgement. Both these arguments beat the objective of the other. Politicians should not be anything or anyone, and different experiences are needed to govern different departments. It is simultaneously said that we need young and energetic talent also leaders who are experienced in life at the same time. Neither exist. There is no perfect leader, and the only ones that perceived as such are normally totalitarian dictators.

Theresa May is often cited as having a debt of empathy, unable to show any human touch, as was brutally displayed during the last election. In too little character with have her, too much and you’ve got Boris. You cannot really go in the middle. From our leaders we expect a mix of charm and seriousness, humour and strong-willed determination.

Populism is easily able to connect to the emotional side of anyone’s conscience, and sometimes is capable of exposing the hypocrisy of an ‘effete liberal elite.’ That said, we should always be cautious of any kind of identity politics, of generalising people’s character or different sections of society. In this country we have an astonishingly low trust and respect in our leaders, which fuels the massive support for not deciding. We have the same attitude of Henry Kissinger, in that ‘it’s a pity they can’t both lose.’ To change this, the path is no to refuse offending and investigating our leaders, but to stop putting them too quickly into different boxes. One doubtful word about trans rights, and you’re a transphobic fascist, one stray question of a democratic decision and you’re an enemy of the people. Populism always comes from this dissatisfaction and polarisation, which cannot be allowed to prevail. To start reclaiming a trust in politicians we might have to read past the headline and stop making such swift judgements.

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