Real populist politicians transcend left and right

If anyone ought to remain open minded about unpopular causes or ideas then a clergyman should.

By The Newsroom
Wednesday, 27th December 2017, 12:04 am
Updated Wednesday, 27th December 2017, 12:08 am
Morning View
Morning View

We expect ministers to be guided by what they consider to be the right thing to do, rather than the popular thing.

Therefore it is fitting that the Archbishop of Canterbury has tackled the political phenomenon that has come to be known as populism.

Populist politics can cause serious damage to democracies, because in its purist form politicians only do that which is popular with voters.

They fail to argue in favour of valid policies that are unpopular, the implementation of which might cost them votes in future elections.

By addressing this issue in his Christmas Day sermon, Justin Welby has given it some of the attention that it needs.

It is more problematic, however, if he is aiming his message mainly at US President Donald Trump.

If that is what Mr Welby was doing, then he did so obliquely, referring to “populist leaders that deceive” their people.

Some of Mr Trump’s conduct since he took over 11 months ago has been, to put it mildly, unattractive.

But the real populist is neither of the political left or political right. He flip flops between those wings issue by issue, depending on what is popular.

Therefore Jeremy Corbyn is not, for all his faults, a populist because he sticks to some very unpopular leftwing views. Indeed, that consistency won him many votes earlier this year.

And even Mr Trump holds to some unpopular views that are a core part of his world view. He does not represent the worst in populism, even though some of his comments are repugnant.

In Northern Ireland, we have our own issues with populism. Politicians across the divide call for vast public expenditure, but also seem fond of low taxes.

Those are popular views, but contradictory ones – not that populists ever admit as much.