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A Nation In The Grip Of Populism... Yet Again

30/06/2017 11:26

Just over three weeks ago we as a nation witnessed an extraordinary election. A hung parliament and a weakened Conservative Prime Minister, combined with an unexpected rise in support for the Labour Party was the apparent, take-away result. More deeply however this election epitomised a manifestation of anger against the system. An anger that we have seen before.

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Above: Jeremy Corbyn on the campaign trail. Corbyn has very much come from nowhere and is now a force to be reckoned with. Photo Credit: Andy Miah, Flickr.

Although controversial to say I believe that Jeremy Corbyn tapped into what a certain Nigel Farage has done previously. Both undoubtedly offer different visions of Britain in terms of policy and values yet what is without a doubt is that many UKIP voters were the ones to take the Labour Party above 40% of the vote in the 2017 General Election, whilst the desire to push through Brexit brought the Tories 42.3% of the popular vote. It is crucial to note that in any other election, a winning party receiving either of these vote shares would result in a landslide for that party. The result of June 8th illustrated however that this was not 'any other election.'

I do not believe that politics can be painted as so black and white to state that there has simply been a rise in support of right-wing politics and now the left is just fighting back (although there may be an aspect of this in the results we have seen). In fact it has been a major rise of populism, an appeal to the "common man" against a so called "elite", and the issues directly affecting said 'common man', that has been the key to the Brexit result and the most recent general election result. UKIP voters were coupled with a mass popular student based support to the benefit of Labour in this past election. On paper these are two vastly different groups of people so they must share something in common for many of them to now be voting the same way. And what is it that both groups share? A major sense of disenfranchisement from a system that they have both felt does not represent their interests.

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Above: Nigel Farage. Farage has also had a major impact on British politics. Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore, Flickr.

Many people who had never voted before turned out to vote for Brexit, and the same can be said of many whom turned out to vote for the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn. As Corbyn went around the country rousing the masses this year and Farage did his 'Common Sense' tour of England to a winning result at the time of the European parliamentary elections in 2014, it is easy to see striking similarities in their appeal. They are populists.

Our United Kingdom is very much living in populist anger right now. It lacks a deep level of collaboration. As the eminent former leader of the Liberal Democrats, Paddy Ashdown, said on the night of the 2017 election result, 'Britain is more polarised than ever in my life time. . . . Time now for the centre to get its act together'. If we are to genuinely progress and prosper as a nation and address our own anger and that of our neighbours we need to reach across the divide and both talk and patiently listen to those with whom we may have major disagreements. From this resolutions can be brought to the table that take account of ALL sides and we can then facilitate positive change. If not, I fear we will spiral into an outcome that none of us want.

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