More and more I am hearing on our media that ‘populism’ is a bad thing. The other morning on RTE radio a Fine Gael Minister, (no less), made it abundantly clear to this breathless nation that he most certainly was not a populist politician.
So what’s the fuss? The word populism has become a put-down for anybody speaking up for the majority. The implication of the put-down is that the populist speaker hasn’t a clue and is struggling to deal with reality. A populist, we are expected to believe, is living in some kind of fantasy world or even worse, expressing populist views only to get elected. Populism has therefore become politically incorrect. Brexiters, Donald Trump and various tainted baddies around Europe currently have been dismissed by the mainstream media as mere populists. Wow!
The Cambridge English Dictionary defines populism as, “Political ideas and activities that are intended to get the support of ordinary people by giving them what they want.” So populism then is the act of seeking to represent the interests of ordinary people. Ah, I don’t know how to put this but that is exactly what I voted for the last time out. It was my understanding of voting itself actually. I remember having what I wanted and the common good in mind that day at the polling booth.
When we examine democracy as an ideal we discover that it is, “A system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives,” and that is also my understanding. Simply put, democracy becomes the control of an organization or group by the majority of its members. In a democracy, the people are sovereign—they are the highest form of political authority. Power flows from the people to the leaders of government, who hold power only temporarily. Our political lords and masters are designated as servants of the people and many at the end of long political careers will wax lyrical about their years of public service too.
And yet the modern narrative is that populism is a very bad thing that must be scorned and resisted at every twist and turn. The Fine Gael-er on the radio this morning was discussing the new proposals for Irish Water and threatening darkly that if charges are not introduced we will be facing another General Election. In other words, to hell with the country and and what the people want, if Fine Gael cannot bully and bluster their way to what they want then they’ll make us all pay for it one way or the other. This is the guy who wanted to assure us that he’s no cheap-assed populist, to which one can only say, apparently not. Ironically the same gent also dropped a bombshell. In full flight he blurted out that water was never free, (and what the hell were we all thinking), and that it was always paid for out of central taxation. For a dyed-in-the-wool blueshirt, that was some admission but important nevertheless because the official narrative has always been that we were getting water free and that could not continue.
So now we know for sure that we were always paying for water and therefore what is so unpopular with the people is being asked now to pay for it twice. There is no mention of a decrease in general taxation if specific targeted water taxes are introduced so the portion of general taxation you currently pay will not change if Fine Gael get their way. You will just be taxed for the same thing twice. So if paying twice is unpopular then politicians who claim we shouldn’t have to do that become quite popular, hence populist. The wonder is that this should be such a surprise to the sitting politicians.
Lying to, and cheating the electorate is unpopular or non-populist, to put it another way. Isn’t it amazing that they don’t get that?