Tuesday 6 July 2010

In praise of Liberal populism

Life being what it is, I've only just read Timothy Garton Ash's very welcome article on the urgent need for Liberals in British politics:


But it made me think. He portrays Liberals (as he wants Lib Dems to be called) as a bastion against right wing populism and left wing populism. As if somehow Liberalism was just a quiet, intelligent ideology of the BBC and the EU, and other technocratic institutions that sometimes seem to have outlived their original idealistic fire. But where's the excitement? Where is the demand?

What about Liberal populism? Is there such a thing? And if there isn't, can any ideology claw its way to political power without some popular or emotional charge behind it?

Is not the main drag on the Liberal Democrats this strange blindness to their own potential populism, as they instinctively react against anything which the tabloid press could conceivably promote?

I think it is. We need our own populist, maybe even dangerous strand, if we are going to inspire people. Politics with no trace of populism is a dull business of details, balance, committees, good sense and indefensible institutions. Worse than that, it is an invitation to populists of the worst kind in response.

Jean-Marie le Pen used to boast that he led Europe's only non-technocratic party. He might have been right, and that gives him and his kind a huge political advantage - if we give it to them.

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