Populism after covid

A PWB Seminar

Politics Without Borders will be hosting a seminar in September 2020 which will consider the stage of populism around European states and beyond. Following the first eight months of the covid-19 crisis the US elections will be a landmark event in a unique context. What might it represent and how does democracy stop losing?

The world is changing fast. The expansion of automation, the increasing instability of work and the lack of effective mechanisms to protect people in new sectors is creating a lot uncertainty and fear in communities now seeking reassurance and security. Nationalist conservatives and populists have exploited people’s genuine fears of change but offer no solutions. Strong leaders, who personify their nations, may be seen as comforting in an age of continual change. They play to a fear of the ‘other’ and the zero-sum game of nationalist isolation. But in reality their solutions are false and, in many cases, exacerbate the underlying cause of people’s grievances. So, a reinvigorated internationalism is essential to address the environmental, technological, medical and fiscal challenges the world faces.

The UK’s exit from the European Union was the culmination of a series of catastrophic defeats for the politics of internationalism, the progressive centre and the social democratic left. It was brought about by a series of events both within and beyond the control of government and politics.

At the heart of the UK’s problem was a thirty-year campaign of misinformation, distortion and outright lies that composed the discordant mood music of endemic Euroscepticism. A series of crises within the globalised economy and inadequate responses from governments have created insecurity and genuine fears of change amplified by future prospects where even greater threats and uncertainties await.

Societal and technological changes as well as bad politics and self-inflicted wounds have contributed to the decline of the organisations and structures representing working people and have fractured the coalitions that brought about prosperity and social progress in Europe and the UK. Meanwhile behemoth trans-national corporates have continued to move further beyond the practical jurisdiction of national governments. Neither have we necessarily reached the bottom. Hostile governments and malevolent money fuel the populist cause. Further disappointments and the attribution of blame will not necessarily cause the pendulum to swing back of its own accord. When the promises that were made aren’t delivered and when people don’t see in their lives the changes they were led to expect – and of course when their underlying concerns are not addressed – there is scope for the populist to see an even bigger opportunity.

Within this landscape the centre has failed and the left is historically weak, badly in need of new ideas and fresh responses to rebuild, challenge and defeat populism.

September 2020
Details to be announced