Britain’s Populist Death Spiral
The U.K. risks getting trapped in a self-perpetuating cycle that drives voters and politicians further and further to the right
British news has been gripped by the rather bizarre process of the governing Conservative party choosing a new leader. It was always likely to be Boris Johnson, the former mayor of London, but to avoid the appearance of a coronation, the party gradually reduced a crowded field of candidates down to two people: Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, a former health minister.
It is a strange process. Technically it is democratic, because 160,000 Conservative Party members will decide between the two candidates, as is mandated. However, to many it seems wrong that the next prime minister is being appointed by a tiny group of people while the rest of the country just sits by and watches.
With Johnson’s rise, British politics is now defined by the emergence of a populist right-wing the likes of which this country has not really seen before. But the danger to the U.K. is that each step to the right will worsen the situation for the very people supporting the right-wing populists, driving them yet further to the extreme.
Brexit has become the totem for the right-wing.
Populism makes stupid decisions; doing what people want, not what is necessarily sensible. It also blames scapegoats. As the economic damage caused by the underlying corruption of populist politics bites, the leaders have to blame other people, which invariably drives their voters further right. This then forces those populist politicians to chase their increasingly right-wing voters, each time worsening the situation for the country, economy, and society, and thus causing people to look further right in anger.
Rather than modernizing and becoming relevant to the country as a whole, today’s Conservative leaders are pandering to the 160,000 or so mainly old, white men who make up its membership and will vote in its next leader. Despite Johnson’s many shortcomings, many of his colleagues in Parliament think he is the most likely to be able to keep the party in power, see through Brexit, and win back votes that have been hemorrhaging to Nigel Farage’s new Brexit…