The mainstream media and political parties label any idea outside the narrow confines of the political centre as ‘populist’. It’s become a meaningless term of abuse.(photo: Roman Giertych and Andrzej Lepper - two Polish 'populists')
Populist parties join Polish government, EU Observer
Poland's foreign minister quits over PiS coalition with populists, Monsters and Critics
Put ‘populist’ and ‘Poland’ into google and 477,000 entries will pop up. It seems we have entered the populist age.
All the above headlines refer to the new coalition agreement between the ruling Law and Justice party, the ‘populist’ Self defense party, and a few from the ‘populist’ League of Polish Families.
But it’s not only they who are the populists, apparently.
In October last year, after the parliamentary and presidential elections were won by the Law and Justice party (PiS) and the Kaczynski brothers, the BBC reported that there was, High hopes for Poland's populist leader – meaning, not Andrzej Lepper or Roman Giertych, but President Lech Kaczynski.
Many were calling PiS populist back then and in one interview Kaczynski went out of his way to declare that he ‘was not a populist’. He regarded the label as an insult. And he was right to think so.
Since then the populist tag has usually been confined to Lepper, Giertych etc.
Populism is generally taken to mean rhetoric or ideas that paint the political elite as out of touch with the masses, is corrupt and self-serving and should be replaced by the common sense of the people.
So, if crime or terrorism is increasing, and if ordinary people think that stiffer prison sentences (or capital punishment) would have a deterrent effect, then the populist policy would be ‘tougher on crime’. If opinion polls show that people feel that the EU is to blame for economic woes then the policy should become more euroscpetic.
If that is how populist is being used today then yes, Lepper is a populist, but so is Kaczynski. Even the name of his party, Law and Justice, taps into people’s fears that Poland is falling apart and becoming more and more crime ridden because of communist/liberal influences.
Kaczynski’s whole programme, therefore, is populist.
But how about opposition parties like the so-called ‘liberal’ Civic Platform? They promise that what the country needs is an unfettered free market to combat the protectionism, state interference and high taxation which are to blame for Poland’s problems.
That, surely, is just a kind of middle class populism.
George Bush (and Blair) have tried to claim – as their support in the opinion polls plummets - that security is the number one issue for the US and the UK. So, increased state spending on security and defense, a crackdown on civil liberties and the invasion of other countries are justified because ‘the nation and our way of life is under threat’.
That’s a very populist rhetoric.
The truth these days is that, in this post-ideological world of managerial politics, where policy is driven by focus groups, all parties have become populist.