The real reason populism is winning…

There’s a common thread going round the interwebs at the moment, in relation to the sudden upsurge of right-wing populism we’ve seen in Brexit, Trump and the possibility of a Le Pen presidency in France. That thread says that it’s mostly the fault of the left, ignoring the concerns of ordinary working people by insisting on mass immigration, too much political correctness, and high state intervention whilst attacking all those who dare to disagree.

This is, of course, simplistic rubbish.

There is another thread doing the rounds. It’s one which suggests that Brexit, Trump, Le Pen voters are idiots, borderline racists, and sheep brainwashed by the right-wing tabloid media. We should ridicule, shout down and ignore these people who are, by siding with such awful people, not worth properly engaging with.

This is, of course, also simplistic rubbish.

Most of those on the left are not members of the fabled “metropolitan liberal elite”, they are ordinary working people as well. Most don’t believe in “mass immigration”, just everybody getting a fair chance, regardless of any accident of birth. Political correctness is not a tool to oppress and beat people with, it’s a way of ensuring that everyone is treated with due respect.

Those who voted for populism did so, not because some of us have differing views, but because the politicians they voted for touched a nerve with them; possibly by saying what they thought, possibly by playing on their fears.

But these voters are not (all) racist. They are not (all) brainwashed Daily Mail and Sun readers. They are not (all) stupid. They are mostly normal people with normal lives, normal jobs, normal problems, hopes, fears, loves and hates.

And they are all human beings and voters. Left and right, they are all human beings and voters.

The problem is that we have totally lost sight of this. We shout and yell (well, tweet… sometimes all in caps) at each other, dividing ourselves into separate camps and resort to ad hominem attacks and name calling; racist, cuck, fascist, snowflake, idiot, libtard… getting precisely nowhere.

And nobody, not one single one of us, is right about everything.

“Ah!” I hear you say, “There can be no compromise with extremism.”

This is true. Sometimes there can’t be any coming together because some views really are unacceptable. When people are motivated by racism, anti-semitism, sexism, homophobia, islamophobia etc. you really cannot and should not compromise.

But you can listen. You can try to understand where views, all views, come from on a personal level.

Then, and this is scary, you can try to persuade.

Most of us hold some sort of political views, but are so politically illiterate and uneducated that we are unable to fully back up those views with evidence, statistics, proper arguments or, well, anything really. We have some basic things in our heads, but we need to educate ourselves more so that we can actually have proper debate and discussion.

One reason for the rise in populism is a disillusionment in politicians, and this is part of the reason. When politics loses sight of principles in the pursuit of style over substance then we lose the leadership we need, the example we need to show us how to debate, persuade and actually try to win people over to your way of thinking.

Yes, this is also pretty simplistic, but we need to start somewhere. We need to talk and listen. To understand that we are dealing with other human beings in issues which affect all human beings. We need to educate ourselves and others.

I mean, it might not work, but we just can’t go on like this. Can we?

The Tories and Brexit – The middle of the wedge

I didn’t sleep last night. It wasn’t sickness or stress. It wasn’t that I wasn’t tired (I really was). It wasn’t that my bed was uncomfortable.

I was angry. Really bloody angry.

I get frustrated, fed up, a bit cheesed off or even snappy at times. Rarely, however, do I feel real anger about anything.

Last night, though, I did.

Foreign workers are to be registered. Foreign doctors are to be “allowed” to stay until they can be replaced. Limiting freedom of movement seems to be the only non-negotiable element in Brexit. 

The message is clear – If you aren’t British then you aren’t welcome here. That’s right, Jonny Foreigner. This isn’t your home. It’s simply a place you get your money from, and we need to make sure you are treated differently to those of us who are native of this land.

This is as hard right as I can remember from a UK government, and it’s seriously scary. We’ve been through the language of “swarms of immigrants” and “bogus asylum seekers”. As many of us said, that was simply the thin end of the wedge.

It’s fair to say, with language you would expect to read on Stormfront and policies to match, we are now firmly in the middle of that wedge, and moving further up as we go.

The Brexit vote has confirmed one thing alone to the Tories, many people fear immigration. Theresa May addressed this in her speech today, attacking the mythical “liberal elite” for finding fears about immigration distasteful.

No, most of us don’t feel quite that way. Fears about immigration are, to a certain extent, understandable. People coming into the country, our communities, with a different language and culture can feel unsettling if you aren’t used to it. Stories in the press about millions coming over, taking jobs, benefits, NHS places, houses etc. can lead to fears. Of course it can.

The issue comes with addressing those fears. I believe that addressing fears should involve allaying fears. Pointing out the many, many benefits of immigration: they pay more tax and claim fewer benefits per person, they are helping to fill major shortages of staff in health care and the hospitality industry, they help us to learn about cultures beyond this small island…

The Tories, however, see addressing fears in a different way. They see it as pandering to those fears. Stoking them with increasingly hateful rhetoric and policies, then using the EU Referendum result as a way to justify those fears. In the same way those on the far right are using the result to legitimise their own bigotry and racism.

The Government often speak of standing up for “British values” or “Christian values”, yet these values they speak so highly of are not the ones I recognise when I think of them. I think of fairness and equality of all people, regardless of gender, race, colour, nationality or creed. 

I think of standing up for the vulnerable, the victimised, the poor, the oppressed.

I think of respecting those who work in professions which serve the wider good: health care, education, law and order, rescue and protection.

I think of a culture made up of many cultures over many centuries. Changing and evolving as we grow as one giant melting pot, celebrating the progress we make as we go.

I think of love, the most powerful thing on this planet, sweeping away hatred and fear as it goes. Healing people, communities, cities and nations.

Please, if you truly fear the idea of people coming from other countries, whether for economic reasons or for their own safety, and making their home here I beg you to think again. We learn from each other when we let down the artificial barriers of nationhood we have built around us. We learn customs, languages, festivals, food, ways of creating a caring society we had never thought of before when we realise that there is no us and them. There are just people. Human beings. Ordinary men, women and children.

The language of the Tories, the language of Brexit right now, is a dangerous and frightening path to go down. It is the language, and the policy, of division, inequality, blame, mistrust and hatred.

We are better than that. British people… all people are better than that. Please, let’s be better than the people we are being taken for. Before it’s too late.

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in… Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”

‭‭Matthew‬ ‭25:35, 40‬ ‭