Populism is dangerous for democracy, even in the form of Galloway


2:59 pm - April 2nd 2012

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contribution by Lila Caballero and Marley Morris

After years of low media coverage following accusations of corruption and his embarrassing appearance on Big Brother, George Galloway has made a comeback.

And the UK is not alone. First right-wing populism in the shape of figures like Geert Wilders and Tommy Robinson; then the predominantly Eurosceptic populism of Timo Soini in Finland; then left-wing populism in the shape of the Socialist Party in the Netherlands and Mélenchon in France – populism in Europe is alive and healthy, and taking a multitude of forms.

But Galloway’s win is not a cause for celebration. Rather it should be handled with caution.

Galloway’s brand of populism might not rail against Islam, but it still has the potential to do significant damage.

Some on the left don’t see the problem, and see any comparison with the right-wing populism of Marine Le Pen or Geert Wilders as misleading slurs.

First: it is true that versions of populism can differ on many issues – the economy, immigration, law and order – though they often intersect on issues like globalisation and scepticism towards the European Union.

Second: as Paul Taggart says, populism is chameleon-like, easily adaptable to a variety of opposing ideologies. The danger is not that Galloway’s populism means that he is a secret racist (though it is true that populism is prone to xenophobia).

Third: the risks it poses stem from things common to all populisms: its divisiveness – pitting “ordinary people” against the elites – and its preference for common sense solutions to complex problems.

Simply put, Galloway’s populism might be pro-Islam, but it is still populism, and that is bad for social democracy. Crucially, this is not just a problem for the left or Labour – all mainstream parties can be damaged, as was true in Bradford West.

In all likelihood many former Tory voters stayed at home rather than vote for Galloway. But this still says a lot about the instability of the support for the mainstream.

Yet, just as it is easy for the mainstream vote to disappear, it is also eminently possible for the votes to be won back. Many of Galloway’s voters this time round are surely ‘reluctant radicals’, not committed supporters of Respect.

For politicians of mainstream parties to win back their voters, however, they need to do more than sit and wait, expecting Galloway to let his voters down as he did last time. Having a real populist presence in the community is not easy to deal with.


Lila Caballero is a senior researcher on the ‘Reluctant Radicals’ project at Counterpoint. Marley Morris is a researcher at Counterpoint.

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Reader comments


So what you’re saying is that you know better?

A very weak article. Hardly a sentence in it stands up to analysis, and that is before one has even taken a view on its correctness or otherwise*. Shape up!

*my view: ‘otherwise’. It’s drivel.

Honestly, I think the view taken by this article is diametrically opposed to what I consider left-wing politics to be about.

The implied idea that there’s an objective technical solution problems is simply wrong – whoever is calling the shots will have a different view of what the ‘solution’ to a problem is, be they a worker, a businessman, a banker, a civil servant or a politician.

I think being on the left is being of the opinion that ordinary people should be calling the shots, and able to pursue their own interests, rather than some kind of enlightened elite doing what they will and pretending they’re acting in the ‘national interest’.

4. Solomon Hughes

Equating Melenchon with Geert Wilders is really both politically illiterate and offensive. The idea that these are all linked “populist” parties is rubbish – A leftwinger like Melenchon has nothing on common with Wilders or Robinson.

Essentially you are using “populist” as an insult to say any left wing party outside of the main 2-3 party system is equivalent of the small parties of the right.

You might want to go back to who the original “populists” where – they were the “People’s Party” in the US of the late nineteenth century, They were an alliance of small farmers and trade unionists in the US who were worried about the power of the big industrialists, and who stood on a platform of an 8 hour day, introducing a progressive income tax and nationalising the railways. The People’s Party initially called for white and black, male and female membership, but were pressured by viciously racist campaigns by the main political parties, and eventually split by the endemic racism of the US of the time,and pulled back towards the “white supremacism ” of the Democrats (who at the time supported racial segregation) .

During the 1930’s the Populists were generally recognised as building the basis of Roosevelt’s “New Deal” – they were seen, rightly, as a progressive movement. However, in the 50’s, during the cold war, right wing historians tried to argue the Populists were just the same as small organisations of the right, and were provincial, conspiracy-minded, tending to scapegoatism, anti-Semitism, anti-intellectualism etc. The right wing historians wanted to argue that any movement of the “little people” was essentially right wing and crazy, even when it wasn’t. And this is the definition of populism you are using – it’s reheated cold war nonsense .

In fact Melenchon is a much better opponent of the actually xenophobic French National Front than the “establishment” parties .

Six years ago Christopher Hitchens’s comment about debating with Galloway summed him up far better than anyone else:

“It was like looking straight into the piggy eyes of fascism.”

To my mind Galloway is like a modern day Moseley.

Another thought: The ‘populism’ label seems to be a sort of get-out clause that the establishment mainstream uses to dismiss the fringe when what remains the mainstream in power terms ceases to have popular legitimacy.

7. Shatterface

It might be useful to define just what ‘populism’ means. I don’t think the wikipedia article is particularly useful:

http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Populism

Populism is defined in opposition to statism, my arse. Thatcher and Reagan were populists and they increased the powers of the state, and investment, particularly in the defence industry. Anarchism is opposition to the state, but it isn’t populist, as anarchism is voluntaristic, and anarchists don’t acknowledge authority invested in numbers any more than in the State.

‘Populism’ is democracy that doesn’t acknowledge its limits. 51% of the electorate can theoretically vote for the extermination of the other 49%. Populism is democracy without liberalism, i.e. without respect for the sovereignty of the individial.

8. Here we go

If you like it, it’s democracy, if you don’t, call it populism.

It’s a bit like the government / regime game.

I remember Anne Widdecombe summing it up very well a few years back “I am a free thinker, you are eccentric, he is bonkers”. It was probably the only sensible thing she every said.

The authors have not defined their terms but the core meaning of the very broad term “populism” seems to be encapsulated by their phrase “pitting ‘ordinary people’ against the elites”.

In a democracy most politicians do this to one extent or another. Labour speaks of “the many not the few”, for example, and sometimes also of the influence of the Old Etonians. The 1% v 99% is presumably a prime example of populist rhetoric. But while the authors of this piece deride populism as divisive, surely the division – the class system, the gap between rich and poor, whatever expressions you want to use – is pre-existing. The populists merely draw attention to it. And I’m afraid the gap between rich and poor is a very serious problem, as is the democratic deficit in this country and in the EU. And in order to solve these problems, or try to, it is necessary to draw attention to them.

The term “populism” risks lumping together a huge range of phenomena. Should we really equate Mélenchon with Le Pen? I must say I am unconvinced. Mélenchon was originally a Socialist Party politician. He left the party as it drifted to the right. And a grey centre-leaning social democrat like Francois Hollande really cannot expect to regain working-class voters who have been captured by Le Pen. Mélenchon really can do that, because he has a distinctive leftwing message.

Perhaps the truth is that in order to succeed, social democracy must become more populist – in the best sense of that usually derogatory term – and explain that we must prioritise the needs of the majority of the people over those of a wealthy few, and then convince the voters we mean it.

10. George Hallam

populism “is bad for social democracy”.

Why should this be a problem?

So we don’t want common sense solutions?

Strange article. Though Ken Livingstone would surely fall into that category too.
As for the Labour candiadate in Bradford West, wasn’t he a part of that subcontinent patronage system? Which must be even worse than Galloway.

Btw, speaking of Tommy Robinson, did anyone hear those idiots shouting outside the broadcasting of that ”Big Questions” TV show yesterday when the EDL leader was on the programme? The UAF have got to be the populist face of anti-racism.

13. Thomas Coles

So ‘populism’ is voting for people outside of your narrow view of acceptability?

What does “populism” even mean? I’ve used it in the sense of “offering dishonest yet emotionally appealing explanations and solutions” yet it often seems to mean “acknowledging popular views that we’d rather were ignored”. For example, I’ve seen Eurosceptics referred to as “populists” not because they’re being provably disingenuous but because they’re voicing ideas held to be out of bounds.

15. Chaise Guevara

If “populism” is to be taken as a negative, I think you need to show WHY it’s a negative. For example, if a politician pursues a policy that they know is a bad idea and will cause untold harm 30 years down the line, but is popular among voters who don’t understand the fine detail, then it’s populist and a bad thing.

Otherwise, it’s just democracy (and even the bad form described above is obviously democratic). So the article sounds like it’s saying “democracy is bad for democracy”.

Yes, democracy can return unpleasant results from your personal POV, and it can have consequences that most of the people who originally supported the policy will ultimately regret. But I assume you’re still a supporter of democracy in general. It’s not at all clear what this article is actually complaining about.

16. Marley Morris

Jon, Solomon, RP, and others

Thanks for your comments so far! It’s true, we didn’t clearly define ‘populism’ in the article – partly because it is quite a complex set of overlapping views. But here’s a simple definition to start with, along the lines of your suggestion RP:

Populism is a thin political ideology that (1) pits the virtuous ‘people’ against the ‘elite’ and (2) that glorifies the ‘people’, claiming that they have the answers to political problems. It necessarily must define some proper subset of the population as ‘the people’. According to populism, It is these people who have the answers to the country’s problems and so it is they who should be listened to. These tend to be simplified solutions to complex problems because they do not take the needs of the whole population into account.

Now right-wing populism often only includes ‘natives’ into their understanding of the ‘people’. Other types of populism have different conceptions of the ‘people’.

Now of course one thing we do not want to say is that any old view is populist – from Hollande’s 75 per cent tax rate to the Occupy movement. We are categorically not saying that all these things are automatically populist just because they are not mainstream. There are plenty of non-mainstream views and parties that are not populist. (Take the Green Parties in Europe for example.)

So populism definitely does not just mean ‘outside of the mainstream’! However, that doesn’t mean that Galloway is not a populist. Take a look at his Guardian article last Saturday – his distinction between the ‘people’ and the ‘elite’ (that certainly hits (1)) and his comparison with the Arab Spring (glorification of the people perhaps? That’s (2)). Melanchon is a more ambiguous case, but I do agree with your point Solomon that he is a strong opponent of the Front National.

I think the reason we think populism is bad is because (1) it over-simplifies the debate, listening only to some views and not others, and (2) has a limited definition of the ‘people’ , making it divisive. (That’s why we think Occupy is quite possibly not really populism – it’s ’99 per cent’ rallying call is not divisive, I don’t think.) But I’m interested to hear what others think!

It is now established that George Galloway won every ward in Bradford West, Asian and white, working-class and middle-class, including 85 per cent of the vote in the university ward, beating the anointee of the Pakistani patriarchs into the ground while also blowing away the 2010 swing to the Conservatives.

To Westminster Villagers he is a thing of terrifying fascination, a man who can get himself into Parliament while neither one of them nor with any aspiration to become so, but rather actively opposed by and to their entire subculture.

Galloway will not be repeating the moment of madness that cost Respect half a dozen to a dozen seats in this hung Parliament. If he continues to play his cards right, then it could be looking at 15 to 20 seats in the next hung Parliament for the alliance of at least wannabe Trotskyists and at least wannabe Islamists that has such a manifest appeal to middle-class white youths and to working-class or poorer British Pakistani or British Bangladeshi youths under the infinitely shrewder leadership of a pro-life Catholic with Old Labour economic, civil libertarian, Eurosceptical and Unionist views.

How about 15 to 20 more for a formation capable of reaching very different sections of society on much the same actual basis but with no need to pretend otherwise, also keeping Ed Miliband’s coming, and urgently needed, Labour Government from doing anything silly under pernicious media influence? Where is that formation?

Its difficult to respond to this article when its so poorly written.
The argument made is weak, lacking definition and has little research or examples to back it up. It feels like a 1st year Undergraduate’s first essay.
The author does a much better job in their reply in the comments. Yet I am now dis-engaged.

@17 David Lindsay

Your dystopian vision looks somewhat overdone…. perhaps that is really your intent, because if you truly believe it you would appear to be about as wacky as Gorgeous George.

The biggest “danger” (although many see it as more of an opportunity) to the current deeply corrupt crypto-medieval political system in this country isn’t populism a la Galloway…. it is in a yes vote in the Scottish independence referendum in 2014.

It will be interesting to see how the 2015 GE pans out in the rump UK if the Scots vote yes. Although much can happen in the intervening few years, the smart money in such a scenario is still on another hung parliament, with the rump LD’s trying to stave off oblivion by telling whichever of the Tories or Labour has most seats what they want to hear.

Labour looks more and more like a lost cause; it is still too captured by the Blairite and Brownite cling-ons to do anymore than ape the Coalition and offer more or less the same to a slightly different timescale, with a different gloss. With no electoral reform (thanks Nick!) things will bumble along more or less as they have, because that’s the way the English (mostly) want it.

No wonder the Scots are voting with their feet!

20. Shatterface

I’m not sure Galloway really fits this definition of ‘populism’.

He’s very much a Statist, far more so than Labour.

And rhetoric about the ‘people’ vs the ‘elites’ seems to cover everyone from Aryan militias, Trots, Thatcher, Sp!ked, Jeremy Clarkeson and Noam Chomsky.

“Dystopian”, Galen10? That is the very last way that I see the prospexct of 15 to 20 Respect MPs (and with all seats new, everywhere that is at least 25 per cent Muslim, or 20 per cent plus lots of students, should be regarded that way on FPTP, what will be a very low turnout, and the collapse of Lib Dem support) plus, if we can manage it, 15 to 20 more Old Labour economists, civil libertarians, Eurosceptics and Unionists, just like Galloway, but actually appealing to people like him, too. 30 to 50 MPs to keep Prime Minister Ed Miliband on the straight on narrow in a hung Parliament. Bring it on.

Scottish independence, blah blah blah. I’m surprised that you are still bothering to mention it. Everyone knows what the result of that is going to be. Or are you one of those people who can only ever talk about one subject, and this is yours?

22. Solomon Hughes

Melanchon isn’t “a more ambiguous case”, he’s a socialist, Marley.I suppose It’s no surprise really, I suppose , that researchers for Demos (a think tank funded by privatisers and arms firms incuding A4e, PWC, G4S and BAe) should try and denounce any left wing politics as dangerous and “populist, but you could try harder than this: Anyone who has a “thin” solution that isn’t “complex” but is against “elites” is dangerous ? Really that sounds just like a weak attempt to defend the economic and political status quo.

I think the main problem with the article, now some of the terminology has been cleared up, is that actually, a lot of politics genuinely is about a struggle between entrenched power, vested interests and elites on the one hand, and people with little power on the other hand.

Political positions as diverse as the rise of the bourgeoisie against the old aristocracy, the trade union movement, the Thatcher government, the Labour Party at its founding, Marxism, the Liberal Democrats in 2010, and Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers, have all – probably rightly – claimed to be critical of entrenched power structures.

The fact is that power often is asymmetric (and rarely is otherwise). So what you’re describing a populist movements, movements that highlight an elite and try to position themselves as a counterveiling power… well, they’re often on to something, and it’s also often healthy, if you consider a wider and more equal distribution of power to be healthy.

Of course people will get things wrong sometimes. The Nazis might blame the Jews, the Bolsheviks might want to liquidate the Kulaks. But what’s bad about these movements isn’t that they see themselves as opposed to an elite, but that their analysis is simply wrong and they’re mistaken about where power lies.

Populism is dangerous for social democracy

But is it dangerous for democratic socialism?

I’ve been a regular reader here for a few months now, but your recent Galloway fixation has left a nasty taste. So many inexcusable things going on in this country at the moment perpetrated by a government with no mandate, an opposition which offers more of the same only slower, but you devote so much energy and vitriol to attacking George Galloway. Shame on you LibCon.

26. Limiting Factor

Populist or populism are rightwing terms intended to be used to denigrate a political target. Whether you like it or not, democracy is about putting forward solutions to the problems of life and working to increase the popularity of the candidates proposing these solutions. The article, on the other hand, is articulated in frantic, doom-mongering terms which I did not find persuasive.

27. Charlieman

@20. Shatterface: “He’s very much a Statist, far more so than Labour.”

True enough, Galloway is a Statist. I’m not sure which state he thinks should be running the UK, and I doubt whether that state would resemble anything as tolerable or tolerant as past Labour governments (of which I am not a fan).

I don’t even think that Galloway can be portrayed as a populist. His campaign was one that played well in Bradford West, with direct appeals to a racial/religious group coinciding with typical by-election voter behaviour to kick mainstream politicians. But I can’t see it working in many other places — like when the BNP have a moment of victory, it is obvious in retrospect how to counter-campaign to retake the seat.

The communalist campaign that Galloway ran captured (mainly young?) disaffected local people to do a lot of leg work. The communalist message was that disproportionate unemployment, UK foreign policy and casual racism/disrespect by government bodies are inextricably connected, as if Bradford today resembles southern USA states of the 1960s. The newly recruited activists will become bored and more disaffected when it becomes clear that Galloway isn’t going to do anything. The best result will be that some conclude that different problems require different solutions, and that Galloway is part of the problem.

Communalist politics are recognised in all of the mainstream parties as a problem; few people actively seek to play the Punjab card but that doesn’t stop parties (all of them) from selecting candidates who might have particular appeal to a racial/religious group. The people with the least qualms are the left of the Labour Party and Respect, in my experience.

I agree with the OP that populist campaigns that are crude dog whistles for racism or other social discrimination need a counter-response. Populist campaigns that set people against elites require a more sophisticated response; some elites (doctors volunteering in a developing nation) are a good thing; other elites are bad or misguided. Citizens have to live with elites unless they wish to murder “intellectuals”.

Distinct from populism is communalism. Communalist politics proclaims that problems can only be solved by somebody like them. Which is so self evidently wrong outside a mono-cultural society.

@26, I see where you’re coming from, but it is too simplistic to say that “populism” is a “rightwing term”. One of its most common uses (I think) is by social liberals to describe knee-jerk tabloid-pleasing policies on crime and immigration. And the writer Stuart Hall (then associated with Marxism Today, the theoretical journal of the Communist Party) famously described Thatcherism as “authoritarian populism”.

29. Charlieman

@25. Jurg: “So many inexcusable things going on in this country at the moment perpetrated by a government with no mandate, an opposition which offers more of the same only slower, but you devote so much energy and vitriol to attacking George Galloway.”

Off the top of my head, I cannot recall current government ministers or shadow ministers toadying up to authoritarians in the manner of Galloway. If you can name one, I’ll support your criticism of him/her.

The closest that I can get is a parliamentary group that went to Bahrain with a few ex-racing drivers to determine whether Formula One racing should be conducted there this year. But they didn’t suck up.

30. the a&e charge nurse

[29] “Off the top of my head, I cannot recall current government ministers or shadow ministers toadying up to authoritarians in the manner of Galloway. If you can name one, I’ll support your criticism of him/her” – the bottom line is Galloway has never harmed anybody physically – do you count the vast array of military hardware sanctioned by our political masters and sold to the likes of Saddam and Gaddafi (for humungous profit) as a form of toadying?

The more the embedded commentariat rush to condemn the voters for voting for George Galloway, the more I suspect he is right: there’s hope for an English spring, and the commentariat know this and want to stop it.

(30) and let’s not forget the current toadying going on to the Saudis and Qatari.

@29 Practically every British and American Government in history has cosied up to authoritarians.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/libertycentral/2012/jan/13/david-cameron-saudi-arabia-visit

That goes particularly for our current Government, and doubly so Tony Blair, who was heaping praise in Hosni Mubarak up until the very moment he was overthrown.

In fact, considering the history of the region, Galloway has probably got close to the very same ones they have, just in the wrong order.

Without defining ‘populism’ this article does not really add up to much. Given that the Labour Party and the Liberal’s have a long tradition of populism (e.g. British Jobs for British Workers, the Liberal racism in the Tower Hamlets campaign) why should Galloway’s victory have any particular relevance to Social Democracy. Galloway’s appearance on Big Brother is frankly a matter of taste not political position.

35. Marley Morris

@Solomon Hughes Thanks for your comment. I certainly am not out to defend the economic status quo! I am not criticising Galloway’s economic views or his anti-war views. But all these suggestions of being a true Muslim? And his talk of a “Bradford spring”? I suppose that’s where I have my doubts. As for Melanchon, Pascal Perrineau, an expert on political science in France, notes a degree of populism in Melanchon’s speeches http://www.leparisien.hxwin.info/election-presidentielle-2012/candidats/pascal-perrineau-melenchon-est-en-phase-avec-la-mauvaise-humeur-du-pays-09-02-2012-1853199.php

@Charlieman That’s a really interesting point. Perhaps you are right that Galloway is better described as a communalist rather than a populist, speaking for a minority rather than pretending to speak for a majority (though to be fair I think he speaks as if he acts for a wider group – the ‘people’ – rather than just one minority community). But you say “Communalist politics proclaims that problems can only be solved by somebody like them”. I think that’s very similar to the point I made earlier in the comments about populism.

36. Marley Morris

@Solomon Hughes Thanks for the comment. I certainly don’t want to defend the economic status quo! I’m not criticising Galloway’s economic platform; but I am a little wary when he appears to imply that he is a ‘true’ Muslim and talks of a “Bradford Spring”. And I’m not denouncing all politics that criticises elites. That’s why I’m not saying Occupy is populist and I am not criticising it in the slightest. As for Melanchon, Pascal Perrineau, top French political scientist, talks of the populist slant to Melanchon’s speeches. http://www.leparisien.hxwin.info/election-presidentielle-2012/candidats/pascal-perrineau-melenchon-est-en-phase-avec-la-mauvaise-humeur-du-pays-09-02-2012-1853199.php

@Charlieman Really interesting point. Perhaps you’re right that Galloway is best described as a communalist rather than a populist (but to be fair in some of his writings he talks of being at the front of a movement of “the people”, not just one minority – of course he couldn’t say the latter but it still interesting I think). But even so you say that “Communalist politics proclaims that problems can only be solved by somebody like them.” I think that’s very similar to the point I made about populism in my earlier comment.

The missing word in this discussion is: demagogue. George is a great orator, although I guess those who hate his message can resist it easily enough.

Populism is usually an insult hurled at the hoi polloi for daring to favour something the establishment-approved consensus doesn’t like or want pushing its way on to the agenda.

38. Leon Wolfeson

@30 – Never harmed anyone?

He’s said suicide bombings are sometimes morally acceptable. Harm!
He’s an ally of Hezbollah, who are clients of Syria/Iran. Harm!

You don’t need to be caught with a smoking gun in your hand to do harm.

39. Charlieman

@30. the a&e charge nurse: “…the bottom line is Galloway has never harmed anybody physically – do you count the vast array of military hardware sanctioned by our political masters and sold to the likes of Saddam and Gaddafi (for humungous profit) as a form of toadying?”

I deliberately said “current government ministers” in my post about toadying to authoritarians. I was trying to construct a control volume; that we should look at current behaviour about “contemporary government” in today’s world and compare it with Gallowayism.

Current government sells arms to Saudi Arabia, but ministers do not suck up in public; it is a financial deal.

“…the bottom line is Galloway has never harmed anybody physically…” Probably correct. He just hangs around with people who beat up political opponents. He can’t stay away from them, so much is their draw to him.

Galloway is floating on an isolated ship in UK politics. He is one of a few who suck up to the Assad family in Syria. China and Russia, supporters of Assad, are big ships, but there aren’t many places to dock. So assume that Russia and China will ditch Syria when it becomes inconvenient, or more correctly when those two countries are forced to recognise Syrian human rights.

If you give a shit about human rights, you don’t share a boat with rights abusers.

40. Leon Wolfeson

@39 – Sadly, Russia and China are very unlikely to back down on their veto, even if they actually condemn Assad in diplomatic language.

As they see it, what they authorised in Libya compared to what actually happens means they can’t give an inch without a mile being taken. A view which has a lot of justice in it, actually.

Anyway – it’s not just the boat, it’s the comments he made about suicide bombers which really turned me against him once and for all.

41. the a&e charge nurse

[39] “If you give a shit about human rights, you don’t share a boat with rights abusers” – it is not Galloway who invaded Iraq, Afghanistan, or Libya.

It is not Galloway who is looking for an excuse to invade Iran neither is he overseeing lucrative arms deals to all manner of human right’s abusers.

Whatever Galloway’s faults, and I’m sure there are many, they pale into insignificance compared to the international crimes committed in our name by our political masters.

42. Charlieman

@35. Marley Morris: “But you say “Communalist politics proclaims that problems can only be solved by somebody like them”. I think that’s very similar to the point I made earlier in the comments about populism.”

I recognise the difficulty. My perception of Galloway’s campaign was to capture lots of race/religion votes and to treat the others as a bonus.

Galloway’s campaign was that he is not Muslim but like them; it cleverly played to communal instinct, but when did we elect MPs by tribalism?

“Current government sells arms to Saudi Arabia, but ministers do not suck up in public”

Oh well, if all they do is arm tyrants, then that’s alright then.

Serioously, my friend, that’s some desperate hypocrisy you’ve got going on there.

44. Leon Wolfeson

@42 – Since we had FPTP and political parties.

Voting reform is essential.

“Communalist politics proclaims that problems can only be solved by somebody like them”

So you’re saying that over half of the voters in Bradford were white, middle aged Scotsmen from Catholic backgrounds?

That would explain why the Labour candidate, a brown skinned Muslim of Asian descent, did so badly.

Quick, go tell Ed Milliband !

46. Charlieman

@45. 55.7%: “So you’re saying that over half of the voters in Bradford were white, middle aged Scotsmen from Catholic backgrounds?”

Nope, I acknowledge that too many people misused their vote for a man of hate.

47. Shatterface

Galloway certainly hasn’t committed atrocities like the last government did, but he does play the race card and suck up to dictators abroad, which makes him an Oswald Mosley rather than a Tony Blair.

48. Christopher Heward

Isn’t the point that democracy as we see it is deeply flawed. If democracy is about every person having an equal vote and the option with the majority of votes wins (or in the case of systems like our current MP elections not even necessarily a majority), then I would argue that there are very few circumstances in which this is a fair system.

At the extreme, what I am going to eat for breakfast should (largely) be my choice and my choice alone. No one else should have a say; there shouldn’t be a vote. On other issues it might be that those most deeply affected by the issue should have a say, with some input from the outside, but most of the input coming from a core vote (e.g. not one man one vote). When it comes to the big decisions that affect us all, there still isn’t really justification for everyone to have an equal vote. I mean, those that have researched the issue, or have the most experience, etc. should have a larger say, plus there need to be broad rules that are agreed on so that just because a majority of ill-informed/misguided people don’t enforce themselves on others.

For me the majority of issue should be free of regulation/laws and people make their own choices. Then there are issues done on a local/town/city basis, and at this level it is reasonably possible to ensure that the people elected are decent people. Then there are really important issues which affect many people, and these issues should be judged by wise and learned people at a national level. To elect these people it is probably best to have a democtratic system to avoid foul means in terms of them being elected, but it is increasingly hard to properly monitor them. You also have the trouble of mass media (and even social media nowadays) swinging the vote based on misinformation and lies and things the change people’s opinions unfairly. For this reason national elections need to be done in a fair way to ensure equal opportunities for all candidates, and there must be mechanisms to ensure the MPs are accountable.

The danger we have in the UK is that because we have no written/agreed constitution then Governments can get elected in (and majority/coalition governments are an awful way of creating laws in my opinion) and start criminalising whatever they want if it achieves their personal aims and enforces their beliefs.

This really is a safe guard we need – we need there to be certain things that are just off limits to the state to enforce, and we need to make sure that as many decisions as possible are either left to individuals and communities or to local government. It is very dangerous and open to lots of corruption when you get a central state with a lot of power.

I’ll use the excuse that is quite late in case this comment makes minimal sense… ;D

49. Leon Wolfeson

@47 – It took a grass-roots movement of the left to stop Mosley’s supporters, while the police fought on his side.

There /are/ uncomfortable parallels for his supporters, yes.

@21 David Lindsey

“Scottish independence, blah blah blah…. I’m surprised that you are still bothering to mention it. Everyone knows what the result of that is going to be. Or are you one of those people who can only ever talk about one subject, and this is yours?”

I doubt people take your predictions any more seriously than they take your vanity published tome, or your academic credentials Mr. Lindsey.

The fantasy “we” you refer to, and the bloc of “new” MP’s you see keeping Ed Miliband honest post 2015 would be funny if it weren’t so tragic that you actually seem to believe it. It is vanishingly unlikely to occur of course, and therefore of no interest to anyone but you…. whereas the outcome of the 2014 referendum in Scotland is of much more direct relevance; even if the vote is “no” (which is of course by no means certain), the collapse in Labour support in Scotland will have a significant impact on the 2015 UK GE…. much more so than your fervid fantasy confection.

@5 Kojak

“It was like looking straight into the piggy eyes of fascism.”

I’m with Hitchens. Some find him deeply troubling and almost sinister, while others think he can do no wrong. Never a good sign. However, I’m sure this current episode will be the undoing of him. Eventually.

I wonder whether his fascination of torture-happy dictators and his fawning over them in person reveals something about his inner-self. Freud would have a field day. Homo-erotic I reckon.

52. Leon Wolfeson

@50 – WHAT collapse?

2007 – 648,374 constituency, 595,415 list
2011 – 630,461 constituency, 523,559 list

If you want to talk about the LibDem collapse, then you’d have a point. But no, you’re pushing lies to fuel the language of inevitability when no such exists.

Fight on the merits, not on propaganda. You’re coming across to be as strongly right wing, frankly.

Is the charge of sucking up to dictators totally valid? He hasn’t said that much about Syria. I used to listen to him on Talk Sport – so you could certainly accuse him of avoiding the subject – but wasn’t his support of Assad the support for an independent Arab country where the standard of life for the gereatest majority was far better than in many other Arab countries? I have heard some Syrian people talking on the radio from small peaceful towns, saying how nice life in Syria was before the conflict started. With all the peoples of Syria getting on well and them having good lives there.
Get rid of the dictator and you could have an Iraq-like situation.
Plus Galloway hates Israel so much. Maybe there was some ”principled” logic in his sucking up.

Lefties support Cuba and used to support the Sandanistas etc.
At the ”anti-racist” Rise Festival that Boris abolished, the Cuba Solidarity Campaign had a great big stall and pride of place presence there.
Which was better – Cuba, or Syria?

The biggest single reason George Galloway triumphed in Bradford West was that he stands outside the political establishment and possesses a charisma that his opponents lacked. His political programme is one of convenience – welding together left-wing ideas and Islam. And it worked.

Is that state of affairs perfect? As a secularist socialist who doesn’t like self-serving political egos, I must answer in the negative. But what the situation does show is that there is potential for a real left if socialists could get their act together.

@52 Leon

Anyone observer of the Scottish political scene can see that Scottish Labour are in total disarray, and on course to get a good kicking at the upcoming local elections. Their leadership is woeful – Lamont is a nonentity, and they are on course to lose Glasgow to the SNP.

Hardly a party in rude health.

My politics are very much left of centre… certainly further to the left than the crypto-Tories who brought us the nauseating New Labour project.

Again, for the hard of thinking like yourself, I haven’t said anything is inevitable… although I certainly have my own view of what would be preferable, and what is likely given current circumstances.

Your faith in Labour is touching…but misplaced.

56. broken cage

terribe piece of drivel. is liberal conspiracy running a demonisation campaign against Gallaway? probably. very weak

@51 Bearing in mind Mr Hitchings had to actually be water-boarded himself before he could finally figure out that drowning someone, sorry ‘simulated drowning’, was torture. Prior to that point our keen opponent of fascism was a cheerleader of America’s use of ‘not torture’ in order to ‘defend’ us.

58. Leon Wolfeson

@55 – I’m a left winger, not a Labourite.

“I haven’t said anything is inevitable”

You’ve been using the language of inevitability. Repeatedly.

@58 Leon

LOL….I’ve repeatedly said I don’t believe it is inevitable, but you just aren’t prepared to listen. I DO think that a “yes” vote in 2014 is likelier than before…and getting more likely, but that’s not the same thing.

There are 2 more years of debate before the referendum.

Perhaps I mistook you for a Labourite because you come across as blinkered… that’d explain it.

As much as I really don’t like Galloway, I’m getting a little tired of this incessant bashing. Yes he is populist, but so are many mainstream politicians. How many times have Labour or Tories tried to appeal to the masses, oversimplifying all our problems and blaming them on bankers/scroungers/the rich/the poor/the disabled/the youth/the previous govt/the weather and so on.

Whilst I’m not celebrating Galloway’s electoral success, putting him in this special “dangerous dog” (or should that be cat?) category as if no westminster politician uses demogogary is just a one-sided moral panic.

Galloway’s flirting with dictators and terrorists nausiates me, but how many mainstream politicians do the same. The problem with Galloway is he’s not so different from the Westminster elite. Let’s get this in perspective.

61. Leon Wolfeson

@60 – Which other MP has claimed suicide bombing can be morally acceptable, and is an ally of Hezbollah?

Marley Morris: “But I’m interested to hear what others think!”

A truly cretinous article.

“60. Which other MP has claimed suicide bombing can be morally acceptable, and is an ally of Hezbollah?”

Now you’re just being overly specific. Bomb attacks are not vastly different from any other military campaign, which plenty of politicians support in one form or another.

Hezbollah are far from the out and out villains in the Middle East conflict, where nobody’s hands are clean. Indeed Hezbollah out of many Islamist groups only attacks military targets, condemned 9/11 and other massacres because of their civilian nature, and hasn’t launched any bombing attacks since Israel withdrew from Lebanon. They also enjoy significant support in Lebanon where they run social services.

This is all in the context of fighting against a racist occupying force. I wouldn’t actively go out of my way to support them, because I’m not an Islamist, and there are many questions about them, as there are with any violent group. But saying that support for them is somehow qualitatively worse than support for say, the state of Israel, is a bit of a stretch.

The most legitimate criticism of Galloway is that he’s proven to be a bad MP. He turned up for something like 5% of votes in parliament. The fact that he crawled around like a cat on national television is also ridiculous. But the criticisms of the groups he supports in the Middle East really go nowhere to discredit him further than they do any MP who gets involved in that part of the world.

The idiocy of this article is illustrated in this way (amongst very many):

The authors fail even to posit their own (imbecilic) argument in language that *supports* their case. They argue that ‘populism’ posits “common sense” solutions.

What they mean to say is that ‘populism’ posits *simplistic* solutions.

In their idiotic haste, though, they end up thus suggesting that it is wrong to employ ‘common sense’ to solve problems.

@61 I’m not saying other politicians are guilty of supporting the *same* dictators and terrorists as Galloway, but are guilty of supporing groups who are equivalently evil.

For instance, remember David Cameron inviting the leader of Bahrain to Britain in the wake of Bahrain’s crackdown, or his arms-dealing visit to Egypt just after the revolution. Then there are all those who gorged themselves on Gaddafi’s petrodollers in the wake of Blair. And of course it was the Westminster mainstream who were responsible for the bloodbaths of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Galloway is a disguisting, morally vaccuous demagogue, but not more so than many others.

66. Leon Wolfeson

@63 – From this Jew’s point of view, no, I am not.

Hezbollah are very much on the side of Syria and Iran…you might have noticed some bloodbaths of citizens in the former lately? They’re enemies of the Arab Spring and democracy.

Frankly, Hamas – who have declared for the Arab Spring and made it clear that they were NOT behind recent rocket attacks from Gaza – are looking downright not-so-bad these days. If they actually give up control of Gaza to the Palestinian government (and it’s a big if), then peace has a decent chance!

67. Marley Morris

@rippon Thanks this is an interesting point. Perhaps “simplistic” is a better word than “common sense”. But I don’t think our language undermines our point in the specific case you point out. Common sense as defined as “sound and prudent judgment based on a simple perception of the situation or facts” is as you suggest very useful in some cases. But sometimes it can lead you astray. For instance:

Imagine someone coming to the conclusion that because Britain is in debt it should cut spending massively, just like a household should. This I think could be considered sound judgment based on a simple perception of the situation or facts. But when given a deeper understanding of the situation, an expert economist may come to a different conclusion, arguing that such an economic policy will inhibit growth. So in this case someone has used common sense judgment, but, at least if you agree with the expert economist, you will think they have gone wrong.

Now you may not agree with this particular example but there are plenty of others – on climate change for instance (I think you may see where I’m going with this example).

I am not saying that common sense judgment always goes wrong, but it can I think be misleading – particularly with regard to economics, science, and other specialist subjects. And that’s where the risk lies.

@66 – Hezbollah are funded by Iran and Syria, because they’re Shia Islamist. But saying they’re somehow accountable for the same massacres of the regimes that fund them is a fallacy by association. The Mujahideen, the Ba’ath Party, and the Taliban were funded by the USA because they shared foreign policy goals at one point or another. But it’s obviously ridiculous to claim that they were one and the same or anything as simple as being “on the side of” the US. The Middle East is a complicated web of overlapping goals and to claim that they’re somehow identically aligned is simplistic.

Hezbollah did initially support Assad, but since the violence escalated and the position of the Assad government became more apparent they’ve withdrawn from commenting on the conflict, and haven’t got directly involved. Denouncing them as “enemies of the Arab Spring” sounds a bit too much to my ears like the old “enemies of the revolution” schtick. It’s also wrong: they supported the Arab Spring in other countries and were blamed by the Bahraini government for directly stoking the uprising there http://articles.cnn.com/2011-04-25/world/bahrain.hezbollah_1_wefaq-hezbollah-camps-hassan-nasrallah?_s=PM:WORLD

Yes, it’s hypocritical of them not to actively oppose the violence in Syria when they hold themselves to a standard where they don’t attack civilians. And as I say, I’m not a fan of them. But to illustate the problem with dividing groups into definitely camps, since you mentioned Hamas – Hamas have been quite heavily supported, armed and trained by Hezbollah in the past. http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/mideast/RL33566.pdf This is despite the fact that Hamas are Sunni and Hezbollah are Shia. So criticising them for being close to Assad’s regieme and then saying you’re alright with Hamas, is I think a bit inconsistent.

Lest I sound too enthusiastic about Hezbollah, I’m not. The point is that they’re hardly worse than any other group in the Middle East, and Galloway’s assertion that they aren’t a terrorist organization – a pretty fair definition when you consider that their activities tend to be attacks on military installations – isn’t really a reason to write him off. I’d say that fact is arguable, but even if he did turn out to be a be wrong about it, it’s not exactly a ridiculous opinion to hold that merits instant dismissal.

69. Here We Go

Kojak. @ 5

Funny you should compare Oswald Mosley and Galloway.

“No rising star in the political firmament ever shone more brightly than Sir Oswald Mosley. Since by general assent he could have become the leader of either the Labour or the Conservative Party. What Mosley so valiantly stood for could have saved this country from the Hungry Thirties and the Second World War”.

Quote Michael Foot, M.P.

Old Labour… Old Labour…

Presumably Foot is referring to the investment in housing and the high tariff walls Mosley urged the Ramsay MacDonald government to pursue in the “Mosley Memorandum” when he was a Labour MP and minister with responsibility for solving the unemployment problem – since Foot wasn’t a fascist. And he’s probably right. I’ve searched for the full quote from the Evening Standard that that comes from but all I can find is a bunch of right-wing sites trying to fit Foot up as a fascist…

There is a slightly fuller version of the Foot quotes here – hurryupharry.org/2010/03/07/david-irving-on-michael-foot-on-oswald-mosley/

Interesting. Maybe you are looking at things the wrong way. Maybe a Galloway victory shows that it is possible for people with more of a vision to step into the gaping vacuum that has been left by the three butt cheeks.

anyway fuck Galloway you know he hasn’t got the ability to form a party of any sort around himself.

74. Leon Wolfeson

@68 – I think we’re going to have to agree to disagree on this one.

The Syrian/Iranian block is becoming increasingly isolated by the Arab Spring.
And there’s the other key comment, about suicide bombing sometimes being morally justified, which I can’t give a pass to under any circumstances.

75. Here We Go

The issue isn’t the precise way in which the words of Michael Foot are presented, the issue is whether Michael Foot believed that Mosley had great potential as a future leader of either the Conservative or Labour parties at a certain point – he clearly did. The issue is that Michael Foot, a hero of old Labour believed that Mosley would have been able to represent either party.

That George Galloway is no Oswald Mosley is clearly the case – no former Labour leader has every said of him that he would have been capable of leading either of the two main parties. However, the way in which George Galloway is demonised is something he shares with Mosley. And the way in which his demonisation at the hands of party apparatchiks will be ignored by ordinary people will be something else he will share. Unfortunately for the establishment, there is no regulation 18b to deal with George.

The funny part about all this is the way that the left loves to turn on its heroes whenever they fail the purity test.

It’s disingenuous to condemn sucide bombing, which at least requires the courage of your convictions, but condone homicide bombing, even when doen with white phosphorous.

Be honest, Leon. It isn’t the methods that concern you. It’s the race of the perpetrators.

77. domestic extremist

“Third: the risks it poses stem from things common to all populisms: its divisiveness – pitting “ordinary people” against the elites”

In a class-divided society, the interests of ordinary people who are exploited under capitalism are necesssarily different from the interests of the elite who manage the system in the interests of the exploiters. Consequently, the divisiveness you deplore is in reality a sign of vitality, and can only be opposed by someone who wants to prolong the evasions,hypocrisies and deliberately engineered false consciousness on which class society rests.

78. White Trash

Jon -: “a lot of politics genuinely is about a struggle between entrenched power, vested interests and elites on the one hand, and people with little power on the other hand.”

Jon -: “I think being on the left is being of the opinion that ordinary people should be calling the shots, and able to pursue their own interests, rather than some kind of enlightened elite doing what they will and pretending they’re acting in the ‘national interest’.”

Shatterface -: “‘Populism’ is democracy that doesn’t acknowledge its limits. 51% of the electorate can theoretically vote for the extermination of the other 49%. Populism is democracy without liberalism, i.e. without respect for the sovereignty of the individual.”

Trooper Thompson -: “The missing word in this discussion is: demagogue …..
Populism is usually an insult hurled at the hoi polloi for daring to favour something the establishment-approved consensus doesn’t like or want pushing its way on to the agenda.”

rippon -: “What they [the authors] mean to say is that ‘populism’ posits *simplistic* solutions.”

Here we go -: ” http://www.dartmouth.edu/~nedlebow/aggresive_democracies.pdf

Richard Ned Lebow -: ‘Democracies are the most aggressive regime type measured in terms of war initiation. Since 1945, the United States has also been the world’s most aggressive state by this measure.’ Unfortunately Lebow doesn’t like the evidence on the aggressiveness of democracies, so he quickly finds some “other factors” to explain the problem away.

When World War One came about, crowds of people came onto the streets in immediate support for the fight. Right back to the ancient Greeks the popular choice frequently appears to be hot-headed, short-sighted and violent.

Which is why the great and the good had to invent Consumerism after World War Two, to sublimate the blood-lust of the masses into more easily controllable channels. And look where that’s getting us …….

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Century_of_the_Self

Salma Yaqoob tried valiantly on Woman’s Hour earlier this week to explain that, far from being a victory of the Pakistani clan system, Galloway won precisely because many women and youths from that community had cast their own votes for the first time, rather than having their husbands and fathers fill in their postal voting forms for them. On that same basis, she herself is now well on course to become the MP for the Birmingham Hodge Hill seat to be vacated by the ludicrous Liam Byrne. The complaints about postal voting fraud have been made by Galloway against Labour, not the other way round.

Why is no one mentioning that Bradford West was a Conservative target seat in 2010, whereas that party is now nowhere there? And how about a body of MPs economically in the post-War social democratic tradition, socially conservative in the way that so often accompanied that position, and patriotic in relation to each and all of European federalism, separatism in any part of the United Kingdom, international capitalism, the accompanying cultural globalism, unbalanced immigration, hostility towards the Commonwealth, and subjugation, not least in the form of wars or the threat of them, to any or all of the United States, the State of Israel, and the Gulf monarchies? But reaching that parts that Respect, with its student Trotskyist canvassers and its heavily Pakistani or Bangladeshi core vote, is never going to reach.

That combination of Pakistanis or Bangladeshis and students should give Respect 15 to 20 seats in 2015, when every seat will be new. They and around the same number of Campaign Group MPs on the Labour benches need to be matched by 15 to 20 of ours, plus around the same number of allies within the Parliamentary Labour Party. Together, we could keep Ed Miliband’s Labour to the principles on which it would either have won outright, or else become the largest party in a hung Parliament.

Their start has been made at Bradford West, and will be continued at Birmingham Hodge Hill. Ours needs also to be made. Perhaps, if Gisela Stuart does become West Midlands Police Commissioner, then we could make our start just up the road at Birmingham Edgbaston? Also a Conservative target seat. Until then, anyway.

“Simply put, Galloway’s populism might be pro-Islam, but it is still populism, and that is bad for social democracy.”

Is that so ? I thought electing the most popular candidate was the root of ALL democracy. I may not like Mr Galloway, I may not like his appeal to his constituents – but at the same time I can’t deny that his appeal to Bangladeshis in East London seems to translate very well to the altogether more feisty Mirpuris and other Azad Kashmiris of Bradford.

“In all likelihood many former Tory voters stayed at home rather than vote for Galloway”

I believe there was a Tory candidate. They could always have voted for him.

Lila Caballero is almost as fine an old British name as Catherine Fieschi, who I see has arrived at “Counterpoint”. It’s a privilege to hear her views of UK politics.

81. Leon Wolfeson

@76 – No, condemning suicide bombing works just fine. YOU are the racist here.

@79 – 15-20, right. So, you’ll be using the student double-vote loophole I see.

79
The reason Galloway won Bradford West was because Labour voters remained at home. Just look at the diminishing votes received by Labour since 1992 in South and West Yorkshire and in areas where there are a small percentage of ethnic groups.

Projecting this result on future elections in areas where there is a substantial ethnic demographic is simplistic, further, Labour should be looking at positive support not winng by default. If the existing coalition tells us anything. it’s that voters don’t get what they voted for.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. James Doran

    Wow. A new low for Liberal Conspiracy? Every sentence of this is drivel; it is merely the form of drivel that varies. http://t.co/AObvbDsa

  2. Chris Horner

    RT @luna17activist: Every sentence of ths is drivel; its merely the form of drivel that varies. http://t.co/XuXrSSOH

  3. BevR

    Populism, even in the form of Galloway, is dangerous for social democracy http://t.co/zbayTWmE

  4. Tony saunois

    Drivel here about the dangers of populism to social Democracy i.e. #Labour What abt danger of #Labour to us. vote #TUSC http://t.co/cNi295U6

  5. Patron Press - #P2

    #UK : Populism, even in the form of Galloway, is dangerous for social democracy http://t.co/jVWD8fBg

  6. mark wright

    Drivel here about the dangers of populism to social Democracy i.e. #Labour What abt danger of #Labour to us. vote #TUSC http://t.co/cNi295U6

  7. leftlinks

    Liberal Conspiracy – Populism, even in the form of Galloway, is dangerous for social democracy http://t.co/0JIfemq0

  8. Rob Manuel

    If it's popular & lots of people vote for it then it could be dangerous. Weirdly anti democratic story on libconspiracy http://t.co/UWBxrf18

  9. Angus Curran

    If it's popular & lots of people vote for it then it could be dangerous. Weirdly anti democratic story on libconspiracy http://t.co/UWBxrf18

  10. representingthemambo

    I like liberal conspiracy a lot, but bracketing french leftists with Front National is insane http://t.co/GyArSkJ2 via @libcon

  11. Media Lens

    Orwell would have loved this title: 'Populism is dangerous for democracy': http://t.co/qlbRcKjX

  12. Jaydin

    "@medialens: #Orwell would have loved this title: 'Populism is dangerous for democracy': http://t.co/AZMWPhWt"

  13. Jimmy Kainja

    RT @medialens Orwell would have loved this title: 'Populism is dangerous for democracy': http://t.co/TAJd4c2b

  14. peter fainton

    Orwell would have loved this title: 'Populism is dangerous for democracy': http://t.co/qlbRcKjX

  15. ?????

    ??????RT @medialens: Orwell would have loved this title: 'Populism is dangerous for democracy': http://t.co/7eXPGgg1

  16. David Aldridge

    Orwell would have loved this title: 'Populism is dangerous for democracy': http://t.co/qlbRcKjX

  17. Georgina Bell

    Orwell would have loved this title: 'Populism is dangerous for democracy': http://t.co/qlbRcKjX

  18. Paul Atkinson

    Orwell would have loved this title: 'Populism is dangerous for democracy': http://t.co/qlbRcKjX

  19. Kebz

    Stop insulting the electorate who reject mainstream politics you morons. No wonder you were destroyed in Bradford West http://t.co/3Erx4aet

  20. Look out, they’re behind you…….. « Representing the Mambo

    […] I thought I would say a few words about this rather surreal post over at Liberal Conspiracy. I can only assume that Sunny Hundal was having a bit of a laugh when he […]

  21. KristofVanHooymissen

    Populism is dangerous for democracy, even in the form of Galloway | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/vKy9RNyM via @libcon

  22. KristofVanHooymissen

    http://t.co/vKy9RNyM





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