The Guardian has been investigating populism. It has an entire section devoted to it. And in one part it defines populism:
What is populism?
Populists tend to frame politics as a battle between the virtuous ‘ordinary’ masses and a nefarious or corrupt elite – and insist that the general will of the people must always triumph.
In a subsection of it, it has another definition:
Parties that endorse the set of ideas that society is ultimately separated into two homogeneous and antagonistic groups, “the pure people” versus “the corrupt elite”, and which argue that politics should be an expression of the volonté générale, or general will, of the people.
The Guardian doesn’t seem to have asked any populists what they thought. It seems instead to have roped in a few university academics, and politicians like Hillary Clinton and Tony Blair and Matteo Renzi. In another one of the articles in this section:, in which Matthijs Rooduijn asks: “Why is populism suddenly all the rage?”, he writes:
Populism is sexy…
More than a quarter of Europeans voted populist in their last elections.
Why? There is no easy answer to this question. Recent academic studies have shown that throughout the western world populist attitudes are widespread. Many citizens take the view that ordinary, virtuous people have been betrayed, neglected or exploited by a corrupt elite.
What social group makes up 25% of the population of Europe? And what social group feels that they have been betrayed, neglected or exploited by a corrupt elite? And what is it about them that is sexy?
You have three seconds to guess.
Right first time! Well done! And you only needed a millisecond!
They are the most betrayed, neglected, excluded, reviled, and exploited social group in Europe (and in fact everywhere in the world).
And they’re also the sexiest (see right).
And they’ve been betrayed by the political elite, the universities, and above all by the medical profession. And they’ve only been betrayed over the past decade or so. And yet they are ordinary, decent, virtuous people.
In Europe the smokers are mostly found in the south (e.g. Greece) and former Communist bloc which was not subjected to 70+ years of antismoking propaganda.
Add in the boozers and the fatties, and you’ve got a whole basket of “deplorables”. And in total they probably make up something more like 75% of the population of Europe rather than a mere 25%.
These are the deplorable people who’ve been voting for Nigel Farage (a smoker), Marine Le Pen (another smoker), and Matteo Salvini (yet another smoker) and Donald Trump (not a smoker,, but someone who has indulged smokers and drinkers and gamblers in his casinos).
It’s the smokers who have been mostly getting it in the neck. But increasingly the other two groups have been facing mounting disapproval from bullying medical authorities. One or two glasses of wine, and you’re an “alcoholic”. One or two cheeseburgers and chips, and you’re “obese”. And people are getting thoroughly sick of the bullying killjoys who are forever lecturing them.
Groping around for answers, Rooduijn, “a political sociologist at the University of Amsterdam and a leading expert on populism”, offers several suggestions for the sudden rise of populism:
Firstly, when a society is more individualised, and voters are more independent and emancipated, electoral volatility tends to be higher…
Secondly, there is a fertile breeding ground for populists when mainstream left and right parties converge ideologically…
Thirdly, crises can make the activation of populist attitudes more likely. A financial crisis, for instance, makes mainstream parties highly vulnerable to the critique that “the established elite” has messed things up…
Fourthly, widespread corruption plays straight into populist hands. If it turns out that political parties are highly corrupt, the populist claim that people are exploited by an inward-looking, condescending elite will find wide public support…
Moreover, what also helps is an alluring leader and, especially in the long term, a well-functioning party organisation…
All vague stuff. Nothing specific, although xenophobia and immigration get mentioned Although the figures with raised right arms that seem to adorn many of these articles tell us about the populists: “They’re all Nazis!”
The Guardian hasn’t got a clue. But that’s because they don’t regard smokers (or boozers or tubbies) as being any sort of “social group”. For the Guardian, gays, lesbians, blacks, women, and the like are the only approved and recognised social groups. And they’ll listen very hard to them. But smokers? No way. Nobody pays any attention at all to smokers. They’re just deplorables to be exiled to the outdoors, lectured and browbeaten, and loaded with crippling taxes, to teach them a lesson.
But if the Guardian can’t see it, neither can most of the populists. All they know is that they’re getting really sick of pretty much everything. They can’t put their finger on exactly what it is that irks them. But they know that they’re getting more and more pissed off. And they’ll vote for anyone who expresses their mounting rage.
And if the angry populists can’t put their finger on exactly what’s eating them, neither can their leaders. For does Nigel Farage or Marine Le Pen or Matteo Salvini ever appeal directly to smokers and boozers and tubbies? No, they don’t. Nigel Farage hardly ever mentions smoking. Last I heard he was trying out vaping. Matteo Salvini has been trying to quit smoking (unsuccessfully). Smoking is something they don’t talk about.
The charismatic and alluring leader who can bind all these angry people together into one European political party has yet to make his (or her) appearance. But when they do, I suspect that when they take the lectern, they will first place a glass of beer on one side of it, and a well-filled cheeseburger on the other side, and to complete the holy trinity they will light a cigarette, take a puff on it, before raising it triumphantly in the right hand, and declaring “These are what I stand for!!!” And their SDT (Smokers, Drinkers, and Tubbies party) will put the Nazi party to utter shame, as they parade noisily in the streets, their right arms raised, cigarettes in hand.