Appearing on This Week this week, Michael Portillo had this to say about Rees-Mogg as potential PM:
“Because he is not in office he has the luxury of saying pretty much what he thinks, that he is clear cut and relatively charismatic and that he has ideas and that all of these things are what the public is crying out for.”
This is a perfect distillation of populism’s charms – and its limitations. I think the reason we’ve seen a wave of populists on the left and the right ascend to previously thought impossible heights over the past few years is because of capitulation by liberal centrists. The 2008 financial crash exposed triangulation’s limitations – it was no longer okay to simply take a melange of right and left and put them together in a pie that the middle-classes might like to eat. This was why there was such a reaction against New Labour. Instead, it became beholden on liberals to explain where things had gone wrong and then how they were going to fix the problems. Following this, they had to go ahead and actually fix the problems.
People got tired of waiting. Meanwhile, populists at least claimed to have solutions. Socialism is the answer, or leave the EU and everything will be spiffy, or it’s all the immigrants fault and if they left everything would be great again. They were bad answers, but they were answers, and in the face of no others, they were accepted by millions.
Now in the face of Brexit and Trump, liberals still can’t get their act together. They shout about how useless those in charge are, without realising that this in itself doesn’t present the public with a different set of potential solutions. Almost all solutions put forth by the Left and the centre-left over the past decade have a gaping a hole in them. Like, just insert a whole new economic model that no one’s thought of yet and everything will work, as a for instance. In the face of populism, being stoked to whatever degree by anti-liberal governments such as Putin’s, this will continue not to cut it.
There is acres of terrain out there to cover between whatever Theresa May is trying to achieve and Corbyn. But oddly enough, no one is covering it. I think a sound, sensible party that had good sounding ideas about how to fix the major problems the country faces – housing and the NHS, to name but two – and seemed serious about tackling them would destroy every other party. I really think we’ve come to that already.
Problem is, which party will that be?