Time to combat ‘frightening authoritarian populism’


Tony Blair is launching a “new policy platform to refill the wide open space in the middle of politics” aimed at combating a “frightening authoritarian populism” that he says is undermining the west’s belief in democracy, The Guardian reports:

The former prime minister said his new Institute for Global Change was more than a thinktank since it would aim to arm front-rank politicians with strategies and policies to rebuild the centre, and combat populism caused by a cultural and economic revolt against the effects of globalisation….Blair stressed he was not forming the embryo of a new party in the UK or personally returning to frontline politics, but warned that unless the political centre regained traction an ugly politics would take root, corroding liberal democracy.

“An indifference to liberal democracy is starting to form in parts of Europe. There are very worrying trends including as many as a third of young people in France saying they doubt democracy is the best form of government,” he said.

“Even where populism does not win, as in Holland, it influences and distorts debate. Populism identifies an enemy as the answer to what are essentially the problems of accelerated change.”

The defeat of Geert Wilders’s Party for Freedom in this week’s Dutch general election has been widely interpreted as a setback for Europe’s populists.

Other mainstream parties in Europe should watch carefully and learn a lesson from the Netherlands, argues Cas Mudde (@casmudde), an associate professor in the School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Georgia, and a co-author of “Populism: A Very Short Introduction.”

“Fighting the right-wing populists on their terms may guarantee an immediate electoral victory. But ultimately the government that finally emerges from that fight will have its coherence and stability undermined,” he writes for The New York Times. “A better plan for the centrist, left-wing and other mainstream parties is to put forward a positive political vision, not allowing the radical right’s issues to dominate the national conversation.”

Other observers suggest that populists have an ideological advantage over liberal democrats.

Wilders’ “ideology might be negative, it’s anti-Muslims, it’s anti-EU, it’s anti-immigration, it’s anti-refugees. But it is a clear ideology that addresses concerns of a substantial group of the Dutch. So it is there to stay,” said Monika Sie Dhian Ho, director of the Clingendael Institute.

The election coincided with a spiralling diplomatic crisis with Turkey, which forced simmering concerns about immigration and integration back to the top of the political agenda, AFP adds.

“The explanation for the Dutch-Turkish ‘crisis’ is pretty straightforward,” says Dutch political scientist Mudde. “Both countries are currently engulfed in electoral campaigns that are dominated by authoritarian nativism.”

Europe’s populist upsurge featured in a recent issue of the National Endowment for Democracy’s Journal of Democracy.

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