Populism: A low road to power or voracious beast that consumes its own objects?

Sunder Katwala has spotted something useful in the aftermath of the Farage Clegg debate. It perhaps mirrors the paradox we see when populists rise to greater prominence their own objects face greater challenge and even a dip in popularity:

Here is the Nigel Farage paradox: the more that Ukip’s media profile, poll rating and party membership has grown over the last two years, the more that support for the party’s core mission – that Britain should leave the European Union – seems to have shrunk.

The YouGov tracker on an in/out referendum captures this Farage paradox clearly. Last year, there was an average lead for “out” over “in” of sixteen points: 48 per cent to 32 per cent.

Since then, Nigel Farage has rarely been off the television, but the trend is now neck and neck. After Farage won the first debate, the Sunday Times/YouGov poll had a six point lead for “in”, the biggest lead for the pro-EU case for two years.

The polls will continue to fluctuate, but the rise of Ukip has certainly put “in” back on level terms.

So what’s the antidote? Sunder quotes Douglas Carswell, one of a group of thoughtful Tory Eurosceptics:

….timely warning to his fellow Eurosceptics that “we must change our tune to sing something that chimes with the whole country”. The libertarian Conservative argues that the “better off out” camp must offer an optimistic vision of the future, not just a reverie for a lost Britain, or what he describes as an “angry nativism”.

I’m pretty sure that’s not where UKIP started. In fact the libertarian tendency was much more pronounced a few years ago when it was flirting with the idea of open borders. But the populist voter is a voracious beast that must be keep fed in the here and now, which seems to endanger their cherished own long term objects.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty