John Walsh in the Irish Examiner warns not so about the rise and rise of populism, but the consequence of the adoption of opportunist tactics by the Irish opposition parties. Interestingly he begins with the populism of early 80s Britain when busting trade unions and a populist sell off of public housing stock he reckons set of a long slow timer for many of the difficulties besetting the UK today…
Despite the claims of Gerry Adams and co that they represent a new form of responsible, citizen-based politics, their policies have a very populist hue.
In the run-up to the 2011 general election, Mr Adams said repeatedly he “would send the troika packing”. Given the level of anger and humiliation about the EU/IMF bailout, it was a statement that resonated well with large tracts of the population.
But it was in effect a meaningless soundbite. The budget deficit was €15bn and the country was locked out of the international markets. If Sinn Féin had been in government and had followed through on its leader’s advice, it would have had to implement the most painful budgetary adjustment in the history of any western democracy practically overnight.
While in opposition, Sinn Féin has opposed the property tax and water charge, as well as every spending cut and tax increase needed to bridge the budget deficit. The party campaigns large on an anti-austerity platform.
Then he borrowed a key lesson from recent Irish history. Not least that it was Fianna Fail’s own populism under Bertie which led the party and the country into such a deep abyss:
But there is a warning from the recent past about this strategy. The 2002-2007 Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrat government was implacably opposed to any form of austerity. Bertie Ahern ramped up spending and cut taxes in an effort to buy electoral advantage.
Sinn Féin says it would introduce a wealth tax to balance the books. But it is not clear how exactly this wealth tax would work, and even more uncertain how much extra revenue — if any — it would raise.
A quick perusal of The Sunday Times’ rich list reveals that the vast bulk of Irish entrants do not live here. It is hard to know what legislation could be introduced to get even 1c from these.
And he concludes…
It is a hoary old cliché, but anger is not a policy. However, whipping up anger for electoral advantage is a very effective strategy. But unless this is accompanied by some coherent vision, then the consequences for the economy over the longer term could be very damaging indeed.
By way of a footnote, this brief exchange between Steve Richards and John Kay…
Richards: Opposition politics is partly an artform and policies are symbolic.
Kay: I really don’t think policies are symbolic. I think they about what you’re actually going to do. And we need some observations about what you’re actually going to do.
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