Dictionary definition: ‘Support for the concerns of ordinary people’.
When Time Magazine and the Economist attempt to add a political connotation to this word they are forced into three or more pedantic paragraphs. All political language suffers that distortion – think of ‘Labour’ or the ‘Party System’; but at the moment ‘populism’ is a special case. Why? Politicians are like that; if they sense danger in something they seek to discredit it; to lend it a sinister twist, a savour of the dark side.
Oh, yes; and they tend to use it – a lot. It is lampooned, denounced, aligned with extremism to the political left or right. It is a synonym for Nazism, Leninism, Marxism, any ism they can think of that will make it seem abhorrent. While all it really means is ‘Support for the concerns of ordinary people’.
Isn’t that what politicians are elected to do, support the concerns of ordinary people? Then why is it they feel somehow divorced from the will of the electorate, as though their success at the hustings (which really only amounts to an ability to sound convincing, enhanced by liberal sprinklings of cash) endows them with a patrician superiority, some sort of moral standing that places them above the electorate?
Although Britain still suffers from delusions of Monarchy, the parliamentary system of government is not feudal. Whether or not they like it, or are aware of it, the elected representatives of the people are mandated to represent ALL of the people, and they should not disregard the openly expressed views upon which they were elected, not least because those views contain an element so tragically absent from their own thinking; namely common sense. Instead of making an enemy of populism they should espouse it, and listen to its concerns, then act on those concerns.
Otherwise, they risk the rattle of sabres at their doors, against which a pseudo-intellectual bubble is a poor defence.