UK must resist Donald Trump-style populism to restore public confidence in political system – Scotsman comment

As we report today, new research has found that public confidence in the political system in the UK is about as low as it is in Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

It is important to note that, under Putin, opposition politicians and troublesome journalists have an alarming tendency to end up being murdered, poisoned or thrown into prison, while the UK is a functioning democracy where the rule of law holds sway. So the standards required to win the confidence of the British public are considerably higher.

However, the fact that just 17 per cent of people are “highly satisfied” with the way politics operates in the UK, compared to 16 per cent in Russia, should be deeply concerning to anyone with an interest in the health of our democracy, particularly given the threat posed by so-called ‘populism’.

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Responding to charges of falsifying business records, America’s ‘Populist in Chief’, Donald Trump, dismissed them as a “fake case”, claiming the US was “going to hell” and that the “only crime that I have committed is to fearlessly defend our nation from those who seek to destroy it”. It was a textbook example of the populist technique – ignore the substantive issue and instead attack the people raising it – otherwise known as the ‘ad hominem’ fallacy.

It is a tactic that is being increasingly deployed by members of all parties in a manner that is undermining trust in politics as a whole, reducing public discourse from reasoned argument to the hurling of abuse. It may provide an easy answer to a difficult question, but our politicians need to be better than that and we, the people, should demand it. They also need to live up to the highest standards of probity – and be held to account when they do not.

There was a hopeful sign in the research by the Policy Institute, King's College London: in the UK, support for democracy rose from 76 per cent in 1999 to 90 per cent last year. One explanation for this is that Putin’s destruction of democracy in Russia and Trump’s attempts to do the same in the US have shaken us from complacency about just how valuable the only system of government that enables ordinary people to choose their leaders truly is. Democracy is precious and should be cherished.



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