the left of populist rhetoric – can it become the left of populist policies?

Paul Mason writes interestingly on the subject of the new European left:

But here’s the problem: in a neoliberal world, even the basic welfare state can look revolutionary. Most projections for the survival of free-market capitalism involve the creation of greater inequality, a smaller state sector and a lower-paid workforce.

It is, then, most likely not over some prolonged debt restructure process that a populist left government in Greece or Spain might clash with the Euro authorities and the local elites; rather, on “Scandinavian” issues like police demilitarisation, abortion, the re-regulation of the labour market or an attempt to provide basic humanitarian solutions for illegal migrants clamouring at the borders of both countries.

And I think Anthony Painter was suggesting this morning on Twitter that – as history has proven time and time again – mainstream left parties which become mainstream left governments have always had a tough time of it with respect to other, longer-term, power bases in society: especially the financial ones; in particular, the all too casually transnational ones.

And in general, when trying to faithfully enact their pre-election promises.

But my feeling would be that this was more a question of perception than reality.

As I replied:

What I really mean by the above is that if, for example, we take the case of the Tories over the past four or five years, while their rhetoric has given us the impression that they have everyone in the stratospheres of power who count always onside, in truth they have been equally incapable – objectively incapable – of dealing well with the difficulties their austerity has provoked.

It’s a necessary question Painter poses: can the left of populist rhetoric ever become the left of populist policies?  But, on the other hand, the competence question, which so often undermines any tactical impulse to cuddly-ness in politics, exists these days just as much on the right.

The “stronger economy” they propose is a sham: it benefits very few.  The increase in jobs clearly benefits the employers, especially when zero-hours contracts become an increasing norm.  And for most of us, the halving or not of the deficit reverts to being a very technical question only policy wonks have the money and inclination to have the time to worry about.

Perhaps I should rephrase the question, then: can any political party which uses populist rhetoric ever turn it into populist policy?

Talk about the end of history: it looks far more, now, like the end of politics.  Or government, at least.

Or something …

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