Pawel Rogalinski: – Are eurosceptic, nationalist or populist slogans a good way to gain political popularity in the UK?
Christopher Reeve: – Eurosceptic, nationalistic and populist slogans can be a way of gaining limited political popularity in the UK, but not usually as a way of achieving and holding power – and probably less so than in many other countries. In wartime these methods may be used much more often than in peacetime. The people usually assess politicians on matters closer to home – mainly the state of the economy and living standards.
– I understand, but why are they eurosceptic?
– The majority of people are not eurosceptic because they do not know very much about the EU and they won’t usually, for instance, be able to name their MEP. Eurosceptic sentiments usually come to the public via certain sections of the press – particularly ‘The Daily Mail’ and ‘The Daily Express’ – who have regular articles on some annoying aspect of European parliamentary policies. The majority of people do not regard membership in the EU as a source of problems – they rather expect their own politicians to address the economic problems within the UK. In fact, since many people fly by budget airlines to places in the EU, there is generally a positive outlook towards these countries, and in many cases, British people prefer the way that things are done and how people live their lives outside the UK. Criticism tends, therefore, to be directed at perceived failures of British politicians in the UK and not against whatever is decided in Europe.
– David Cameron criticizes Brussels very much…
– Politicians occasionally use nationalistic pride in order to strengthen their popularity with the electorate. However, history has made many people sceptical of politicians using nationalism as a way of unifying the country. Relying on nationalism is often seen as disingenuous and a distraction from more important and immediate problems. In world war II, Churchill’s nationalistic rhetoric served to unite the country to wage war against Nazi Germany. The wording was actually rather mild – and very far from strident. It was a matter of national survival. Mrs. Thatcher, to a lesser extent, relied on nationalistic slogans to lend support to the people of the Falkland Islands – who wanted self-determination and not to be occupied by the Argentinean dictatorship. Alex Salmond has used the rhetoric of Scotish nationalism to press for a referendum on independence from the UK. A wise politician will not rely on taking nationalist rhetoric too far. The majority of the population still take more interest in the state of the economy, living standards and jobs.
– Lately there have been more and more populist politicians in the UK.
– Unfortunately, populist slogans are sometimes used by politicians to improve their popularity with the electorate. These slogans usually have limited appeal. From time to time, sections of society, people from other countries and others without a voice or power are targeted as a source of society’s problems. For instance, unemployed people are blamed as the cause of their own circumstances – that they do not want to work or want to be paid too much. Others who have been on the receiving end of criticism are asylum seekers who are accused of coming to the UK for social security benefits or free NHS treatment. This kind of rhetoric has increased in recent years since the banking crisis and some suspect that these attacks were intended to distract attention from the serious economic problems which resulted from overambitious and under-regulated banks. Yet even these people in the highest echelons of society – such as bankers and investors – have also been attacked as opportunists and cheats. Sensibly, most people are able to take a sceptical stance and are not so easily persuaded by the unpleasant rhetoric.
Interview by Pawel Rogalinski
University of Greenwich, Chatham 06.08.2013.