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Could the UK election mark a move away from personality politics? :NPR

Could the UK election mark a move away from personality politics?  :NPR
Could the UK election mark a move away from personality politics?  :NPR


NPR's Scott Detrow speaks with The Economist's UK political correspondent, Matthew Holehouse, about the upcoming UK election.

Scott Detro, host:

Much about politics today can be traced back to the surprising election results of 2016. That's true if we're talking about an America where Republican candidate Donald Trump has ridden a wave of populist anger toward the White House.

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DONALD TRUMP: We can no longer rely on people in the media and politics who will say anything to maintain a rigged system.

DETROW: It's the same in England. In the months before Trump was elected, similar populist anger led voters to defy and surprise the pundits by approving Brexit.

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David Cameron: The British people voted to leave the European Union. And their will must be respected.

DETROW: Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron called a referendum under pressure from within his party, but resigned after it passed. 2016 was one of many moments in recent history when the political climates in the US and UK seemed to parallel. Eight years later, populism is still swirling not only in both countries but also around the world. But there is another major topic in Britain just weeks before the next election. Voters appear to be sick and tired of the conservative forces that have been in power for 14 years.

(Transcript of archived recording)

Chancellor Rishi Sunak: Now I cannot and will not claim that we have done everything right. No government should do this. But I am proud of what we have accomplished together.

DETROW: Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced the election in a rain-soaked speech. “Drown & Out” was the headline in the Daily Mirror. I spoke to Matthew Holehouse to talk about the British election and what it can tell us about American politics. He is the UK political correspondent for The Economist. Thank you for joining us.

MATTHEW HOLEHOUSE: Thank you for having me.

DETROW: Let's start with timing. And, as you know, some, but not all, of our listeners will know that in the UK, the party in power chooses a particular election date. Poll after poll shows the Tories are in deep trouble, but Rishi Sunak has called an election months earlier than many thought. Why did he do this?

HOLEHOUSE: He really embarrassed his group in the process. I mean, he didn't have to go to the polls until January. Most people expected October or November. But there were also questions about this flagship migration plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda and whether it would actually be ready over the summer or whether it would be a farce. And to many it appears that the prime minister is losing steam and wants to regain momentum.

DETROW: Let's talk about labor for a moment. There was a power outage for over 10 years. Keir Starmer leads the party. According to opinion polls, he looks very likely to become the next prime minister. Is Labor running on a platform? Or is it a message? We are not the Conservative Party. Aren't we the ones who are tired of you?

HOLEHOUSE: I think it's both. It's both. So what Labor understands very well is that this is a change election. So the proportion of British respondents who tell pollsters it's time for change in this election is in the 70s. However, they have been trying to refine the platform and there is a big debate in the UK about how well developed it actually is. There is a big focus on restoring public services for the so-called 10-year national renewal, but above all, on trying to do something about Britain's chronic low growth.

DETROW: And of course, the party's leadership has shifted significantly to the left in recent years, and it performed really poorly in the last election. Will this be seen as a victory for centrism, at least preliminary, depending on the outcome, or is this year about re-establishing oneself as an agent of change?

HOLEHOUSE: I think there's a really big story in Britain right now. If you think about Britain's story over the past 10 years, it follows a similar trajectory to American politics…

DETROW: Right.

HOLEHOUSE: …We've seen a rise in polarization, a rise in identity politics on the left and the right, often very radical movements breaking out, and often times politics seeming to be post-truth. sometimes.


HOLEHOUSE: Starting around 2022, the trajectory of this fan has been, if you will, simmering. And gradually we have seen the nature of public debate calming down and becoming much more policy-oriented in its style of politics. And I think this is a bit of a paradox. The thing is that we've seen this huge kind of wave of populism pass by at a time when all the things that we think of as the drivers of populism are actually still coming out. A big problem with migration, and also irregular migration, is that people crossing the Channel in small boats are highly visible. Since the financial crisis we have had very low wage growth. We've had double-digit inflation. Trust in the political class is very low. But despite all these factors, at least a significant portion of the country is turning to a leader who is very old-fashioned and, proudly, quite boring.

DETROW: Well, what do you think are the broader factors that have brought the kettle to a boil in British politics, as you say? – Because, you know, here in the United States we have a president who has tried very hard to do that, but the overall political system continues to veer toward that spectacle of personality politics.

HOLEHOUSE: I think that's a really interesting question. And, you know, if you go into any kind of university library, you're going to find books stacked on the shelves that explain the rise of populism. There is little work done to explain how to get down the other side of the hill, so to speak. I think there are many factors. One is that many people still agree with the values ​​and policy proposals that the Conservative Party put forward during the Boris Johnson era during Brexit. Delivery was very disastrous.

I think another factor – and this is what makes Keir Starmer such a fascinating figure – is that he has been much more diligent and successful in winning over voters, people who voted for Brexit, people who liked Boris Johnson. It will. , than he gets credit for. So, even though he is by background a human rights lawyer from a very progressive and fashionable part of North London, his four years of political activity have been entirely consistent in winning back the trust of the people. voter.

And he didn't do it by screaming or proposing very radical policies. It's driven by a kind of quiet little C conservative cultural agenda. So if you look at the Labor Party platform today, it is skeptical about globalization. I really respect blue collar work. It talks about respect for blue-collar workers. They are very picky when it comes to crime. So it was a very patient effort, but I think he slowly came to accept the fact that people see the world through people's eyes the way he sees it.

DETROW: Matthew Holehouse, British political correspondent for The Economist. Thank you very much.

Holhouse: Thank you.

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