British journalist Alastair Campbell shared some rather hypocritical views on populism on a recent episode of Q&A, writes Daniel Safi.
A few perspectives were elaborated by the panellists before Kate Mills touched on the absolute core of what populist politics are and why they're on the rise. Just as this interesting conversation was about to unfold, cue Tony Jones and the voices in his head to shut it down. (Q&A wasn’t always like this.)
What Kate Mills touched on was populism understood as a reaction to a political class that is not speaking to people’s lived experience, to put it very mildly.
In other words, people know that the politics of the last few decades brought us:
- millions of dead and endless war;
- one of the biggest refugee crises in a hundred years;
- astronomical and still rising inequality across the West; and
- a fundamentally corrupt economic system that is destroying the middle/working class and the structures that make for economic mobility, total empowerment of corporations that have more political power than elected representatives.
People know all this and more because we see, hear and feel it every day, but we’re still being told by establishment voices like Alastair Campbell that:
“Everything is fine – or was before Trump – trust us and keep voting for us, because we're the experts and we know what is best.”
When the champions of this neoliberal status quo ponder in disbelief over the rise of personalities like Trump, they really need only look in the mirror.
Sure, we hear the word “inequality” being bandied about now by every political hack, but it rings hollow from defenders of neoliberal regimes who hand national economies over to banking and finance chiefs and foreign policy to arms manufacturers and security contractors.
Of course, I am not saying Trump and his ilk are any better. They are as corrupt and full of false promises as their euphemistically styled “centrist” rivals, including about the solutions to the very problems causing these political ruptures. But in contrast to their centrist rivals, populists both Left and Right do acknowledge those problems and they are winning elections because of this.
(In my opinion, our recent Federal Election does not truly belong in this category of analysis. Despite echoes, Australia is actually a few years behind the trends that have brought forth genuine Leftist candidates in the U.S. and Europe, alongside populist Right-wing candidates.)
So, while Alastair Campbell, in a fine show of political theatre, situated himself as some kind of centre-Left opponent to the token conservative on the panel, he repeated a lie about the Iraq invasion which he elaborated more fully on ABC Breakfast Radio the following day.
In response to questions over the decision to invade Iraq, John Howard, Tony Blair, Dick Cheney, Alastair Campbell et al respond with a variation of: “based on the intelligence available at the time, we made the right decision.”
Over the years, this claim has been debunked so utterly from a number of different angles that even pro-war media outlets have had to report it. With former intelligence operatives coming forward with information, information surfacing from subsequent investigations and other facts that have been uncovered over the years, demonstrating that intelligence agencies knew there were no WMDs and their findings were ignored by the political leaders.
As stated by a former senior CIA official:
“The policy was set. The war in Iraq was coming and they were looking for intelligence to fit into the policy.”
During the 2016 election, Trump stated:
“They [the Bush Administration] lied. They said there were weapons of mass destruction; there were none. And they knew there were none. There were no weapons of mass destruction.”
Alastair Campbell was furiously questioning and condemning the horror and travesty of the rise of Donald Trump and other populists:
“They’re liars… they manipulate… Trump’s the biggest creator of fake news on the planet… he lies an average of 12 times a day.”
But he then goes on to repeat a lie that cost the lives of hundreds of thousands (or millions, depending on what we include), wrought total destruction to an entire region, devastated the lives of many thousands of his own countrymen and women, cost taxpayers trillions and this man has the audacity to call Trump a liar, a racist, and a fascist. To top it, he is surprised that many voters regard his political species as less trustworthy than the populists.
Alastair Campbell was a key functionary in a regime that was part of an alliance whose actions posterity will look upon just as darkly as some of the most criminal regimes of the last century — the plain facts will have to be seen as such. It was the U.S. and UK leadership of these years that so undermined Western democracy to the point we are at today, where Trump et al are seen by many as relative truth-tellers.
The academic on the panel that night, Anne Tiernan, stated:
“What people are very good at doing is describing [populism], analysing why it’s happened. Almost no one can tell us what to do about it.”
There’s at least one simple answer to this — start telling the truth.
"Populism is not about being popular. It is the relegation of fact and reason to lies and emotion." Will you ask Alastair Campbell about populist politics in the post-truth era? | @Guardian #QandA https://t.co/FYkGzONxXG— ABC Q&A (@QandA) July 19, 2019
Daniel Safi has an honours degree in history and politics and now works as a music teacher.
To what extent Alastair Campbell is responsible for the loss of trust in politicians is debatable but certainly the Iraq war was a central factor. Today few people respect politicians. Take Trump & Johnson as examples. No trust for either of them. https://t.co/JdWYTygiS8— Colin Carlile (@ColinCarlile) August 1, 2019
Support independent journalism Subscribe to IA.