Anti-establishment, anti-politics, and often contradictory groups, moves and movements are nothing new, but boy did we see enough in 2014. From Russell Brand approaching reasonable arguments in ridiculous ways, UKIP cleverly presenting questionable policy, to Northern Ireland politicians making tough decisions yet refusing collective responsibility, here’s hoping 2015 brings about calm, credible ideas and leadership which last year so often lacked.

Throughout 2014, Russell Brand encouraged us to halt our engagement with the political process. Disillusionment with politics can be attributed to various scandals and other reasons, of course, but ultimately it has been the long-running lack of grand ideas and leadership among the main political parties which has turned many away from the mainstream. Declaring democracy to be broken and sniping from the side-lines is easy; but just proposing “revolution” and refusing to participate in politics ironically props up the same establishment he claims to be against.

On the right, UKIP has risen rapidly in opinion polls to shock tory MPs into considering scrapping its modernisation shift, and, as Tony Blair warns Labour, handing credibility to a campaign which went so long without any clout. Ignoring proper debate surrounding the benefits that EU membership and immigration have to offer the UK, Nigel Farage’s agenda only distracts from the economic debate which ought to decide May’s general election.

With Northern Irish politics, it is clear that the big two political parties in our five-party government make the big decisions. When cuts to public services are made, you may blame the relevant minister and join their Executive colleagues at the picket line. Politics does not have to be adversarial, but you cannot be best friends with everyone. Instead, politics should be about doing the right thing rather than the popular thing; it is integrity and honesty which could boost trust in politics at all levels, both here and elsewhere.

Populism summed up much of UK and European political developments in 2014, and has done in Northern Ireland for much longer. In 2015, we will discover if Russell Brand’s revolution will catch on. The likelihood of a hung parliament at Westminster, thanks to UKIP and other small parties winning over voters, is starting to look more likely than ever. In Northern Ireland, December’s inter-party deal presents a glimmer of hope: for an official opposition, real accountability, and a chance to divide politicians among economic as opposed to nationalistic lines. Populism will always exist, but leadership and progress can provide a new narrative in 2015.

  • Richard

    Interesting read, Connor. The populism you write about is certainly part of a wider trend to find attraction in something other than the present – and without going too much into modern culture – the trend of wanting to find a distraction, any distraction, from what is an increasingly cultureless and hollowed-out version of society. I have no doubt Thatcher would be proud (sadly). One point, though, is that populism really has to be de-taboo-ed (don’t bother checking the spelling for that one), in the sense that for the right cause and with progressive values in mind, it can undermine the ugly manifestations of populism such as UKIP’s, that seek to hijack political apathy. I wonder whether populism is less the problem than that the process of determining that populism is the problem, is in fact the real problem. In order to counterbalance this, a recognition of the benefits of people power must take priority before considering populism as a 2014 fad.