Nostalgia for the end of history: anti-populism in contemporary British politics

  • Date:
  • Time: 1pm - 2pm
  • Location: Microsoft Teams

Dr Jonathan Dean, co-director of the Centre for Democratic Engagement, delivered a talk on anti-populism in contemporary British politics as part of the research seminar series hosted by the School of Politics & International Studies’ (POLIS).


Abstract

This paper constitutes an attempt to take the theory and practice of anti-populism more seriously than has traditionally been the case among populism scholars. It does this via an analysis of anti-populism in contemporary British politics, with a particular focus on the post-2015 British Labour Party.

Against this backdrop, the paper pursues three main lines of argument. First, via a critical engagement with work on anti-populism within the Laclau-inspired tradition of populism research, it argues that anti-populism is best understood as a distinctive kind of political sensibility centred around the construction of “the populist” as a particularly urgent and pressing threat to (liberal) democracy. Second, the paper argues that anti-populism has been central to British political discourse in recent years, and that much of the largely negative reaction of journalists and academics towards Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party from 2015-2019 should be understood in the context of wider anti-populist sensibilities. Finally, I argue that the intensity of anti-populist responses to Corbynism should be seen as symptomatic of a core feature of the current crisis of British politics, namely a widespread anti-populist nostalgia for the post-Cold War consensus politics that reached its apotheosis in the early years of the Blair government.


For details of other upcoming seminars in the POLIS seminar series, please visit polis.leeds.ac.uk/events.