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Democracy And Populism – How Can We Reach ‘Alternative Facts’ Voters?

November 6, 2020

Sometimes we have to think beyond the specific, and examine the wider contexts of our lives.  The bigger picture is what has been bothering me for a long while, as we try to defend the rights of children and vulnerable adults in a currently very challenging global setting.  Our human rights, our health and even the well-being of the planet itself are currently threatened by the increasingly careless way that some first world states politicians at all levels are disrespecting, even disregarding,  democracy.

Climate change? Covid-19? Communities? Seemingly irrelevant to the powerful (and usually male) autocrats who lay claim to be our political leaders. Often, they rely on what a US press secretary once termed ‘alternative facts‘. But these politicians are elected by us, or at least by our fellow citizens.

In The Guardian of 3 November 2020 the columnist Zoe Williams rightly reminds us that the refocusing of politics lies in the hand of voters.  How, she asks, can we democratically resist populism, which is the route to power of many autocrats and worse?

This is the Guardian letters response which I and, independently, two other readers (Michael Meadowcroft and Derrick Joad) offered to her question:

We won’t defeat Farage’s populism without a plan.

Dear Editor,

Zoe Williams is spot-on when she reminds us that “consensus is not what the Farage spirit seeks” (There’s no point railing against Farage. You have to present an alternative, 3 November).

The underlying problem, however, has deeper roots than Williams’ solution, which correctly says we must build a plan to replace the negatives of Nigel Farage, Donald Trump and other libertarian-inclined conservatives.

At base is the chasm between the fundamental mindsets of conservatives (of any political colour) and of progressives.

Progressives accept that change is inevitable and seek to engage with and explore what we call “challenging” situations. To resolve difficult matters we want to examine the evidence and, as CW Mills once said, to employ our sociological imaginations.

Conservatives feel no such compunction to resolve matters. They would like the rest of us to agree with their views, unchallenged. Inbuilt self-entitlement to their beliefs protects them from any requirement to re-examine the fundamentals. They are “right”, in both senses of the word.

The real question is, as Williams suggests, how in turbulent times to reach those with set views and no wish to test these against objective realities – while also retaining the integrity of an open mind ourselves.

Are non-progressive mindsets in reality a protection against personal insecurities and uncertainty? If this is the case, how can we best present plans that will make sense to those who don’t want to know?
Hilary Burrage

Postscript, 7 November 2020:

We have today observed the first glimmer of hope that ‘normal’ democracy can still reverse the trend to populism and the rule of autocrats.  Joe Biden has just won the US Presidential Election, prising tenure of the White House from the increasingly alarming residency of Donald Trump; and Kamala Harris, a woman and person of colour – both firsts in the history of that nation – is now the USA’s Vice President-Elect.

There’s a very long way to go yet, but these victories give hope that open democracy can, with commitment, decency and hard work, still survive and serve the people in our ever more complex societies.

Read more here about Human Rights and Democracy

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Books by Hilary Burrage on female genital mutilation

18.04.12 FGM books together IMG_3336 (3).JPG

Eradicating Female Genital Mutilation: A UK Perspective (Hilary Burrage, Ashgate / Routledge 2015).
Full contents and reviews   HERE.

FEMALE MUTILATION: The truth behind the horrifying global practice of female genital mutilation  (Hilary Burrage, New Holland Publishers 2016).
Full contents and reviews   HERE.

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