Oligarchy and Populism

In ‘How to lose a Country, the Seven Steps from Democracy to Dictatorship’ the Turkish writer Ece Temelkuran outlines the process she has witnessed in her own country and in ours. “Create a Movement”, “Disrupt Rationale/Terrorise Language” and “Dismantle Judicial and Political Mechanisms” are key steps. As authoritarian populism sweeps to power she outlines the descent and the crucial complicity and undermining of the media.
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She writes:
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“I saw democracy collapse in Turkey and tried to warn the United States, European Countries and Britain about this.  I’ve been telling people that what you think is normal, or a passing phase, is part of a bigger phenomenon that affects us all.  Somehow though, European democracies feel they’re exceptional – and too mature to be affected by neofascist currents.”
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She believes, and it is difficult to find fault with this, that a process of domestication has come about. This has two levels, a media level and a resistance to resistance level.
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She says: “The de-politicisation of media has also emboldened all of this – the obsession with objectivity has become a substitute for neutrality.  The vast majority of the world’s mainstream media have become obsessed with being neutral, and have done so at the cost of forgetting their main job – holding power to account, asking questions to power, and giving a voice to the voiceless.  In many ways, the media have become their own class – an elite of sorts…
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“Since the 1970s it’s almost become a taboo to talk of conflict – we’ve become a society geared around consensus, and co-existence – and this has domesticated politics in a dangerous way.  The media have been too busy finding consensus with the Brexiteers and Trumpeteers to fight them. This is a political struggle and there is no politeness or kindness in this.  It is very clear what one has to do if one has to defend her right.  It is to fight back when there is oppression.”
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She is spot on.
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The multiple reasons for media failure: rapid changing technology, lack of investment, concentration of ownership, have gone hand in hand with a category error about “objectivity”. This is most obviously seen in the climate debate, where as the planet burns broadcasters pit reasoned scientist patiently explaining the reality of the predicament against frenzied front-group spokesman spouting denialist drivel. And this, all in the name of “balance”.
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News programmes become entertainment and the most wildly stupid and provocative statements are allowed to pass on the basis that they have been repeated often.

You know all this. You are already weary of it. It has become normalised.
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As Trump’s impeachment spools out across America and Davos winds down the next news cycle cranks-up.
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Trump conducts international assassination and the world barely pauses for breath.
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The forces that might have stood up against a radical right-wing populism have been swept away.
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Rearing his head like a political dinosaur Gordon Brown once again took to the national media to outline his familiar bromide of solutions to Britain’s ongoing constitutional crisis.
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Only a radical constitutional revolution can stop the union from unravelling and end the alienation felt by voters in the UK’s poorest regions, Gordon Brown warned us in dark foreboding terms (very similar to the previous time he uttered such terrible prophecies).
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Writing in the Observer, Brown argued that the huge election victory secured by Boris Johnson, with big wins in Midlands and northern seats, does not represent “a newfound unity or even an emerging national consensus” but rather a “plea for radical change”.
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“If the United Kingdom is to survive, it will have to change fundamentally, so that Scotland does not secede from it and our regions can once again feel part of it,” he wrote.
But for those of us living in 2020, with a desperate need to find real-world solutions to these problems of poverty, inequality, housing and ecology, it does.
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We need to become immune to the flourishes of rhetoric and wild spin, to the 24 news-cycle and to the bastardisation of language and the pollution of the public realm that comes with populist politics.
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Finding spaces where we can have conversations about “real world” solutions rather than getting high on the romance of rebellion is essential. This means some self-honesty and some solidarity with people who are not of our “tribe” be that nation, gender or party. Because they reality of what Ece Temelkuran describes is the advancement of a politics that will exploit and crush us all as we gleefully cheer for it.
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In little more than a week Brexit Day looms and it will be celebrated wildly by those who see it as a moment of national liberation. It’s a vital moment in which we need to find a path through, beyond oligarchy and populism towards a Scottish democracy.

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Comments (13)

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  1. Habib Steele says:

    Mike, what do you make of the promulgation in law of the Sovereignty of the UK Parliament over the whole of the UK? Does not this violate the Sovereignty of the People of Scotland in Scotland? Does it break the Treaty of Union? If not why not? What may be the possible responses the the Scottish Government and Parliament?

    1. Graham Ennis says:

      THE RESPONSE OF THE SNP GOVORNMENT IS GOING TO BE ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.
      IT IS A CALSSIC RESPONSE AS THE SNP NO LONGER HAS THE NERVE TO STAND UP AS A DISSIDENT PARTY, THAT OPPOSES THE PRESENT STATE AND SYSTEM. IT HAS BEEN DOMESTICATED, AND IS FILLED WITH MIDDLE CLASS “NICE” PEOPLE, INSTEAD OF THE HARD FACED BASTARD ATTITUDE THAT IS NOW URGENTLY NEEDED. THE SNP AT THE MOMENT SEEMS IN SHOCK, AND UNABLE TO COPE, AT THE SHEER TORRENT OF LEGAL CHANGES, THAT ARE BEING PASSED IN LONDON. ALL OF THIS IS STAGE ONE OF THE TURKISH EXPERIMENT. STAGE TWO IS NOW COMMENCING. I DESPAIR, AND I NOW THINK THIS IS INE3VITABLY GOING TO END IN DISORDER, VIOLENCE, AND A PARAMILITARY OCCUPATION OF SCOTLAND, (SEE NORTHERN IRELAND). DIRECT RULE IS NOW ON THE TABLE, AND MIGHT BECOME INEVITABLE. THE SCOTGOV ARE SIMPLY NOT COPING, OR GRASPING WHAT IS HAPPENING, AND WHY. I GIVE IT A YEAR AFTER FINAL BREXIT, BEFORE SERIOUS POLITICAL VIOLENCE AND PARAMILITARY RESISTANCE STARTS. IF NICOLA WOULD TAKE ADVICE, HOW SOME STERNNESS, AND ATTACK BACK, WE MIGHT HAVE A HOPE, BUT I THINK THIS IS VERY UNLIKELY.

      1. James Mills says:

        Calm down , mate ! Eschew the CAPITALS , please !

        You sound just like the nationalist group that Mike identified in his article .
        Your vision of violence and occupation is not helpful nor based on reality . Cool heads are needed at this time – not predictions of DOOM !

      2. Habib Steele says:

        Thanks for your reply. It’s what I’ve been fearing.

    2. Do you mean what responses should there be from the Scottish Govt about a referendum?

      1. Malcolm says:

        Would it be wise to start observing the results of our own (Democratic) referendums first?
        xxd09

      2. Habib Steele says:

        Not about a referendum, but about discerning whether the Treaty of Union has been broken, and if ti has what action will the SG and Parliament take.

  2. Morag Williams says:

    Check out “How to be a Dictator The Cult of Personality in the Twentieth Century” by Frank Dikotter Bloomsbury London 2019.

    BTW I’m not suggesting the book as a modus operandi but Dikotter does give an insight in to how Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin and others gained and of course ultimately lost power. Sobering reading.

  3. Arboreal Agenda says:

    Brown did not say Scotland was a region of the UK. You quoted it yourself: “If the United Kingdom is to survive, it will have to change fundamentally, so that Scotland does not secede from it and our regions can once again feel part of it”. The regions refers to the regions of England clearly, which cannot secede from anything. I read the original article which was not very deep but Brown knows full well that Scotland is not a region of the UK but a country that makes up part of it.

    As for Labour, it is the official opposition and is indeed starting the process of building for the next election. There is no fantasy about it for England and Wales. As for divisive nationalism then yes, in England that is exactly what Labour should be addressing. I would have thought that divisive nationalism is something no-one would want, anywhere in fact. And nationalism can be very divisive, though it need not be, but it is very naive to think there is no such phenomenon in Scotland. You criticise nationalist fantasists but fail to also point out their attitude is extremely divisive.

    Labour in England and Wales they are still a very important force and should be defended by progressive people, unless you wish Tory rule forever, or simply don’t care. Its is oft stated that for progressive people in Scotland there is only one game in town – the SNP. Elsewhere it is Labour and any split between them and the LDs simply spells more right wing governments.

    1. James Mills says:

      While you are defending the Labour Party you might want to suggest to them that their current attitude ( Nandy , Thornberry , Brown et al ) towards Scotland and the SNP is less than helpful if they really want to overcome the Tories sometime in the next few decades.
      Why are they hellbent on dissing the only effective opposition to those who would promulgate far right policies , keeping the poor poor and riding rough-shod over any democratic institutions we have left ?

  4. SleepingDog says:

    I do not know that much about Turkey, but they did appear to throw off their monarchy and create a state with a secular constitution a century ago, which places them in a more modern light than the UK. Programmes like Panorama’s The Corrupt Billionaire (odd title; are there uncorrupt billionaires?) quite reasonably take the view that when the ruling family enriches themselves at the expense of their people, this is a bad thing:
    https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000bq46/panorama-the-corrupt-billionaire
    However, these embryonic dynasties pale into comparison with the politically deep-time calcified corruption of the UK royalty and its creeping tendrils of nepotism, patronage and secret criminality, building fortresses metaphorical and physical against inevitable peasant revolts.

    So Turkey may have a modern tradition of proud republicanism that is missing in the Anglo-British Empire, and indeed is the often the one jarring note in some of our USAmerican cultural imports (for all their Disney princesses and political dynasties, there is some attempt to keep up appearances, and some mainstream small-r republicanism). But in the UK, such extremist, baked-in, cult-backed corruption is unreformable: a family state-capture keeping swathes of secret history prisoner in its archival dungeons, running an empire slaved to USAmerican imperialism, wittering about conservation of the planet when it began the Anglo-British War on Nature in Tudor times and perpetuated it ever since.

  5. niall says:

    The most interesting part of this book was when the author had the guts to say that the social media clique she was a part of, were so in love with their own cleverness at pointing out the idiocy of the government and the stupidity of the governments supporters that they made the situation worse. As brexit played out it seemed like very few in the remain camp had read this part. Hope all yous independence influencers have read it. at least twice.

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