Oxford's oldest student newspaper

Independent since 1920

Populism over policy: a tool for public division

In the last decade, global politics has witnessed a transformation marked by a departure from the focus on policy of the Blair years towards a landscape of hostility and divisive slogans. The rise of populism has caused a shift towards dog whistle slogans, inflammatory rhetoric and the idea of a secret elite.

On the 3rd October, Suella Braverman, the Home Secretary, spoke to Conservative Party members and MPs at the annual Conservative Party conference in Manchester. Her speech made waves across the political spectrum for its divisiveness and generation of passion-filled opinion.

Braverman decided to place culture war issues at the heart of her speech as she railed against the ‘hurricane’ of migrants and asylum seekers crossing the channel, as well as referring to what she called ‘bogus asylum seeker’. The public have worries when it comes to more people entering the country, such as an overwhelmed NHS and a lack of social housing. These statements are purposely used to exploit these fears, provoking an ‘us versus them’ attitude towards a group of people most of whom are trying to escape persecution or inhumane living conditions.

It is natural to be concerned about the backlog of asylum applications, which reached 132,000 at the end of last year. However, the reason for this phenomenon is not completely because of the sheer numbers of applicants, as the government likes to portray. A main driver of this is an increase in the amount of time it takes to process these applications. Perhaps the government might have more success in making the process quicker and easier rather than in trying to stop people crossing the channel altogether.

In a move condemned even by members of her own party, Suella Braverman called the Human Rights Act, introduced under Tony Blair’s government, the ‘Criminal Rights Act‘. This government sees this piece of legislation like they see the European Court of Human Rights – a looming institution that obstructs their plans and that we could be better off without. 

To continue with the populist playbook, Braverman portrayed the Labour party as an elite out of touch with regular people, holding ‘luxury beliefs’ whilst ‘sitting in their ivory towers’. This language is similar to the dogma employed by former president Donald Trump in the American 2016 presidential election, when he referred to Washington DC, and particularly Democrats, as ‘the swamp’, railing against the ‘deep state’.

Next in Braverman’s line of attack was the LGBTQ community, particularly transgender people. The speech mentioned the so-called ‘gender ideology’, a sentiment echoed in the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s speech in which he proclaimed that ‘a man is a man, and a woman is a woman’. The debate around transgender rights should be nuanced, hearing both from the trans community and women. People’s lives should not be used to get applause at a party conference.

Suella Braverman is not the cause of the problems in this country or responsible for their rise; she is a symptom of a much larger problem. A problem facing democracies all around the world as well as the one here in the UK, and especially as we learn they might not be as stable as we think. It is essential in today’s political landscape that, while this language is provocative and deepens divisions, unity can be found still. It is crucial that respect returns to the centre of our discourse so progress and consensus on these issues can be found.

Image credit: UK Home Office // CC-BY-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Support student journalism

Student journalism does not come cheap. Now, more than ever, we need your support.

Check out our other content

Most Popular Articles