This current generation of young people, over a short period of time, has achieved an immense amount of political change, while simultaneously garnering a reputation for being willing and able to take on dangerous populist politics. As part of being an informed and engaged voting bloc, prioritising good policy over petty, partisan politics, however, it is important for young people to remember to call out populism in all its forms, left and right, writes Adam Hallissey.
Though it is often done, it is still essential to acknowledge that it was youth-led movements that fuelled the fire for gay marriage to be legalised in Ireland and for the eighth amendment to be repealed. It is also young people that are, on a continual basis, standing against the perverted nationalism and baseless economics which form the foundations of the type of right-wing populism which propelled Donald Trump to the White House for four years in the United States and which allowed Brexit to succeed in Britain.
What we as young people are less likely to do, however, is tackle hypocrisy and populism on the left. The primary reason for this reluctance to apply our principles earnestly across the board is seemingly obvious; most young people are liberal and progressive and, as such, for a young commentator to call out any political figure on the left runs the risk of them being brandished a “right-wing corporate sellout”. Of course, it is obvious that those who rely on visceral emotion, factual inaccuracies and false promises to win votes exist on both sides of the political spectrum, and it is important for those of us who claim to want the best for Ireland’s future to call out hypocrisy regardless of whether the populist’s politics lie on the left or the right.
Populism, some commentators incorrectly claim, is little more than a rhetorical device used to appeal to voters by talking to them in a way that they best understand. The truth is that the term populist is also almost universally accepted as a description of a policy or set of policies that are guaranteed to be popular amongst the voting public during periods of opposition and elections but are also guaranteed to fail in practice. There should be no general obfuscation or reluctance in our willingness to proactively confront such populist ideas which are doomed to fail or have failed in the past, as well as those who perpetuate them.
Populist economic policy, for example, which relies on appealing to voters’ emotions and discards tangible outcomes as relatively unimportant compared to intentions has become a core tenet of the far-left, but is rarely called out by young people. A recent Centre for Economic Policy Research study found that populist economics, on both the left and right, typically led to a 10% reduction in GDP per capita over fifteen years in countries where such experiments have already taken place.
In Ireland, we face a peculiar political climate whereby many of our supposed left-wing parties are yet to encounter a tax they would not like to see abolished; carbon taxes, the Universal Social Charge, water charges and the LPT, to name a few. Measures that tax physical assets such as Ireland’s Local Property Tax are widely regarded as being one of society’s greatest equalisers, but parties such as Sinn Féin and People Before Profit oppose the LPT. They claim to want to abolish the Local Property Tax, a progressive tax, in the hope of replacing it with a tax on general wealth, or what People Before Profit refers to as a ‘millionaire’s tax’, which, any economist worth their salt will tell you, would guarantee a mass exodus of taxable assets.
Such a tax, though well-intentioned, has been proven to be unworkable in a nation such as Ireland on a number of occasions, failing time and time again to bring in desired revenues. As former US Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang once aptly summarised, a wealth tax relying on liquid assets inevitably results in outcomes that are either problematic or disastrous.
One can not help but feel that if such rank hypocrisy whereby politicians claiming to have workers’ rights at the heart of their agendas oppose the existence of a policy, the Local Property Tax, that disproportionately benefits the most vulnerable in society, was occurring on the right, young people would be considerably more outspoken in calling it out. I say this as someone who could not be further from an apologist for conservative politics, but also as someone who recognises that if young people are to create a habit for ourselves of allowing populist and hypocritical tendencies to linger on the left, the long-term consequences could be dire.
Those who rely on visceral emotion, factual inaccuracies and false promises to win votes exist on both sides of the political spectrum, and it is important for those of us who claim to want the best for Ireland to call out hypocrisy regardless of whether the individual’s politics lie on the left or the right.
Left-wing politics has also become synonymous, particularly amongst young people, with being strong on wanting to tackle climate-related issues. Many students scorn the centre and the right-wing for allegedly not taking climate change seriously enough. Yet, while the likes of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, the Green Party and the Labour Party all support the continued institution of a carbon tax, the far-left opposes it. This is despite repeated support for the policy from a number of independent commentators and experts, including the Climate Change Advisory Council, praising a carbon tax for its efficiency in tackling climate change. Would opposition to a carbon tax, particularly one which is designed to offset its economic impact on society’s most vulnerable such as the one currently in Ireland, be so passively accepted if it were right-wing parties who took the position?
Meanwhile, anti-racism and anti-discrimination activism have become a pillar of young people’s collective politics, seeing us fight the prejudices of the far-right with courage and conviction. We owe young, mainly left-wing activists a great debt for this. Behaviours that isolate and marginalise communities and individuals on the basis of discrimination have no place in our society, and young people are willing to stand up for this principle. While elements of the far-right are intolerant towards diversity in modern society, primarily in the form of multiculturalism, however, it seems as though many on the left have become intolerant of diversity of thought.
Diversity is our strength, but it may be worth reminding components of the left-wing that this encompasses diversity of thought, and that differing viewpoints are not inherently nuisances or obstacles, but rather serve to foster debate and strengthen social and economic outcomes. An emerging habit on the far-left of brandishing anyone with opinions which dissent from progressive orthodoxy as heartless sellouts must be called out if cancel culture, which, for example, last year saw renowned atheist Richard Dawkins’ planned event at The Hist at Trinity College Dublin cancelled, is to be reined in.
Ireland, despite a number of lingering issues ranging from homelessness to inadequacies in our health service, is, according to an objective, reasonable assessment, a well-rounded society with an enviable amount of comparative economic opportunity and social inclusivity. Those who attempt to degrade that fact, whether they reside on the fringes of the left or right, must be called out. An almost exclusive, unfortunate consequence of successful populist insurgent movements internationally is that it is only in hindsight that populations recognise how good they used to have it. Young people, deserving of credit, appear willing to fight the ill-informed ideas of right-wing populism to great effect. Now it is time to put the far-left under the same microscope, even though many will not like what they find.