Where does Populist Impunity leave the progressive movement in the age of Covid?

Covid has laid bare the consequences of populist impunity leadership.

Impunity is defined generally as exemption from punishment or freedom from consequences. It can be consigned to what I see as three categories in the modern world. The first is global impunity in which nations such as ourselves don’t see it as a responsibility to challenge authoritarian regimes, therefore enabling a belief in these countries and regimes that they can get away with human rights abuses and not face any accountability. Whilst an important discussion, it is not one I will be examining today but I highly recommend giving David Miliband’s Age Of Impunity a read to explore and understand this topic further. The second category is what I believe to be personal impunity which is strongly linked to the first. It consists of the belief that, due to our lives in a developed country such as the United Kingdom, we are free to ignore the actions of other countries against their citizens because we ourselves are not directly affected. This is a much trickier topic because many of us are conscious of the hardships faced by many people across the world but this number must continue to rise and it is the responsibility of everyone to ensure this happens.

Now onto what I believe is the third category of impunity: Populist impunity. The Conservative party and impunity have always been partners but the combination of a populist leader and impunity is one that until Boris Johnson’s successful leadership challenge has not been very often explored by the party. The emergence of the Covid pandemic in early 2020 enabled a period of impunity still with us now. This was not limited to the UK but stateside too with Donald Trump in the US and in South America with the Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Examples include the millions of public money spent on PPE, Donald Trump’s “China virus” comments and Bolsonaro’s refusal to acknowledge the seriousness of the pandemic - even going so far as to join an anti-lockdown protest. This attitude combined with a lack of coordinated global leadership against impunity has ended up leading to disastrous consequences in these countries with many only now beginning to emerge from the pandemic when they could have been (and possibly should have been) in a radically different situation.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Credit: Palácio do Planalto CC BY 2.0

Covid has laid bare the consequences of populist impunity leadership. It leads to delayed decision making with consequences for its citizens and instils in the government a belief that they are free to do as they wish without facing subsequent questioning from the public. Examples of this include rule-breaking government ministers such as Matt Hancock and Priti Patel who are yet to be held to account for both Covid and non-related Covid breaches of their position. It has meant that the public in populist-governed countries has had to contend with a vacuum of responsible and competent leadership which puts the interest of its people at the heart of every decision that it makes both Covid and non-Covid related.

The media’s role should also not be understated - it is their responsibility to challenge the government now more than ever and despite the efforts of many in the media to do so, I do not believe that this has ultimately yet been achieved.

However, the progressive movement across the world should not feel disheartened but reinvigorated of where its future prospects lie. Populist Imputiny’s biggest weakness lies in its eventual downfall; this may be gradual or one big collapse as seen in the US with Trump’s election loss and the subsequent actions thereafter. The result of this has seen a progressive Democratic Party stage itself as the hope for America’s future and Joe Biden as its central figurehead allowing them to propose legislation such as the American Rescue Plan which could have huge implications for the poorest in American society. In the UK meanwhile, we saw a glimpse of populist downfall with “Cummingsgate” in May last year and I predict its fully-fledged collapse will occur with the Covid inquiry which the government seems intent on delaying for as long as possible due to what its consequences may be.

But the left must not expect this decline to come naturally; they must take lessons from the Democrats’ recent success and present themselves as a competent and progressive government-in-waiting ready to lead their country to a brighter economic and social future. One that will put the people and the trust of people at the very forefront of everything that it does - bringing an end to the global vacuum of leadership.

Jack Thurlow is an active and vocal member of the labour party who also has a huge interest in modern history with Russia and the Holocaust being two of his specialist subjects.

Disclaimer: All views expressed in this piece belong solely to the author and do not reflect the views of Demographica as a company.

Cover Photo Credit: "Donald Trump" by Gage Skidmore is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

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