Populists are pounding the pound into the ground

Isabel Mathy, Opinion Columnist

Illustration by Megan Suka.

Lettuce, everyone’s favorite salad base (although I am partial to arugula) has a new claim to fame. As of Oct. 20, 2022, a head of lettuce outlasted Liz Truss’s stint as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. While Truss’s demise was thrilling, we shouldn’t understate the severity of what she represents. Truss is part of an overall political shift in the Western political sphere toward right-wing populism. This particular flavor of politics is categorized by constant reactionism against progressive social movements, mainly from those who believe they are losing power from these changes; think the rhetoric of GOP candidates claiming white, cis-het Christians are all of a sudden the most marginalized group in America. This has taken hold in the United Kingdom and seems to have set the most recent political course for the country. 

Right-wing populism is a threat. Populists are chiefly concerned with degrading people’s rights under the guise of economic promise or the overhyped existential threat of the “Other.” TERFs, or trans-exclusionary radical feminists, are a good example. They promote the belief that transgender rights will bring about the demise of the (typically white) woman.

In Europe, xenophobia and old-school fascism are spreading like wildfire — politicians are being far more open about being bigoted, and it’s getting them votes. 

Parliament and the structures that come from a so-called parliamentary democracy do nothing but reinforce the right-wing populist candidates. The U.K. went from Boris Johnson to Truss and now Rishi Sunak, all of whom embody right-wing populism. All are members of the Conservative Party, and these three Tories aren’t even democratically elected. Boris Johnson won with 99.86 percent of the country not even having a say. Sunak was chosen by a small group of Conservative Party leaders — around 300 people had a say in the current prime minister. 

In addition to right-wing populism upholding the white, cis-het wealthy class, it also is a threat to the United Kingdom as a kingdom. Right-wing populism has led to many botched political reforms and policies. Brexit, largely driven by right-wing nationalism and isolationism, was a disaster. It took years to pass and when it finally did go through, it tanked the economy. Under these same populists, the COVID-19 response was disastrously mishandled, despite the U.K.’s universal healthcare. Healthcare cuts championed by Boris Johnson, more keen on partying hard than saving his nation, led to one of the highest pandemic death rates in the developed world. Right-wing populism is a disaster for the U.K. Though Liz Truss inherited the dumpster fire caused by Johnson, she further promoted the populism that has ravaged the country. Truss was unable to pass even her most basic right-wing political reforms. Impressively, Truss tanked the pound in one fell swoop, leading to even more seemingly never-ending economic turmoil. 

Sunak, the newest Tory Prime Minister is — unfortunately for the future of the U.K. — no different. As a self-described fiscal conservative with a shady economic past (having wealth passing through the Cayman Islands), Sunak demonstrates a lust for slashing taxes on the rich. Sunak takes his pointers directly from the right-wing populist playbook. In a country that is shrouded in economic turmoil, a weak currency and never-ending crises, slashing welfare and taxes all in the name of a small government will prove to be legitimately disastrous. 

Rishi Sunak, Boris Johnson and — very briefly — Liz Truss have led the U.K. into crisis after crisis. Unsolved economic hardships seem to be the new trend of the Conservative Party and the right-wing populists within it. Right-wing populism has ravaged the U.K., and with Sunak, the end is nowhere in sight. The U.K. must wake up from its idiotic populist stupor. Pushing back from right-wing populism is not only the right thing to do, it is a necessity. This might even include reform of the undemocratic and extremely indirect method of putting people into power. As long as the party leadership (which always benefits from these types of reforms) is able to put essentially whoever they want into office, the cycle is bound to repeat; the monster that is right-wing populism will grow and be platformed.