My 350 on BREXIT: Last call for new leaders?

We could yet be thanking the UK for saving us by the alarm bell.

Marcin Buzanski
18 July 2016

The failure of reason and rise of populism require adequate measures in response to preserve a progressive rule-based system. Today, irresponsible, radicalized elements, with an eye on power, shop through left, right and center political agendas at will, to make an opportunist case for gaining political support. 17 million “leave” voters in the UK, known for pragmatism, have shown how successful these tactics can be. 

Redefining the political message for electorates across the continent requires responsible, progressive populists – a leadership class of “popularizers.” We need the emergence of local and national leaders with enough charisma, endurance and boldness, who can create and speak to an appealing vision, balancing the reasonable policy and reform ideas with a mixture of showmanship and hitting the right emotional spots. We need leaders able to rally and mobilize voters in peacetime as if it were war – in order to prevent it.

A key task for them is to understand the link of hyper-speed information and emotions – and be much better at getting the messaging right, capturing hearts and minds. Current moderate political leadership has forgotten that it is always about bread and games – so at least a taste of them needs to be delivered. Be a better populist – live by the sword, die by the sword.

But being a “popularizer” is not just about better marketing and managing emotions. It is a movement that needs to be built on deeply rooted processes of inclusion. Responsible policy solutions always take time to bear fruit. But to buy time, people need to be engaged. A sense of belonging is a powerful feeling, not exclusively created by campaigns of fear and bigotry.

Fostering such campaigns may mean investing in local movements with greater engagement at community level, stronger collaboration with unions or religious groups, using political “hand-outs” for quick gains (yes risky!) – whatever is needed to direct more people towards a common positive cause, giving pride and a sense of belonging.

In an added value, a shift to “popularism” could also create more space for difficult decisions on foreign policy challenges. Developing “national pride campaigns” could lead to more proactive engagement to stabilize the Middle East, or deterring a growingly belligerent Russia (greatest propagator and benefiter of fragmentation in the West). Little unites as strongly as a major external cause, as we learn from the very populist forces causing havoc – new popular politicians should embrace this lesson.  

If the political discourse in the coming months and years changes to successfully countering populists with  “popularizers” as leaders, preserving the European (western) order, and further reforming it, we could yet be thanking the UK for saving us by the alarm bell.

In the aftermath of the historic British vote to leave the EU, openDemocracy is asking for our readers' thoughts on Brexit and what needs to happen next in 350 words. We've had an extraordinary response and you can read them all here.

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