Style, not substance, is the new politics

From Jeremy Corbyn on the left to Donald Trump on the right, from Bernie Sanders in America to Pablo Iglesias in Spain and Marine Le Pen in France, outsider candidates continue to make waves across the western world. And while these politicians are certainly proposing radical (if not always new) ideas, their different policies only tell half the story for why many have been so successful.

Their popularity can be put down to not just what they are saying, but how they say it. For years the public have been fed media savvy and repetitive candidates, and now they’re tired of it. Watch a political debate. Watch one of the Republican Primary debates, or one of the debates before the UK general election last year. They’re rubbish. They’re dull, samey and often hurt to watch. I’m passionate about politics and the issues being ‘discussed’ – if you can call it that – but even I often struggle to get through the whole debates. It is painfully obvious that the candidates all know what they’ll say on each topic before its even been asked. The pre-prepared lines sound about as authentically human as Priti Patel.

But wait, who’s that? Who’s that scruffy looking bearded pensioner? How did he get on the stage? Who’s that crazy guy with the fake-tan face and the small rodent on his head? They haven’t come off a politician production line, why are they behind a podium? Now you begin to listen to them speak. Sure, it’s a little rough around the edges. Sure, their policies don’t all add up or sound realistic. But who cares? When they speak they believe what they say. And, like a mad uncle at Christmas, they say things that nobody else dares to. They bring up the affair your auntie had, or talk about foreign AIDS patients being treated at the tax payer’s expense, or call Mexicans rapists and murderers. They have charisma (well maybe not Jeremy Corbyn), and they get passionate about what they say. Sometimes they say things that are genuinely funny, just watch Donald Trump repeatedly humiliate Jeb(!) Bush in numerous GOP debates and it’s hard not to laugh.

Their personalities also echo what their target voter bases want to see. Take The Donald: A self-made (or so he says, well he’s rich we know that for sure) billionaire businessman who builds Golden towers, has had a string of trophy wives, and rides around in helicopters and private jets. He is American showmanship on steroids – and the voters love it. Or on the left there’s Bernie Sanders: a principled and morally consistent politician who, it has recently emerged, was arrested whilst campaigning for civil rights. These politicians are successful not only because they say what their fans want to hear, but because they are what their fans want to see.

Alas, though these insurgent populists may be soaring now, it looks as though none of them will hold office. In the UK the hugely unrepresentative system of first past the post means Nigel Farage’s UKIP will forever exist in the periphery of British of politics, while Jeremy Corbyn is tanking among the electorate and it seems unlikely he’ll reach the next election. In America Hilary Clinton will almost definitely beat Bernie Sanders for the Democratic nomination and will probably then go on to beat Donald Trump if he is named as the Republican nominee. In France the Socialists and Republicans will once again team up to keep out Marine Le Pen.

But just because they won’t make it into government doesn’t mean these people haven’t left their mark.  They have shown that grassroots movements and radical populism are a force to be reckoned with. And though the establishment will most likely see them off, they should be more than a little scared of the power outsiders can wield.


What do you think?

Do you love or loathe the outsider candidates?  Can the establishment stop the flow populism?  What’s your opinion on the state of Western politics?


Leave a comment and have your opinion heard.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. honoria plum says:

    I think in Corbyn’s case he has oodles of substance, but much of it isn’t communicated via mainstream media. It’s his perceived lack of style that is costing him — not wearing the ‘right’ kind of suit for example. In the same way that Ed Milliband lacked poise with when eating sandwiches. These things shouldn’t matter a bit, but people have become accustomed to see politics as some kind of show. And can we really blame them, when it’s matter of style — or lack of style — that make headlines.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. oraimes says:

      Firstly thanks for commenting,

      Although I would disagree that Jeremy Corbyn has oodles of substance, I would certainly agree that the way he is reported in the media is unfair. People are being told they care about his suit but to be honest I don’t think many of them really do.


      1. honoria plum says:

        By substance I mean political substance — i.e. policies and principles. Not necessarily substance as a personality or character.


  2. ibelinski says:

    I think you are missing something quite fundamental here.
    To start with, this is not a new phenomenon. Rhetoric has been part of politics for a long time. There are bookshelves written on the subject, including instructions and manuals.

    Second, I think the problem is that you think that such issues as ‘Muslims taking over our country’ (though obviously false) lack substance. But obviously they do not, these are important issues for people. They are false, but if you hear it every day on tv in order to justify the wars abroad, thinking that war is coming home is not some naive understanding of politics.

    Third, I’m not sure you can put Trump on the same level as Sanders. Or, otherwise how you can leave Clinton out of this list. How does Sanders lack substance? In fact, if anybody lacks substance here, it’s Clinton.

    Fourth, I think your predictions are too conservative: “In America Hilary Clinton will almost definitely beat Bernie Sanders for the Democratic nomination and will probably then go on to beat Donald Trump if he is named as the Republican nominee.”
    Why are you so certain about this? This was the case 10 months ago, but they are pretty close now (Clinton is certainly in the lead, but not by that much). It’s equally questionable whether she’ll beat Trump. In a lot of polls Trump comes out as a winner (I think you underestimate the amount of genuine hatred people have for Clinton as well as the amount of ‘skeletons in her closet’ that Trump will be all too happy to use. Unlike Sanders, Trump gets the media attention, and republicans will be all too happy to show that).

    Sorry for the list, I don’t want to diminish your writing, I just think you are wrong. But I’d be happy to hear your thoughts on this.

    Liked by 1 person

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