Britain appears to have avoided the kind of right-wing populism that has periodically sprung up in the rest of Europe. Xenophobic populist parties have secured electoral successes in France, the Netherlands, Finland, Greece and Italy, while in the UK the British National Party crashed shortly after take-off. Now the softer-edged UKIP has taken on the populist mantle, mostly inspiring fear about the main parties losing votes rather than anything more sinister.
Some see this as a sign of an inherent gentleness in the British national character that makes it inhospitable to the nastier forms of right-wing populism. Others see it as more of a happy accident, helped by an electoral system that makes it hard for new parties to gain inroads. These people warn against the complacency of the ‘it could never happen here’ mindset.
In this thoughtful exploration of British culture and politics, Julian Baggini starts with the argument that the same springs of populism that fuel the far right in Europe exist in Britain. Baggini then makes the case for the need to look for manifestations of populism in Britain beyond the usual far right suspects.