Populism is fuelled in part by political correctness that tells people their views cannot be aired. That was one conclusion of a panel of experts last week at a launch of a report by the think tank Demos. Those discussing the report, “Mediating populism”, thought that if views are silenced, they do not disappear, they only go underground to reappear more vigorously in the future, trampling on bounds of “acceptable” discourse. For example in Germany, where the Third Reich is taught as the most sombre warning, the suggestion that ordinary soldiers could be remembered well has morphed into a recommendation from a far-right leader that alarmed many Germans. The co-founder of the increasingly popular Alternative für Deutschland said Germans should be proud of soldiers’ actions in the two world wars just as Brits are proud of Nelson or Churchill.
When is the will of the people not the will of the people? Daniel Finkelstein argued in The Times yesterday that a second referendum on Brexit could not be held because “the damage done to trust in democracy would be huge”. He also characterised the June 2016 vote as when millions of people “challenged the interests and attitudes of the political establishment”.
But he depicts a simpler picture than – and the politicians he cites failed to foresee – the fractious muddle we have ended up with. For a start, we are talking about the will of 52 per cent of voters. And it has since emerged that more than 400 fake Twitter accounts believed to be run from St Petersburg put out tweets about Brexit. So we may be falling over ourselves to uphold a result that reflects the will of some wily Russian hackers.