The 19th monthly Democracy Café meeting was held at the Playhouse, with a big turnout of regulars and new (and younger) faces. The two topics voted for discussion were “Populism” and “Does the Home Secretary have the right to make someone stateless?”
The definition of populism proved a difficult concept, but it was agreed that populists claimed to speak for “the people” while usually being part of the political elite. They thrive on the “them” and ”us” idea, and manipulate people’s legitimate grievances. A hot button issue will get support, but may not be the actual agenda of the manipulators. The distinction between “popular” and “populist” raised some issues, as populism need not have a particular ideology, or even wide support..
It was agreed that for all the difficulty of definition “we know it when we see it.” It was still suggested that this lack of definition was a dangerous state of affairs, as so much is encompassed by the term, and are populists actually interested in the outcome of their movements? . The French gilets jaunes movement began with a particular issue, and developed into something much larger, with people all protesting about different things.
So the general view of the meeting was to see populism as essentially negative, if not dangerous, especially as it thrives where people have grievances and feel they can’t do anything about them.
The second discussion, on statelessness turned more theoretical. There were two issues – 1) What is the morality of making someone effectively a non-person? And 2) How can a country cease to be responsible for a citizen, but pass the responsibility on to another state?
Clearly, if someone has dual nationality, one could be taken away without difficulty, but there was a feeling of pass the parcel about the government’s approach.
The Home Secretary’s action would be legal for someone coming over here and committing a crime, and then being sent back, but not for someone born here.
With the Shamima Begum case, the issue of the criminal’s remorse also arose. But the group questioned how we could expect people to equip themselves in such a situation, and felt it was hard to judge.
Further discussion centred on one’s right to be a citizen (or subject in the UK’s case!) as part of general human rights.
The usual thoughtful debate on weighty matters, then. Our thanks to all who took part, and we look forward to the April meeting.