Donald Trump has Americans currently applauding his repulsive anti-Muslim racism because they are frightened. Some of those cheering will be unreconstructed Islamophobes, of course, but plenty will simply be people freaked out by the reported connection between Islamic State and last week’s shootings in San Bernardino, as well as by the Paris attacks, and worried about their own safety. To win them over, any rejection of Trump has to begin with that fear. Hillary Clinton seems to understand that. “It’s OK, it’s OK to be afraid,” she said this week. “When bad things happen, it does cause anxiety and fear.”
The anti-Farage forces in Britain need to make a similar move on, say, immigration. You can’t keep telling people that their experience is wrong. You have to seem like you understand their angst, that maybe you even feel it yourself. Sunder Katwala of British Future says that Ed Miliband erred because he tried to tell people that what they were really concerned about when they talked about migration was jobs, housing and wages. “He couldn’t talk about the cultural bit,” about people’s fears at the pace of change in their towns and cities. Instead he left those fears “festering in the subconscious”, waiting to be addressed by Ukip.
Next, any left populism cannot merely nod sympathetically as people describe where they are. It has to meet them part of the way there. It’s often forgotten, but after the murder of Sarah Payne in 2000 the then newly elected mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, suggested whole life sentences and chemical castration for paedophiles. That statement, and others like it, gave Livingstone permission to be more liberal elsewhere. The electorate knew he was not some bleeding heart pushover and so gave him a hearing. The same goes for George Galloway’s recent declaration – and implicit rebuke to Jeremy Corbyn – that if he were confronted with Isis terrorists killing people on the streets of London, he would not merely approve a shoot-to-kill policy, he would grab the gun and shoot the killers himself.